And how much should I sacrifice to make it happen?
I clearly remember the day my older daughter learned to climb the ladder of the play set in our back yard. She had just turned two, and I remember thinking, “There she goes!” It was another step on her road to independence, and I realized in a new way that one of my biggest jobs as a mom is to gradually let her go.
A big part of that job is helping her (and our other two children) navigate society’s expectations. Clearly, we all have a need to fit in, but as a parent I quickly learned that balancing our own values with cultural norms and pressures is a daily task. So, how important is it for us to see our kids “fit in”? And how much should we sacrifice to make it happen?
Huge questions with no simple answers.
But here are a few thoughts on how to approach them.
Know your own child.
Each child has her own personality, her own way of interacting with other children, and even her own level of tolerance for socializing. One may need lots of interaction with friends, while another may be content to spend time alone. In either case, our job as parents is to help each child grow into the person God has created her to be, recognizing personality traits and preferences and encouraging them to grow in wisdom and grace.
Connect with other parents.
It’s easier to get “the lay of the land” by socializing or getting to know other parents of your kids’ friends. This often happens on the sidelines of kids’ activities or while helping organize, chaperone, or facilitate a school (or homeschool) event.
By gathering other adult input on the social climate your child functions in, you can better help him with advice and perspective. For me, it’s always refreshing when I encounter another parent who shares my values (and I invariably discover that my daughter ISN’T the only 7th grader without a Facebook account!).
It is important to assess and affirm your own values, particularly in the face of the media-saturated culture we live in. Don’t be afraid to place limits on the kind of entertainment you will allow your children to access. This gets more difficult as kids grow older, and it calls for loving, measured dialogue and an emerging sense of trust.
It’s also important to acknowledge the power of advertising in making kids feel like outsiders. Any of us can feel left out if we don’t have the latest iPhone, the most stylish clothes, or the best sports equipment. And as parents, we want the best for our children, so it is tempting to go overboard in providing them these things.
But try to step back and consider the values of delayed gratification, being content with something that is good enough, and not constantly feeding their need to have more. It can be a tiring prospect, which is why we need to pray for God’s guidance and strength.
Acknowledge whose need it is.
In other words, is it important to your child that she fit in, or is it important to YOU? This is where we as parents need to examine our own motives, and maybe even our own past. It can be tempting to live through our kids, to try to give them the things we never had. But this places unfair expectations on them. There needs to be separation between their lives and our own.
Consider the meaning of “sacrifice.”
Usually we use the word to connote “giving something up,” particularly time or money, in order for someone else to have something. In other words, how much money or time should I “sacrifice” to assure that my child fits in?
But when we consider the root meaning of “sacrifice,” which is actually “to make holy,” that’s another whole matter. Am I making a holy choice by giving of my time and/or my money to provide this opportunity or item for my child? Is this choice for my child’s good? Many times, the answer is yes. Other times it is no. We have to be in constant dialogue with God about these choices and open to the Spirit’s loving direction.
Yes, our children gradually move, a step at a time, out of our grasp and into the world around them. With grace and care, we will help them develop a true sense of themselves as cherished children of the Father who fit in beautifully in the kingdom of his Son. Now that is a sacrifice worth making!