Confessions of a Suburban Mom – Part Two

In “Confessions of a Suburban Mom – Part One”  I confess to raising our sons in a safe, secure environment, what I perceive as too sheltered of a life, blocking out a broken world. Today’s post picks up where the last post ended. As I ate dinner with a dear friend to discuss her recent trip serving in a dangerous refugee camp in Greece, I brought up my struggle with suburban guilt, telling her I didn’t feel we did enough to introduce the broken world to our sons. She graciously responded, “But what is enough?” 

Each person must discover their unique answer to “What is enough?” based on their wiring, means, and calling. Adoption and foster care aren’t the only ways to teach compassion and empathy and invest in hurting lives. One of my sons works with Feed My Starving Children today and tells us about the kids who want to celebrate their birthday at FMSC or bring money they’ve personally raised for the hungry kids. These kids are being trained in compassion. Of course, I experienced guilt when I first heard these stories, lambasting myself for not teaching my kids to be so sacrificial.

But let me offer a warning in the face of these impressive gestures of generosity and compassion.

Writer Jenny Rae Armstrong, raised in Liberia as a missionary kid, offers a caution on her blog about these commendable gestures. Kids should never feel pressured to take on heavy burdens of poverty before their little hearts are strong enough to handle the weight, or because it’s the parent’s agenda. After her own experience growing up overseas, she sometimes looks at her sleeping children and thinks, “Let them have birthday parties with lots of fun, frivolous presents, let them lick the frosting off the cupcakes, their little minds untainted by thoughts of famine. Let them grow up in the same little town, attend school dances with girls they’ve known since they were two, and graduate with their football buddies.” Jenny’s words speak softly to my guilt and regret.

And here’s where it gets complicated in my own life: despite my guilt and regrets, my sons have grown into the very men I was hoping to raise. In their adult lives, they have found their unique paths to live purposeful lives. They work compassionate jobs, helping to feed kids overseas, find permanent adoptive homes for kids in foster, lead music on staff at his church, create video stories highlighting people struggling with health crises. I might even see potential foster or adopted children in the future. Who would’ve guessed? And why do I still feel so inadequate?

Recently, one son and his wife had a prolonged discussion about this topic of a safe suburban upbringing. They acknowledged a great appreciation for their secure childhoods, but the safe experience gave them a desire to expand their horizons now, do and see more now. Even as I confess to not exposing them enough to poverty and brokenness, apparently their limited exposure taught them something about how to step away from self-occupation.

I still hold to my confession. We overprotected our sons, blocked out the outside world, focused too much on the safety and growth of our family by ignoring others, and let the suburban hubbub determine how our time would be spent, thus dictating our values. But I also confess to not giving enough credit to the power of strong community to raise good men, to the value of books and words and photographs to describe life beyond our suburb, to good teachers and pastors who instilled a vision for others. We never get a chance to do it all again, but I hope and pray my sons will continue to carry out these values with their own families. If we all just did something to help those in need, how much of the needs would be reduced? Something might just be enough.

What are the ways you can and do live sacrificially and dangerously right where you live? And what is enough? We all need to answer this question for ourselves, as long as we choose to do something. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If this topic interests you, Ashley Hales book, Holy in the Suburbs, will be published in October of 2018. Her book discusses how the suburbs reflect our good, God-given desire for a place to call home—and our own brokenness. Through her writing, Ashley invites us all to look deeply into a suburbanite soul and discover what it means to live holy there.