HE PROUDLY ANNOUNCED that his mother had promised that if he did well for his examinations, he would get an I-Phone. The school counsellor and I exchanged looks and concluded that this reward would cost his mother a third of her monthly salary. Just as I was recovering from this surprise, he added that he was also promised a trip to Disneyland.
One can be forgiven for feeling a tinge of annoyance at this 10-year-old. Should he not be considerate of his family’s tight finances? After all, his is a single-parent family and maintenance from his estranged father appears very infrequently. However, because many of his friends have gone to Disneyland more than once, it is not surprising that this boy asked his mother to take him there as an incentive for his studies.
Is it reasonable to expect a young child to think maturely and behave more prudently? Even adults struggle with trying to live within their means. How is this mother to respond to her child without fear of giving him the impression that he is somehow disadvantaged?
“We should be prepared to give freely of our love and care, and not just lavish them with expensive toys, clothes, etc., as a substitute. What we lack in monetary terms can be more than made up for with our emotional support and the teaching of moral values that will stand our children in good stead.”
Firstly, I do not think that this child is inappropriate to feel that he wants experiences or things he does not have. He is, after all, but a child. However, in saying this, I am not implying that parents should give in to every whim and fancy of their children. It is our responsibility to teach them how to live in a world where there are those who are the “haves” and the “have-nots”; and to learn to live in situations when our wants are not met or when we need to wait for them to be satisfied.
Secondly, this process of teaching is not solely the responsibility of parents but of all adults. If we as adults are materialistic, can we blame our younger generation for being so, too? Is it really necessary for us to always have the best, be it food, fashion, gadgets, etc.? Should we learn to avoid wastage or to have a “throw-away” mentality for things?
Thirdly, the apostle Paul wrote about learning to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11). Indeed, learning to be in this state is truly great gain.
Being content is something many of us struggle with. Perhaps a good starting point is learning to be grateful and thankful. Gratefulness is a word that has fallen out of fashion. It seems to have been replaced by a sense of entitlement. We feel we deserve to have the best, just as this boy feels he deserves to be rewarded for hard work.
This mother’s struggle is one experienced by many parents as we try to give what we think is good for our children. Besides the emotion of love that drives this behaviour, there is a deeper feeling too. It is the fear that perhaps we have failed as parents. We are found to be inadequate when compared with other parents.
We should, however, judge ourselves on how we are able to use what we have in a responsible manner, rather than what we don’t possess or are beyond our reach, without getting into debt or getting our priorities wrong, just to keep up with the living standards of more aﬄuent families.
We should separate our children’s needs from their wants. After meeting their basic needs, if we can meet their wants, well and good; but if we can’t, we have to explain to our children the reality of our financial situation and not pretend that there is no constraint or limit to what we can aﬀord to meet their wants. We should make no apologies or feel guilty if some of their wants are beyond our means.
More importantly, we should be prepared to give freely of our love and care, and not just lavish them with expensive toys, clothes, etc., as a substitute. What we lack in monetary terms can be more than made up for with our emotional support and the teaching of moral values that will stand our children in good stead and benefit them far more than merely feeding their desire to want more and more, to keep up with peer pressure, without realising that such expectations place a tremendous strain on the family’s resources and may even cause financial hardship and debt.
By imparting such values, we will be raising a younger generation who will not take material possessions for granted. They will realise that it takes the blood, sweat and tears of their parents to bring home the bacon for them, besides providing them with the material things that they crave for. That would be the true essence of a mother’s love and her best gift for her children – a gift that money can’t buy.