In previous posts, I have intentionally used misleading titles to lure web surfers into reading my content. As I begin this post, it occurs to me that my title today may evoke certain ideas in my readers about my content that are inaccurate. I am not intentionally trying to be misleading so let me clarify right from the outset. This is not an article about vaccinations, violent video games, or genetically modified food (Sorry, I couldn't think of another "V" word). Those are things I might not give my children, but they are not my focus here. The three items on my list today are not bad things. On the contrary, they are actually quite good things. The reason I will never give these things to my children is not because I won't by choice but because I can't by nature. As the holiday and gift-giving season is wrapping up, I have been thinking about and spending a lot of time with my kids. It has occurred to me that there are several items I would love to give them as a parent but I simply cannot. I submit them here for your consideration:
1. True Happiness - Some people are adverse to the idea of giving gifts at Christmas time because they resent the commercialization of what is supposed to be a spiritual celebration. I can certainly understand their sentiments. For our family, however, we view Christmas as an excellent opportunity to celebrate and reflect the goodness of God's gifts to us by giving gifts to others. Thus, we buy Christmas gifts for our kids. We certainly aren't extravagant, but we try to get each child several gifts including one "WOW" gift that will really surprise them. This year was no exception. In the days following our Christmas morning gift extravaganza, I have realized that the danger is not in the gifts we give our children but in the message we send to them. My kids are still at the stage where they believe their possessions will make them happy. (Truthfully, their parents still grapple with this lie as well.) One of the challenges my wife and I face in our gift-giving is to help our children understand that the one present we cannot give them is contentment and true happiness. They will have to find this for themselves, and they will not find it in a box or on a shelf somewhere. Our job is to point them in the right direction and to reflect true happiness to them as we have found it ourselves.
2. A Baggage-Free, Damage-Free Childhood - The Friday after Christmas, something occurred in my life that I have dreaded and feared for at least two years. I dropped my iPad on a tile floor and irreparably cracked the glass on the multi-touch screen. This may sound childish and materialistic (it probably is), but I almost started crying when I saw the damage. Now, before you condemn my reaction as a selfish, first-world problem let me explain two things. First, the iPad is not technically mine as it was purchased by my employer and I use it primarily for work purposes. Second, it is really important to me to have a few things in my life that I keep in really nice, almost-new condition. Having three young children makes this endeavor difficult, as you can imagine. The iPad was one of those things that I really tried to protect and keep nice. (For those who are wondering, the other ones also start with the letter "i".) When I dropped the device, it bothered me because it was now damaged goods. It still works just fine. It does what I need it to do, although reading through a spider-web shaped crack gets annoying at times. It just bothered me to have something that was less-than-perfect.
As parents of young children, my wife and I are trying our best to be thoughtful, careful, prayerful, and intentional as we guide our children to adulthood. We refuse certain vaccinations (but not all). We don't allow them to play violent video games. We try to avoid most genetically-modified foods. We attempt to be balanced, loving, and gracious while still being firm, consistent, and authoritative. We try to allow them to be themselves while still confronting their depravity and pointing them to the Savior. In short, we are trying our best to provide them with a baggage-free, damage-free childhood experience. This is an admirable intention on our part, but I have reached the conclusion that it is an unattainable goal. Despite our best intentions, my three kids will have mental/emotional/spiritual baggage through which they have to work as adults. Much like my iPad, they will have cracks, dings, and dents in their lives. Some of this will come from Danielle and me. Some of it will come from other sources. Either way, we have to understand that we cannot keep our kids in that new, out-of-the-box condition forever. They will get damaged, but this is part of what makes our life-journeys so amazing. God is an expert in working with cracked pots.
3. Their Convictions, Beliefs, and Values - A few nights ago, my wife and I went on an impromptu trip to Longhorn Steakhouse for dinner. During the course of the meal, we began having one of those New Year-type of discussions where we were evaluating how we are doing as parents and how we ought to change for the better. We wrote down a list of values that we want to instill in our children. The list included items like true spirituality, perseverance, an open/curious mind, gratitude, love for God, respect for others, creativity, etc... As we made the list, we looked at each other and acknowledged the inconvenient truth that, despite our concerted efforts, there is no guarantee that our children will have or maintain these things throughout their adult life (Proverbs 22:6 notwithstanding). The truth is, we cannot give any of these things to them. We can simply model them to our kids through our own lives and emphasize them through the way we conduct our family life. Beyond that, our only recourse is to pray and trust the hand of their Heavenly Father.
Coming to this understanding about our role as parents and the limitations of that role has actually been quite refreshing. I fear that too many parents put far too much pressure on themselves as they bring up their kids. Please don't misunderstand, parenting is by far one of the hardest (to date) and one of the most important tasks I have ever undertaken. We, however, have found it helpful and healthy to consider the exact nature of our role as our kids' parents and to come to grips with what we can and cannot do for them or give to them. Right now, the word that I feel best describes our job is the word influence. I am sure that word has some shortcomings and baggage with it, but it resonates with me and gives me a framework for my parenting as we enter another year in this adventure called life. Perhaps some of the thoughts I have shared here will prove helpful for you or someone you know.