I was speaking with a friend of mine last week who admitted to me that he works long hours and while he doesn't see his family as often as he would like, “it was okay” because it was "quality time" that mattered anyways. I admit, I used to think the same way. I justified my long hours at the office, answering more emails while my wife read bedtime stories and played with my son in the tub, by telling myself that I was there for my son for the big stuff… and that’s what matters… right?
It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that while we might not be around for the day to day, seemingly mundane parts of raising our kids, we'll be there when it matters and we'll make the time count when we're there. The problem is that if we're honest, we can't pick and choose in advance what times with our children will matter most to them.
I'm absolutely not saying you should miss your kids’ birthdays, holidays, milestones or special events, because those matter to your family too, rather those aren't the times where we can as easily fulfill our responsibility to "train up a child in the way they should go." God instructs us in Proverbs 22:6 to "Train up a child in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it." The problem is that, it's a hard task to accomplish when you're not around to do it!
We are significantly disadvantaged as Christian husbands and fathers today. Before the Industrial Revolution, dads and sons frequently worked side-by-side for much of their day and it was during this time fathers passed along their wisdom, skills, habits and faith. With the Industrial Revolution came many wonderful advances in technology but also came longer work days for fathers and less time with their children. Fathers began leaving for work, not to return home for twelve or more hours later. The father-son bond that was the bedrock for centuries before, consequently began to erode away.
Fast forward 250 years and the reverberations on the family from the Industrial Revolution are still being felt today. Deep down, as men we want the best for our families but yet it seems like it's becoming harder to spend time with them. Society tells us that “quality over quantity” is what really matters. I would argue that it’s not about quality or quantity. It’s about time. It’s about giving your kids the gift of your time, both in the memorable and the mundane.
I'll fully admit that I don't love cleaning up my son's leftovers at dinner or wrestling him into another pair of shoes as we're running late for church. Like most parents, I would rather spend time with my son making fun memories, such as pushing him on a swing at the park or catching bugs on a sunny afternoon walk. The reality is that God instructs us to be there for more than just the "fun memories". God calls us to be there for the challenging and “ordinary” ones too. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Discipline and instruction can only occur when, as dads, we actually show up.
Take some time this week to evaluate how you can really be there for your kids with the time God has given you. Try using your commute home to pray for your wife and your kids, so you are in that mindset when you walk in the door. Dare to turn your phone off or put it on vibrate until after your kids are in bed, so you can give them your undivided attention. Look for opportunities for “teachable moments” in your child’s day. For example, packing lunches together could be an opportunity to teach your child that their body is a temple of the Lord and we’re called to make healthy eating choices or that everything we have is a gift from the Lord. When your child talks about their day, really listen. Seek to understand your children’s hearts so you can pour the Lord into them.
I absolutely love making fun memories with my son and I'll cherish those memories for many years to come. One day though, the memories will fade but training my son in the ways of the Lord will last far longer than any memory and to do that well, it takes more than just quality time.