After being in Florida for the past week, and watching as parents everywhere lavish their kids with every experience and material good, necessary and unnecessary, I can’t help but think that our culture has really missed something.
While we were in South Africa, one of the main things that we noticed about their world was the elderly and how they were treated. They were the head of the household, the kids served them and they called the shots. The kids on the had a lot of responsibility. One of the key things we picked up on was during dinner time. Here in North America, when we eat, we serve the kids first. We make sure they have everything they need, give them their drinks and then we will eat once they are all taken care of. In Africa, the kids served the adults, the oldest going first. Sometimes the kids would only get a little bit to eat because there wasn’t enough. Then they ate in the kitchen while the adults ate and then they cleaned up when it was over.
Kids nowadays start their lives being treated like royalty. The younger you are the more focus is given to you. We want to make sure our kids have the best childhood ever. We want them to love us because we were amazing parents. So we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars lavishing them with everything possible. We treat them like princesses and princes. We spend extra money to make sure they have the best education, the best teachers, the best clothing, the best extra-curricular activities, the best about everything. This is how we all feel right? We would think that we are bad parents if we didn’t give them the absolute best.
Then of course as they get older, they become less special. It’s these same children who have to pay their own way through school. It’s these same children who end up in nursing homes while their children are off chasing their dreams that they were told were all theirs; dreams of riches, fame, being special, being happy (you know all the same characteristics that these same princess have that we think its OK for them to want to be one).
I realized then that this is sort of the same problem as Andy Crouch spoke about with the differences between practices and purchases. Just like purchases start off great and slowly go down on the satisfaction scale, so does our lives. It starts off great as children and slowly gets worse and less. Maybe we should slowly increase and evolve the time, energy and focus towards our kids over time rather than treat them now like they don’t have the rest of their lives ahead of them.
For some reason, we treat childhood as if it’s something to be adored and sought after. We are seeing kids taking way longer to grow up and middle aged people wishing they were younger. Growing old is feared and being young is sought. I can’t seem to think we have it backwards. Why can’t the best days always be in front of us all the time. How come the best days now always seem to be behind us? It doesn’t lead us to a very happy and fulfilling life if everyday we wake up knowing that it wasn’t going to be as good as the last. If we can however shift our focus back to how we used to view things I think that it might be a lot healthier for us. Everyday we wake up knowing that life is getting even better and more exciting.
This isn’t all to say we should love and treat our kids well. Just be realistic about it. Their best days are ahead of them. Prepare them for those days rather than try to compete with them. Shape your families so that as you get older, you become more respected. Make it exciting to get older. Teach your kids how to make the best out of their lives so they can live purposeful and meaningful lives the older they get. The deeper they get into purchasing for pleasure and needing great experiences to be entertained the more they are going to want to stay children so they can be fed that kind of life. Rather, discipline them now, teach them to practice, teach them what it is really life to live a life of freedom and their lives will continually get better and better. There is no freedom in being given everything instantly without having to earn it. True freedom, as we know, comes through years of patience, practice and discipline. All we are doing now is allowing our kids to experience life without truly experiencing freedom. I don’t know about you, but I want our children to truly be free to live lives that they were meant to live.