Raising Good Stewards: Lessons I Learned from my Parents
Recently on a drive somewhere I told Cody that I desire for our children to grow up thinking that eating an apple while reading a decent book is a good time. We do not know what our children will be called to, where they will go, who they will live with, or where they will serve. But I do know that I will have done my child a great disservice if he is called to love God and love his neighbor in a remote village in Russia and does not know how to find delight in the simplest of things. In fact, I will have done him this same disservice even if he becomes a multimillionaire CEO. Things do not satisfy.
Tsh wrote recently about traveling light through life, and I think her thoughts perfectly describe our feelings about how we should live. I grapple with discontent and the desire for more things, activities, and success every day, but each day that I resist that impulse to consume, I find myself less and less fraught in the tussle with stuff. I want this to be a lesson my children learn early. I want this to be something that my children just have, and they don't know why, because they really can't point to one moment in time when their mindset shifted. I want this approach to life to be the norm, and the impulse to consume to be something my children don't have to fight quite as much as the rest of the world.
A couple weeks ago I mentioned to my husband that I didn't know what exactly my parents did, but they must have done something right to raise 6 children who never struggled with peer pressure in serious ways. I remember many times growing up feeling like I was the outsider, but also being 100% okay with that. It probably came off that I was judgy, like when I didn't drink much in college, or stay up late to go to a party, but I think it was really because I was just happy in my decision to do what I felt comfortable doing. I know there were times I should have gone to a party for other reasons, because sometimes we sacrifice comforts to be with friends, but that's another issue entirely.
My siblings and I seemed to have this innate confidence in our decisions, even when it made us different. I see it in my youngest siblings still, one in college, and one entering this fall.
After tossing around some ideas, my husband and I came to a partial conclusion: My parents were open with the choices they made that allowed us to be debt-free. My Dad never made a lot of money. There were tough times financially, but we never suffered much because my mom was resourceful, making our food from scratch and from our garden and livestock, and my dad worked hard both at his job and on our small farm. I can't imagine what my parents went through when one of my younger sisters was diagnosed with Leukemia.
But you know, I never saw my parents striving for more. I saw them striving to make things work, and to be excellent stewards of what they had.
We typically got new clothes for Christmas and our birthdays. Otherwise, we wore each others hand-me-downs and back-to-school shopping was not a thing. We recycled notebooks and binders and gathered up leftovers from the previous year. It wasn't because we absolutely couldn't pay for new things, but when you spend money on one thing, you don't get the option to spend it on something else. If you always say "yes" to things, even good things, those tiny little payments will add up and up and up.
Even now, I'm constantly amazed at what my parents can do financially, despite the fact that my mom has never held a job in the traditional sense and my dad has never brought home a huge pay check.
OFFSETTING THE "GIMMIES"
When our kids see something they want, we typically respond in one of a few ways. "Not today, but we can talk about it later and decide if it's something we need." Or if we know it's something we are okay with getting another time soon (like a food item request), we might say, "It's not on our list for today, but let's put it on there for next week." On occasion, one of their requests fits with our budget allowances, so we say, "Yes, this would be great to have, wouldn't it? I think we have some money in our budget for this!" We do not constantly deny fun things for our kids, but it's the exception when we do. It's special when we say yeah, great idea, let's get some marshmallows and make Rice Krispie treats this week!
Our budget is an indispensable tool that reminds us what our priorities are, and allows us to make the decisions that we want to make with our money. I simply can't make an impulse purchase when I'm out running errands because I know I'll have to deal with it when I put the expense in our budget. And if there wasn't an allowance made for it when we planned, I've wedged myself between a rock and a hard place.
We believe that our children need very little to be healthy and happy. In fact, we believe that with too many toys, too much screen-time (the average American child is dealing with 7 hours of screen time a day!), and all-the-time entertainment, we are limiting our children and nurturing discontentment. Our budget reminds us of our priorities as parents, and what we desire for our children. When our kids ask for a toy at the grocery, I remind them that we come to the grocery for food, not toys. When they want to ride the carousel at the grocery (why, grocery store, why?!), I remind them again that we come for food, not carousel rides. This likely sounds harsh to many parents, but here's the deal. Sometimes we have to do things as adults without any rewards or entertainment appeal, and that's a lesson I want my kids to learn early.
We're showing our children that saying "no" to one thing, means "yes" to something else.
One of the ways we spend money on our children is by paying for swim lessons, getting a membership to the zoo so we can go any time, or getting shakes from In-N-Out on occasion as a family. We don't eat out much, but when some friends ask us if we want to go to Torchy's Tacos after church, it's a huge treat for our kids if we can say yes. They get to eat yummy tacos and play with their friends. Sorry grocery store toy aisle, if I say yes to you once a week, we're looking at saying "no" to experiences that actually have value for our children.
Additionally, when we say yes to things like toys that catch our eye, souvenirs from special excursions, or trinkets here and there, we are accumulating items that create distraction in our homes. I have consumerist tendencies to rival the best of you. I love a good gift shop. There's always something I want to buy, and there's frequently a modest pile of items sitting in our Amazon cart. I continually feed myself the delusion that things will satisfy, or make our lives better, or make my kids smarter, but I do not have to give in to the impulse. This principle is really important financially, but for some, it's important for more psychological reasons.
One of the quickest ways to stress me out and create a damaging environment for not only me but my family is to have clutter, disorganized closets, junk drawers, and piles of things untended. I can't have a peaceful Sunday afternoon with my family if there are dishes piled high on the counters, crumbs on the floor, and trinkets scattered across the living room. My brain feels fuzzy, and I feel physically disjointed, distracted, aimless. This is me knowing myself, and knowing the environment I need so that I can be engaged with my children and husband.
Miki Dedijers writes, "One of the great gifts you can give your child is to deepen your understanding of your limits." He writes beautifully about how the stress that we feel negatively effects our children. If we want to give them the right environment, we need to live like we have everything we need. We need to show our children how to live out the contentment, focus, and joy that we desire for them. We need to show them that joy does not come from acquiring new things or constantly engaging in thrilling experiences. Although there is such a thing as healthy or positive stress, there are astounding negative effects for children who experience too much, or prolonged negative stress.
Our kids are sharp as tacks.
We can't live one thing, and expect them to live another. If I use shopping as a bandaid, give in to impulse purchases, delight more in TV than books, and relieve my stress by going out to eat several times a week, my kids will, too. If I feed myself novelty and excitement, that's what my kids will expect and desire. My child is capable, just as I am capable, of denying myself the wants and desires fueled by impulse and discontentment in favor of lasting joys, relationships, and experiences.
I'm so grateful to my parents for teaching me these lessons early.
The top photo is from our family vacation last week, a trip we planned for my parents to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. We were so blessed to have the whole Dell gang come all the way to Waco to spend the week with us!