Are You Lying to Your Kids about the American Dream?
- Betsy St. Amant
- 2016 1 Jul
Once upon a time, the American dream meant getting married young, having two or three kids, building a stable career with ample retirement, then kicking back on the front porch rocker with lemonade while your great-grandkids crawled at your feet.
It’s a fairytale that doesn’t exist. Try as we might to make it so, we simply can’t rewrite the truth—that we live in a spiritual war-zone that greatly affects our physical reality.
We’re surrounded by proverbial barbed wire, yet we continually tell our kids we’re surrounded by white picket fences. We’re continuing to dole out expectations that don’t—and shouldn’t—exist. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the American Dream—what’s wrong is when we teach that it’s to be expected.
I grew up expecting my life to go the way my parents’ life went. I expected to get married young, have two kids, work hard and make decent money, and never have any major issues to struggle with. After all, I loved God, became a Christian at a young age, was a pleaser by nature, and usually did “the right thing.” It was a formula that made sense to me and I assumed God would respect that.
Until my husband divorced me and cracked apart my formula. Suddenly, my picket fence was mowed over and my house burned to the ground. I had no idea how to handle the death of my dreams.
I know now it’s because my dreams were rooted in a reality that didn’t actually exist.
I spent desperate years trying to rebuild my fence at any cost—to rebuild the dream that I somehow felt I was owed or entitled to. Until I realized that I don’t live in a fairy tale. I live in a war—with a very real enemy determined to take me out.
So do you, Believer. And so do your kids.
As followers of Christ, we’re not supposed to put our hope in anything outside of Him. This isn’t a pointless rule—this is to guard our hearts. Jesus told us Himself in His Word that “in this world, you will have trouble.” He guaranteed it. That trouble might look like divorce or disease or death or financial crisis or any other host of things. Regardless of the details, it’s a given. That carefully crafted picket fence will at some point come toppling down, and what are we left with? Broken boards and chipped paint? Or a sturdy foundation on which to rebuild?
As an adult, I see now in hindsight how my parents struggled, how their life wasn’t nearly as idealistic as I interpreted as a child. And now that I’m a parent, I’m growing increasingly more and more aware of how I’m shaping my daughter’s expectations. Am I consciously and even subconsciously teaching her that we live in a spiritual war-zone and to act accordingly? Or am I teaching her to expect the security of a picket fence that her generation “owes” her?
When you operate from the reality of living at war, you see everything around you through that lens. The things that harden your heart or cause you to grow bitter toward God are suddenly a little clearer. You remember that instead of God owing you an easy life, you actually owe Him yours.
The other day, I had to sit my almost-eight-year-old down and have a blunt talk about a hard topic that she’s going be growing increasingly more aware of as she gets older and is in public school. I had to tell her what the Bible says about that topic, what our response to it should be as Christians, and warn her that sometimes people got offended by the truth and might take it out on her. She was to expect some level of persecution in this area and in many more over the years.
Think about it. Are you guilty of talking to your kids more about their sports stats than their walk with God? Are you more concerned with your teenager choosing a college major than memorizing Scripture and suiting up daily for war? There’s nothing wrong with doing all of those things. The problem comes when our consistent emphasis shifts to the former instead of the latter.
These are the days of spiritual battle, and it’s only heating up. We can't afford any longer, however unintentionally, to lie to our kids and teach them to expect things that aren’t guaranteed. We can’t keep showing them that their focus and goals should be solely on relationships and education and money, or they'll never survive. Their hearts will be fatally wounded before they even don a graduation cap or walk down the aisle to Canon in D.
In striving to do what our parents did, my generation—and the ones to come behind me—are mistakenly expecting a false reality and the impossible. I believe one of the reasons my generation and the ones behind me are struggling so hard with depression, anxiety, and discouragement, is because the root of their expectations is grounded in the wrong soil.
The Bible says that a hope deferred makes the heart sick. What are we hoping in, and what are we teaching our children to hope in? Jesus alone, or the false security of this world’s fleeting offerings?
Of course I want to encourage my daughter in the things she enjoys and is naturally gifted in—art, drama, reading, etc. But not at the expense of encouraging her to invest in the things that might not come as naturally—daily putting on the armor of Christ, hiding God’s Word in her heart, and sharing the gospel.
At the end of the day, which of those efforts of mine will best help her prepare for the reality of this world and for eternity? As fulfilling as a family and career and hobbies might be here on earth, those blessings are temporary and not certain.
True peace, joy, and contentment come from remembering we live in a spiritual war-zone. No man knows the day or hour, but just the same, this world is counting down. You can turn on the news and see the downward spiral. All around us, creation is groaning, eager for the return of it’s Creator. Whether we have days, years or many decades left on earth, we can't afford any longer to make worldly goals our priorities—or our children’s.
It’s time to suit up and remember where we live. This world is not our home. And we owe our kids that Truth.
Betsy St. Amant has a heart for three things - chocolate, new shoes and sharing the amazing news of God's grace through her novels. She lives in Louisiana with her adorable story-telling young daughter, a collection of Austen novels, and an impressive stash of Pickle Pringles. A freelance journalist and fiction author, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and is multi-published in Contemporary Romance. Her newest novel LOVE ARRIVES IN PIECES releases via Zondervan Fiction in June 2015. When she’s not reading, writing, or singing along to the Tangled soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching on the craft of writing and can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white-chocolate mocha. You can read more from Betsy at www.betsystamant.com and ww