In preparation for one of my lectures at Polishing the Pulpit (you know, the one that will be delivered in a pretty empty room, because it occurs while the solar eclipse is also occurring…you know the eclipse that only happens every 100 years), I came across a statistic that’s cast a cloud over this grandmother’s afternoon. Here it is:
In the year 1990, the average age of a child who played with Barbie dolls was age ten. In 2000, the average was age three. This was resultant, the article postulated (and, I think, correctly) from the fact that electronic devices have been marketed to ever younger crowds. By the time a child is five or six, he or she has typically lost interest in toys and moved on to become absorbed in the flashier, but far less imaginative, world of video games.
I realize this is just one more symptom of the real problem. It’s not really the preferences of the children. It’s the lack of direction from the big people. It’s not the absorption of the little people in the games. It’s the absorption of the big people in pursuits that leave little time for looking in the eyes of their children—even less time for exploring their interests, their hearts and their aspirations. It’s just easier to let someone else provide the basic care for our kids and, all too often, even that care is, whenever possible and convenient, relegated to devices that mindlessly entertain, but largely do not challenge and certainly do not nurture. The real nurturing, the conversations about ethics, the sharing about creation, the time in the Word, the stories about real life heroes—well, that stuff just doesn’t find a place in our busy lives.
We have to take a leap of faith in this culture to place the nurturing of our children above the lifestyle of affluence that’s come to be expected of us. Millennials grew up in pressure cookers of affluence—driven to be achievers, I mean driven—literally— to ACT tutors, professional athletic trainers, and personal specialists in whatever fields they were competing. Scores and win/loss records and courting by ball scouts and resume prowess—all of these were emphasized and, too often, character and ethics were not focal points in their families. Some of them suffered, as a result of these pressures to achieve, from eating disorders, prescription medication addictions, and self-harming behaviors.
And now, they are the parents. I know many of them who are rejecting the parenting styles of the past generation of parents. They’re choosing time with children over 2nd careers, parent-care over day-care, and often, home-schooling over the public system. But the vast majority of the parents of today are still in the passing lane. They are, perhaps for the most part, unaware of any alternative to the fast-paced lifestyle of affluence. They certainly do not intend to raise their children on electronics. But their children are away from them during most of their waking hours. They have movies on in the car as they drive. The television comes on when they walk in the door and it usually stays on until the last person goes to bed. When a child becomes loud or annoying in a restaurant or social setting, it’s very easy to hand her a cell phone and connect her up to you-tube or you-tube for kids. It’s a whole lot easier at home to hand a child a phone than it is to get down in the floor and play with a bucket of cars or construct a fort with blocks or any of a bajillion things you can do when you pretend. Besides, there’s just not time to spend much of it on the floor with a toddler when you’ve spent your next ten years’ paychecks on the training for the demanding position you’ve finally achieved. Your investment is shouting from behind you all the time. It’s easy to think that, when you jump over one more hurdle, there will be more time for family. But one business success breeds another challenge and, truth be told, you’re moving farther from nurturing and the gap between you and your children is widening.
I know the Mattel toy company is dismayed at the statistic. (After all, there are several years of Barbie-consumers who’ve moved on to electronics.) But, at the risk of the wrath of office moms everywhere, may I just say that the Mattel company is not the only casualty here. Worldliness takes many forms and one of them is when we allow a first-world-affluence-chasing culture to pressure us into a conformity that often steals some pretty valuable commodities from our children. There is value in waking up, as a child, whenever the sun, the household noise and the smell of the coffee-pot or the waffles or the bacon wakes you. There is value in being lifted from the bed or the crib by a mom who has a few minutes to say “Good morning, Sunshine. I’m so glad to see you!”—who has a minute to rock you before your diaper change and who has time to sit across the breakfast table with you and talk about what day of the week it is or why the birds are so loud outside the window this morning. There’s value in play—with real toys and there’s even value in watching Mary Poppins or Dumbo, while you talk with your mom about the happy things and the sad things in the story and why they are such. There’s value in going to the mailbox and in caring for younger siblings and in chore lists and in story time before nap. There’s value in learning to wipe up messes and in learning to write thank you notes (even when you’re really just drawing them). There’s value in playing in your own backyard or on your own little porch. There’s value in pretending the puddle is a lake or the chairs you have lined up is a train. There’s value in learning to make a sandwich or bake cookies with mom or ride the horse that Dad can be when he comes home from work. There’s value in long prayers in which every relative and every food item is mentioned. There’s value in taking a nap whenever you are tired and not necessarily when the bell rings and there’s some value in taking it in your own domain when you’re a preschooler. There’s great value in the filter that is your faithful mama. When your faithful mother knows every song you’ve learned and every book that’s been read to you and every concept you’ve encountered in a day—well there’s inestimable value in that. There is just great value, for children, in savoring, even unknowingly the leisure of childhood. But it cannot easily be done on the tight schedules of adults in the workplace or in crowded daycare centers. It just can’t
There are some moms who find themselves regretting the fact that they’re in a spot in life in which they cannot maximize the amount of time spent with their children. They just cannot do it differently. Not right now. Not yet. They are doing the best they can and they need support and encouragement as they work to make childhood more child-friendly for their kids. There are some who, though not in the work place, are still not involved in the hearts and aspirations and play of their children. These moms are legion in our welfare culture and their children are often in more than one kind of poverty. And then there are some moms who are very involved in the lives of their children and still find ways to earn a bit from home, build little family businesses with kids in tow, or earn a little money in small part-time ventures while children are with dad, for instance. In short, I know, the thoughts of this article are not one-size-fits-all parents. The thoughts are one-size-fits-all children, though. In a perfect (for children) world, kids would be raised, nurtured and disciplined by mothers who spend their days in that pursuit. They would be further supported, nurtured and disciplined by their fathers, who are committed to their spiritual success. And they would be brought to know and honor God by two faithful parents.