Frankly, I wish it happened more often, but I am always encouraged when it does.
Occasionally a young father will come to me wanting to know how to be a better husband or father. One thing they specifically ask is how to take advantage of the time they have with their family and to be more effective with the family’s time together.
Time seems more at a premium these days than ever in my life. Time has always passed quickly. It has always been valuable, but today’s family time seems more stretched than ever. So many distractions, activities and interruptions face busy families.
Wise parents realize the need to make the best use of the time they have together.
To be candid, our family never excelled at “family devotions”. Having a weekly Bible study and prayer session together just never seemed to take root in our family. We tried them — and we did some — but we were far more intentional with the unstructured time we had. Reflecting now, we have two young men as sons who love Jesus, are active in their church, and strive to serve Christ vocationally.
From what we learned — much by mistake and all by grace — we learned a few things about making the best use of our time as a family.
Here are 5 suggestions to make family time more effective:
Begin with a plan for your home and each child
You seldom hit a target you aren’t aiming to hit — certainly less likely to hit one you haven’t defined. Just as adults may have a plan for their career or finances, parents need a plan for operating their home. It may help if it is written, but should definitely summarize the major goals you hope to accomplish in your home. Because each child is different, I also believe parents should have different plans for each child. Ask yourself:
- What do we want our children to be like some day?
- What kind of people do we want them to be?
- What should their character be like?
- How can we best encourage them to get there?
- What does this child need from me most — right now, at this stage of their life?
You’ll find your family time more effective when you have a plan, because it will consciously and unconsciously help focus your attention and energies on the things that matter most when you are together. And, here’s the flip side — without a plan you waste a lot of energy on things which really won’t accomplish what you say you want to accomplish.
Major on the majors, not on the minors
I found my boys were more willing to talk, listen, and interact with us when they weren’t always worried if they measure up to our approval. Children feel burdened under the yoke of rules. It weighs them down trying to stay within the lines. Some things matter and some things don’t. Figure out the non-negotiable issues and primarily concentrate on them. I tended to lean towards character issues as majors and individual preferences as minors. You’ll choose what these are for your home, but everything shouldn’t be major. Majoring on everything produces very stressed-out, perfectionist children, who always seem to struggle to meet other people’s expectations of them. And, when this is the culture of your home your time will be less than effective. It made it easier to concentrate on bigger issues they would carry into life — character, moral type issues.
Make the guidelines in your home easy to figure out
There does need to be rules. Children need guidelines to follow — again, especially those that focus on the major things you want to accomplish in them. Talk about the rules you have for your home and be sure to tell the children the why behind those rules, as much as they can understand. Be consistent in carrying out the rules in the home, in a firm, but loving way. If you’re not going to enforce a rule — don’t have one. Children shouldn’t have to guess how you’ll respond to an issue. As children learn your heart and ways, they can better trust you, which will help them enjoy themselves around you and rely on you for your wisdom and input as they get older. That’s really the overall goal we were were seeking in our time as a family. We knew we were raising them to be adults. The bond we built with them when they were young has directly impacted our relationship with them as adults.
Be purposeful with your time
Look for teaching moments as they are presented and keep your desired outcomes in mind as you parent. For our family that was often at dinner time — which we tried to make happen most nights in spite of our busy schedules of work, ball, school activities, and church. It also involved me kicking or throwing a ball, even some nights when I was tired and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch with a remote in my hand. I’ve never seen effective parenting accomplished while in front of the television. (Ouch!) If you want more effective family time, take advantage of the time you do have and be intentional, implementing the plan you have for your family. Children won’t always be available to you, especially as they get older. As much as you can, to be an effective parent, always strive to be available to them when they want you to be.
Surround everything with grace and love
We wanted our home to be a “fun” place for children to be. We wanted to belly laugh often and have special memories of those times. That required lots of grace and love. I tried to remember, as a dad, I was many times modeling Christ for my children. Much of their understanding of Christ would come from their relationship to their earthly father (and mother). I’ve been given so much grace shouldn’t my children reap the benefit? Great families realize everyone makes mistakes — parents and children — and so they give multiple chances, forgive easily, and reconcile quickly.
Obviously these are just suggestions. Implementing them in your home will be different than it was in my home, because you are different and your children are different. Thinking through your parenting in a more systematic, intentional way will make you a better parent and help your time as a family be more effective.
What are some suggestions you have for making family time more effective?