If I had a dollar for every time my family went to Target, I might actually be able to afford to go there as much as we do. Without exception my kids want to peruse the toy section just to "get ideas" of what they like, and without fail it always turns into a "Daddy, I want to buy this" and "No sweetie, we're not going to buy that" tug-of-war match. I *usually* win. :)
Lately, though, and with the consumeristic lure of Christmas fast approaching, I've found myself dissatisfied with the outcome of that battle most of the time. They're told no, and no again and again with no real explanation as to why. I sometimes feel as though I am leaving them needing more than just no. Of course, at times the word no should suffice and obedience should follow - but there are occasions when we as parents can do a little better than that - when we can move beyond simply laying out prohibitions for our kids and actually help them understand why we make the decisions we make and what our convictions are that lead us to those places.
Sometimes we accidentally "lie" to our kids when we tell them we can't go some place they want to go or we don't have money to buy something they want to buy or we don't have time to do something they want to do - when in reality, we do have the opportunity, the money and the time. What we don't have is the patience, and perhaps the perspective in the moment to engage our children and teach them why.
Rather than merely establishing what they can't do, maybe our job is help cultivate a vision in them for what they can do that is formed around a certain set of values - beliefs that act as parameters in which they are able to learn how to make good decisions and discover the reasons behind why they do what they do and don't do what they don't. But this takes time, intentionality and a willingness to engage in conversation, not just get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
The truth is that we probably could spend the money on another toy, so it's not enough to tell them we don't have money for that - because we do. It may help quiet the incessant begging in the moment, but it doesn't teach them anything of much value beyond that. Perhaps what is best is to be honest with them and tell them that we in fact do have the money for that but we are choosing not to spend it in that way - that for our family, we choose to spend our money in a different way.
Or maybe it's time - that there is in fact time for them to be involved in multiple activities throughout the week, to be gone with friends a lot or to be pulled in different directions as a family doing different things - we do have the time for that, but we choose to spend our time in different ways. Instead, we value spending most evenings together as a family or guarding time with one another on the weekends, which means we must say no to some opportunities, even good ones, that compromise those convictions.
This is certainly not easy, and my wife and I by no means have learned to be consistent with it, but the older our kids get the more aware we want them to be of why we make the decisions for our family that we do. We want them to know that we try to honor God with our money by taking good care of it, helping others who are in need and spending it on things that produce value and joy, not temporary happiness that ends up on a shelf or buried in a toy basket somewhere. We want them to know why we use our time the way we do, fighting hard against the pressure to fill our calendars with things that take too much away from our family and teaching them that developing relationships, not necessarily participating in activities, is what's most important for us. It's a daily struggle to keep these teaching opportunities on the forefront, especially when we're in the trenches of parenting. But it's too important of a battle to be unengaged with.
Whether we realize it or not, we are setting a rhythm for our family that is built largely around the values we hold and the decisions we make. It's easy to just say yes or no but much more difficult to engage our kids and help them understand why - and until we do we fail to train them to think critically about how to form their own values and make their own decisions as they grow older.