This morning I glanced at my schedule for the coming weekend. Four baseball games and two birthday parties dominate the landscape, along with a list of household chores and errands longer than any one man should have to face. And these are supposed to be my days off!
The Bible says that children are a reward from the Lord, and blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them (Psalm 127:4-5a). I have certainly found that to be true. But I’ve also found that the fuller my quiver gets (I’ve got five beautiful arrows), the harder it is to find the time to give each child the attention they need and deserve.
Can you relate? If so, here are ten things I do to develop my relationships with my kids, in spite of a hectic schedule.
1. Road trips – I take a child on many of the daily errands I run, whether to the dump, to the book store, or to the grocery store. I often speak at functions several hours away. If I can afford it and it works, I will take one of my children with me. They love the quality time alone with dad (maybe it’s all the fast food we eat?). The time we spend together is invaluable. It’s often an adventure both of us never forget, and it’s a great chance for me to connect with one of my kids.
2. Nicknames – Each of my kids has a nickname that no one else has. We’ve got a Mouse, a Bear, a Bird and even a Monkey (a few more and we may start a zoo!). These nicknames were given to them as special tokens of my affection. “Anyone can call you by your given name,” I say, “but only I can call by your nickname!” I want my children to know that they hold a special place in my life, that I love them uniquely and individually.
3. Dates – I have dates with each of my children. Like my wife, they deserve to have my undivided attention every once in awhile. This is more than just letting them come along as I run errands. I build the time around them, and we plan it together. Usually it’s going out for lunch on school days. I’ll pick them up – but not without first asking permission from their teacher: “Do you mind if I take my daughter out for a big, unbelievably special lunch?” Then on the way to lunch I always say the same thing to my child. “The sky’s the limit, where do you want to go?” Since we only have a limited time to eat before I need to get them back to school, the sky is most often fairly cost effective.
4. A masters degree – I want to know everything about my kids. I’ve been trying to get a Master’s Degree, majoring in my family. I want to meet their needs as best as I am able. Books like The Five Love Languages of Children and The Birth Order Book have enabled me to better understand how my children learn and grow. Each is different and unique. I ask them questions like, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?”, “If you could choose to have any superpower, what would you choose?”, “Of all the sports you play, what is your favorite and why?” You can learn a lot about your kids’ values, their dreams, their desires and aspirations by asking questions like these. Questions help me to understand my children, and they enable me to, as the saying goes, “walk a mile in their shoes.” It also shows my children that I’m interested in them.
5. Eat together – In our home breakfast is chaos, and by lunchtime we are scattered to the four winds. As much as our schedules allow, we try to have dinner together as a family. This is our time to reconnect and recharge after a busy day. It’s our chance to celebrate victories, to help each other through the tough things, to do a short devotional, to laugh, to cry, to tell a joke, to hear a story, to sit and feel part of a family.
6. Pray together – Prayer is important to me. Whether it’s on the way to soccer try-outs, in the car as the ambulance passes us to go to an accident, during the evening before bed, on the way to school or at the supper table, we pray about the past, the present and future. We thank God for sending His Son for us, for how he has blessed us and helped us. We pray about their current needs and concerns, and that they will remain faithful and strong in their faith. And we pray together for their future occupations and their future spouses, asking God to cause them to grow in faith and purity.
7. Family trips – I believe a family that plays together, stays together. During the summer we borrow a friend’s ski condo (usually no one uses it during that time, and most of the ski resorts are barren). It’s a great way to spend quality, uninterrupted time with my kids. When I speak at retreats, I arrange as part of my fee a time when we can come back as a family to enjoy the facilities. Walking around our local lake, riding bikes, hiking, going camping, swimming, going to a museum, to parades, to the July 1st fireworks… the list is endless. Oh and by the way, you may be wondering if I enjoy all these activities. Um… no, not always. But love is sacrificial and I love my kids.
8. Be available – Our children need to know that they are important to us. My kids have permission to call me on my cell phone or at work anytime they need to. Sometimes they’ll leave messages like, “Hey Dad, I just called to tell you I love you”, “Dad! Mom wants you to…” I find that my best quality time is at night before my kids go to sleep. I’ll just lay down next to them and talk about their day.
9. Put their activities into your schedule – My phone is filled with my kids’ practices, games, school assemblies, and other important events that I don’t want to miss. I can’t always make it to all of them, but as much as possible I am there to cheer them on. And if I can’t be there, I want to be reminded of their big day, so that I can ask them about it later.
10. Play their games – Each of my children has special interests, and when my time permits I play their games with them. It may involve playing goalie for NHL Shoot-out, playing Uno or checkers, watching a kids’ video, playing house or tea party or dress-up games, or watching home theatre productions.
The Bible speaks of children as arrows. I picture myself taking aim, pulling back the bow and launching them into the world. The target that they hit depends in large part on the amount that I invest in them today. I want to help them to become independent and resourceful, to be free to be whom God has gifted them to be and to inspire them on to greater heights and depths. Does it take effort? You bet – it’s like a full-time job!
Do I fail? Many times. But I feel it’s like running a marathon with my children: there is a set amount of time that I have with each of my children, and I want to do what I can with the time I have. I don’t set lofty goals, compare myself to other more spiritual or more perfect fathers; I just do what I can do and leave the results to God.
Sometimes the best thing I can do for my kids is to rest: just curl up on the couch and sleep. Without neglecting them, I try to teach them to rely more on their heavenly Father than their earthly one. At times I need to be in front of them, pulling them to new adventures; other times I’m beside them, walking through the victories and the failures with them; still other times my place is behind them, encouraging them to go for it, to reach out, to draw back their own arrows and let them fly.
Are there tough choices sometimes? Yes. Is it worth it? Always.