TLP 117: Stop Trying to Buy Your Kids
Is it possible your tree is surrounded with presents for all the wrong reasons? Don’t fret! There’s an easy answer grounded in biblical Truth, and AMBrewster looks forward to sharing it with you.
Dr. Powlison’s review of The Five Love Languages:
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Christmas will be here before you know it! And hopefully you have all your shopping done by now, but — don’t worry — the purpose of this episode is not to convince you to take it all back.
I know the title of today’s show is aggressive, “Stop Trying to Buy Your Kids,” but my deepest desire is to encourage you to contemplate this topic in light of God’s Word.
But before we wade in, please decide right now that you’re going to do two things for me. One, will you please share this episode on social media? And two, will you please rate and review this show? It’s a supreme blessing to us and big help to others who may be considering this podcast.
And if today is your first time with us, thank you for choosing to invest your time in this way. I pray the topic will be helpful in your parenting, and I invite you to check out our past episodes. They’re all evergreen and beneficial because we do our best to ground all our counsel in God’s Word. And don’t forget to subscribe.
Okay, so why did I appear to pick a fight with Gary Chapman in the closing moments of our last episode?
Here’s the thing, I’ve come up with a lot of unique ways to illustrate things: The Four Children, The 5th Way to Parent, The Merest Christianity, The Communication House, Revolving Priorities, Terrorist Children, Fragrant Parenting, and many more.
Sometimes teachers use new words and phrases and titles to differentiate themselves from other teachers, sometimes we do it to make it easy to remember the content, sometimes we do it to simply give a name to a biblical concept that was previously unnamed, and sometimes people do it just to make something up.
I believe the biggest issue with The Five Love Languages is simply that it’s made up. It’s not based in legitimately interpreted biblical examples, principles, or commands.
Dr. Gary Chapman is what we’d call an integrationist. This means that when he looks for answers for life and godliness, he has no problem embracing secular ideologies.
Now, what I’ve just brought up is a huge can of worms that’s being debated in the broader counseling world as we speak. And —again — my point is not to bash this book. My point is simply to observe that The Five Love Languages does not present a biblically informed picture of love.
It sounds good, it seems to make sense, but it’s not biblical. If you’re interested in researching my claims a little more, Dr. David Powlison, a biblical counselor with CCEF, wrote a fantastic little work politely dealing with the biblical issues inherent in The Five Love Languages. I strongly encourage you to read it, and I’ll link the full article in the description.
And if you’d like to know more about what the Bible says about love, we’re going to take the month of February to look at each of the different types of love actually mentioned in the Bible. Unfortunately none of the various types of love really show up in The Five Love Languages.
And for those of you who’ve never read or heard of Chapman’s book, likely you’re wishing I’d move on, so here’s the reason I brought all of this up.
Dr. Chapman claims that one of the love languages is “giving or receiving gifts.”
He says that certain people will feel loved when you give them things, and these same people will likely express their love by giving things in return. So, therefore, his conclusion is that if you love a person who’s love language is gifts, then the best way to show your love is to give them things.
But I want to compare that idea to the Bible and unveil it for what it really is . . . a dangerous way to build a relationship. And an expensive way to enter the holidays.
But — before we do any of that — let’s take a step back from all of this and consider the root of why we give things.
It’s true we can give things inspired by genuine love.
But it’s also true we can give things inspired by genuine selfishness.
It’s true we can interpret a gift given as being a token of love.
But it’s also true we can interpret a gift given as being a sign of selfishness.
And it’s true that our conception may have no basis in reality at all.
So, we’re left with the fact that it’s not truly the giving or receiving of gifts that really communicates love, it’s how we choose to interpret the act.
Before I continue, I’ll encourage you to listen to episode 104, “Your Kids Need an Interpreter.” It’s imperative that we help our children respond correctly to the realities of life.
Yes, we all feel happy when someone gives us something we like, and it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re loved and respected because of it.
However, the example I’m about to share is one I think all of us have experienced. I used to be the Dean of Students at a large Christian school. It was near the end of the school year, and it was a common practice in our school for the students to give their teachers a little gift. So, I had called a young man into my office to discuss his consequences for cheating in class, and when he showed up he had a present for me.
I unwrapped it, genuinely appreciated the lavish gift he gave me, thanked him, and we moved into a discussion about his cheating.
When it was all said and done, and after I told him his consequences, he looked me right in the eye — and I’m not making this up — he said, “But I bought you a present!”
The boy was trying to bribe me!
I think we’ve all had people who tried to do nice things for us just to manipulate us, and many times we may have naively assumed they were doing it out of genuine care. But as we matured, we were hopefully able to see through many of those attempts.
My point is, just because I’m given a gift doesn’t mean the person loves me, and just because I give someone a gift doesn’t mean I love them.
Now, on the other hand, the concept of giving gifts is extremely biblical.
It’s very appropriate this time of year to proclaim II Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
We can and should find times to demonstrate our love with gifts. Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So, I definitely don’t want to throw the gift out with the wrapping paper here.
Gift giving is a Christ-honoring, biblical way to show love.
But here’s the rub: The gift is not the love.
Let me say that again, the gift is not the love. The love is the love.
Whether that love is accompanied by a gift or act of service or spoken with affirming words or enjoyed through physical touch or a special time, those are merely the fruits of love.
To make my point, consider discipline and correction. Have you ever met a child with that love language?
Hebrews tells us that God corrects those whom He loves. It’s the same passage that tells us that correction is uncomfortable. Most children don’t interpret our discipline as being loving, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is, and that they should interpret it that way.
But they’re immature, so they need help understanding what true love is and seeing it even when they don’t feel it.
The whole Failure Philosophy of using gift-giving as the sole means by which we express our love is immature. It grows out of the fact that we love getting things and we selfishly want people to pour into us so we can feel appreciated. And then we interpret all of that as genuine love.
And for parents, this can become an equally selfish tool to accomplish our own ends.
As most of you know, I work at a boarding school for at-risk teens called Victory Academy for Boys. And many times parents will promise their boys special things if their sons promise to finish the program.
We have to dissuade this every year.
It’s not a good idea, and here’s why:
So, Christmas time is here. There are toys in every store. The wish lists are long. Because of our friend Santa, behavior has become a bargaining chip, and parents are tempted to buy their kids gifts for a number of reasons.
Let’s look at some of these quickly. I have seven, and only the first one is Christ-honoring.
1. Some parents buy their kids gifts to show their love or lovingly create special moments and experiences.
We already discussed this. It’s appropriate and good when the right gifts are given at the right times for the right reasons.
Let me expand on this for just a moment. One year when my kiddos were much younger, my wife and I thought it would be so much fun to turn our Christmas morning into a Christmas wonderland. We were able to purchase a ton of presents for very little money and we had presents everywhere.
Well, Christmas morning came and went and the long and short of it is, our kids didn’t truly appreciate it. In fact, it bred a general attitude of discontent.
I should have listened to my own mother when she told me of a similar experience she had when I was young. After a particularly lavish Christmas gift exchange, I look and my mom and said, “Is that all?”
Perhaps you’ve experienced the same thing.
So, I’d like to encourage you to not only give gifts at the right times and for the right reasons, but be sure it’s the right gift . . . or the right number of gifts . . . or the right priced gift.
What is the “right” gift? Well, that’s impossible for me to answer for you and it’s really hard to answer for me. Basically, we want to make as certain as possible that our gift will help draw our child closer to God. It doesn’t have to be Bible. It can be a new iPhone, but like we discussed in The Rock, The Bread, and The Donut series, the right gift will be used by our child to worship and serve God, not worship and serve self.
Okay, so number two . . .
2. Some parents buy their kids gifts to try to prove their love.
Again, this is tied to my earlier point that the gift isn’t the love, therefore it’s existence doesn’t inherently prove anything, and the gift shouldn’t be necessary to somehow prove my love in the first place.
A person who requires a token or act or some proof of love has one of two problems: 1. The first is that they’re potentially ignoring the genuine proofs of love already evident and selfishly focusing on what will make them happy. Or 2. They’re wrongfully believing that love requires gift giving and therefore believe that without gifts there is no love. Both of these are dangerous lies, and we don’t want to give our children the wrong impression of love.
So, please don’t use your gifts to try to prove to your children that you care for them.
3. Some parents buy their kids gifts to earn their children’s affections.
This is the opposite side of the one we just looked at. Instead of the gift being given to show my love, I’m giving a gift to persuade my child to love me.
This is the Failure Philosophy of which our episode bears its name. And, as we’ll see in February, true love has nothing to do with me or what I’ll get out of it. If I try to buy my children’s affections, then not only do I not understand what true love is, once again I’m giving my child the wrong idea of love. Love is not the happy feelings I get when you give me something or the affection you show me when I give you something you like.
4. Some parents buy their kids gifts out of a feeling of guilt.
This one is really sad.
Many parents who work long hours, parents from split families, and parents who know they’ve been making a lot of bad choices sometimes feel like an extravagant gift will somehow make up for it.
But as sad as it is, this is delusional thinking.
We all know that a present can never replace your presence in their lives. This is also similar to trying buy a kids affection, but in this case it assumes the child is so superficial that somehow even though I’ve made poor choices, this gift will make them love me.
Moving on to a slightly different category . . .
5. Some parents buy their kids gifts because they think it will help their child’s social status.
Sometimes this reasoning is motivated by guilt, and sometimes it’s an overdeveloped sense of providing for our kids.
Generally speaking, though, this is a different version of trying to buy our kids. Instead of trying to receive positive vibes from our children, we’re doing it so our kids will have positive vibes about themselves.
Now, this one is hard for parents to see. Like I said, it’s so closely tied to the legitimate desire to provide for our kids that we can misinterpret it.
Let me try to simplify it. If a person purchase their children gifts simply so those children will rise up the social ladder, it’s a very good possibility they’re teaching their children to worship themselves via popularity.
In James 2:1-13 we’re commanded not to show any partiality toward someone because of the way he dresses. The flip-side of that principle is to not want to dress a certain way in order to receive partiality.
Jesus mentioned in Luke 14:7-14 that a person who tries to take honor to himself will be put in his place.
And there’s more in the Scriptures than we can mention concerning the destruction pride brings.
The other issue with which some parents in this category struggle is the idea that providing for our children means giving them the best. Now, I will argue that we should give our children our best, but that doesn’t have to be the best.
And, even if it is the best — which is not necessarily a sin — what’s motivating us more: the glory of God or the happiness we experience by giving our children something better?
Again, what’s your motivation? Whether you eat or drink or give gifts, do all to the glory of God.
And then, number six . . .
6. Some parents buy their kids gifts to use as a bargaining chip.
Now, this one and the last one are really off-base.
The first reason parents give their kids gifts is a good one, the second through fifth reasons are generally selfish or confused, but this one is downright wicked. I’m going to try to manipulate my children’s behavior by giving them things. This is a twisted form of Terrorist Parenting.
But I’m pretty sure we’ve all done this. Have you ever offered your child a piece of candy or a toy if they just obeyed or stopped crying or got good grades?
Yes, I’m sad to say that this form of gift-giving reveals the selfishness in our hearts better than any other. This is the bribe I mentioned earlier — you do A and I’ll do B and we’ll both be happy.
The obvious problem is that — once again — I’m teaching my child to obey for pragmatic, worldly, selfish reasons. And — on the other side of the fence — I’m parenting for the exact same reasons.
And lastly . . .
7. Some parents buy their kids gifts to give them a guilt trip.
During a conflict in March, this parent will remind their children of the wonderful gifts they bought them during Christmas.
It’s similar to the last reason, but instead of trying to buy obedience with the promise of a gift, we buy obedience with a reminder of the gifts we’ve already given.
Now, consider carefully the gifts you purchased your children. Remember when I said that the gift is not the love? Well, in the same way, the gift is not the selfishness either. It’s just a thing.
If perhaps you’re sitting there questioning why you purchased those gifts, I want to say how proud I am that you’re taking this seriously and being honest enough to ask the question.
But even if you realize your motivation was not Christ-honoring, you can change that. And you don’t even have to get rid of the gifts.
What started as a bribe or manipulation tool or empty shell can be used as a legitimate token of our love. All we have to do is change our motivation from selfishness, ignorance, immaturity, or pride to a genuine desire to glorify our God by biblically loving our kids.
Once the love is there, the gift can do its job much better.
Of course, you’ll still have to help your children interpret the Christmas gifts the right way. And you may realize that you though you now have the right motives, perhaps some of the gifts aren’t the right gifts. And that’s okay. That’s why we keep our receipts.
If you’re uncertain what I mean about helping your children interpret the Christmas gifts, check out episode 104. And check out episodes 106-108 which helps us better understand why we give our kids things.
And, even though it’s a few months away, Lord willing we’ll have a chance to celebrate the three biblical loves. I look forward to meeting with you then. And — to that end — be sure to subscribe to Truth.Love.Parent. so you don’t miss all the awesomeness in-between.
And for those of you who are new, we publish our episode notes at TruthLoveParent.com on our blog, Taking Back the Family.
And while you’re at TruthLoveParent.com you can sign up for our free parenting course. It’s called 25 Days to Becoming a Premeditated Parent. It’s an email based course that walks you through 25 days of assignments designed to help you become a more intentional steward of your family.
And — like I said — it’s free!
Our next episode will publish the day after Christmas. It will be short, and I pray it will be a blessing to you.
I know today’s episode had the potential of rubbing feathers for any number of reasons. Please know that we love you, Dr. Chapman, your kids, and — most importantly — our God. Our deepest desire is to worship our Lord by equipping you with His Truth.
If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to write us at TeamTLP@TruthLoveParent.com or counselor@TruthLoveParent.com
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