Real talk with your kids might be the best gift a Mum can give

Want to help your children to help the world? Dish up some dinner table gratitude

One day, I came home to a terse conversation about school-bag keyrings.

“I only have one. I need more! Everyone else has at least ten!”

The moment was jarring, as I had just spent my first day working with Baptist World Aid Australia, reading stories about people living in poverty.

Stories about mothers struggling to feed their children. Stories about young children working all day, instead of attending school and families fleeing violence.

How would I respond to my seven-year-old’s angst about keyrings? “Are you kidding me? Let me spell out for you how much you do NOT need any more of anything!”

As a parent, I wrestle with how to address this excess in my children’s lives and in my own. Mother’s Day rolls around and, honestly, I don’t want a scented coat hanger, and I know I do not need another ‘World’s Greatest Mum’ coffee cup.

When I was young, my parents often wheeled out the maxim ‘finish your dinner. Don’t you know there are children starving in Africa?’

The truth is we are surrounded by a culture full of unnecessary keyrings, mugs and (clothes on) scented hangers. We consume, and throw away, at an alarming rate here in Australia. It’s in stark comparison to how most of the world lives, and really troubling when compared with the more than 700 million people surviving on less than $2 a day.

However, I know that making my children feel guilty won’t address this imbalance. So I’ve been wondering, how do we have helpful conversations about poverty? It’s not hard to point out that our world is broken but we can’t stay in that place when God is inviting us to participate in change.

I am not an expert, in parenting or poverty alleviation. But I want to introduce my children, as well as my friends and family, to a story larger than our daily experience. I want us, together, to participate in seeing God’s will be done, and his last-shall-be-first kingdom come here as in heaven (Matthew 20.16).

But where do I start with my children? When I was young, my parents often wheeled out the maxim ‘finish your dinner. Don’t you know there are children starving in Africa?’

I did know there were children starving throughout the world, and though my parents’ intentions were good, their comments only made those children feel more distant. I couldn’t relate to them, nor could I understand how eating more when I was full would help global poverty. This adage highlighted the space between us at a comfortable dinner table and those going without a meal entirely. It did not emphasise our shared humanity and was a long way from a conversation starter about poverty.

So now as a mother, I have found a starting point has been to foster – and model – gratitude.

Dinner table conversations are a great place to begin. In our family, we talk about where our food comes from; how grateful we are to have access to fresh, delicious food; we thank God and we thank the chef.

From there the tricky questions usually come: we feel the tension around our privilege, the injustice that we have while others go without. I don’t have all the answers but I can model the wrestling as we sit at the table (and each time we go to the supermarket). I can make space for the questions and encourage discomfort with the way things are. And always return to that baseline of gratitude.

Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase of the Bible translates Psalm 100 as, “Enter with the password: ‘Thank you!’ Make yourselves at home, talking praise. Thank him. Worship him. For God is sheer beauty, all-generous in love, loyal always and ever.”

As a mother, I have found a starting point has been to foster – and model – gratitude

So, what if we talk about God’s generous love, thank him for his goodness when we are together while trying to understand — not ignore — the real problems of poverty around the world? Then we could cultivate families who live as if every good gift comes from God (James 1:17) and are open-handed with what we have (Luke 12).

This biblical approach fosters an invitation to reflect and grow in our own understanding of what it means to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves.

Yes, I want to encourage my children to consume less and be generous. But I also want them to hear the biblical invitation God is issuing to work alongside him, to love those he loves, to experience his presence when we get to know people living on the margins (Matthew 25). This may result in us buying less and giving more but it shouldn’t end there.

As Christians, we believe all human beings have been created in the likeness of our creator (Genesis 1:27). This is a wonderful truth for children to grasp – that we are all called to bring glory to our creator and take part in the work he is doing making all things new.

As the prophet Isaiah said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

In both the brokenness of the world and in God’s plans for its restoration – we are all in this together. I think the idea of addressing global poverty becomes less overwhelming for children, and adults, when they locate themselves within the community and shared mission of God’s people.

So, this Mother’s Day, I’d gladly trade new things I don’t need just to sit with my children and talk about God’s generous love for us and for all people. Then, together, we can step into God’s purposes for our lives, hopefully becoming more like Jesus in the process, and create the conditions for those around us to flourish.

Five practical ways to start thoughtful conversations around poverty with your children:

1. Ask questions. The best conversations are those where everyone feels they have something to offer. Explore what your kids know about poverty already; how they feel about the state of the world; ask them what issue or injustice worries or upsets them.

2. Listen. Christ-like conversations are ones where people feel heard, and their ideas matter. I know for me, if I feel heard I am more open to hearing others. When we give children space to express and explore their thinking, we create conditions for their hearts to grow.

3. Discover and share stories. In my experience, the best way to talk about poverty is to introduce people to someone living in poverty. Tell their story, respectfully. Stories highlight our shared humanity and close the gap between our experiences. And children love a good story!

4. Pray. In all of the above, ask God to guide you and season these conversations with grace and wisdom (Colossians 4:1-6) and prepare your children’s hearts to learn.

5. Read. Study scripture to understand God’s heart for people living in poverty. The bible has a lot to say on the topic. Explore the scriptures with your children and learn together. Great places to start are: Isaiah 58; Matthew 25; and the book of James.

Meredith Wright is a writer at Baptist World Aid Australia.

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