Beyond Materialism: Parenting What it Means to Live Simply

Beyond Materialism: Parenting What it Means to Live Simply June 1, 2024

Photo from Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash. Beyond Materialism: Parenting What it Means to Live Simply.
Photo from Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash. Beyond Materialism: Parenting What it Means to Live Simply.

Today, June 1, is the Global Day of Parents. The Global Day of Parents is a day that is declared by the United Nations to celebrate and honor parents worldwide. Without a doubt, parents model a selfless and sacrificial commitment to their children. For many of us, this is one of many holidays that we probably ignore, or don’t even know about. Lately, I have been considering how a call to lead a quiet life influences my role as a parent. As you may be aware, this Lead a Quiet Life blog on Patheos pursues understanding 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, and what it means to lead a quieter life at a slower pace, to discover a simple life and faith that embraces downward mobility in a chaotic world and church obsessed with excess. Such a countercultural way of living has implications for how we parent, and it is more than just a challenge for us, it also can be challenging for those we parent.

A better way of life.

As a father of three daughters, including a young teenager who is brimming with passionate thoughts, ideas, and aspirations. Some moments she wants to be so different than everyone else, and then the next minute she wants to be just like everyone else. She perhaps feels the consequences and challenges of our desire to lead a quiet life more than anyone, especially when it presents a shift in how we shop for clothes or where we shop for clothes. As a parent, reflecting on this Global Day of Parents, I realize that I am constantly navigating the challenges of modern parenting – including how we try to provide for our children while also not giving into the insatiable consumeristic culture around us. As someone who wants to feel a certain amount of contentment and achievement, I wrestle with the desire for bigger vacations, the latest gadgets, and frequent dining out. As a parent, I am increasingly asked for bigger vacations, the latest gadgets, and frequent dining out. My parenting is often compared to what other kids do and do not have to do. In an emotional thrust of want, it is often hard to rationalize with ourselves, nevertheless our children, about what it means to live more meaningfully, with less. I remember an interview, from a few years back, with a child in a movie (What Would Jesus Buy?) in which she admitted that she knew when stores were marketing to her, but she shared she was okay with their actions because wants to buy their stuff. Kids inevitably will want stuff, and while we can justify living with less in a world that says bigger is better and more is great, our kids often struggle to understand a simple life and faith that embraces downward mobility in a chaotic world and church obsessed with excess.

The demands of parenting.

The demands of parenting often leave me pondering what it truly means to parent while learning to lead a quiet and meaningful life, as encouraged in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, which speaks to leading a life of quiet ambition, minding our own affairs, and working with our hands. As a parent, I am often wondering how I can help my kids understand this better than I understand it myself. In my parenting, I want to influence my children in meaningful and positive ways that will help them discover contentment quicker than I did growing up. I want them to wrestle less than I did growing up with the need for more stuff, bigger toys, and the accumulation of collectibles. At the same time, I love spoiling my daughters, wanting more for them than I had.

In today’s consumer-driven world, it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of providing more for our children than what we had. We want to fuel their passions, ensure they don’t feel left out among peers, and give them experiences we might have only dreamed of – because as good parents parent in a way that models what it means to be selfless and sacrificial. Hopefully, even more than fueling their passions, keeping them in-fad, and giving them experiences, we want to also instill in them the important values of resilience, simplicity, and mindful living.

Finding a balance.

Balancing these seemingly conflicting desires of wanting to influence our children to live with less, but wanting them to have more than I did, is a daily battle. I don’t have the answers, only the question. The question is simple, “How do we love and value our children, supporting their likes, while we also teach our children to appreciate the contentment of less, the value of hard work, and the joy of simple pleasures?” Though the question may be easy to formulate, the answers are not. I have more failures at trying to live this contrasting reality out than I do wins. The answers are not the only difficulty, the difficulty is also the reality that our children are living in a society that constantly bombards them with messages equating success and happiness with stuff, with collectible material wealth.

Parenting in the Scriptures.

When most of us consider scriptures that speak to parenting, we often think of Proverbs 22:6, and the wisdom to train a child up in a way that instills in them a depth of influence that keeps them rooted in that way even when they are grown and on their own. Additionally, we may think of Paul’s encouragement in Ephesians 6:1-4, which encourages children to live out honor to their parents, and it encourages parents to parent with discipline and the instruction of the Lord, but not parent them in a way that angers them. Isaiah reminded his people, and ultimately us as well, that it is up also to the Lord to reveal himself and teach them his heart and ways, and when that happens it will bring about great peace in their lives (Isaiah 54:13). Sadly, too often when we think of parenting we think of the acts of teaching and discipline that we often quote from Proverbs 13:24 and Proverbs 29:17. Though teaching and discipline have their place, we also influence them not only through discipline and teaching but by modeling a way of life. Paul tells Titus to set an example for the young men in their context by living out that example, not just teaching the way. Paul calls Titus to set an example by doing what is good, and by teaching in a way that doesn’t only teach integrity and seriousness but also shows it. Though I do not mean to undermine instruction, discipline, and other ways of training our children, perhaps our greatest teaching is our example.

Reclaiming influence and instruction.

One approach I’m exploring is inviting our children to participate in decision-making processes. Recently, when our children requested trips, dining out, or attending events that cost money, we included them in discussions about how these choices impact our ability to enjoy a fuller vacation later in the year. We also encourage them to use some of their own money for these activities, helping them consider the consequences of not having funds for other future desires. It is also our hope for them to wrestle with how long things actually will make them happy, and what long-term effects our stuff will have on them and us. I want them to discover the greater value of contentment for themselves, not because of our conviction and instruction alone. By modeling this decision-making process and involving our kids, we hope to guide them toward a quieter, slower-paced life. Our aim is for them to discover for themselves the beauty of simplicity and faith that values downward mobility in a world and church often obsessed with excess.

Another area in which I want to explore with our children, and have only begun to do so very minimally on walks and moments of prayer, is to influence them by incorporating moments of intentional stillness and reflection into our family routine. Perhaps a healthy way of living will be found as we learn to hear the still small voice of God together, to focus on gratitude for what we have, to wrestle together with the importance of contentment, and somehow find joy together in less materialistic pursuits. Whether it’s a family game night, a hike in nature, or simply cooking a meal together, these moments remind us that a fulfilling life isn’t built on consumerism, but on connection, love, and shared experiences. Those moments should last a lifetime.


As the scriptures say, those who have children are blessed. Parenting is stresfull, but it is also a joy. Children are a blessing, they are a legacy and an inheritance. So, today we honor and celebrate what it means to be a parent, and we celebrate and honor our parents, and those around us that are parents. On this Global Day of Parents, let us also remember that our greatest legacy as parents lies not in what we provide materially, but in the values we impart and the example we set. That is true of how we pass on our faith, but also the convictions of faith, such as those found in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. By striving to lead a balanced life, we can guide our children towards a future where they value both personal achievement and the quiet fulfillment of a life well-lived.

About Jeff McLain
I grew up inspired by Jesus, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the California Raisins, and The Clash. I'm an avid fan of baseball, boardwalks, beaches, and books. Additionally, I am currently a doctoral student at Kairos University, and finishing a third master's degree, an MBA in Executive Leadership, at City Vision University. Previously I have earned two master's degrees - one in Theology and Ministry and another in Leadership - both from Fuller Seminary. I also graduated summa cum laude with a Graduate Certificate in Non-profit Management and an Associate Degree in Christian Ministry and Leadership from City Vision University. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!