Teaching our kids that life isn’t all about fun

Nov 19, 2014, 5:50 PM | Updated: 5:50 pm

I asked my daughter to set the table one night recently and she responded like this: “But I don’t want to. It’s not fun.”

I looked at her for a minute in disbelief thinking, “Oh, no, oh, no, I’m not ready for sassy talking back. I’m not ready!” But after I collected my composure and told her that she needed to pitch in and help get the family ready for dinner, I also talked to her about the second part of her statement: “It’s not fun.”

I don’t blame her for thinking that everything in life should be fun. She is 7, and besides a little homework and some household chores, life has basically been a series of bounce houses, piñatas and “Frozen” singalongs. Life is fun.

But sadly, I had to explain to her that the goal of life is not to have fun. Sure, there are moments of bliss and happiness and deep belly laughs, but life is also hard work, commitments and heartbreak.

After our talk, though, I kept thinking about our conversation. All around me I noticed that people believe, as my 7-year-old does, that life should always be fun. The reigning philosophy: If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.

I, too, fall into the fun trap. I often fill my children’s days with fun. I take them to zoos, playgrounds, parties and other things where the sole purpose is to have fun. I ask them after school, “Did you have fun today?” And I gauge our success on family outings by how much fun everyone had.

So I stopped to think about it: Am I setting up my children for disappointment when they realize life is not fun all the time? Am I leading them to believe that the ultimate goal in this life is to have a good time?

This quote from journalist Jenkin Lloyd Jones, shared by former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in a 1973 devotional address at BYU, says it all:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. … Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

That’s what I want to teach my children: to be grateful to be having these experiences at all — the fun and the heartbreaking ones. Those hard times are what stretch us and push us to be better.

So to my daughter I say, yes, your childhood will be full of bounce houses and parks and boisterously loud fun because I’m a firm believer in the power of play and laughter. But sometimes, kiddo, you just have to suck it up and set the table because that’s part of life, too. And my job as your mom isn’t to make sure your life is a never-ending carnival, but to make sure you are becoming the best person you can possibly be.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 7-year-old and 3-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.

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Teaching our kids that life isn’t all about fun