Making the Most of Family Time
Rev. James A. Aderman
Expect that friends will not understand that you won’t play softball every Tuesday night, in order to be at home with the kids.
“I just don’t have the time,” I sighed in exasperation. “I dearly want to be a good father to my daughters, but pastoring a congregation demands my time from early morning until late evening. I’m left to sandwich in family time wherever I can. There just isn’t time to be the father I want to be.”
A brave — and loving — friend breathed deeply before responding with a smile. “Jim, you’re lying to yourself. You have as much time to be a father as everyone else. Rich or poor, everyone has 24 hours to spend each day. How we choose to spend those hours shows what our real priorities are. Your choice says that your job is more important than your family. Your frustration as a father really isn’t a time problem; it’s a priority problem.”
Dr. Ross Campbell in his book How To Really Love Your Child stresses, “It is not possible for me to take care of every obligation and every responsibility… I must face that fact. If I do not, I will naively assume that everything will somehow get taken care of, and, when I assume that, I will become controlled by the tyranny of the urgent (rather than by the truly important)… We must determine our priorities, set our goals, and plan our time to accomplish them. We must control our time in order to take care of the important things.” And how do we get that control?
Recognize change is not easy. Swimming against the flow of society’s values will be tiring. Christian researcher George Barna (The Frog in the Kettle) reports, “As a nation, we believe that the more different experiences we have, the more likely we will be to find fulfillment… Because we want to experience so much but have limited time in which to do so, our best option is to give up time-consuming endeavors.” No wonder family relationship is taking such a beating in America.
Expect that friends will not understand that you won’t play softball every Tuesday night, in order to be at home with the kids. Your sister may puzzle over your spending time with the family rather than joining her for shopping. Even be ready to explain to your pastor that serving on another committee is not important enough to keep you out of the house one more night.
Set proper priorities. What are the important goals you want your family to achieve? A close relationship with Jesus? The security of a husband and wife who are working on improving their relationship with each other? Joy, peace, contentment, love, satisfaction?
Search God’s word for the directives he would have you pursue. Pray over what he tells you. Ask him to help you make some decisions about how much money your family needs to attain his (rather than your) goals. Think through how television affects the achievement of your priorities. Then change whatever needs to be changed to meet the Lord’s goals.
Work out a covenant. With your spouse and your children talk about restructuring your family’s time. Study the Bible together on time use and hammer out a written agreement.
Establish a family routine that insists on time together. Family time must be written into the weekly schedule before any other activities or it will be rendered non-existent by frequent violations.
My daily calendar is highlighted in pink daily from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Friday nights, and Sunday afternoons and evenings. Those are family times. People who want me to schedule things then hear, “I’m sorry. I already have an appointment at that time.” We also have dinner together. Even if one of us has plans to eat away from home, she joins us at the table.
Another family I know uses each morning as family time. Everyone has a set time to be up, to take care of grooming, and to practice his musical instrument before eating together. That’s also time for the family to listen to their heavenly Father speak to them and for them to speak to him.
Don’t overschedule. Dr. James Dobson has found that fatigue and time pressure create major stress in families. “It is obvious that many families live on this kind of last-minute, emergency schedule, making it impossible to meet the demands of their own over-commitments… But guess who is the inevitable loser?… It’s the little guy who is leaning against the wall with his hands in the pockets of his blue jeans… The lad gets the message — his folks are busy again. So he drifts into the family room and watches two hours of pointless cartoons.” (Hide or Seek).
As important as it is for families to plan their time, schedules need to be flexible. Avoid stuffing weeks full of have-to: activities, duties, responsibilities, and work. Allow for sabbaths: blocks of time for kites, Nintendo, reading, personal time with Jesus, “vegging” out, and uninterrupted listening. Our kids need to know that when they ask, “Dad, got a minute?” the answer will be “Sure. What do you need?”
Make your time together user-friendly. When my children were little it was often a chore for me to entertain them. Playing dollies was not my favorite way to spend an hour. But then I discovered that we could do things we both liked. Playtime with Dad improved immensely.
As your children to list their ten favorite activities. Mom and Dad should add their list. Over the next couple of months, where might you go and what might you do that would satisfy everyone’s top three choices? Some choices might dovetail. A movie at a mall might include time for shopping. Other choices will require compromises. A couple of years ago we spent four days backpacking, followed by four days in a resort setting.
Be prepared for your plans to go awry. When they do, simply start again. At times schedules may be so assaulted they collapse. Or over time they may imperceptibly drift off course. When that happens, don’t look for someone to blame. Don’t pillory yourself. Only refocus on God’s grace and goals; then begin again.
When it comes to having time to be effective parents, everyone is equal. The Lord grants us all 24 hours every day. Following the Lord’s directives for using those hours is an exciting adventure — an adventure that pays off in rich treasure when applied to our families.
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