Somewhere along the line, we created an imaginary set of rules about what kids need for healthy development and if you’ll listen closely, you’ll hear it: “To love my children is to buy them things.” Suffice it to say, if love equals providing material comforts, American children are the most well-loved children in the world. Ironically, they also suffer the most from narcissism, ingratitude, and a grandiose sense of entitlement.
Those are the children we created attempting to “give them what they need.” We said, essentially, though no parent would admit it, “Let me make you the center of the universe. Let my love translate into money, my affection into recreation, and let me, above all else, make sure you have everything and every experience you want so you’ll know how much I care about you.”
The disaster is that children want things, but it’s not what they need, and many parents aren’t smart enough to know the difference.
I’ve been asked, outright, how I could possibly give each child “what they need” since I have far more children than the average family. But the question I ask is, “What do you mean by ‘what they need?’ ” At first I assume they’re asking how I have enough time to spend with all my children, to know them and assess their individual needs.
But usually the people who ask me such questions have two parents working outside the home and their children are in school. With homework and school functions considered, that means parents and children are spending an average of (studies indicate) 36 minutes during a weekday together, and 7 out of 10 admit that time is mostly spent watching t.v.
Can this parent really be asking me if I have enough energy and time to go around for my 10 children? At this point, I realize their experience grossly skews their perception. I have far more children, true. But we are not scattered a whole bunch during the day. We don’t spend a lot of time watching t.v. We eat every meal together every day. I talk to each of my children, individually, every day. We work together, cook together, think and talk together. We’ve chosen this life, to the exclusion of other things. Ask me about those. But not about how my children don’t get enough of me.
“They do not need more things. More things do not better children make.”
Or is the question really not so concerned with time and love? It does, after all, discredit the benefit of sibling love and attention and a shared responsibility of household duties which lightens everyone’s load and affords us more time. Is the question veiled in concern that my children won’t all get cars at 16? Or that we won’t be paying for their college?
Here’s what children need, whether you have 1 or 20. They need you to slow down. They need your time, your face, your voice, your hugs, your explanations about life. They need to know you are willing to sacrifice even some material comforts in order to be with them as much as you can. They need you to walk with them, laugh with them, play games with them and read to them. More than anything, they need you to disciple them by giving them practical wisdom as they encounter choices all throughout the day. They need a family knit together by simplicity and time.
They do not need more things. More things do not better children make. More vacations do not make them better children. More entertainment, more gadgets, more clothes or more toys do not bolster their success in life.
The god of consumerism hates children because “too many children” curb our spending. Should we be surprised that God’s ideas are at enmity with the world’s? He told us it would be so.
I grieve for a generation of parents whose intentions have been tragically misinformed. I grieve for a generation of children who are being sold a bill of goods that is destroying them and us.
As I see it, having “too many children” has provided a good and necessary protection in our lives from things to which we would naturally gravitate. In my life, having too many children is what allows me to give them exactly what they need.
Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.
“One of the great things about living the simple life Kelly talks about here is that you can take the kids to the park, make banana splits at home, watch the caterpillar you caught last week emerge from its chrysalis a beautiful butterfly, and your children think they have a charmed life, rather than being bored with everything.” -Cindy Dyer, Get Along Home