Why foregoing good things is the best thing for your kid

Standing backstage in the dressing room of my pre-teen daughter’s first play, the reality of the new version of the American Dream—providing all the best possible opportunities for our children—descended on me like a thick fog.  We’d been back in the US for three months, resettling here for a season after being overseas missionaries since before my kids were born. 

My head swirled as the moms around me compared charter schools, private voice coaches, and paths to the best collegiate drama programs.  My family was experiencing for the first time the great American buffet of options available to our kids in schools, sports, and activities.  I found myself sifting through websites, calling friends, and sighing to neighbors that I have no idea what I’m doing here.  

Overseas we had very few options for the kids’ schooling and activities.  We adjusted to that reality, but I confess I often skimmed Facebook with a twinge of jealousy, as I saw my friends’ kids in ballet and piano recitals, sports games, school plays, and summer camps.  Now that we were back in the States I wanted them to have all of those experiences to make up for lost time. 

In the dressing room that day I found myself battling multiple voices in my head.  One was frantic and shouting, “You have robbed your children of these activities and now they’re way behind.  Get them enrolled in everything.”  Another voice wondered, “What is the goal here?  What are these moms—and me, for that matter—so worried about?  What are they striving for and is it worth it?”  And a third voice just kept lamenting, “This conversation is out of whack, but I can’t put my finger on it.” 

I was surprised when I discovered that other moms—moms who had lived here all along—felt the same way that I did.  It turns out, those voices are in many of their heads too.  We’re all after the elusive “best” for our kids—we seem to be sprinting in relatively the same direction: trying to make it to the goal line of school enrollment, team tryouts, play auditions, the best church youth group, and more.  We respond to one another with knowing nods and furrowed brows, indicating that it’s tough to stay on top of it all, but we have to, right?  It’s what we have to do to give our kids the best. 

But I sense that we all question our goals and methods.  When I share with others that we’ve never before lived with so many options, people whisper back that it’s better that way.  They say in hushed tones, “Don’t buy into this American way of life.”  

Somewhere in our souls we all know that parents centering their time and money and resources around their children isn’t good. People quickly confess that they’ve wrongly put their kids at the center of their lives, but what can be done? 

Against our intuition, Jesus calls us to lose our lives to find them (Matthew 10:39).  As we lay down our lives for His sake we find that He satisfies us with good things (Psalm 103:5).  And the same is true for our kids.  We must exchange what the world says is best for them with what God says is best for all of us—that is Himself, His calling, the works He created in advance for us to do.  It is in His presence we and our kids find a fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Here’s the real kicker—the real counter-intuitive truth that will revolutionize our families and our kids’ futures—when we forego what our culture deems best and instead chase God’s best, it is in fact our kids’ best.  When we serve God and not our children, our children actually benefit.  

It is good for our children to be dethroned and God to be enthroned.  It is good for a child to miss out on piano lessons because a family has chosen to save up for an adoption.  It is good for a child to forego attending the best schools because a family has chosen to settle into a neighborhood in which they might shine a bright light.  It is good for kids to miss summer camp to go on a mission trip.  It is good for children to miss out on all kinds of “bests” in order for families to participate in any number of kingdom-minded activities that glorify God and not our kids. 

Let’s live for a bigger kingdom than the one inside our own homes—in the end, it really is what’s best for our kids anyway. 

(See Part 2 here and Part 3 here.)