When grocery shopping, my wife and I would often cave to the kids’ demands that we buy them cheap little toys and goodies. “Can I have a dollar?” “Can you buy me this, please, please, please?” “Can I have two quarters for candy?”
We realized it had become a problem when the kids started throwing fits whenever we said, “No.”
So we changed the policy.
Now the kids have to buy those things with their own money, which they can earn by doing chores, or by saving up from birthdays and Christmas.
Consequently, when we go to Walmart or Kroger for food, the kids rush to their money jars to see if they have any quarters to spend (or more). Daphne tends to be very careful with her money, saving up for big ticket items. Zane obviously gets a thrill just from the act of spending money, even if it’s on junk (I recently had to stop him from spending his last $5 on an enormous jar of plastic cookie cutter shapes which he had no use for).
Well, recently, Scout (3 years old), who doesn’t really have a concept of money, decided to bring her crisp $1 bill to Walmart. She was disappointed to find out she could not afford any of the big teddy bears.
When we got to the self-checkout, Zane pointed Scout to the arcade claw machines where you can put in a dollar for a chance to move a crane claw that might pick up a stuffed animal. Zane, who has a penchant for those games, convinced Scout that would be a good way to spend her money. I warned her against it. I told her she’d be wasting her dollar. I pointed out that Zane and Daphne were saving their money to buy a can of Coke, which she couldn’t do if she wasted her money on a game. But she wouldn’t listen. “Well, if you’re going to be dumb, you gotta at least be tough,” I warned.
A minute later, as I finished scanning my food, the wailing started. As expected, Scout came over crying, sobbing, tears welling down her flushed-red face. She was barely able to tell what happened.
“She put her dollar in,” Daphne explained, “and I tried to get her a stuffed animal…but it dropped.”
“I told you not to do it,” I said.
“C-c-c-c-an I b-b-b-buy a C-c-c-c-oke???” Scout sobbed.
“If you had money you could. But you just wasted your money. I told you, if you’re gonna make a bad decision, you gotta at least be tough when it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped.”
Scout lost it even more.
The young woman on the check-out machine on the other side of mine looked up from her bags and gave Scout a sad look.
Now, don’t judge me too harshly. I’ve heard the kids cry about one thing or another every day for the last seven years. There’s always some tragedy happening or another. At some point you become immune to the crying. (I don’t know if it’s a dad thing, but I got immune to the crying sooner than Abby did!) I’m especially immune from Scout who is already a semi-professional manipulator—or as her grandmother euphemistically said, “a charmer.”
As we exited the store, Zane and Daphne made a beeline for the soda machines. They each bought a Sunkist, while Scout sobbed.
Then someone said, “Excuse me.”
It was the young woman from the check-out line.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I have young kids, and I saw what happened.” She handed Scout a folded-up dollar bill. “Hearing her cry is just breaking my heart!”
Another of Scout’s victims.
I admit, I was torn about Scout’s accepting the dollar. I wanted her to learn a lesson about wasting money. And I also know this would be reinforcing Scout’s instinct that if she cries and looks pitiful, she can manipulate people into getting her way. But I also didn’t want to discourage this lady from being kind. (Can you tell I overthink things?) So I let Scout have the dollar, and she bought her Coke.
On the way home, we talked about what happened.
“What would you call what just happened to Scout?” I asked
“Not fair!” Zane answered firmly.
“Why wasn’t it fair?”
“Because why should Scout get the money when she wasted it, and we didn’t?”
“That’s exactly right, Zane; it wasn’t fair. Do you know what you call what the lady did?”
“She showed Scout grace.”
So we talked about the difference between getting what we deserve and getting grace. We talked about how what we deserved from God was not salvation, but separation. We talked about how it wasn’t fair for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, when He didn’t sin. And it wasn’t fair for us to get eternal life for free, when we actually deserve the opposite. But instead of insisting on being fair, God insisted on showing us grace.
I don’t know how much of that sank in. You need to talk to your children over and over about these ideas before they really understand them, learn them, and then believe them (see Deut 6:7). I try to bring it up when it seems natural to do it. Do you talk to your kids about God’s grace?
I don’t know how much sank in, but I think the lesson was worth a dollar!