Throughout the world parents struggle to teach their kids good values. They study child-rearing manuals, they hold Family Home Evenings on various standards, they have chats with their children.
And all these are good endeavors, but they are supplements to a stronger message we teach without even knowing it. A mother of six in my ward, Lenae Smurthwaite, recently shared her own parents’ formula: What you spend your money and time on, tells your kids your values.
Wow. No matter how much we might talk about morals and ideals, the unspoken sermon is the strongest. We can tell them to “be like Jesus,” but if we are not charitable and loving ourselves, the message won’t ring true. And the power of example is never stronger than when we demonstrate our real priorities in the way we spend our money and our time.
All of us have expenses of daily living that cannot be changed, such as food, shelter, and so on. But we also have money—even if we’re on a limited budget—that shows our priorities.
Every family has traditions and goals they emphasize, which are basically neutral—neither good nor bad, just particular to that family. For example, do we buy more books than most people? That sends a message that our family puts a priority on reading. Do we invest in pricey sporting equipment? Then our children learn that athletics matter in this family. Are vacations where our extra dollars go? Then travel becomes the obvious focus. For many families, education is a big expense, and one they’re willing to sacrifice to afford.
Other families place a high priority on a large home, a flashy car, or extravagant electronics. Hobbies and entertainment can eat up a large chunk of one’s earnings, and can also send a distinct message to our kids, that those are the things that matter most. If we splurge on self-indulgence every time we see a spike in our finances, our kids will do the same.
Some families sit down with their kids every year and choose a charity to support. This sends a message of responsibility and blessing the lives of others. Hopefully LDS families teach the importance of tithing as well, and doing so with a cheerful heart. But all of us teach an unspoken lesson every time we shop and spend—and our kids notice.
Our time is another commodity, and how we spend it sets a crucial example. Do we nap and sleep whenever we can? Do we spend hours playing on the computer? Do we watch more television than we’d like to admit? Recreation isn’t a bad thing until it starts to become the most important thing.
The minutes of your day are like dollars that disappear from your wallet, sixty of them every hour. How will you spend them? When our children see us reading scriptures, helping neighbors, working to feed our family, and making home a haven, they learn that drawing close to the Savior, serving others, and putting family first, are what their family stands for. Temple work and missionary work become cherished pursuits when children see their parents enjoying those as well. This becomes their self-definition and their heritage.
This doesn’t mean we toil every second or fast every day. It means we approach life thoughtfully, with a clear understanding that our choices will be copied by our children. Taking time to share hobbies, play games, cook together, or go on an outing, are all pursuits that build family bonds. It’s only when fun becomes the sole focus of life that the values get lost.
We all want our children to grow up with the morals that will bring them lasting joy and a close connection with their Redeemer. And the best way to ensure that is to make sure our message matches our example.
Hilton’s books can be found here. She is also the “YouTube Mom” and shares short videos about easy household tips and life skills at this channel. And be sure to read her blog. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.