Our family recently spent a weekend morning at our church helping the Cub Scouts sort hundreds of pounds of food collected for the needy in our local community. After this, we were astonished when our son turned to us and makes a comment about needing a certain pricey electronic item to show up under the Christmas tree (hint: rhymes with “we” and spelled a little differently).
Wow, just wow. We had spent the entire morning trying to help those in need of putting food on the table and all he could think about was this pricey item? Kids are kids, of course. I get that. But for that moment, I couldn’t help thinking, where have we gone wrong? Have we failed as parents? What lesson did we fail to teach them? Or is it a simple matter of having a first-world child who’s only experienced first world problems? After all, it’s not as though he or his sister have ever wanted for anything – they have always had a roof over their head, clothes on their backs, food on the table, and toys and gadgets that may not necessarily rival Toys ‘R Us but certainly do not make for depravity. Heck, I am guilty of complaining about first world problems myself – like when there is no Wi-Fi connection or I can’t get a decent cell phone signal. I realize this is frivolous, however, to the many who are facing serious problems of unemployment, homelessness, and hunger and I hang my head in shame for that!
My husband and I have done everything that we can to instill the values of hard work and earning one’s keep to our young children. As an introduction to personal finance, we have read and incorporated Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Jr. principles to our oldest, to help him learn fiscal responsibility at an early age – in the hopes of teaching him lifelong habits of frugality. He’s even done some small, age-appropriate jobs in my small business to teach him the importance of organization and records-keeping as just a few of the fundamentals to business and financial success. He has regular weekly chores for which he is expected to earn a commission. He also understands that the borrower is slave to the lender and the evils of debt. And we are hopefully going to be able to foot the bill for four years of college or trade school and encourage him to work part-time to offset expenses. So I hope. We plan to do the same for our daughter as well – she delights in helping out with our pets, chores, and other tasks, so we hope to nurture the work ethic with her as well.
We live in such an instant-gratification oriented society where kids are accustomed to “get it now” with a few clicks of the mouse, or a swipe or two, for many games and entertainment nowadays it is often difficult to reinforce the importance of patience, thrift and frugality. And if I were a fly on the wall at school, I would not be surprised to hear of the talk of the different gadgetry and comparisons to the items that their peers have.
More importantly, by having our family participating in activities like the food drive, we also drive home the message that we are not only nourishing other spirits, but their souls as well. Our family plans to participate in the Angel Tree program through our church this year, which helps those receiving mental health services (via a regional community service board) that do not have the support of a loving family, and for whom these will be the only gifts they receive. We are also encouraging efforts to help the underserved in the community, and we would very much like to increase those efforts not just during the holiday season, but also throughout the year. And make no mistake – we absolutely do not want for our children to feel guilt for their comfortable lives, but to be thankful and to constantly be giving back. As well as a gentle reminder to our children that we are, in fact, fortunate enough to be first world people – with only first world problems to be concerned about.