We’re done with our Christmas shopping. Gifts have been wrapped, and there’s nothing else to do but wait. Which is the hardest part, I think, for my two boys.
This time of the year is always a busy one for our family. Apart from Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, all our birthdays fall during the winter months. So does our wedding anniversary. It’s like one big blast, and then we take a break for the rest of the year.
Obviously, giving and getting gifts are a big part of the conversations at home. And it’s always a struggle, especially with the boys being older and wanting less but more expensive stuff.
I believe, however, that depriving children to teach them a lesson is wrong. Not giving them the video game console they want won’t necessarily mean they’ll be less materialistic when they grow up. It could end up doing the opposite. It could just teach them resentment.
Let me digress a bit with a cautionary tale.
I was once friends with the wife of a minister who was known to be very dedicated to his calling. He was always available to listen or hang out, always the man to rely on. But at home, it was so different.
At home, it was his wife that did everything. She not only worked menial jobs to put food on the table, she also did all the chores. And she raised the kids. She told me once that because her husband was busy with God’s work, then she had to do her part by taking care of everything else. I could never understand that.
Though we didn’t go to the same church, my hubby and I would see the man on Sundays. He would hurry past us, straightening his tie, not even bothering to say hello. One time I called out, asking him where his wife and kids were. He stopped, explained he had to get to church early, and that they were staying home because he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to preach. He couldn’t be late.
I knew what that meant. He couldn’t wait for his wife to be done getting ready. She wasn’t ready because she woke up early that morning to get breakfast ready. And get their kids ready. Of which they had several. By the time they had to leave for church at 8:00 am, she still hadn’t taken a shower. So he left them. Some Sundays they followed him. Some Sundays, when she was too tired, they’d stay home.
On Sunday afternoons, we’d see the kids playing. Whenever they’d see us coming, they’d run toward us and ask if we had anything to give them for a snack. I admit I didn’t like their father at all. But every time I’d see how hungry the children were, I’d come close to hating him.
When S and I first got married, that man gave us some advice. He talked against surplus, and how we should never let our marriage be about material things. He bragged about how his wife could stretch a kilo of meat into several meals and said one has to get used to poverty if one wanted to serve God. I knew then there was something off about him.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe being a Christian means being entitled to health and prosperity. But I don’t think it means having to live a life of poverty as well. And raising children to think either way is just wrong.
I push my sons to work hard at school, not only because I want them to be able to provide for their families in the future, but because I want them to be in a position where they can afford to help others. Whether that means giving of their time, money, or skills depends entirely on the stories they will live. I just want them to be able to give.
So going back on track.
I think maybe raising kids to value people over things requires more than just saying no to what they have listed on their Christmas list. I think maybe raising kids to be generous and not entitled means showering them with generosity, and then showing them how to do the same for others. In fact, I’m pretty convinced this is true. After all, I find myself wanting to be gracious toward others whenever I think about how gracious God is to me.
So that’s why we buy our children gifts. And why we bought a bio-sand filter for a family in Africa together.
It’s why we go to a church that believes in social justice. And why we’re setting money aside for the vacation trip the boys have been wanting to take.
It’s why we’re making sandwiches for the homeless next month, and maybe baking cookies for refugees this Christmas. And why we have a box to send to underprivileged children in the Philippines, and why we’ve sent similar boxes in the past.
It’s why we do little projects for others and take fun trips together.
And it’s why I stay home and spend so much time with them. And why I volunteer at non-profit organizations, and tell them stories about what I see, hear, and learn.
It’s hard to teach a child to give when all the child knows is what it feels like to need and to want. I know there are exceptional ones, but on average, it’s hard to talk about generosity when one’s basic needs are unfulfilled.
To be clear, in no way do I mean I should spoil my children. I just think it’s our responsibility as parents to provide for their needs, as best we can. And always, meeting their needs come first. Satisfying their wants is negotiable, and should always be an opportunity to teach them a better way to be human.