Keeping up with the Jones' is one of the single greatest temptations that we face as parents. Someone always has the nicer car, the nicer house, or the better toys for their kids. Early on in our parenting Amy and I decided that we were going to choose experiences over stuff for our family. We have learned that this was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
How are you able to pay for travel sports on a pastor's salary? All the travel and eating out that goes with it adds up. How do you do it? These are some of the questions that we've been asked over the years. It's very simple, we have decided that providing experiences for our kids is more important than giving them things. We intentionally choose to spend on experiences because they are more significant over the long haul.
Stuff comes and goes, but experiences last a lifetime
This is absolutely true. The picture above is from the summer that we went to Budapest, Hungary. Amy was working for our denomination's world missions organization at the time and they were holding a conference there. When we realized that we had the opportunity to get our family to another country we jumped at the chance. While Amy was working, the kids and I were able to explore a new country. The memories made will last us forever.
When you choose experience over stuff you are also choosing relationship. Just giving children stuff communicates that you would prefer them to be seen not heard. Experiences are almost always linked to engagement. Leaving town or heading out on a local adventure usually means that there are significant times where the phones are put away and we are doing something together.
My job as a pastor has always provided me with great flexibility. This means that during the summer I am a bit of a stay-at-home dad. Amy will head off to work and I will be the responsible adult at home. One summer the kids and I took off to downtown Ypsilanti for the farmer's market. It was a really cool afternoon. We laughed a ton and had an experience together. Out of that experience came some good conversations about food and the poor. At our farmer's market if you were on food stamps you could get tokens to use for food from the vendors. This was something that I had never seen before nor had my kids. So, as we were driving home we had a good conversation about what all that meant.
Experiences open us up to new ways of seeing the world and new people. They also help kids grow in compassion, empathy, and openness. As we explore to places together the “why?” question is quick to come. As a result, we can help our kids make sense of a confusing world. It also helps them to be confident and not live in fear. I love the fact that our kids are not afraid to get in a car with their friends and check out some new place. They have learned to be aware of their surroundings and also to be curious about their world.
By choosing experience over stuff it makes it very easy to make certain decisions. When the kids come home and say they want to go out to dinner, more times than not, we say yes. Why? Because we are making the principled decision to have an experience with our kids. I don't know why, but when you're out at a restaurant it seems that the conversation flows easier. The phones also seem to go away, usually at the prompting of Ethan and Libby. I think it's because there are fewer distractions. We are in a sense “trapped” together. Nobody is in the kitchen working on preparing food or thinking about cleaning up, when the fast eater finishes there's no place for them to go. It's almost as if our family has been trained to engage with one another when we are out and about.
This principle more than any other may point most clearly as to why we have decided to parent from a principled perspective. It helps us to make decisions in the context of our parenting. Parenting is hard enough without always having to go back to the drawing board for every single decision. By embracing a principle of experience over stuff we are able to quickly say “yes” and just as easily say “no.” The impact that this has is one that I'm not sure we will ever fully be able to know. Choosing how to spend money is something that can be so hard when you're making those decisions in a vacuum. There are going to be times when the kids have to have some “thing.” When they were little it was so nice to be able to say, “We aren't going to buy that because it's way more fun to go to Florida and play at the beach with your cousins.” This helps them gain perspective and see the value in people and experience over the value of stuff. Now that they are older they just get it.
When you choose experience over stuff you are creating a context where the children who are entrusted to you will begin to comprehend that the greater value is people and relationship. An adventure and a meal is so much more significant than a shiny object that will lose its luster after a few weeks.
Parents, let's choose experience over stuff!