The first time I walked into a Babies-R-Us I was pregnant with our first child. As soon as I passed through the sliding glass doors, a wave or pressure rolled over me. Each step through the baby supply warehouse increased my blood pressure, hastened my breathing, and brought perspiration to my palms. Every item coaxed, “You need me to be a successful parent. Without me, your child will not be safe, smart, or successful.” Strollers, formula, carseats, and sunscreen assured me that I would fail without them.
This pressure did not relent when I left the store. I entered a world of magazine advertisements, doctors’ offices posters, and conversations with peers that pressed all the more. Beyond babyhood it got even worse. Schools, gyms, clubs, teams, studios, other parents, teachers, coaches and family members have been letting me know for years how my kids should be spending their time. That is, if I want them to be successful and well-rounded.
It’s exhausting. Keeping up with the recommendations of experts and even other families we know is too much. My husband and I quickly realized we needed a process for choosing how to spend our time and money as a family—a method for weeding out good things, in order to choose the best things, for our kids.
To that end, my husband wrote a Parenting Manifesto a few years ago. It was born out of years of conversations and choices we had already been making for our kids. He typed up the Manifesto, printed it, and brought it to the dinner table one night when our kids ranged in ages from elementary to high school.
The Manifesto begins with a foundational truth: We believe Jesus is the most valuable treasure in the universe (Php. 3:14, Heb. 12:2, Col. 1:16-17, Rom. 11:36, Matt. 7:21-23, Prov. 22:6). Therefore, our goal as parents is to provide our kids with opportunities and encouragement to know, love, worship, and pursue Jesus.
Now, only God Himself can woo our children. We fully recognize that if they do love Jesus, it will be because the Holy Spirit made Him irresistible. But we also recognize that in His sovereignty, God ordains not only the ends, but the means, as well. Therefore, as stewards of our children, we want to carefully construct the means that will carry them to the end—glorifying and enjoying Jesus forever.
This is a broad, overarching goal. But it lays the foundation for all of our choices. We can refer back to this goal when we think about how our kids will spend their time and with whom. We try, as imperfect parents, to ensure that our time and resources are spent to that end.
Feeding that main, overarching goal, we have a few others that I'm listing below. I'm sharing them here for the express purpose of helping others brainstorm. I have appreciated such examples myself. But please, please know that these goals and methods are not the only way to parent. Please know that we fail all the time. Please know that we fully depend on God's grace and not our own methods--we, and our kids, need Him more than anything! Here they are:
- That our kids would have a working knowledge of the bible and theology.
- That our kids would be readers, deep thinkers, and lifelong lovers of learning.
- That our kids would manage their money well and be hard workers.
- That our kids would have time to play, rest, and savor simple things in life.
- That our kids would serve others.
These goals reflect what we value, but they are not one-size-fits-all goals for all American, Christian families. Other parents have different and God-honoring goals. And believe me, we fail at striving for these goals every single day. But God's grace is so good. He meets our kids right where they are in spite of us.
1. That our kids would have a working knowledge of the bible and theology.
We read the bible together (almost) daily, discussing the text and its life application. We also read theology books together and use different tools that help us systematically move through doctrine. Right now we’re using New City Catechism, a joint adult and children's catechism adapted by Timothy Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation catechisms.
2. That our kids would be readers, deep thinkers, and lifelong lovers of learning.
We surround our kids with books and require them to read every day. We read aloud to them (almost) everyday. We also pursue learning together as a family in various ways: being out in nature, discussing history at the dinner table, critiquing TV commercials and finding their lies. My husband even pays our kids to read especially difficult books and discuss them with him.
3. That our kids would manage their money well and be hard workers.
My husband’s background in economics serves us well here, but anyone can pursue this goal using tools such as those found on Dave Ramsey’s website. We tie work to money in our house and our kids earn their allowance, as well as their fees for things like summer camp. Each month they sit down with their dad, he pays them their allowance, and they decide then how much they will give, save, and spend in the month ahead.
4. That our kids would have time to play, rest, and savor simple things in life.
We allow our kids to do one extra-curricular activity at a time. They may choose to do one sport, one club, one instrument—just one thing at a time. Next fall they’re signed up to be in drama and ballet and everyone’s practice will be on Tuesday night, leaving every other night for free time, rest, family meals, and spontaneous fun with each other or in the neighborhood.
5. That our kids would serve others.
This has looked different in each country in which we have lived. It has included serving children in our church’s kids’ ministry, going on mission trips to Cambodia, baking and selling cupcakes on behalf of a ministry in Uganda, hosting people in our home for fellowship, praying outside abortion clinics, forging friendships with newly adopted kids who don’t speak English well, visiting the elderly, and other organic, natural activities that flow from an intentional life. The main point is that our family would strive to look outside rather than in and simply ask God where He can use us each day.
These five goals and the methods we have in place for pursuing them all serve the highest goal of glorifying Jesus and enjoying Him as a family. These structures ebb and flow with life. We are far from perfect parents who get lazy and allow ourselves to be whisked away with the cultural current. But because we have committed ourselves to these goals and engaged in conversations about them as a family, they beckon us back each time we find ourselves adrift. They are the boundaries that allow us to forego good things for our kids so they can see and savor the best thing.