“And so castles made of sand, fall in the sea, eventually.” Rocker Jimi Hendrix was wrong about a lot of things, but he got this right. Relationships without substance are bound to crumble. And so will family life and society as God intended, if His building blocks are ignored.
Just down the road, a whole lot of sand is being used in the construction of a castle. Though its architecture boasts the metaphor of a medieval stronghold, what it actually typifies is the postmodern tidal wave washing out to sea the relational, emotional and spiritual health of many families. I am talking about the construction of a mammoth children’s day care centre—one that will take children from three months old through pre-primary education. The castle will be large enough to enrol some five hundred children. This should be of great concern to Christians. And not merely this particular day care centre; rather, what should greatly concern us is the worldview and the resulting choices of parents, which continue to fuel the day care industry throughout our nation. Such facilities litter the land because many parents are giving insufficient thought to both their God-given responsibilities and their God-given privilege of raising their children.
It is important at this point to make two caveats. First, in exceptional cases, there is a place for godly childcare to assist mothers (and single fathers) who have to work outside the home. This article is not addressing that issue (a later one will). Second, this is not questioning whether or not parents choose to send their child to preschool. No doubt, there is great benefit to children interacting with other children under the supervision of godly teachers as a part of intentional parenting. But there is a world of difference between carefully occasionally delegating this influence and what appears to be the abandonment mentality fuelling so much of the day care industry.
Responsible delegation of parental duty is very different to irresponsible abdication of parental responsibility. Perhaps I can put it this way: The problem is not as much with the service provider (the day cares) as it is with the consumers who are creating the demand for the service (the parents).
In what may be a telling irony, the castle is being constructed just down the road from a new mall. Materialism, career goals, a desire to find significance in the values of the world rather than in Christ, as well as other idols of the heart, are no doubt the major motivations creating the demand for day care centres. It will prove revealing to see the kind of cars being driven by many of those I-have-to-work moms and the neighbourhoods from which they arrive. In other words, in many, if not most, cases it is the pursuit of wants rather than the presence of real need that drives the day care industry. And Christians should be the first to say so. So let me say it: Children need their parents more than they need the best neighbourhood. Children need their parents more than the parents need the latest vehicle. Children need their parents. I am almost embarrassed to make such an obvious statement. But as George Orwell once quipped, “we have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
Children need the presence of their parents. They need to hear their voice, to feel their touch, to see their expressions. They need their engagement and their loving correction. In other words, they need their parents to be their castle.
It grieves me to think that many children, as young as three months old (if not younger?) are dropped off at such castles of sand early in the morning only to be reunited with their family some twelve hours later. Consider: Whom do you think will have the most influence as the child grows up? Probably the ones with whom they spend the best part of their day. Of course, in some situations, that may not be a bad thing. But, in such situations, shame on the parents. They should repent and become the best people for their children to spend the best part of their day with.
The castle—and perhaps a pyramid would be more to the point; will a child be required to sojourn at the base of the preschool to be admitted to the primary school?—advertises that “castle guards” will provide a citadel of safety and security. It markets that it prioritises and encourages parental involvement. Fine. But as with most day cares, the philosophy undergirding the industry militates against such a claim of parental priority. In reality, as a parent drops off their child at the gate of any day care, they may in effect be creating an emotional, relational and spiritual mote; one that may later prove very difficult for parents and children to cross. You see, parental priority is revealed in parental presence.
“A man’s castle is his home” is still a good motto and an even more appropriate goal. Among other benefits, the home should be a fortified place where we can pull up the drawbridge to guard our children from the assaults of evil in this world. Of course, allowing our children to venture from the castle at times can be very helpful, and even healthy, in many ways. However, when the home becomes the place that children seemingly only visit rather than being their primary residence, there is a problem. In spite of all boasting to the contrary, such children are most likely spending too much time in a castle of sand; one that may eventually fall into the sea of familial disconnectedness and spiritual waywardness.
Simply put, parents need to be with their children, doing all they can to influence them for God and for good. Unfortunately, many parents—both dads and moms—choose rather to imprison themselves in the towers of corporation, career, consumerism and dungeons of covetousness while enrolling their children in castles of sand. In doing so, they lose untold opportunities to influence their children as they should. They need to turn away from the temptation to abandon their most precious possessions—their children—in their wrongheaded pursuits.
So, what should someone do who has made a series of unwise decisions concerning work and family? Certainly a radical change is needed, but in many cases it will require the patient application of wisdom. Kneejerk reactions are rarely productive. Rather, careful planning, in consultation with wise Christians, will prove helpful. Those who want to escape a wrongheaded view of family life must evaluate their lifestyle choices as they honestly examine their motives. Then they need to “maak ‘n plan” to do what is necessary to rescue their children from whatever “castle” they have been enrolled in. And then they must just do it.
I suspect that, when parents do what no doubt will prove to be a very hard thing (home care, after all, is very countercultural), their children will come to see them as knights in shining armour, which no castle made of sand could ever hope to provide. And, in the long run, there will be little reason to fear that the castle of their family will fall in the sea.