Bribery: Parent Trap #4
Appealing to covetousness.
“Johnny, if you can control yourself while we are at Aunt Mildred’s house, I’ll buy you that robot thingy you’ve been
coveting asking for.”
This teaches that the motivating factor in our lives and behavior is what gets us stuff. So forget what God says about family priorities, rather choose to work late and long to get money, because that’s what is important. It also subtly trains the child to only obey God when they get something out of it.
You have met adults who always ask “What’s in it for me?” They are the family members who say “Yes I’ll baby sit for you this week if you baby sit for me next week.” You’ve met churchgoers who attend a fellowship to appease their conscience, donate money to achieve recognition, or serve in a ministry to attain respect. They are easy to spot because they disappear like dew in the morning if enough thanks and praise if not forthcoming.
Our parenting sets the heart motives of our children from an early age. Obedience in exchange for candy, a video game, or any other filthy lucre is missing the point of obedience. We should obey for God’s approval, out of love for Him, and for His glory.
But, lest we fall off the other side of the horse and never praise our kids for their obedience, or never reward them, here is a discalimer. Bribery is different from rewarding.
The difference between bribery and reward is the motive of the obedience. You can still say “Wow, you were so good today you can get a treat.” But not “If you are good I’ll give you a treat.” See the difference?
“Johnny, I am so pleased with your behavior lately that I wanted to take you to the ice rink to say thank-you for obeying.” This teaches that there is blessing that accompanies obedience (a la Psalm 1). But that is not equivalent for saying, if you go a week without disobeying me, I’ll let you go the ice rink. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.
God does reward us richly for obeying Him. But He refuses to owe us anything. We obey because we love Him, and our reward may or may not be apparent in this life. Just ask martyrs who burn at the stake for their faithful obedience to God. And yet no one can deny the innate blessings that can rain on your family, relationships, health, and fulfilment when you walk in God’s ways.
These are the lessons we seek to impart to our children. The goal is that they will one day be independently dependent on Jesus. They will yearn for His smile, not crave remuneration.
If these haven’t been convicting enough, I highly recommend the best book on parenting I’ve read, Ted Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart, published by Shepherd’s Press.