“Monkey see, monkey do.” You’ve heard that expression, right? I hope so… and I hope your realize that it applies to your children just as much as it does to primates.
It’s a fact: Children learn by watching adults, and especially their parents. Kids do what they see their parents doing, and many of the behaviors, habits and attitudes that they observe when they’re young will stick with them throughout their lives. You may think that the way you handle money only really has implications for you this month or this year. But if you have kids, the way that you handle your finances is going to shape the way that they handle theirs.
One of the things that God wants us to do with our money is to build an inheritance for future generations. That means that when we die, we’ll pass on our assets to our heirs. But assets aren’t the only things that we pass on: We’ve talked before about the spiritual aspects of a great inheritance. And your children are also going to learn your financial attitudes and habits. Pass on the wrong things, and you risk defrauding them of the fullness of their inheritance. But if you model the right behaviors and wisdom for them, you can change the course of your family’s financial future for generations.
Unfortunately, the financial attitudes that we inherit from our families don’t always do us a lot of favors. Too many Americans get caught in poverty, overspending, debt, envy and other poisonous practices because that’s what they saw their parents doing. In fact, many of the unwise attitudes and dubious financial strategies that cause so many of us to stumble are things that we learned from our parents. And that’s a bummer.
There is hope, however — God’s truth can set us free from the family junk that has encased our hearts. Studying God’s word, we’ve learned that money can make us slaves, that laziness leads to poverty, that overspending robs us of our futures and that borrowing money traps us in bondage. If you’re willing to study the word, learn from wise people that have come before you and work hard to change your attitudes and habits, you can break free from slavery and become the master of your money.
That’s the first part of the good news, but there’s more: When you make those changes to your financial life, you don’t just change your circumstances. You also change the financial DNA that you pass on to your children. You may have learned overspending from your parents, but you can instill in your children the importance of discipline and budgeting. Your parents may have spent their entire lives in debt, but you can teach your children how important it is to live without those chains. If you witnessed your parents being stingy or greedy when you were young, you can re-draw your family’s financial road map by teaching your children to be generous givers.
This transfer between you and your kids will happen in a variety of ways. There will certainly be “teachable moments,” when you give them their first piggy bank, help them open their first savings accounts or guide them through the process of buying their first cars. When those things happen, it’s important for you be ready with solid advice and biblical wisdom, and to help them steer clear of the pitfalls that cause financial pain. Occasionally, you may decide to let them make a financial mistake or two, so that they learn firsthand how folly affects their lives.
But remember, your kids don’t learn only in these teachable moments. They also learn a lot by watching you. If you tell them to save their money, but spend every dime that comes through your bank account, the whisper of your teaching will be drowned out by the roar of your behavior. On the other hand, if you’re careful to model great financial decisions for them in everyday life, they’re going to pick up on those habits as well, and will learn to appreciate the blessing that comes from wisdom and diligence.
Raising kids is a huge responsibility, but also a huge opportunity. If you’re strategic, wise and intentional in the way you handle money with your family, you can eventually pass on an inheritance that includes great habits, a great heart and a great financial portfolio. It doesn’t matter what you learned from your parents — if you equip your children with the right knowledge and discipline, and you can change the course of your family’s financial future forever.
Photo by Whologwhy. Used under Creative Commons License.