Is it just me or is there a lot of pressure on parents to provide their children with the absolute perfect environment for growth? We are told that our children need to be breast fed, need listen to classical music, need to be able to read by age four, need to play sports, need to play an instrument, need to be involved in theater, need to know Latin, need to experience the world broadly, need to understand various philosophical arguments, need lots of friends, need solitude, need to be nurtured, need tough love, and on and on and on. If we don’t provide these things for our children their growth will be stunted and they may end up as a hobo or drug dealer.
Talk about a lot of pressure! Who can possibly do all these things? I certainly can’t. But is it possible we’re setting the bar too high for ourselves and our children? That maybe we’re getting a little carried away? And that maybe, just maybe, we’re going beyond what God requires of us as parents?
Let me be honest, I don’t remember much from my many years of schooling. And don’t get me wrong, I did pretty well in school. I don’t say this to brag (because honestly I’m not too impressed) but I graduated from college Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA. I was very good at gaming standardized tests.
Yet despite my decent performance in school I don’t remember much. I can’t remember all the elements on the periodic table. I can’t remember all the countries in Africa even though I was forced to memorize them. I can’t remember who was the governor of Massachusetts in 1843 even though I took Advanced Placement History. I think James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers but I’m not sure. The only Latin phrase I know is “Carpe Diem” and I got that from the movie Dead Poet’s Society. I never played lacrosse or took part in a school play.
Let me tell you what I do remember.
I remember coming downstairs every morning and seeing my dad reading his Bible.
I remember all the times I went fishing with my dad.
I remember all the music we jammed out to as a family, including Billy Joel, Sting, The Beatles, dc Talk, and Peter Gabriel. The constant presence of music in our house gave me a love for music as well as a biblical framework to interpret music.
I remember my mom and dad’s constant, appropriate physical affection. I remember that they always told me how much they loved me. I remember sitting in church and feeling my mom’s loving hand on my back. I remember our morning family devotions even though I often fell asleep during those devotions. I remember seeing my dad serve my mom when she was battling depression. He made dinners, did dishes, and cleaned up after us. I remember totaling my parents car and neither of them getting angry at me. I remember my dad telling me he didn’t care what career I chose as long as I followed Jesus. I remember all the fun books we read together as a family, which in turn instilled a passion for reading and learning in me.
Education and extracurricular activities are good and important. But maybe they’re not as important as we think. What’s most important is that we teach our children to love Jesus, love others, and be servants. If they know Latin, great. But if not it’s really okay.
Don’t feel guilty for falling short of your own unrealistic, extra-biblical standards. There are only a few things in life which really, really matter. Focus on those things and the rest will fall into place.
[Editor's Note: This article appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 4.1.]