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The Temptation of Having it All

July 25, 2012

Most parents would state that loving and raising our children is at the top of the list of priorities for our earthly lives. Most would confirm it is absolutely more important than our career, where we live, what we drive, how we dress. We have amazing unanimity on this question as a society. Why then is there such a wide disparity of actual life decisions made by parents in what this should look like?

Most parents believe in teaching their kids lessons of right and wrong to the best of their ability. Christian parents believe in teaching them about God’s providence in history and about their need for Jesus. Most parents spend time trying to protect their kids to some extent from the corruption in the world. So again, general unanimity exists on these topics. Where do the differences in parental priorities come from? I believe a significant portion comes from the delusion that somehow families can “Have it All”.

Of course, there are many parents who fall into the trap of pursuing material wealth so they can provide their children “all the things they never had as kids”. They focus so narrowly on material provision that they spoil their children with possessions and starve them of any relationship with their parents. But this parenting philosophy – tragically common though I know it to be – is not the sense of “Having it All” with which I am most concerned. It has been skewered sufficiently in secular movies like Dead Poet’s Society and real-life train wrecks like Paris Hilton. There is a more insidious fantasy of “Having it All” that is far more damaging because it pulls parents toward a seemingly “good” goal, and in doing so, pulls them away from God’s best.

In postmodern society’s worldview, “Having it All” gives parents hope that they can succeed in raising perfectly adjusted children, who benefit from enormous self-esteem built on the knowledge that mom and dad love them (whether or not they still love each other and are still married) COUPLED WITH all of the advantages that material prosperity can bestow, including the spending money, wardrobe, hair treatments, hot car and leisurely life that tend to lead to popularity among one’s peers. Parents who are working hard to achieve this goal see it (logically – from their perspective) as sacrificial love which benefits their children. Why is this a false “good”, and not God’s best?

The tragedy of this thinking is its naïveté in missing the trade-offs involved in this lifestyle. In the spirit of asking the big questions and letting a fear of the Lord drive our reasonable decisions, we need to unpack this concept carefully to see its inherent fallacy.

There is a level of sufficient material provision needed to live, of course, and if the Lord gives a family prosperity, that is a blessing as long as it doesn’t become an idol #1 priority (Ps112, Prov22:4). But what is rightly our #1 earthly priority? We are commanded in Deut. 6 and throughout the Bible to raise our children, and as stated in the opening paragraph most parents understand and acknowledge this intuitively, no matter their spiritual background. When the trade-offs of seeking wealth chip away at our focus on this responsibility (even if it’s wealth they intend to use for their children’s benefit), parents have compromised to the world.

Many do not see this compromise through their lenses of “sacrificial love”, and because they are surrounded by family, friends and neighbors all of whom are also seeking similarly to “Have it All”. But the error is often there.

How should we rightly undertake to obey Deut. 6 in a way that does not compromise but stands firm with the rest of Scripture? We are commanded to teach our children “diligently… when you sit in your house… when you walk by the way… when you lie down… when you rise.” We are to be teaching our children consistently throughout the day, every day. To state the controversially obvious: the only way to do this is to have at least one parent with the children throughout the day. Titus 2:3-5 and Ephesians 5:22-24 (among many passages) indicate that this should be the wife while the husband is away at work, and for the husband to take up leadership of the home when he is there. Note that the spirit of the command is that parents would train their own children, and not send them out to others for childcare or education. This is only made possible when the wife is at home.

This describes “God’s best” to which we should all strive. Of course, there are legitimate circumstances where this may not be possible for some periods of time, where obtaining sufficient material provision may require a wife to work outside the home. It is not a sin to do so, but the key is one’s mindset about such circumstances: is the situation seen as unfortunate and temporary, or is the wife’s career/income seen as a “blessing” to the family which enables it to “Have it All”?

Note that the Bible’s instructions on this topic preclude only wives working outside the home. The Proverbs 31 woman is hard at work and profitable – but look carefully: she is doing this for her husband’s household and in a way in which she can still care for and teach the children, and not be forced to outsource their care to someone else for significant portions of their childhood.

I realize this is very much a counter-cultural position to take, but are we not told to stand against the world where God’s Word commands it? (1John2:15). “Outsource” is a harsh word with a lot of baggage, but I believe it fits this situation. It is a topic for another post to unpack the term and do a critique of child-care and school institutions. For now let me just make the point that no matter how caring and in sync a caregiver/teacher may be with the parents, they have no control over the Godless curriculum in history and science, and with a child/teacher ratio of 20:1 or worse, it is mainly other children who dominate the child’s school social environment and are really “discipling” them anyway – meaning that the group will tend to drop to the lowest common denominator.

There are many ramifications of this position for the role of men and women, all of which I believe sync better with Scripture than anything being encouraged in the world today, or even in many churches. Some of these ramifications will be examined in future posts. For now I signoff and leave you with this thought: if raising children is truly a parent’s most important job, why is there so much apathy toward it and so much social pressure to let the “village” fulfill the responsibility instead – especially since that means mom can earn more money? Could it be that the village benefits by having compliant and identically trained citizens who are used to its authority over what they should think?

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