With ads, and discounts galore, I find it hard not to get caught up in shopping this time of year, but . . .
is the key to happier kids actually fewer toys?
As Christmas shopping winds up, I’m doing my best to recognize the benefits of fewer toys for my children, but part of me just wants to spoil them rotten.
I want my kids to remember magical holidays filled with gifts and surprises, so it’s hard to balance my desire to watch her and her brothers’ faces light up with joy on Christmas morning with the knowledge that fewer toys is better for them for so many reasons.
But what I’ve found is that the more she has, the less she really plays with them.
As we’ve pared down in preparation for the Christmas onslaught, I’ve watched her truly playing with a few toys, creating worlds inside her head. I’ve seen creativity blossom even more than usual. Having fewer toys has led to her being happier, more able to focus on playing instead of jumping from toy to toy.
Children get so few hours to play once you consider school and activities, family time, baths, dinner, and homework. I need to help her make the most out of play time.
One study I read said that children shouldn’t be formally educated until 7 or 8. They should be given lots of time to play. It is one of the reasons I chose to homeschool. She gets hours to play a day.
Yet, giving her fewer toys is hard. I want her to have a chance to experience everything to decide her own interests, but she needs time to get deep into play with her toys.
Fewer toys allow:
her to truly interact and enjoy each toy and instead of toss them in the bottom of a toy box.
room for more creativity. She may have to pretend her doll is also a cowboy, but she will be more mentally flexible, open to outside of the box thinking.
realistic expectations which makes grateful for her toys.
more time for family, friends, books, and playing outside.
faster clean up which makes for happier everyone.
In my head, a living room filled with presents makes Christmas magical for my kids, but in my heart, I know I remember baking and singing carols, I remember the traditions and laughter, stories and the feeling of family. I know I don’t remember very many things I got.
This year, there will still be lots of boxes under the tree, but clothes and socks and books and a few treasured toys, but the most important things will happen around it: movie nights and hot cocoa, cookie platters and rocky road fudge, carols and mischievous grandparents.
As Christians especially, don’t we want the focus of this time of year to be joy rather than on things? On Jesus as the only gift we really need?
I think they’ll be happier kids with fewer toys and more of His and my presence.
Expectations are sneaky buggers. They are formed by Hallmark cards and romantic movies, but rarely are they realistic. Those champagne and caviar expectations often ruin the best parts of reality.
It has been a week since Mother’s Day, and I have seen so many people struggling with their relationships over a holiday that is supposed to be about honor and love.
How do we take a day of feeling celebrated and turn it into a burr between us and our families?
Our expectations ruin reality because we build up inflated expectations and life can’t measure up. Instead of offering grace, love, and gentleness, we hurt each other.
I sadly remember all the Valentine’s Days, birthdays, and anniversaries that turned into balls of hurt in my house because of my expectations that didn’t offer any grace to the love of my life.
A few years ago, my birthday had been pretty low-key, a fine day, but I couldn’t get over my disappointment at not receiving any kind of gift. After debating with myself about telling him how I felt, I decided not to say anything and be grateful for all the blessings I had.
Five minutes later, he came out from the bedroom with a jewelry set he had purchased months earlier. It was special hypoallergenic gold due to my bizarre metal allergy. I felt like such a jerk. I almost let my unmet expectations ruin his surprise. I almost missed a real expression of his love for me because I wanted to dictate what it should look like.
This Mother’s Day, I didn’t wake up to a perfect bouquet or breakfast in bed. But my day was just right. Why? What changed? Me. I did. I stopped placing my value and worth as a mother in the hands of my husband. I would love a moment of recognition from him, but I don’t need it.
Ephesians 3:17-19 ESV “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
I have learned to let God’s love fill me so that I overflow with His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
So I set my expectations this year on what I wanted for myself on this day. I wanted a day of being the mom I really want to be everyday: fun, patient, kind.
I wanted to not use this holiday as a weapon against my exhausted husband, measuring my worth or value by how much of a fuss he made over me. It doesn’t feel like a gift if he feels unloved and obligated.
Does it really measure my worth or his love if he doesn’t roll out the red carpet and ticker tape parade on this one calendar day?
I didn’t want to feel disappointed and resentful, so I stopped having expectations. BEING a mother was the one thing I wanted for decades. Spending the day enjoying being a mother was the perfect way to remind myself how much I love these people!
When I quit having expectations, I got to see more fully who my husband is, appreciating and loving him, and letting us both live in the joy of the moment.
He didn’t make me breakfast in bed, so he could ask me what I would like. He didn’t buy me a gift, but researched a special place for me to choose exactly what I wanted. He spent his afternoon cleaning out the pool so I could have the first swim of the year. His quiet thoughtfulness was more precious to me than any gift.
I almost missed the real gifts because of my expectations.
Sometimes we feel invisible and ignored. No one sees us up at midnight, straightening the living room or washing dishes. Laundry magically folds itself and finds its way back into drawers, or maybe you magically earn the paycheck that keeps your house from belonging to the bank.
One or two days a year doesn’t change who you are and won’t heal days you were taken for granted or ignored. But rest assured . . .
Matthew 5:14 ESV “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Don’t let the darkness of envy and materialism steal true joy from your grasp. Even on this side of heaven, jewelry and flowers pale in comparison to help with the dishes.
2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV “As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Focus on the eternal blessings, and you might realize you had the wrong expectations in the first place.
Thinking of having children? Are you wistful at the sight of a swaddle blanket? Hopeful while gazing at bumper guards and high chairs? Delirious for tiny dresses with delightfully adorable matching shoes?
We crave these pieces of parenting, but will having children make you happy?
Oh, the ache for a baby. It can be something that swallows us whole. After my hysterectomy, I sobbed at my sister’s baby shower. Her children were prayerfully conceived after miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, and several rounds of fertility treatments. I certainly didn’t begrudge her having the twins, but I mourned the children I would never carry.
Fast forward 4 years, and we were preparing to adopt our daughter. Like most people who struggle with building a family, I had so many ideas about what being a mother would look like. And now, I laugh at that poor misguided woman.
Having children WILL NOT make you happy.
There, I said it. If you’re not a happy person, if you haven’t found joy in your life, which for me means living for Christ, having children is not going to fix you. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.
1. Money is cited as the number one issue in struggling marriages. According to the US Dept. of Agriculture, raising a child to 18 will cost an average of $245,000. What the what? A quarter of a million dollars! If you’re not financially secure, having a child whose needs are non-negotiable will make life more complicated.
Some experts say that if you wait until you’re completely ready, you’ll never be ready, but having money troubles over a tiny person who needs something new for the rest of forever can tear apart your marriage.
Get some sound financial advice, save up, live frugally. I’m not Dave Ramsey, but Dave Ramsey is, read one of his books.
2. SLEEP! You will never again get the kind of sleep or rest you did before children. I got really lucky and my daughter started sleeping through the night just before she was 3 months old, and other than growth spurts requiring midnight feedings, has pretty much been a good sleeper.
And I’m still tired all the time. Lazy mornings start with a busy routine. My child doesn’t want to wait for me to have my coffee before jumping on my head. If you’re not a morning person, lots of parenting is going to take extra fortitude and perhaps inventing an intro-venous coffee system.
Even when you do get to sleep, a lot of scary parenting things happen at night. The first two years of her life, I listened to the monitor for her breathing. After passing the threshold for SIDS, these little people have coughs, nightmares, and upset tummies at 3 a.m., which is not something you want to sleep through, trust me. You will sleep lighter and less, pretty much forever, as far as I can tell.
Which leads to my last point.
#3. Self comes last because yourself will come last for the rest of your life. She doesn’t want to give me 30 minutes of quiet time before I feed her. Using the restroom alone, yeah, enjoy that. My child can be outside playing with the neighbor, and the second I head to the bathroom, a bat signal must go off somewhere. If you find time to shower, exercise, read a book, it comes out of the time bank somewhere.
There are no sick days. Stomach bugs and vomiting or snot and coughing, they need you to get up to take care of them constantly for about the first five years, 5 years. Your life isn’t yours anymore. And the minute they don’t need you for something, you should probably run to find out what they are doing.
Having children won’t make you happy, but it will bring you joy.
Am I playing semantics? splitting hairs over words? Yes, because words flow out of the abundance of our hearts, and they matter. Our attitudes and expectations are shaped in words.
Galatians 5:22-23a ESV “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”
Notice the fruit of the Holy Spirit doesn’t include happiness? But the rest of those fruits will have plenty of chances to develop, I promise!
The difference then is what we mean by joy as Christians. Joy is eternal, not based on external circumstances. My child who was just screaming that she ‘needs’ to watch TV isn’t currently making me ‘happy’, but being her mother, guiding and raising her, growing closer to God as I do it, fills me with joy.
Ecclesiastes 3:13 ESV “Also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
God wants us to take pleasure in the toil. He calls the toil a gift. A gift? Absolutely. God uses all the hard things to draw us, instruct us, and even love us.
Raising people is hard. They are only tiny and adorable and immobile for a few weeks that go by too quickly. Then the real work starts, training and teaching them to be kind, loving, gentle, obedient, gracious, creative, faithful, Godly.
That I do take great pleasure in. Even, when she eats my share of lunch. Even, when I spend an hour with her at midnight due to a bad dream. Even, when our house is loud, messy, full of fun and plenty of chances to practice conflict resolution. And I am filled with happiness sometimes, but joy all the time.
This verse from Romans sums up parenting rather perfectly.
Romans 12:12 ESV “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Children are hope, give us plenty of opportunities for patience, and parenting needs constant prayer in our hearts. Having children won’t make life easier or less hectic, but joyful? Always.