“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” —Angela Schwindt
Children add joy, purpose, and fulfillment to our lives. They bring us smiles, optimism, and cheerful attitudes. And given the chance, they will teach us valuable life lessons.
Certainly, growing children (physically, socially, intellectually, and emotionally) have added a new dimension to our journey, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. In fact, some of the most important lessons about life have been learned by watching my children.
1. One neighborhood friend is worth more than a basement full of toys.
My two kids can spend countless hours with their neighborhood friends running from yard to yard, playing tag, catching bugs, or swinging on swings. They can spend every afternoon and evening together without being bored. But take them away from their friends for one Saturday at home with their toys … and boredom almost immediately sets in. The joy of playing alone in a roomful of toys quickly fades.
LIFE LESSON: Relationships with others are always more exciting and fulfilling than possessions.
2. Clothes are not worn to impress others.
My first-grade son has two requirements for his clothing: 1) that he can get them dirty and 2) that he won’t get too hot. He has never worn a shirt to impress a girl or a pair of slacks to impress his teacher. (He has worn a shirt and slacks because his parents asked him to, but that’s a different subject). I don’t think the idea of trying to impress others by wearing the latest fashions has ever crossed his mind. He feels no pressure to conform or impress. And thus, he’s simply content with a clean tank top and shorts.
LIFE LESSON: Wear clothing for its usefulness rather than as an attempt to impress others.
3. Life’s pains are healed best by a hug and a kiss… not new toys.
My daughter falls down often (as most four-year-olds do). And when she skins her knee, she only wants one thing – her mommy to pick her up, give her a kiss, and tell her that everything is going to be okay. She doesn’t ask for a new toy … she only desires love and security. She has found the antidote to pain and wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
LIFE LESSON: Don’t look towards “things” to soothe the pain we encounter in life. Instead, seek love, acceptance, and security.
4. Fancy possessions and character are completely unrelated.
I love helping in my son’s first-grade classroom because kindergarten and first grade may be the only places left on earth where labels don’t exist. At age 7, everyone is accepted and everyone plays with everyone else. Each person starts the day on equal footing. Nobody is pre-judged by the house that they live in or the clothes that they wear. Oh, that our world would begin to resemble a first-grade classroom.
LIFE LESSON: Judge people by their hearts and character, not by the meaningless externals of life.
5. Too many toys in a box only get in the way of the good ones.
A funny thing happens after holidays. A mountain of new toys enter my children’s lives. The toys are initially meant with incredible excitement. However, after two or three days, they are pushed to the side as my kids return to the tried-and-true toys they had been playing with long before the holiday ever occurred. The new toys we thought would make them happier, don’t. Instead, they just start to get in the way.
LIFE LESSON: We often think that material possessions will bring lasting excitement into our life, but most of the time they just end up getting in the way.
6. The more toys you play with, the more time you spend cleaning them up.
Because we clean up every night before bed (well, almost every night), our kids understand this pretty simple equation. The more toys we pull out of the closet, the more time we spend cleaning them up. And conversely, the less time we spend actually enjoying them.
LIFE LESSON: The more possessions we own, the more of our time is required to care for them, clean them, organize and sort them.
7. A hike in the woods beats a new video game any day.
Video games simply can not compete with the graphics, the full-sensory experience, or the relationship of a family walk through the woods. Never have, never will. And for that matter, nothing else produced on television can compete either.
LIFE LESSON: Turn off the television. Go outside. Live life, don’t just watch it.
Perhaps children are in this world because we as grown-ups have so much left to relearn.
Joshua Becker is the best-selling author of The More of Less and The Minimalist Home. He has appeared on numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and CBS. His website, Becoming Minimalist, is designed to inspire others to pursue their greatest passions by owning fewer possessions. Joshua and his wife are also founders of The Hope Effect, a non-profit organization for orphan care. They live in Arizona and have two children.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What would you put on a list of lessons you’ve learned from your children? Talk about this with your wife or another dad.
- How do you find a balance between letting your children play with electronics (or play with a toy, alone) and encouraging them to play with friends or do something outside?
- Do your kids have way more clothes and toys than they’ll ever use? Is there a sensible way to make changes going forward?
- Help your child define what things in life are really “needs” and which are “wants.” You can get more help here.
- What example are you setting in the ways you manage and talk about material possessions?
- Ask your kids, “What do you think are the most important things in my life?”
- Which of Joshua’s life lessons do you most need to hear and apply?