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Parents, children and money

1 March 2010 | by Stephen Dancer

Parents, children and money

When my only daughter was born I remember, as a natural pessimist, thinking, ‘Ahh! One day she’ll be a teenager! But, phew, not for a while yet!’. Now, as she is approaching the last stages of her education my wife and I are beginning to measure her time left with us in months rather than years. In the time we have had with her we have been richly blessed – I need not have been so pessimistic!

Yet we all raise our children anticipating many pitfalls along the way. Paul speaks to Timothy, a younger pastor, of those around him who have the appearance of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Under the surface they harbour controlling desires and attitudes which deny the gospel. One of them is to be ‘lovers of money’ (2 Tim. 3:2). This love remains a danger for our children as they grow up.

Of course, looking back on our parenting brings to mind the thought that, ‘I wish I had known and believed then what I know and believe now’. So this article is written in that spirit: my wife and I have been on a road where we have hit some potholes, but now I have been there, I can give pointers to those who follow. What I have learned covers three main areas.

Children and God

Children, even babies, are not spiritually neutral. Like us, they too are worshippers. They are designed to bear God’s image and to relate to God in worship. But now, in a fallen world, the question is not about whether they are worshippers, but about what they are going to worship. As adults we know that all sinful behaviour has its roots in a failure to worship God rightly. It is born of a deeper desire to serve some other idol of the heart. It needs to be confessed and repented of.

No less so for children. Training children is not so much concerned with conditioning their behaviour as it is with conditioning their hearts to love God above all else. A verse I learned as a young Christian is no less valuable for children: ‘Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life’ (Prov. 4:23) It is the state of the heart that ultimately determines their orientation in life and their attitude to things like money.

Children and parents

Believers are in a privileged position. They are brought into a covenantal relationship to God through Jesus Christ. They are given Christ and all His benefits and are now called to live for Him. Part of that calling is for them to raise and train their children. It is expressed beautifully in Deuteronomy 6:6-7:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

The apostle Paul maintains the thrust of this teaching in his instruction to fathers ‘bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:4). Children are to obey their parents because this is right.

What this means for parents is that we must not see ourselves as seeking to inculcate our own ideas, values and behaviours in our children. Rather we are to see ourselves as agents acting for God, teaching our children to love and serve Him. While this responsibility is a great one, it is also surprisingly liberating. In requiring our children to be obedient to us and be trained by us, we can show that it is God who requires this of them. The parent’s role is one of teaching the child to rightly relate to God and reject all other spiritual suitors. This means not simply controlling behaviour, but leading the child to see that there are idols of the heart that are secretly worshipped and need to be confessed and repented of, and that grace and forgiveness are found through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Children and money

Money comes up regularly in Paul’s letters to Timothy. In setting up oversight of a church, an overseer is not to be ‘a lover of money’ (1 Tim. 3:3). ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils’ (1 Tim. 6:10). Failure to deal with this problem of love of money results in people falling away from the faith. People can ‘look godly’ but be secret lovers of money. How can we train our children from the start to have healthy attitudes to money? Let me suggest a couple of general principles, and then some specific points:

  1. 1. As a parent, examine your own heart in regard to money.
    It is not only children whose affections stray! Do you worry about money and having enough things (Matt. 6:25)? Do you give sacrificially and cheerfully to God’s work (2 Cor. 9:7)? Do you give generously to those in need? Do you tip well in restaurants? Children are shrewd observers of life. They see how you are with money and will follow your lead. So examine your heart regularly in regard to money.
  2. Have the fragrance of Christ in your home.
    I remember a pastor once praying for a young family with a newborn child that the home would have the fragrance of Christ about it. It has been a regular prayer of mine for families in our church. Conversation with your children should unashamedly have Christ in them. After all, if you always talked to your children without mentioning your spouse, wouldn’t that be strange? How much more with Christ?
  3. Worship together in the home.
    Family devotions give anchor points for family life. Set aside a regular time for this, maybe after the evening meal or before bed time. Read a bit of the Bible, say a few words about it, and have a discussion about the issues raised, always looking to get to the heart. Your children need to learn to confess the sins of the heart and go to Jesus for forgiveness. Then you may even want to sing together!

Now some specific points:

  1. Give them responsibility for money.
    Many parents want to show kindness to their children and wherever possible will give them what they ask for when they ask for it. The unfortunate side effect is that they never have to evaluate needs versus wants. God shows grace to us, but He gives us exactly what we need, not always what we want. I suggest that children at some point should be given an allowance. From it they can learn to allocate money for saving, giving and then spending, all within a fixed overall constraint and with parental oversight. How you decide at what age, and how much will depend on the child and his/her maturity.
  2. Teach them to give.
    Teach them to give by setting aside a proportion of their allowance for God’s work. It is vital that children learn that all that they have comes from God and belongs to Him, and He lets them keep some of it! The rest has to be given for kingdom work.
  3. Teach the benefits of work for its own sake.
    I have wrestled with this one! The question that parents raise is whether or not household chores should be rewarded financially. We have chosen not to go down that route. I have thought it much better for children to learn that chores are an act of loving care for others in the household and that doing them brings benefits to all. It avoids the temptation to do chores out of a secret love for money. On the other hand their allowance demonstrates grace freely given to them for which they should learn to be thankful.

Finally, I must admit there have been more failures in my parenting than I care to admit. I remember a moment in the film Gladiator, where Emperor Marcus Aurelius announces to his son Commodus that he shall not succeed him as Emperor because of Commodus’ lack of the necessary virtues. Marcus Aurelius gets on his knees to say, ‘Your fault as a son is my failure as a father’. It is a painful moment for a parent who is conscious of the truth of that statement. Yet for the Christian, that is not the full story. For all our failures, the Lord is kind to sinners and rich in mercy. On Him we rest, even in our parenting.

Stephen Dancer is the minister of Solihull Presbyterian Church.

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