What Our Children Really Need

Children at play, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Parenting is hard these days.  It always has been, so I hear and read.  In many ways, because of modern innovation and technological advancement parenting is much easier- probably the easiest it has ever been.  And yet, we make it hard for all the wrong reasons in all the wrong ways.  I think it is because we are a generation of distracted parents.  We are looking intently with great care at the moment refusing to believe that our children are going to be okay.  They really are.  We hear that we educated, informed, and connected parents cannot create or control their future, or that our kids’ achievement is not really up to us.  But we still try.  And we try so hard.

Take for instance recreational sports.

I didn’t know until I had kids that there are soccer leagues for three-year-olds.  Three-year olds!  So, what did I do?  Like any good parent today I signed my newly-potty trained 3-year-old girl up for soccer.  She hated it.  She spent most of the practices trying to play with her friend on the team next to hers, or asking for a snack, or saying she is so tired…at 10:00 a.m.  That year was pretty much a waste of time and money, but we are persistent parents, so we signed her up again as a 4-year-old and this time she enjoyed it.  She was prepared developmentally now and seemed to stay engaged for a longer period of time.

We do this, though.  We read online about this “thing,” or our friend tells us about Johnny’s “yoga swim preschool mommy and me” and that we should come, so we do and then we are like, “hmm my kid can’t swim…or stay with the group…or make it to the potty on time.”  Wow, we need to brush up on our swimming…and yoga for that matter.  So then we sign up for those private lessons and summer camps and it is all just a big fat mess.  We are making parenting a big fat mess.  And our kids are not even in middle school yet.  Wowzers.

There is an outcry going on lately regarding young children not getting enough play.  We hand them worksheets, force them to read before they are ready, and tell them to sit still for hours on end.  When I was in Kindergarten we had half-days, and I still took a nap or had a rest time of some sort.  We exhaust our kids and ourselves to achieve.

But this is not even our problem.

Yes our children need play.  Sure they need less activities.  But what they need most is something that cannot be found in a classroom or on a playground.  What our children need is cultivation of character.  

I like what Charlotte Mason says in that “children are born persons.”  They should be treated as such.  Not as projects, machines, or experiments, but as people made in the image of God designed with unique personalities, tastes, and skills.

Some may balk at this and say, “This is moralism!  Our children need the gospel!”  Yes, our children need Jesus more than anything, but in order for them to know Jesus personally they need to recognize their need for Him.  They must learn that they need saving.  Walking an aisle or saying a prayer will not save our children.  Moral lessons won’t save them either.  When we seek to cultivate the character of our children though, we are not seeking to save our children, what we are doing is teaching them the wisdom of God.  Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,” so our task as parents is to lead our kids towards the path of wisdom, which begins and ends with Christ.  We should always be speaking, singing, praying, and cheering the gospel from infancy forward.  When we teach our unbelieving kids about godly character we do so not to make them righteous, but to point them to the Righteous One.  Every character lesson is to be covered in prayer and coupled with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So when we teach compassion, we pray for our kids to develop hearts of compassion for others and that they would see Jesus as a merciful Savior who loves children, the insignificant, the left-out ones, and sinners.  It’s both and– character and the gospel.

What our children really need is to know how to wait their turn, put others first, and clean up after themselves.  They need to learn to self-regulate and not seek to control their environment with their tempers.  Our children need to work on diligence- to finish what they start and put their things away when they are through.  They need to learn how to look an adult in the eye when spoken to, and say “Hello.”  Our children need to practice using good manners and proper etiquette.  Letting kids be kids is one thing, but letting them roam reckless without wise guidance into maturity is irresponsible.

I say all this to say that I struggle with being a distracted parent today.  Sometimes I feel like I should be doing more with my kids or maybe they are missing out of XY or Z.  But then I am reminded that I cannot subcontract my role as mom. A swim instructor can teach my kids to swim, and he or she may help build their character regarding traits such as perseverance or courage, but that instructor won’t be with my kids for the long haul.  I can pull my kids into an accelerated literacy program, and they may be able to read before Bob or Susy, but will my kids rub it in their faces?  What have they really achieved then?

Character over reading, over play, over mommy and me, over all of it.  Our children need to know how to live, and not just any old way, but God’s way.  It is our job as parents to lead them that way.  The more I pray and work towards this the more I see not only my children’s need for the gospel, but my own, and how thankful I am for Jesus more and more every day.  Were it not for His grace I would either be a thrill seeker or a do-gooder, and neither way can save me.  As I train my children in the way they should go I trust in the Lord to do the rest.  I train, He changes.

Parenting is hard, but it is not impossible.  When we give our children what they really need, everything else is just extra.  We focus on Christ and the hearts of our kids then we leave it in God’s hands.  That’s all we can do.  It makes us feel so helpless and vulnerable, but this is as it should be.  God parents us as we parent our kids, teaching us to rely on Him every step of the way.  We never outgrow wisdom, and neither will our kids.  Let’s lead them this way.



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