We had a few errands to run this morning. They included visiting Toys R Us. My Dad watched the Bear put together his ABCs puzzle at ninja speed on skype a couple weeks ago and wanted to buy him some more puzzles. (They’re educational, and he’s competitive like that. 🙂 ) But after our slightly difficult experience in receiving the awesome gift my Mom sent a few weeks ago, he decided it would probably be easier to just put the money into our bank account and let us buy the puzzles here. So we were off to do so at the Toys R Us nearby this morning, and we found a great puzzle that we’re looking forward to the Bear busting into as soon as he wakes up from his nap. I also found something else at the Toy Store this morning, swimming in my own heart.

That’s the backstory. This is the verse:

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (I Timothy 6:6-8)

The Toys R Us just down the road in Somerset West is probably a lot like the one down the road from you. It’s basically the same, except sometimes some of the toys here advertise themselves as having British voices, which is understandable since folks would probably prefer their toddlers to speak the way they do, rather than sound like they’re from a foreign country. Anyway.

We perused the puzzles, and also the train sets, the wagons, the games, and the little bicycles and tricycles, of which they have a nice and pricey selection. I lingered there for a bit because the Bear could probably use a new bike pretty soon, as (sadly) he is outgrowing his adorable little car. And wearing the plastic tires through. As I walked away I realised I felt guilty for not being able to buy him a little bike right now. (Even though he didn’t even notice them!) And as I pondered exactly why I might have that feeling, I realised that something’s not right if we feel guilty for not being able to buy our kids everything they want. But where does that feeling come from?

I think we do it to each other as parents in some ways — we compare what other folks have given their kids and feel like we have to at least do the same. We want our kid to be as fashionable as the next kid, and we try to put them in their best clothes when we take them out.

We are also bombarded with advertising day in and day out — TV, radio, internet, magazines, you name it — almost entirely created with the sole purpose of breeding discontentment in our hearts. Think about it — your eyelashes aren’t long enough. Your abs aren’t tight enough. Your clothes aren’t this-season enough. You want to give your kid the very best, right? Of course you do.

I’ve had lots of folks tell me they only had X number of kids because they felt that was all they’d be able to put though college. But should that really be the plumb line by which we measure our success as parents? When I was at university, the students I knew who were working their own way through school or at least helping fund their education (sorry to be honest, Mom and Dad) took their studies a lot more seriously than I did, and often seemed to be a lot more mature, balanced individuals. Don’t get me wrong — I am very thankful that my Mom and Dad paid for me to go to university — but I don’t think anyone should consider themselves less successful parents if they aren’t able to do so. (And who’s to say the Bear isn’t going to get an academic or athletic scholarship in 15 years or so — he’s on his way to Yale already!)

That was a bit of a digression, but the point I’m trying to make is that I think we can get sidetracked into measuring our success as parents by the wrong set of standards.

I have observed a certain pattern in my encounter with other kids and in my brief stint as a parent so far. I will sum it up with this: The worst thing you can do for your kids is give them everything they’ve ever wanted.

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. I would really, really, really rather raise the Bear to be thankful for the things that he has than to be happy because of the things that he has (which will eventually turn into unhappiness for the things he lacks).  I feel like if I can teach him to follow Jesus and to be content with what he has in life, he is on a good start to pursuing a life that matters, rather than a life focused on the pursuit of all the things that he can’t take with him.

Well, that was a headful of thoughts based on a trip to the toy store, hey? But I’d really like to know what you think. Has that sort of guilt ever found its way to your heart? How do you handle it?