My children have a problem. They think the purpose of life is to have fun. It was especially evident when their prayers included "Help us to have a fun day tomorrow and a fun day the day after that." That little phrase hit me hard. Is our family so out of touch with others' needs and so removed from thanking the Lord that the only place we need God to intervene is to guarantee our fun? Where had we gone wrong?
After some serious self-reflection, I realized that we've been creating these fun-fed children. As they leave our car, we smile, wave and shout, "Have fun!" After they return home from somewhere (school, practice, play date, church), the question is usually "Did you have fun?" and if they didn't, there is often a decent amount of concern about what might be wrong and how we can remedy this un-fun problem.
Not only that, but we live in a culture full of cheap thrills and expensive entertainment that everyone feels like he or she must be a part of. You don't take an annual trip to Disneyland? Your poor kids! You aren't going to spend the day at a trampoline park? Bummer! Your kids don't have iPhones or iTouches yet? So sad! You aren't going away for the three-day weekend? What will you do at home?
Fun is a drug. Take a little and you want more. Take enough and it no longer satisfies. You need bigger, better, more expensive activities to fill you up. The simple moments are no longer satisfactory, and the big events don't seem all that big anymore. Fun is a junk food diet that leaves you giddy for a moment, then hollow and wanting more.
Kids learn it from somewhere: media, friends and, yes, parents too. Our culture worships leisure, entertainment and fun. As parents, we have forgotten how to have a good time with our kids without paying someone to fabricate it for us. We have forgotten that the most fulfilling and closest relationships are not the ones based on constant fun together but ones where we have worked, laughed, loved and struggled together. I don't want a cotton candy relationship with my kids. I want something substantial and real.
As I read biographies and listen to interviews about successful people who have changed the world, there seems to be a common thread in what they learned as a children and adolescents: hard work. It doesn't matter which country they come from, their socioeconomic status, their gender, their beauty or lack of it. They succeed by working hard at something, for something or to merely survive, and these lessons almost always started at home.
So this year we are turning over a new leaf in our home. We are still huge advocates of enjoying life, seeing the positive and taking it all in. We want to travel with our kids and show them the wonders of nature and different cultures. We love to play sports, take walks, visit the theater, attend concerts, hike, play games, swim, watch movies and just be together.
But this year we will work hard together too. We will create memories and strengthen relationships as we accomplish difficult things together. We will hold our boys accountable for their efforts in our family, in school, in sports, in music, in hobbies and in their church duties. We will no longer ask our kids if they had fun because, frankly, we don't care. They can choose to make every experience fun if they want to. It's up to them and absolutely possible. But we will no longer worry about creating fun for them or shielding them from hardships, unpleasantness or, heaven forbid, boredom. We want them to reap more than fun from this existence. We want them to be fulfilled. We want them to reach their potential. We want them to be excellent.
We will change our focus and ask one of these questions:
- "Did you learn something?"
- "Did you feel productive?"
- "Did you work hard?"
- "Did you try your best?"
- "Were you a good friend?"
- "Did you try something new?"
- "Did you push yourself?"
- "Did you make someone's day better?"
- "Did you add value?"
- "Did you create something?"
- "Did you grow?"
- "Did you discover something?"
- "Did you change the world today, even in a small way?"
When you can answer yes to any of those questions, that's when life gets really fun.