Why “Did You Have Fun?” is the Wrong Question

by Laura Parker on April 30, 2013

Sweaty heads and dirty feet tumbled into the car after an evening last week at BHJ Girl’s Home in SE Asia.  And we waved goodbye out the window as the gate was closed behind us, and I asked my three kids in the backseat, “Well, did you have fun?”

And, immediately, my son started in– “I didn’t like the food.  And they wouldn’t play with me much.  And I didn’t get to play soccer. And those dogs were there.”  {I assumed that was a “no.”}

Deflate Mother-Dreams-of-Kids-Serving-the-World Balloon.

But, then, I asked {well, fired-back} a different question, “Well, did you love well?”

Pause.

“Wellllll, not really,” admitted one.

“I think I did. I helped with the dishes and played with Yada a lot,” said another.

“I totally did,” claimed the 4-year-old who just figured that “yes” was a better answer.

Drop Parenting-Revelation-Bomb.

Because every time my kids have gotten in the car after soccer practice or a school day, a playdate with friends or even a night spent with impoverished girls in SE Asia, my default question has always been about their own personal fun.  I’m typically asking, first, about their good time, the friends they hung out with, the general awesomeness of the event itself.

And, ultimately, though subtly, I fear I’m communicating that their pleasure should be the focus of hours spent with others.  And is that, really, what I want to be teaching my kids–

That if their _____{insert activity here}_____  wasn’t “fun,” then it was a waste, a thing to complain about on the car ride home?

Cue Mom’s New Brilliant-Master-Plan.

My kids will be getting a different question from now on when they plop their taekwondo belts or their book bags or their soccer cleats into the backseat.  I’ll be asking first, “How’d you love?” {or some non-cheezy-version of the same type of ask}.

Because shouldn’t our default be more about what we gave, than what we got?

And if we really believe that, shouldn’t the questions we ask our kids reflect it?

*originally posted September 8, 2011, Laura Parker Blog

*****************

What’s the default question you ask after an event?  How do you shift your kids from being self-focused to others-focused?  Uh, how do you shift yourself?

And do your kids jump into ministry as easily as you thought? 

– Laura Parker, Co-Editor/Founder, Former aid worker in SE Asia

blog:  Laura Parker Blog |   work: The Exodus Road 

 

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About Laura Parker

Living on three continents and moving 15 times in 15 years of marriage, Laura is no stranger to transition. Recently living in SE Asia with her family, Laura now serves as the VP of a counter-trafficking organization which her husband began, The Exodus Road. Laura is the co-founder and editor here at A Life Overseas and writes at her blog, http://www.LauraParkerWrites.com.
  • This is exactly what we’ve been asking our kids too – did you love well? or How can we love well today? Great!

    • Thanks, Rachel. 🙂 Such a better way to frame a day, right?

      Saw your new pet on fb! Cute! Good luck . . . I’m afraid we’re not very good with them either.

  • Dalaina May

    great perspective

  • sherylobryan

    What a powerful question! It’s not just for kids, but it’s for me. I have a feeling that’s going to be the theme I use with my interns this summer. Thanks for being used to transform the world!

    • Absolutely! Thanks so much for being here . . . it’s definitely a question I ask myself often!

  • Dani

    So true! I really pray our boys see the need to server and love others and not only have fun. It sure is a balance that is often missed on the mission field. Children often grow up hating the mission field they grew up on. Or sometimes, just sometimes, they fall in love with serving and the people. Oh I pray this is what happens with my boys.

    • I hear you and pray that for my kids, too, even though now we are stateside. So much of the way kids perceive their worlds I think can come from the ways their parents engage with it . . . and those values are so evident I think in the questions we ask them.
      Hang in there– prayers for your boys today from here, too.

  • i loved this post the first time i read it.

    i ask my kids “how’d it go?” because especially with my biggers, it gives me a glimpse into their priorities. if i just ask if they loved well, they figure out pretty quickly that yes would get mama off their back. 🙂 and while they did begin to learn that loving well was my priority, i wasn’t getting insight into their priorities. so the “how’d it go?” opens the conversation and lets me probe more deeply as the Lord leads.

    best way to shift focus i’ve found is opportunities to serve and talking about how we can serve each other… coming up with ideas… thanking a sibling/child for service offered… modeling service myself. don’t always use the word serve, however – best way to help is a catch phrase for my littles.

    and as far as our kids in ministry – it ebbs and flows. we try and do things that involve us all – in several different ministry domains so they get opportunities to try things out. then, when it is something that fits their natural gifting, talents and interests – they do seek opportunities to serve. i’m so thankful for big kids who have that heart because the littlers catch it from them. i also make sure they know that i appreciate it when they serve simply because it was the right thing to do, even if their heart wasn’t in it.

    • Oh, I didn’t think of that– that the older kids have you figured out and know the right answer! I guess it does make sense to frame that in a different way for them . . . Love your thoughts on service, especially this:
      i also make sure they know that i appreciate it when they serve simply because it was the right thing to do, even if their heart wasn’t in it.
      YES, important to teach that sometimes we do the right thing, even if we don’t feel like it at all.

  • Bethany Weathersby

    I totally agree that asking if an event was fun is not the best approach. 🙂 I always ask how the event went, then let the conversation flow from there. I like doing it that way because, for better or worse, I can see what mattered most to them. If there are things we need to address about their attitudes or behavior, then we deal with them accordingly. If they want to talk about how fun the event was, then I share in their excitement. If they bring up someone else’s poor behavior, then we talk about how to approach those situations. If they think it was miserable, then we figure out if there’s a way to make it better or if it’s something we need to step away from.

    I love, love, love your statement about our default being about what we gave, not what we got!

    • Love your use of the open ended question to let them talk and see where their priorities were. Great idea, Bethany.
      Parenting is a process, right? 🙂

  • Bayta Schwarz

    I don’t have kids but feel very challenged about this myself, as I reflect on how I tend to evaluate events… Thanks for posting!

    • Yes– I think this totally works for adults too! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • First – I love this post. And I’m with Bayta – it does make me think of how I evaluate events. Asking did you love well is insightful – a wonderful question. But there’s a deeper issue – and that is ‘ministry’. Are our kids to jump into ministry? Is it in their DNA to want to serve? I’d say it’s not in any of our genetic make up. That it is part of the transformation process. Just as an encouragement – I was one of those missionary kids that was all about fun. I remember my senior year of high school. My parents decided we weren’t going to be at home with stockings – we were going to another city to spend the night with a Pakistani family. I was so mad at them. Who did they think they were to interfere with my happiness during my senior year – Christmas morning of all things! I still remember the absolute delight on the faces of our friends when we did stockings for them. As we ate Christmas breakfast of parathas and omelettes instead of our traditional sweet rolls in the shape of a Christmas tree. I remember writing in my diary “Christmas was different this year – not bad – just different.” and then went on to describe it. So sometimes as kids we don’t ‘get’ it until later. I still struggle with it not being all about me – even when I’m giving. For me I think it will continue to be life-long transformation but the question you pose is sure to help.

    • Marilyn–

      Great story! Thanks for sharing it! I love that you said that serving was not in anyone’s genetic makeup– YES! So true. That IS the transformation process we are hoping to lead our kids into, and ourselves into, as well. And love the encouragement that even Christmas morning in Pakistan can be okay in the long run.

  • Megan Johnson

    Beautiful. Will follow you because of this post. Thank you so much. 🙂 Timing is unreal, as I just had a heart to heart with my 5 year old about love and generosity, which I think totally went over her head. This is a wonderful daily application. 🙂

    • Awesome, Megan! I am so glad it was an encouragement to you! It’s tough to parent intentionally littles as I think as mothers its hard to know what they are “getting” and so often feels like we are just talking to the air. Hang in there– I bet he is understanding more than you know. 🙂

  • Tania

    Thanks for this – totally need to do this in my own life. Perfect timing.

  • Just no.

    No.

  • Read this a couple of days ago and have thought about it several times since (the mark of writing that really makes an impact on me!!). Thanks, Laura. Great post. So simple, yet something I’ve never focused on before.

  • Brianna Young

    I’m so glad I clicked on this article. Not only will I not ask “Did you have fun’ I just realized something even more powerful. No longer will I ask MYSELF “Did I have fun” In any thing I do I will ask myself “How well did I love”

    • I second that! I don’t have children at how any more, but working with teams of new missionaries on the field~I’m paying attention!

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  • Anita

    I tend to ask, “what was enjoyable?” or something similar (“tell me about the things you loved?”) to focus on the positive, but I like yours, too!

  • Love this!

  • This is a great way to phrase it! Thank-you for sharing your wisdom. Every time “Did you have fun?” comes out of my mouth in regards to activities where the goal is not necessarily fun, it feels wrong, but I didn’t have another viable option! Now I do!

  • Jaranda

    Excellent writing ! my colleagues last month used https://goo.gl/h7N0UM to access pdf . It's extremely uncomplicated to apply and it's great . I am guessing they are giving a free promotion currently

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