Your Children Need Your Time, not Your Money
When I was young, a friend and I pretended we were knights of a magical kingdom far away from the mortal world, halfway to Narnia, around the corner from Neverland. Through the long Kansas summers, we would run through the thick pine woods behind his house – adventuring in far off realms, fighting dragons, meeting centaurs, and rescuing villages of elves. We traversed streams populated by naiads, enchanted woods with talking beasts, and deadly swamps ruled by will-o’-the-wisps. Our world was boundless, only constrained by the limits of the last book we read.
And through all those adventures we had a loyal blacksmith, a man who crafted our armor and forged our swords – my father. He had a woodshop in our basement, and he indulged the wishes of two kids: making us wooden swords to match our imaginary horses, painted shields to protect us from imaginary dragons. Nurturing our formidable imaginations, he knighted us “Defenders of the Realm”. He made us swear to protect those without power, to aid those in need, and to succor those who faced fear. He challenged us to be better, to be a force for good in our imaginary world. My dad played along with our game. A very simple thing. Only a few moments here and there, a few precious instants of time in a child’s life. But in that dark little workshop that smelled of pine and oak and cherry, a few shafts of sunlight piercing through the shadows, illuminating flecks of sawdust and the faces of two little boys, he helped forge us into something beautiful.
We have such little time in this world with our children. A few years before they head to school, a couple decades before they venture out on their own. My wife and I only have 857 more weekends with our daughter before she leaves for college. There will be precious few moments like those days in my dad’s woodshop. Our opportunities to play with her and indulge her imagination are numbered. Such a short amount of time to teach her to be the same fearless knight my dad taught me to be. Such a short amount of time to teach her how to fight dragons.
In the US we are told that it takes huge sums of money to raise a child: $245k according to the USDA. And yes, children do cost money. I won’t challenge the official figure, that is a topic for another time. But I want to acknowledge the amount. Money is very important, you need it to buy clothes, food, healthcare, soccer practice, and all of the other minutiae of day to day life.
But I want to challenge the assumption that pouring more and more money, more and more stuff onto your children is the correct way to raise them. Grizzly Mom works with a more senior attorney at her firm. She has poured her life into her job, she has FAR more money than we do. But due to a messy divorce, she is now enrolling her kids in ‘horse therapy’ at a cost of around $30k for each. I knew a senior partner at my old consulting firm who joked about how for the first three years of their lives his kids called the telephone ‘dada’ because he was constantly traveling. But he assured us that they were in the ‘best’ private school and so would perfectly fine. I can rattle off twenty other examples just like this. People we know in our jobs and from school who work insane hours and spend ungodly sums of money on their children to make up for it.
Your children do not need horse therapy, they do not need private school, they do not need new cars for their 16th birthday, they do not need violin lessons from age 4 on, they do not need $50 an outfit baby clothes. They need you, they need you to teach them, to play with them, to spend time with them.
With a little more time, think of all the things you can do with your children. With a LOT more time. What is more valuable? The money? The Stuff? Or that time.
You are the ideal teacher and tutor. I cannot wait to teach my daughter science, physics, math, and programming languages. To make integrals, for loops, and coefficients of friction as fun as possible. We will build potato cannons, control robots, and devise intricate games. Mrs. Grizzly will cover history and writing and foreign languages. Weaving French lessons into tales of Joan of Arc and Charlemagne and helping to craft stories about magical unicorns and brave princesses. We plan to send her to public school, but all of those lessons will be supplemented by her parents. Her tutoring sessions will be around the dinner table.
You are the ideal confidant. When they are scared, upset, ashamed, nervous, you are the two people most capable of comforting them. The two people most capable of convincing them that everything will be okay. We plan to be there for our daughter. To listen to her if she is scared after her first day of school, to hold her if she is afraid of the dark, and to talk to her after the other kids are mean.
But most of all you are the ideal guide through this world. Children need someone to teach them bravery, to teach them to fight for what they believe in. They need you to teach them how to be the knights of their own magical world. They will trudge off through fields bearing wooden swords and painted shields, and you are the blacksmith that will forge the armor they need to begin their adventure.