Last summer, my four kids and I headed to the ocean for a day at the beach. Instead of packing snacks, I treated them to a fast-food meal. With three growing boys who order adult portions, along with me and my young daughter, I opted for getting only the sandwiches instead of the pricier combo meals.
As soon as I finished ordering, the complaining began:
“Why don’t we ever get special drinks?”
“What if we’re hungry later?”
As we waited for our food, we had a discussion in the drive-thru line. The drinks weren’t on the agenda; their grabby hearts were.
It would have been easier for me to talk about budget-line items and why the sandwiches-only restriction was a more prudent choice. Instead, we discussed gratitude. We talked about how good we have it, and we named what we had to be thankful for. God provides for our family, we’re healthy and we even get treats like a drive-thru meal on the way to the beach.
Left to their own devices, children can easily develop attitudes of entitlement that stem from living in a land of plenty. Our job as parents is to focus on instilling within our kids the pursuit of better things. This includes character traits that strengthen them to resist the constant pull and desire for more.
Pursuing better things allows children to feel content with their lives. And character traits help them understand the Gospel — how it relates to them and how they can faithfully live it out both now and as they grow older. This means we equip them with tools for making wise choices and habits.
To start, I let my kids know that it isn’t wrong to have nice things. God blesses His children with nice things all the time. But we must be careful that we don’t make accumulating and achieving material wealth our idols. Also, we need to take good care of the things God has entrusted to us, whether we’ve been given much or little.
Entitlement can take root if we equate what we own or have access to as the way we (and our kids) find comfort and identity. That’s the difficult part about living in a land of plenty. We can accidentally train our kids to trust in idols and not in Christ.
To disciple my children, I try to help them become more aware of and discerning about their wants versus their needs. They need sleep and food and exercise and obedience to those in authority over them. A lot of their other decisions in life are based on what they want. Remembering this is especially important when we talk about peer pressure and the ever-present call of advertisers.
Asking hard questions
As I shop with my children, for instance, I have an ongoing dialogue with them. “If you buy that water bottle, will you actually be healthier?” or “If we buy that T-shirt, will your classmates like you more?” Stating what is being advertised and training my children to tell me the message of what’s being sold helps them see the value of the object, not the expectation of the ad or the subtle pressure behind it to become someone they’re not.
I also try to get my children to keep three questions in mind. These questions help battle their feelings of entitlement and help them understand what is behind their desires and decisions:
- What is motivating me?
- Why do I want to do this?
- Why do I want this item?
The more I engage in these kinds of discussions with my kids, the more likely they’ll consider these questions on their own when faced with decisions.
Engaging in a faith community
Every Sunday, my family is well prepared for the morning church service. We have bags packed with snacks, and coloring and origami books to help keep little hands busy. My children use these activities whether we listen online during church-building closures or in a church pew.
Being part of a faith community that allows them this freedom is important in helping my kids engage with people from all walks of life. As these people share their testimonies and unique journeys with God, my children have the opportunity to keep their perspective on what is eternal.
Praising God through song with others helps my children remember who God says we are. Their identity is more foundational than what they achieve or acquire. In worship, we remember how we all find our deepest identity in being God’s children.
My husband and I also remind our older boys to stand and sing and recite the Lord’s Prayer with everyone. It might be easier to let them quietly do their activities, but we want to show them how to be participants, not simply consumers — even at church. We want them to know that faith is active, not passive.
Spending time with our kids is a powerful way to shape and disciple them (Deuteronomy 6:7). So my husband and I use dinner, family walks and bedtime as touch points.
Dinner is a time for us to encourage spiritual formation. The table is the place where we bring our day’s highs and lows, and have emotional temperature check-ins. It allows us to process feelings and failures in light of who Jesus says we are. One child will talk about feeling bored and sad, another will be quiet and not have words for his feelings, and another will be grateful for her vegetable seeds sprouting in our planter.
After dinner, we take a stroll through our neighborhood. This is a relaxed time in which we can learn more about our children’s lives. We might ask questions such as “What made you frustrated today?” “Where did you see God’s beauty?” or “What have you been reading in your Bible lately?” They also listen to us talk about what God is doing in our lives, what we’re dreaming about and what challenges we’re facing.
Walking helps us really see our neighborhood, too. We can notice where people hang out and what our neighbors’ needs are so we can look for ways to serve those who live near us.
At our children’s bedtime, my husband and I often take the opportunity to instill in our children a desire to seek God on their own. We challenge them to grow closer to God through daily prayers, Bible reading and age-appropriate devotions. Then they can tell us what they’ve learned each night.
Affluence can pull our kids toward becoming so self-absorbed that they neglect to consider how they can meet other people’s needs, which is an important part of loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:39). For my family, the dinner table is our primary way to love our neighbors. Jesus not only walked everywhere—teaching, preaching and healing—but He also spent a lot of time sharing a meal with others.
When we host guests in our home, we intentionally include our children in the preparations. Their chores may include cleaning, cooking and even being social. These hospitable contributions require the sacrifice of time and go against the grain of an acquire-more-and-think-only-of-your-needs culture.
Hospitality is about giving up some of our comforts and conveniences to make someone else feel welcomed and cared for. We are teaching our kids how to sit and chat with a new family from church or a neighbor stopping by for a visit.
While we’re gathered around the table, we’re able to naturally share the Good News of Jesus as a part of being in relationship with people. This practice helps our kids understand the ebb and flow of conversation, what it takes to develop relationships and even how to have empathy for others as they tell us about their lives. When we practice hospitality, we show our kids that relationships are important.
Living out God’s love
When a new family moved in across the street last summer, I was pleased to see that our kids were the first to extend hospitality. They included the new child in their skateboarding adventures and invited him to play tag and climb trees.
And when they said, “Hey, Mom, our new neighbors are outside,” I put down the dishes I was washing,
followed my kids’ lead and made my way outside to get to know them. Because of these actions, I was able to develop a bond with our neighbors as we smiled at our children’s antics and began the process of getting to know each other.
Finding your family’s focus
Life is found not in the doing or having but in the being—with Jesus, with each other at church, as a family and with neighbors. Even as we practice living faithfully in a land of plenty, the Spirit of God is going to show up and teach our kids better than we ever could. But it starts with preparing them for not getting all they want at a fast-food restaurant and then not getting angry at them for their reaction. Instead, it becomes another teaching moment in family discipleship.
The Bible is clear that our deepest identity is as beloved children of God (John 1:12). And that is more than enough. True riches will only come to our kids if they know who they are in Christ and respond to what He wants them to do in the lives of others.