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Teaching generosity

4.21. 2016 Posted By: The Mennonite

Nereida Babilonia has lived in Philadelphia her entire life and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Her perfect day involves her husband Pete’s sopa de arroz, a good cup of cafe con leche, thrifting, working on a puzzle, and spending time with her family in their living room. She loves the sound of laughter when hosting family and friends,  the spine cracks of a new children’s book and an audience to read them to. She currently is looking forward to many milestones in 2016 and is desperately trying to get her family to become a hiking family. She is a member of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, where she plays a mean tambourine. This blog is part of a series of posts on parenting. 

We have this running joke in my house.  Whenever I want to tell my kids a story from my childhood, I start with, “Let me tell you about Pereida.” My kids are so smart they know that Pereida has to be related to me (wink, wink).

Pereida’s tales are usually told about how getting left out is hurtful, how you should always be yourself, and about Pereida not having much but still being grateful.

For the last couple Christmases and birthdays, my son Jacob has put sneakers on his “I’d Like” list, along with some other things. And not just any pair of sneakers, but a very very nice pair (a.k.a. more than we’ve ever spent on clothes or shoes in his entire 13 years of life and certainly NOT the kind from a thrift store). No matter how often he changes the list items, the sneakers just won’t go away. The request now has taken a turn: he asked if he could use his own money to purchase them. All. Of. It.

So, I asked him, knowing full well the answer, ”Do your classmates wear them?” After all, Pereida was once a 13-year-old. Pereida saw that her classmates had nice things and Pereida knew the feeling of being left out.

My husband, Pete, and I are usually on the same page about spending, gifting, and teaching delayed gratification to the Prunés children, plus he thinks this Pereida person is super adorable; however, if it were up to Pete, Jacob would have had these very, very nice sneakers awhile ago. Pete leans toward indulging the kids (with limits of course) and I’m more of a “wait and see.”

So, in this materialistic society, how does one go about raising non-materialistic children? How do you encourage delaying gratification? It’s become clearer every time you turn on the TV that savvy advertisers target our kids from early youth, and it becomes more clear that some of their peers are quick to sport whatever the latest and greatest may be.

Admittedly, raising children in a world obsessed with stuff and not waiting is a tough, tough job. The Prunés kids are not immune to this.

First, there is nothing wrong with wanting and indulging in nice things.

It’s appropriate to enjoy the gifts God has provided—including possessions. And God is the one who actually gives us the ability to enjoy them. God has set some standards around that though. He wants us to enjoy the fruits of our labor, but only if we’ve managed our blessings in a way that brings glory to Him. And we should never let our stuff become idols. When things consume you—when you find your identity and value in these things—it is wrong.

It can be difficult for a child to wrap their mind around materialism. As far as they are concerned, they just like things or just want them.

My friend Jen recently shared that she was having the, “well-if-your-friends-all-go-jump-off-a-bridge-would-you?” conversation with her seven-year-old daughter, Ana. Jen realized that you have to be a certain age to enter into this discussion about wanting stuff, as Ana turned to Jen with a funny face and said, “Momma, there aren’t even any bridges around here!”

Second, frugality can be bondage.

Pinching pennies can become an idol in and of itself.  There is a certain rush involved in seeking to save a dollar here and there. I have met families who act as though it is their primary goal to spend as little money as possible. Somehow it becomes ungodly to buy a new outfit, to buy your wife a piece of jewelry, and to spend $100 on a date night.

We hosted pizza nights at our house years ago. Every family would bring a snack or dessert to share and happily contribute their five dollars towards a large cheese pizza. Five dollars for a GOOD cheese pizza! Besides just the pizza, we had wonderful fellowship and it was such a great break from the mundane week.

One family decided after one visit that they could make cheaper pizza at home. True story, my friends. They completely missed the boat; it was never about the pizza.

As the adults and parents of these children that are constantly watching and listening to our every word and move, we ought to be setting examples that they can emulate. Our children aren’t going to naturally learn these things without our help.

Let them see us demonstrate being generous, more specifically with our talents, time, and gifts. These can be a gifts to others, whether those talents and gifts involve speaking kind words, being hospitable, or creating or buying something that someone will be absolutely thrilled about, which is my favorite.

Giving with our time is the easiest way to help someone, and it’s often the most impactful gift of all, all year round. 

No matter how you choose to give, give cheerfully.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7

So, if you’re wondering what ever happened to Pereida, well, she turned out OK. Her last indulgent purchase was a pair of leather boots in 2015 and she is saving pennies to buy her college-bound daughter a laptop.

And Jacob? He did purchase those very very nice sneakers. We celebrated with him and congratulated him on saving this money for what seemed like forever, but only after he gave his tithe.


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