There is one thing in this world that may very well be the single most important thing we can give to our children.
We can give them a safe home to live in, which would indeed offer them a firm foundation to build their futures on. Their natural needs would all be provided for: shelter, clothing, food & water. A safe home is a tremendous offering for any parent to give any child. Taking it to the next level, sharing healthy meals together can be considered paramount in the same vein, which would establish a sense of security that they can grow from. This is all very good, but not THE most important.
Those familiar with Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” are familiar with the term “Quality Time”, and the importance of devoting not quantity, but quality time to our children. I’m talking undivided attention, free from the distractions of work and other aspects of life. Important? Yes. Indulgent? It could be. Very few things have contributed to the development of a self-entitled and self-centered generation more than an overabundance of quality time devoted to them. When they know that they have become the center of your schedule and your world, they begin to, even subconsciously, expect that same treatment from everyone everywhere. So, no… while I absolutely see its value (coming from a man whose wife’s primary love language IS quality time), it’s not the most important thing we can give our kids.
Few people in the modern era expressed the keys to raising boys to become men better than the sage, Coach John Wooden. Especially when he said, “The best gift a man can give his children is to love their mother.” You gotta hand it to the man. Not only could he develop goofy college athletes and transform them into athletic, cultural and groundbreaking leaders, he knew that the core of it all begins with an example of a strong marriage at the homefront. However, where I break with Coach Wooden is who this applies to. Unfortunately, in today’s American society, there are so many broken, blended, and single-parent families that this “best gift” simply doesn’t apply to 100% of American households. Therefore, if EVERYONE can’t give it, I can’t rank it as THE most important thing we all can give our children.
Sticking with the college scene, some people say the best thing we can offer our kids is an opportunity, which comes through an education, or simply knowledge. As someone whose parents gave me this very list, I can tell you first hand that it is extremely valuable. I wouldn’t be here writing this today if it weren’t for the opportunities I discovered while pursuing my education and the skills that I learned there. But, without discernment and wisdom, knowledge is actually of very little value. Without work ethic, opportunity only goes so far. So, I’m sorry all you professors out there, education, knowledge and opportunity do not top my list.
And my apologies also extend to you workhorses out there. As I just said, discipline, work ethic, an understanding of finances and responsibilities are what bring value to knowledge and opportunity. Yet I have known many people as poor as paupers who I would rather model my children after than I would some of the wealthiest individuals I’ve known. The size of someone’s bank account means nothing if that someone isn’t generous beyond measure.
Which brings us to grace and mercy. Along with giving our kids forgiveness and showing them the power of an apology, there are very few things that could be more important. We want our children to be humble and understanding. We want them to be able to admit when they are wrong and accept the consequences. We also want them to avoid vengeance and anger, which too often manifests itself as gossip, lies, and slander. So, like so many other things listed here, forgiveness, grace and mercy make the Mount Rushmore of gifts we can give our children, but still something ranks just a bit higher.
Many people I asked this question to offered the instillment of virtues such as honesty, respect, honor, and trust. All with the aim of gaining understanding and patience. These things are all critical, and I would agree to each of them, especially when it comes to my desire for my little boys to grow into strong men who exemplify each of these. However, there is still something that I view as even more important than these, if you can believe it!
What about adoration? Now, I hesitate to ever use the word “love” in this post, simply because there are so many different definitions that people use for one single word. Therefore, I’ll use adoration. Now, similar to quality time, I see the absolute value in letting your kids know that you adore them with all your heart. That you would give anything in the world for them, including your own life. But, what happens when they become aware of this and there is little else behind it? Left to its own, “child-adoration” quickly turns into “child-obsession” and the object of our obsession transforms into spoiled, self-consumed snowflakes. So, while I say, yes… love your kids. Without a doubt, love them! But be careful when the outpouring of your love morphs into an unhealthy fixation. Therefore, no. I don’t rank adoration at the top of the list, either.
I asked my kids and a few others this question recently, and their answers were actually quite amazing in their honesty and in revealing their priorities at that moment. The seven-year-old replied “Toys! Lot’s of TOYS!”, while the teenager simply asked for a new iPhone. Now, parents can easily laugh off these answers and attribute them to greedy little kids. But, as Chapman also wrote, receiving (and therefore giving) gifts is a valid love language. Yet within every language, some words are more valuable than others. To a lawyer, the word “affidavit” means much more than the phrase “28 millimeter prime”, yet a photographer holds that phrase much more dearly than they do “affidavit” (unless the affidavit is filed against them, which is when they call the lawyer… but I digress). Bottom line is that gifts have their place, but it’s not at the top of the list.
The top of any mantle is ideally a crowded place, with a relationship with Jesus Christ right there. For any Christian home, there is no higher aspiration than to know that your children have made the decision to secure their place alongside Jesus in eternity. But, to be terribly blunt, that’s not your gift to offer. It’s not your decision to make. It’s theirs. Now, you can offer them Godly guidance and a Spiritual foundation equal to no other, but I have known many, many people (even raised by two of them) who came from no foundation whatsoever and yet still place their eternal hope in Christ. So, if I’m looking for the singular, most important gift that EVERY parent can give to EVERY child, I gotta say that this doesn’t sit at the very, tippy top.
No, that top spot, as I just hinted at, is the one thing that very well may be the root of all the things I have listed above. Without this one gift, many of the above items are in vain, while many others cannot even begin to come to fruition.
So, what tops my list of the single most important thing we can give to our children?
When we instill hope into our kids, they learn to endure all of life’s tragedies and strive for all of life’s successes. They maintain that optimistic glimmer in their eye, even while in the lowest of valleys, thanks to an eternal worldview that reaches beyond what we see here in front of us. Hope gives them the patience to wait for quality time, so that they don’t become self-centered. Hope within a child in a single-parent family assures them that they can love and be loved “til death do us part” when they become adults. Hope gets them through those tough adolescent and college years, through breakups and midterms; as well as it pushes them onward to graduations, promotions, and accolades. Hope heartens an intern to seize a position in the mailroom, then onward to the boardroom, ever moving forward, spurred on by hope. Even virtues like honesty, respect, honor and trust all derive in our hope for the best in our fellow man and in ourselves. It drives us to be better people and to see the best in others. Hope even makes us giddy when it comes to receiving gifts. Have you ever seen the look on a child’s eyes just before they open up a Christmas present? That’s pure hope personified. And, for the Bible-believing Christ-followers who have endured on to this point in my musings, it’s hope that is at the foundation of our faith.
As Romans 15:13 says:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
So, go on. Love on your kids (however you want to define love), give them all that you can. But be sure, at all times, to instill in them hope!