My husband and I never really left college. We got married right out of school and jumped right into working full-time in college campus ministry. And we love it.
We love being able to offer a home-cooked meal to a homesick freshman, or a cup of tea to a stressed out senior. We are thankful students trust us to be their listening ear or shoulder to cry on. The small campus church has become our second home and the students our tribe, and, after having our daughter, our village.
The last three years in ministry have been full of joy and very formative for our family life. Walking alongside young adults who face the challenges of growing up in our world today has brought us a fresh perspective on life and has, in many ways, shaped how I approach parenthood.
It has also taught me several lessons I hope to pass on to my children:
Lesson 1: You are Not Your Grades
Students today have a great desire to achieve academically, but not always for the sake of pursuing excellence. This desire, well-intentioned as it may be, often stems from the warped perception of their self-worth.
With all the pressure to succeed in the classroom, and to build a resume that would make a future employer proud, students begin to believe the lie that they are only as good as their achievements. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are at an all-time high because students equate their value as a human being to their grades and often leave school unsure of who they are.
While it is important to challenge our children to be the best they can be and teach them the value of hard work, we must make it a priority to affirm our children’s dignity and worth in both their moments of triumph and failure.
Lesson 2: Pursue Knowledge for Its Own Sake
If you give a student a high school diploma, he will probably need an undergraduate degree to go with it. And after that, a graduate degree because “you can’t get a good job without one.”
Until recently, receiving an education was only a possibility for the elite, not something you’d approach with apathy or annoyance. But today, college is primarily seen as the next step in a young person’s life. It is a means to an end, a way to get a well-paying job or high social status; it’s not always valued as the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.
Young children have the natural ability to wonder. They are mesmerized by the natural world, and (as I’m sure you moms of toddlers can attest) always want to know “why” They rejoice in learning something new.
As parents, we can help them keep this sense of wonder, and foster this into a deep love of wisdom, by reading aloud to them, taking them on adventures, and showing interest in what excites them.
Lesson 3: Take a (Real) Break Now and Then!
Whenever I ask students what they like to do for fun, the answer almost always follows the same formula: “That’s a good question. I don’t know… When I’m not working, I like to watch Netflix or hang out with my friends.” All too often I see students working themselves to the point of exhaustion and when they finally crash, that’s all they can do.
Today’s college students often lack actual hobbies. If they partake in any non-academic activities, it is usually a extracurricular or something that will look good on their resume. In short, if they don’t “get credit” for it, they don’t see it as worth their time. They’ve lost (or never learned) the art of true leisure and authentic rest.
Leisure doesn’t mean sitting on the couch for three days straight watching The Office. It’s about doing something that revitalizes you, something that gives you life. Encourage your child to be an active participant in a fun and engaging activity, like reading a book, going on a hike, playing guitar, or painting. It’s important for us to remind our children that we are not slaves to our work by allowing them (and yourself, leading by example) time to rest.
Lesson 4: Authentic Friendship Takes Work (And is Totally Worth It!)
This generation of college students and the generations that follow were born into a world where technology is commonplace and the possibility of constant connection taken for granted. Having everyone you’ve ever known (and even some you don’t) just a text or a Snapchat away makes developing a healthy view of social media incredibly tricky.
Living in an age of constant access to other people actually makes it harder for young people to learn how to a connect with those around them. Friendship, primarily seen as “likes” and “follows,” often struggles when they are challenged to be present and real with other people. On social media, people show only the parts of themselves they want others to see, while hiding all of the beautifully messy parts of our lives. In contrast, real friendship takes vulnerability and authenticity.
Our little ones can learn how to do this through us being authentic with them — by apologizing when we are wrong, by listening and asking meaningful questions, by putting the phone down and looking them in the eye more often.
Our world is complex and challenging and constantly growing ever more so: it’s impossible to prepare our children completely for everything that they will face in the world. But we can equip them the best we can. The most important lessons our little ones need to learn begin at home.