I am consistently amazed by the sheer volume of opportunities there are for children in today’s culture. It seems like everywhere you turn there is a permission slip, a tryout, or a sign-up form for some activity. There are travel sports teams, art lessons, school musicals – you name it, and it’s all out there waiting for us to say “yes” to on behalf of our kids.
It’s all a little difficult to sort through, especially since every activity seems to be “the” activity. On a given week, the same child might be convinced they need to be an actor, a tennis player, a playwright, and an outdoors expert. Part of our job as parents is to help curate these opportunities – to guide our kids into a decision-making process so that someday they have the strength to say “no” when they need to and “yes” when it’s right.
But that’s hard because you want to help your kids find their “thing.” And after all, how can they find their “thing” unless they try out a whole bunch of “things?” Given that my family is facing these opportunities day by day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to do that curating. What are the key questions to ask when your child comes to you with an opportunity they are convinced is the right one? I’m sure there are many, but here are three for you to think through:
1. How will this shape my child’s character?
Let’s face it – your child probably isn’t going to be a professional “fill-in-the-blank.” They might think they are, but they will probably find some other thing that excites them down the line. So if that’s true, it would be a mistake for the first question to ask when we are evaluating an opportunity to be about whether doing that thing will put them in line for a Division 1 college scholarship.
We should, however, recognize that allowing our kids to do something that takes up a chunk of their time will inevitably shape their character in some way. So when we recognize that, we would do well to consider it. How will doing this thing shape my son or daughter’s character? And as you’re asking the question, consider who they are likely going to be influenced by while doing that activity. Who’s the coach or the teacher? Who are the other people involved? Those are all factors that shape character.
2. How will this change our family dynamic?
A kid’s activities change the overall family dynamic. It may mean another child is going to more ballgames. Or it might mean someone has to ride the bus that didn’t have to. Or it might mean you are choosing to give up every Saturday morning for the foreseeable future. It’s going to change the family dynamic in some way. And that’s not always a bad thing.
I think it’s a very good thing, in fact, for brothers and sisters to go to their siblings’ sporting events, art shows, or whatever because it makes them think outside of themselves. But when we ask the question, we are recognizing that something is going to change in our home, and we need to think about whether we like the change it will bring. Another way to ask the question might be this: Does this change in our family dynamic move us more toward a family that loves and honors Jesus? Which leads directly to the next question:
3. How will this point us to Jesus?
Ask this question not just about the child doing the activity, but your entire family. How will this activity point us to Jesus? Perhaps it will do so by making us think of others as more important than ourselves. Or perhaps it will do so by helping us see one of the children’s unique skills and abilities given to them so that they might use those skills and abilities to honor Jesus. Or perhaps it will do so for us as parents because it will make us own up to our own competitive nature that is often an affront to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Then again, perhaps it won’t point us to Jesus at all. Perhaps it will serve to pull us away from the people of God and the priority of spiritual growth and development in our families. Either way, we should ask the question if we recognize that the primary goal we have as parents is to point our children to Jesus as the only One who truly satisfies.
Parents, we want to say yes to everything. I know I do because I want my kids to have fun and succeed. But let’s step back for a moment before we do and consider a few things. Ask a few questions. And as we do, pray again and again for the wisdom to do this very hard thing called parenting.