Before we had kids, my husband and I lived overseas for 2 years. During this time, we had a chance to hike through the Yellow Mountains (Huang Shan) of China with friends. I love talking about it….except one part that I always leave out...because it was just too embarrassing.
Sure, I'll talk about the thousands of steps we had to take, the steep ravines, the amazing waterfalls, the high peaks, and how awesome to see clouds wafting by below us…
But there’s just one part I almost always leave out….until now. (And still cringe thinking about it.)
You see, my husband and I completely over-packed our bags with unnecessary things.
And this trip was before we had kids, so we can’t even use them as an excuse!
Climbing a mountain with a heavy load made every step harder and even more treacherous. Here's the embarrassing part. Eventually, our friends had to help us carry our packs. (Sigh.)
The heavy sacks diminished from our excitement from the hike. We slowed our group down. Instead of soaking in the stunning scenery, being the wonderful married couple that we were… we jabbed each other with words like, "I told you not to bring so much!"
This is what happens when we carry too much baggage.
And then, on the flip side, there’s countless of other times when we didn’t pack enough. We didn’t have the things we needed.
There was that time we were stranded at an airport for an entire night, but because everything important was in our checked baggage… we had no extra clothing, no spare underwear, no phone chargers, and no toothbrush...
That’s wasn’t fun either.
Over the years, we’re finally learning.
In order to maximize the journey and take in all that life has to offer...
Several things need to happen:
We can’t have excess baggage (weighs us down)
We need to bring the essentials
These are great lessons for packing for a trip.
But, what about equipping our kids?
What are the essentials? And what are non-essentials of life?
If our backpacks are all we have to last us through our long hikes, we need to be very intentional about what we bring and what we leave behind.
Isn’t it the same way with our kids?
Their childhood is fleeting. And there is only finite amount of hours, days, and years. And here’s the thing - along with that, we also have a limited amount of energy and finances. Most of us have to work for a living to put food on the table, pay mortgage or rent, car, bills, and on top of that, general expenses of life. We are exhausted and sleep-deprived.
Those are the constraints of parenting (and life in general). With these constraints, how do we spend each of our days?
How to determine what’s essential?
Though the answer may be different for each family, each kid, here are some general principles that I've been thinking about:
1. Saying YES to something is saying NO to something else.
My default mode is to want to be all things to all people. I also want to do everything. I often have a case of FOMO... aka, Fear of Missing Out.
In packing,I also like to bring everything... you know, just in case!
But IF there’s only a limited amount of space, it’s another story.
In the same way, there’s only a finite amount of childhood years before they grow big and leave us.
How we can be good stewards of the time we are given with them?
If we calculate in...time for sleeping, eating, learning, reading, socializing, chores, lessons, holidays, commuting, extracurricular activities, family time, music practice, church…
Throw in the homework..
What time is there left?
We all have an inkling that making memories, creative play, feeding the imagination is also important. We also know that building in boredom-time is important too (see point #5). And somewhere in there, we want to build in character, grit, perseverance, patience, kindness, gentleness, life skills…
I’m no math genius. But one cursory look and I know that there’s hardly time to squeeze all that in.
But YET, here are the current statistics: According to a recent study cited by the BBC, kids on average in 2015 have spent over 6 hours a day on screens and devices. It’s now 2017. And that number has only skyrocketed.
I’m not here to throw electronics and technology under the bus (that’s a different topic for another day).
But still, let that sink in for a minute.
If kids (and parents) are saying YES to screens and devices for hours a day, what are they saying NO to?
Aside from screen time, if we say YES to even good and fun activities, what are we saying NO to?
We have to count the cost. With every decision, there is a trade-off. What things are we trading away? Is it worth it?
2. We have to know where we are going and why? What is the mission and vision for the family?
Every successful company has one. And so should each family.
Hellen Keller says, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Vision moves us forward.
Do you have a family vision statement? It can be a lengthy manifesto or it can be list of words that describes your family’s core values.
3. There is beauty in constraints and limitations.
As hikers, we were limited by what we could carry in our backpacks. It forces us to define what’s important. It makes us prioritize and be more intentional in our decisions.
Sometimes bigger isn’t better. In fact, James Clear makes a strong case on how having limitations & space constraints actually trains Brazilian boys to grow up to be better (aka, world supreme) soccer players in comparison to boys from wealthier countries that have access to plenty of real sized soccer fields. The Brazilian boys developed an uncanny talent to maneuver the ball in tight quarters of futsal, which later translated into them using those same skills to dominate the world soccer fields.
Learning to work within constraints and limitations actually builds skill.
In 2014, Marie Kondo published the little organizing manual, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it immediately shot to the top of the NYT Bestsellers list and sat on top for over a year. Why was it so popular? It’s not because it encourages us to do more, get more, and be more. Rather, it’s about being intentional with what we keep in our homes with only things that “spark joy.” Anything that doesn’t serve it’s purpose must go. She is ruthless.
Now, we know that all of life isn’t about looking for only things that “spark joy.” It can also be about sacrifice, hard work, grit, perseverance. But the take home message is this -- if we don’t know why we are doing something or the purpose for it, maybe we should toss it. (Ahem, random internet surfing for teens? So many extracurricular that our kids have no room to breathe?)
And one last thing about limitations. It’s the one thing that reminds us we’re still human. In our smallness, brokenness, and limitations, it’s then and only then that we realize we have to rely and trust on a big God.
4. We must know what is essential.
Greg McKeown defines it best in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
What is our highest point of contribution as parents? What can we offer that no one else can? Do we need to re-pivot and re-focus?
5. Everyone needs “think” time.
The Ten Commandments tells us that we must all have a rest day, the Sabbath. And generally, in American Christian life, that generally equates to church day and family time.
But what about deep-think time?
Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
“Of course, nobody likes to be bored. But by abolishing any chance of being bored we have also lost the times we used to have to think and process.” - Greg McKeown, Essentialism
Kids need time to be bored. Because through it, they will be forced to eventually think, imagine, and be truly creative. It’s a struggle and a battle of the mind -- just like a caterpillar struggling out of a chrysalis.
Perhaps we should we intentionally schedule “boredom” or into our kids daily schedule. It’s hard at first. But maybe we might see dividends later.
(Want join me in this? Comment below if you want to give it a try so we can compare results!)
6. We must teach how to not be so easily derailed. We can learn a lot from Homer’s Odyssey.
In a world of short-attention spans, flashy media, shiny new objects, sensational headlines, and random cute cat videos, our attention span is like a rabbit running down bunny trails. Sometimes I go on the internet to look up a recipe, and an hour goes by, and I have no idea why I am reading latest movie reviews.
If as adults, we have trouble focusing… how much harder is it for our kids?
Let’s rewind to the classic Greek story. After the long Trojan War, Odysseus sets sail to go back to his home and his wife Penelope. But along the way, there were so many traps to ensnare him -- from hungry Cyclops who wanted to eat him to the alluring call of the Sirens. In order to survive and keep going, he put wax in his ears to block them out, as well as have his men tie him to the mast of his ship. Drastic times call for drastic measures.
What is our family vision and where is our family destination? And what things along the way that can derail our kids? Pornography? Addictions?
There are some things that can completely sideline a kid and where they are going. Are we willing to take drastic measures like what Odysseus did to stay on course? Because if he had said yes to the alluring Sirens, he would have never made it home to his wife.
There are so many things to distract us. Social media, snapchat, endless news feed...
Where are our kids going (figuratively, literally)? How can we help him/her from getting side-tracked?
7. Do we prepare our kids for a cruise ship or a battleship?
This is the question that our pastor (Pastor Daniel Rogers) always asks the church -- are we a church that lives life like a cruise ship? Or a battleship engaged in a mission and a purpose?
The destination matters. If we are packing to go on a cruise, we might pack a hat and swimsuit. But, if we were going on a battleship, it’s a whole different ballgame. A Special Ops Navy Seals training is intense and involves training for everything from deep sea diving to parachuting out of the airplane.
Which destination are we preparing our kids for?
For many of us, we’d much rather pack for a cruise ship.
“America is the first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death.” - John Piper in Don't Waste Your Life
Apostle Paul warns us in the book of Ephesians. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:12).
Here’s the thing about battles and wars. We often don’t get to choose. It’s something that happens because we live in a broken world.
So if going into the “battle” zone of life and faith is the inevitable future, then what must we do TODAY to prepare them?
The hardest thing about life is that there is always a tension -- tension of the here and now and tension of what’s to come.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
I still think back to our Yellow Mountain hike and still cringe at the heavy backpacks that my husband and I each brought. But thankfully, it didn’t have long term consequences, other than perhaps bothering our poor friends who hiked with us.
But with our kids, it’s a different story. I don’t want to look back with regret, simply because I wasn’t more intentional at the activities we do or don’t do and how we spend each day.
Anything you want to add to this list?
Anything I left off? What are some changes you can make today to make our days wiser and to maximize the formative years of our kids?
I'll continue to make updates to this post, as this will eventually become a anchoring manifesto of sorts for this blog!
Please leave a comment and share, so we can learn from each other!
P.S. Oh, and as a BIG thank you for making it all the way through this post, please don't forget to grab my gift to you --> FREE printable worksheet to help your family find your vision + mission + core values! 🙂
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