I put together the video above following a YMCA Indian Guides/Adventure Guides weekend outing a few years ago. In the video, kids are being kids, and what is more kid-like than sleeping bag sledding down the stairs? One might ask, “Where were the mommies?” assuming justly that mommies would have more sense. Well, this was a daddies and sons weekend, so, no mommies, which explains the mischief–when unsupervised, men tend to revert to childhood [I’m obviously playing off stereotypes here.]. A group of kids sledding down hardwood stairs may sound reckless and injury prone, but look at their pure joy? When did we stop letting kids be kids?
My wife has very lax rules about what our kids do in the house. They Ripstik all around the downstairs. They play basketball in our entry hall with a basketball goal hung on the front door. The youngsters ride their bikes around our main floor like there is a racetrack. Each child has a hammock hung over his bed. My teenage son has a 100 lb. punching bag hanging from the ceiling in the middle of his bedroom. They use the inside of our front door to play wall-ball with a lacrosse ball and lacrosse sticks. And they have life-size Fat Head decals of professional athletes plastered all over their bedroom walls like wallpaper.
Yeah, I know, sounds like chaos doesn’t it? I had a hard time with it at first because I’m somewhat of an anal guy–I like things clean, neat and orderly. I don’t like lacrosse ball smudges on the walls, or broken lamps and light fixtures, or toys scattered about. I don’t like messy rooms or unboxed DVDs and X-Box games. And my wife and I argued a bit about such things early in our parenthood. But I eventually surrendered. Now I just step over toys, put electrical tape over broken light switch covers, Superglue broken lamps, turn up the TV over the sound of bouncing balls in the hallway, and leap over the aromatic mound of athletic gear thoughtlessly piled up in front of the garage steps.
Why did I surrender? Because I realized that my family was happy. The kids have fun. They are well behaved and adjusted. They are loved by friends. They are praised by adults and teachers. And they love the Lord. What more could I ask for? Would my orderly demands make anything better?
So what led us to the point of surrendering our house to a bunch of savages, allowing it to become a place where rowdy kids can be, well, rowdy? Bottom line is, my wife is a gifted mom. Looking around, there is no shortage of nervous, anxious, helicopter and overly strict parents. But my wife is blessed with a tremendous amount of patience and love for children and chaos. With a masters degree in elementary school education, she is a gifted teacher and knows how to connect with children. In contrast, children are aliens to me, especially teenagers. Seriously, if I blink quickly, I swear they have tentacles, bulging eyes and sucker feet. Without a doubt, they are gooey, sticky, stinky and slimey, and their thought processes seem mostly otherworldly. But God blessed me with a partner that knows what’s going on and constantly reminds me of what’s “normal” and that “kids are kids.”
My wife’s perspective is that she wants our kids to enjoy the home, not treat it like a precious work of art hung upon the wall never to be touched. Our house is truly lived in. Our footprints are all over it (literally, we have footprints up the walls where the kids ninja climb to the ceiling). But despite all the wildness, our house remains beautiful and is a blessing from God.
There is no other place where families spend more of their time together than within the home. Sure, there are sports and fine arts activities, school, and church, but when you count the hours, the home is still the core of family time. So why not enjoy it instead of sitting prim and proper in a chair with folded hands in one’s lap? We want our kids to love being home and being home together as a family. We want the home to be a sanctuary from the madness of their adolescent lives and hectic schedules. We want the home to be a place of peace, not as in quietness, but as in a place of comfort and enjoyment.
There will be plenty of days in the future for our house to be perfectly clean and straight. And in those days, we will likely reflect back on the chaos and wish a lacrosse ball was whizzing by our ears. We will miss the laughter, and the brotherly bickering, and the mess. When those days come, I suspect the orderliness and quiet will annoy me more than the chaos ever did. And I’m thankful my wife is giving me the opportunity for future nostalgic reflection.
Looking at other families and friends and all the stress and broken marriages, I wonder whether their kids are allowed to play wall-ball in the house? Are the parents building a fun and comfortable place to live? Or does it feel like a museum where you can’t touch anything or an alarm goes off? Do their parents scream and holler if they run through the house or bounce a ball? Are they letting their kids be kids?
I don’t want to give the false impression that our home life is perfect, without conflict, or without any rules. We do not live in the Facebook fairyland of perfect moments and eternal happiness. We have all the disciplining, and yelling, and teaching, and shepherding, and conflict that comes along with raising a house full of children. I have had conversations and shouting matches with my teenage son and left shaking my head in wonder. While we let our kids have fun, we do not let them be animals. We teach them respect and about taking care of their personal belongings and other blessings from God. And we do our best to teach them what it means to live a life in service to Christ. But we also want them to treasure their home life.
Parenting is not an easy job by any stretch of imagination. In fact, parenting is likely the most difficult job anyone can ever undertake. And yet it can be so rewarding and fun if only kids are allowed to be kids. When a young female cousin gets excited to come to our house because she can ride a bike through our living room, I know my wife has it right.
Spiritually, I’m reminded that when we put our personal possessions on a pedestal, they can become idols and can create conflict within families or interfere with the believer’s relationship with Christ. If I yell at my kid and am devastated because a lamp gets broken, where am I placing my love? In the lamp? Or in my kid? The Bible never says to love our stuff, but scripture does tell us to love others like Christ loves us. He said the Law is summed up in one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When Christ does speak of personal possessions, it is not about loving them, but about them blocking the path to salvation. When a rich man asked Jesus what he lacked to get into Heaven, Jesus responded as follows: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21.
So, we do our best not to let our house and furnishings become idols. They are blessings, and we enjoy them, but we never want them to come before our children or before God. We let our children be children, and they brighten our home with smiles and laughter.