Who hasn’t said at some point that they want “more” for their kids?! I hear many parents say that they want it better for their kids than they had it…and it’s a good sentiment! But is wanting “more” for your kids actually what is best for them?
A friend, who is expecting, contacted me the other day to ask what I would recommend putting on a baby registry. Because there is so much “stuff” for babies now, she and her husband did not want to get “caught up” in all of it, only to miss the point. When I started thinking through everything that we have for our daughter, I realized how little kids need (or want!). Most kids would prefer a giant cardboard box to practically anything else. I mean, what better venture in life is there than building a fort!?
I started by writing out my own list of a minimalist parenting baby registry, which you can find here, with details about price and how to procure such items. We spent almost no money out of pocket on baby stuff, thanks to gifts from friends and family, second-hand stores, and wealthy neighbours who throw a lot of things away.
But then I realized the question beneath the question had nothing to do with a baby registry. And preparing for our daughter had almost nothing to do with prepping the nursery. Grant and I had ample time to prepare for our little lady (three pregnancies, and a lot of waiting in between), and during that time, we decided on a few non-negotiables for raising her and any future children. The three things we agreed on were these: 1-faith is our foundation, 2-cultivating intangibles will outweigh tangible accumulation, and 3-“stuff” will be secondary to experiences. Through our [limited] experience so far, it has created a very rich experience for our family.
1-Faith: As two pastors, we consider faith to be an important part of our life. But some of the things that people think of in a faithful home might be notably absent in ours. When I hear “good, Christian home,” I envision a line of modestly dressed children in matching garb, reciting Bible verses with brimming smiles on their faces.
There are a few problems with this…I don’t sew, (so the matching garb is unlikely), and from what I have witnessed as a pastor, some of these kids grow up and leave the church with loads of memorized verses, but lacking a grounding relationship with their elders or (more importantly) with Jesus.
As I teach and develop curriculum for the kids in our congregation, I have come to believe that setting an example for kids about what a relationship with Jesus looks like, is more important than knowledge about scripture. It doesn’t mean we don’t read our Bibles or encourage kids to read them (I read mine cover-to-cover every year). It means that without a relationship, the knowledge won’t get us very far.
Inviting kids into the messiness of faith is a critical foundation for a relationship with Jesus, and what we have committed to as a family. This means that no question is off limits. If our daughter wants to ask about dinosaurs, the seven day creation, why Jesus had to die, why God seems so angry in the Old Testament, or why there is suffering in the world—we are committed to grappling with those questions with our kids instead of providing over-simplified answers. It also means admitting that we might not have the answers ourselves.
Faith in our home looks like real people, grappling with real issues, in the real world, as we navigate real relationships with each other and with our Creator.
Prayer, like most other things in our home, looks messy. There are few nights where we say bedtime prayers that are carefully crafted or theologically nuanced. Most nights we discuss something that happened that day that we need to pray about as a family, and then rumble with God. Since our girl doesn’t talk yet, we decide what to pray for, but we will let her choose when she can. We don’t gloss over the challenging things that we see in the world, because kids see these things too.
For example, when Grant and I were doing the 30 Day Hunger Challenge, we would pray about hunger with our kids, thanking God for our nourishment, and praying prayers for social justice, change, and for God to use us to make a difference in the lives of kids and parents who are going hungry, who are facing famine or drought. Does our daughter understand these prayers? Who knows, probably not yet. Will she need counselling after thinking about serious issues at such a young age? Maybe…and we will cross that bridge when we get there.
But it is unavoidable to expose kids to the problems of the world. They will be exposed somewhere. So we are trying to foster language and develop a worldview around challenging situations from an early age.
2-Cultivating the intangibles: Some people just call this character. One of the things I did before our kid was born was write down four intangible traits that I wanted to pass along from Grant and I to her—four things to focus on that have nothing to do with tangible stuff. These necessarily will be different for each kid and for everyone who uses this practice.
The two things I wanted our daughter to “inherit” from Grant were his sense of humour and his courage. The two things I wanted her to “inherit” from me were my compassion and my curiosity. We have tried to cultivate these four intangibles in her daily life. There are a whole slough of things I don’t want her to pick up from either of us! But by focusing on the positive traits, we are seeing her personality develop in unique and wonderful ways.
Practically speaking, cultivating curiosity means opting for the library over the toy store. Cultivating compassion means including her on hospital visitations to the sick (her first pastoral care visit was at three weeks old). Cultivating her sense of humour means playing peek-a-boo for hours while laughing hysterically instead of watching a movie together. Cultivating courage means acting courageously ourselves—taking risks and praying boldly. Focusing on these character qualities creates a simple life to be sure, but a rich one for all of us.
3-The final thing our family decided on is that “stuff” will come second to experiences. Both my husband and I love to travel—anything from spending a week soaking up the sun on the beach, to climbing an active volcano in Central America, to meandering the cobblestone streets of an old European village while breakfasting on croissants and espresso, to pitching a tent under a starry, open sky. We decided that we didn’t want to stop travelling because we have kids; we want our kids to catch the travel bug too.
With a baby this is much more difficult. We just needed to learn to travel light, to be able to go anywhere with our family of three in our Corolla. We broke her into this lifestyle quickly with a trip to the family cottage in Muskoka at two months old, an 11 hour car ride to a writing conference at three months old, and her first flight [will be] at 7 months old.
Maybe your family is really into cooking, or hiking, or playing board games, or fishing, or any other number of activities. These experiences will make lasting memories for your kids in ways you may never realize, even if they can’t participate initially.
When I was a young kid, my dad was really into skiing. He excelled at waterskiing, snow skiing, trick skiing, and slalom skiing. When I was four, he took me out for the first time because he wanted to be able to share that experience with me and my siblings. But even before all of us were old enough to ski, my dad wanted us involved in the experience.
Just before Christmas one year, my parents took us downtown Portland along the waterfront. My dad got all dressed up as Santa Clause on the end of a dock. With his friend in a ski boat nearby, he strapped on his skis, and dock-started (in December). Roaring up and down the Willamette River, he hollered, “Ho, Ho, Ho” to onlookers, waving one hand at a time. My sister and I stood on the shore with our mom laughing, and saying proudly to everyone watching, “That’s our dad!” I have no idea whatsoever what our parents wrapped up under the tree for us that year, or practically any other year. But I will never forget that experience!
Ultimately, focusing on faith, growing the intangibles, and prioritizing unique experiences has left little room in our lives (or our kid’s life) to focus on the accumulation of possessions. I am realizing that sometimes wanting “more” for your kids means wanting less. More than anything, I want our kids to know that they are loved by a gracious God and by their family, and to grow into individuals of strong character.