America has long been hailed as the land of opportunities. Every decade they seem to grow exponentially. Do you want to start your own business? Self-publish an e-book? Become a YouTube rock star? It’s never been easier. But we aren’t the only ones with ever-widening opportunities. Our kids are growing up in a world few of their grandparents could’ve imagined. No longer is summer about trading baseball cards and kicking around a soccer ball. It’s about science camp, ballet lessons, downloading Apps, online gaming, and gluten-free, dairy-free, GMO-free snacks in BPA-free containers. Options. If there’s one thing we have as parents in the 21st century, it’s options. Which is a good thing, right?
A few months ago we went to a restaurant in Kentucky that served only grilled cheese sandwiches. How they took America’s simplest sandwich and came up with 58 options on their menu is beyond me. But I’ll say this, I felt like my brain cells were shrinking as I spent twenty minutes trying to pick a grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, options provide opportunities, but they also complicate life. As parents, they create an undercurrent of pressure. We want (and often feel compelled) to give our kids everything. Every advantage, every opportunity, every collectible My Little Pony Equestrian doll. We want to nurture every talent, support every interest, cater to every preference. Because after all, isn’t that what the Jones’s are doing?
This summer I agonized to the point of insanity over school options for my eldest. Did I mention she is entering pre-K? As in pre-Kindergarten. As in the grade before the grade in which you spend 30% of the day coloring. But you know what? I love my daughters. This is why I agonize. But it’s not the only reason I agonize. I also agonize because I don’t trust God. And because I idolize my children’s well-being. And because I’m arrogant enough to want to be the best mom in the world.
Last month my husband suggested we read a little book by Kevin DeYoung called “Crazy Busy.” (Hmm…I wonder why he thought we needed to read that??) Among other things, the book presents seven diagnoses to consider regarding our crazy busy lives. I was especially struck by diagnosis #4: “You Need to Stop Freaking Out about Your Kids.” (Kevin’s words, not mine!) He cites a survey conducted by Ellen Galinsky in which more than a thousand school-aged children were asked what one thing they would change about how their parents’ work affected them. Parents were surprised to find that the children seldom wished for more time with them. Rather, the vast majority wished their parents were less tired and less stressed. DeYoung borrows the term “secondhand stress” to describe the way children feel in a constantly frazzled environment. Listen to this:
“By trying to do so much for them, we are actually making our kids less happy. It would be better for us and for our kids if we planned fewer outings, got involved in fewer activities, took more breaks from the kids, did whatever we could to get more help around the house, and made parental sanity a higher priority.”
The first time I read this, I had to re-read it. Wait a minute—did he just say take more breaks from the kids? Get more help around the house? By doing these things, I may end up being a better parent for them? I found myself exhaling. In the tightrope of parenting, it felt like someone had just cut me some much needed slack. If DeYoung is right, and what my kids really want (although they are too young to express it) is a mom who is at peace, then maybe I don’t need to feel so guilty every time I drop my girls off with a babysitter. Or throw a pizza in the oven and pop in a movie. Maybe these aren’t the “survival” choices, but occasionally, the better ones. The ones that de-frazzle the week, lower the hyper-high-performance bar, and give my kids the sense of calm they ache for.
Maybe all this goes to show that parenting ought to be less about doing and more about being. Less about co-sleeping debates and pacifier anxiety, and more about becoming a woman centered on Christ. Less about performance and guilt, and more about daily finding hope in the grace of the gospel. Because despite the fact that my kids still beg for the things everybody else has, one day when they look back on their childhood, they’ll remember more than all the activities and opportunities. They’ll remember what kind of home they had, be it peaceful…or crazy busy.
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