If I treat him like he is weak and easily influenced how will he become strong?
Can we talk about money? I know there are many ways to think about money but I want to talk about money as it relates to our relationships, specifically with our children. Let me start by saying, this is by no means advice on teaching children financial responsibility. I’ll let the experts speak to those issues. This is about how I used money or gifts to control my children, you know, “strings attached”.
One afternoon while I was helping my teenage son pack for a very expensive school trip to Europe, I said, “This is a very expensive trip, so “be good”. This is a big sacrifice for us so we need you to do your part.” At this point I’m thinking to myself, now he will thank me, and promise to behave. That didn’t happen! Instead, he replied, “I get it, I owe you everything. Stop giving to me cause I can’t handle the guilt and strings attached!” Shocked, furious and insulted beyond belief I couldn’t help but think of all I’d given to him and our other children. How dare he say something like that to me? I would never have had the nerve to say that to my parents! After my initial shock and internal defiance, (which means, my pride and ego reared up and I wanted to slam him down. You know, put him in his place!), I stopped, and said, “Let me think about this.”
I felt contempt and rage from my son and toward him. It made me very sad. It’s not hard for me to know what he means by “strings attached”. I too have experienced what it feels like when my parents gave with “strings attached”. I felt a pressure to please. On the other hand, as a parent, I knew I was giving with expectations. My son’s anger was calling out the “House of Shame” dynamic that was crippling our ability to have an authentic relationship built on trust, belief in each others goodness, grace for mistakes and blessings shared from above. Instead, we had built up contempt and walls of separation. I knew my son was right. The “House of Shame” had driven me to try and control my son, living in fear of the mistakes he might make. Fear pushed me to try and use every tool, including money, to shame him into “behaving properly”. Sadly, my behavior implies my lack of trust in his goodness and the belief that he can’t stand up against negative influences or learn from the mistakes he makes. It’s as if I believed whoever wielded the greatest weapon of influence would win. The “House of Shame” wants me to live in fear, but fear leads to control, and I know that control is not love.
What if there was a different way? What if I could help my children develop into strong, independent people who listen to their inner voice, God within them? Maybe my son’s outrage at my attempt to pressure and control him was his way of saying, “Can you believe in my goodness rather than try to use shame and guilt to control me?” If I treat him like he is weak and easily influenced how will he become strong? I can’t always be with him. I don’t want him or any of my children to be good for me. I want them to WANT to be good. Otherwise, they are inauthentic weaklings, living in a glass house that will shatter the moment no one is looking. I want to move to the “House of Grace” where money and gifts are given freely. I can, if I am willing to let go, believe in their goodness and believe in their desire for good as they find their inner voice and learn from their mistakes. Isn’t that what we all want?
But is it wrong for me to want to be appreciated and shown gratitude? I can remember my mom whispering, “Thank your father” each and every time we received anything. I complied but I always felt like there was something more than teaching manners behind her urgings. I felt like my parents needed me to make them feel good. I can also remember my parent’s moods and feelings being my major concern. I saw it as my job to make them “feel better” or be “happy”. I didn’t know that they were supposed to make themselves “feel better” and be available to teach me as a child how to take care of myself emotionally. I think that is why I grew up not having learned to know how I felt or take care of myself emotionally. I have always tried to teach my children to thank people and appreciate others but I want to be careful not to need them to “fill my emotional cup”. I also know that my appreciation and gratitude toward my parents grew as I learned the meaning of sacrifice and gratitude.
More than being appreciated I want close bonds with my children where love and grace are freely given and freely received.
The day my son expressed his contempt for me was a gift. I am learning that a when my children or husband’s emotional response to me is “over the top” there is a lot underneath that needs to be addressed if there is any hope of authenticity and connection. It may seem crazy, but every time I’m willing to listen to the people in my home and honestly acknowledge their feelings, I am confronted with “the beam in my own eye”, my failings. Though I often parent “as my parents did” or in reaction to fear or emotional needs, it is not the parent I want to be. I want my children to feel respected, part of the family, and loved unconditionally. In other words, I want them to live in a “House of Grace”.