Many a family has experienced the absent parent and latchkey kid phenomenon, albeit often out of necessity. In reality, many families seem to do life better today than ever, after recognising many past examples of distant, distracted or driven mums and dads. Many parents have now reduced extraneous commitments to spend quality and quantity time with their children. In some cases, though, there has been an overcorrection at the expense of volunteerism. Whereas people used to sacrifice family on the altar of serving, they now sacrifice serving on the altar of family.
By serving, I don’t mean that people aren’t generally doing their bit in society. But the willingness to make the more significant and regular contributions seems more difficult than ever, in some cases being strongly resisted. Of course, there must be a balance, but kids are often unwittingly learning a form of relative selfishness that covets family time and personal needs at the expense of significant and important commitments to others.
This is where the Christian church has so many shining examples of a responsible balance. It has been a thoroughly healthy example for children to occasionally release mum or dad to serving others or sowing into causes that are so worthy of investment. Yes, family routines are disrupted, but no more than when we make arrangements to be out for personal reasons; it’s just a matter of priorities. In a few cases, people simply can’t, but in others they work less and live more simply in the interests of making this balance a possibility. After all, our priorities are not an unrealistic rigid order of spouse, then kids, then work, then ministry, but all of them in balance as key elements of a godly life, where some get more of us in certain weeks, depending on what is going on at the time.
A love for Christ propels us to want to learn, grow, serve and throw ourselves into that which is eternally important in our few short years we have to make a difference on Earth, whatever that may involve in our lives. So, when kids go without because parents are submitting themselves to a vision or contributing time or money to important causes – especially those in partnership with like-minded people – then important lessons are learned in humility, servanthood, community and charity. In fact, as much as possible, it is wise to actively involve children in such ventures. What we do speaks much more loudly than what we say!
I want my kids to consider that local and global causes are well worth certain sacrifices. I want them learning by doing so as to shake the all-too-easy ‘what’s-in-it-for-me?’ mindset. Saving for a third-world mission trip on the ‘other’ side of Fiji, Vanuatu or Thailand is often more do-able and rewarding than is imagined. Serving in children’s work, community projects or teams has been such an admirable trait in our church, for example, that it has produced a heart for the house and a development of servanthood, resilience and responsibility that lay great foundations for life.
When it is easy to look at what I can’t do, the ticking clock of a short life has me realise I don’t want my kids making the same mistakes I sometimes have. Life is too short to wait in hope that servanthood will just find its way into their lives. I need to lead by example and help to integrate it as a matter of lifestyle. Just as they won’t initially choose school (or church) unless I make them go regularly, there has to be room in the other hours of their week and mine for things that really matter.