If you are a parent, or hang around other parents, it won’t be long before you hear the phrase, “We’re just so busy!” or “We don’t have very much time.” For many of us, it seems like life goes at a break-neck pace. You hurry off to get your kids to school, then head to work for the day, then pick your kids up from school, then head to a volleyball game, trying to squeeze in supper at some point, hoping that you will get everyone in bed at a decent time—at least the younger kids. Then you crash on the couch for a bit, go to bed, and do the same thing again the next day.
In the middle of this, there can be a nagging guilt. As parents are running their children in various directions, many find themselves wondering how they can more fully connect with their children. Many are wondering how they will ever be able to disciple their children and help them mature in the faith in between all the sports and lessons. If you want to make a Christian parent feel guilty, just ask them how family devotions are going.
There’s an underlying level of guilt in many parents’ lives. Many are struggling to figure out what to do and feeling guilty about what they are not doing, especially when some children demand more attention than others. Living and parenting with a constant low-grade-guilt is not healthy and is not in line with the Gospel. Parent’s need to do something.
There are some voices who are crying out, “Families are too busy and need to slow down.” This may be true. As a parent, if you feel like your life is beginning to spin out of control, take some time to reflect on what needs to happen to get things back under control. It is very possible that you need to cut some things out of your life and your children's lives. If this is the case, take some time to talk to your family and help everyone see why you are making this decision. Do your best to help your children see that this is what’s best for them, for the family, and honoring to God.
Yet, there’s options even in the busyness. One thing my wife and I have been working on over the past year is car-ride conversations. When you have your family in the car, there is a strong temptation for everyone to be on their phone and disconnected from everyone else (car-rides are boring, right?). However, car time a strategic opportunity to connect with your family. Often you will have everyone in the same place at the same time, or at least most of your family together, so set an expectation that car-time is family-time. It’s a great opportunity to have some deeper conversations with your children—conversations that might begin with “How was your day?” but go much deeper.
One thing you need to do to facilitate these conversations is make a “no electronics” rule while the family is together in the car. (Same for the dinner table, if you ever get there.) This time is not alone-time with my screens, rather it's a rare bit of family time. This prevents people from being disengaged and fosters an atmosphere for conversation. If you are surrounded by conversation and cannot be on your phone, what else are you going to do besides participate?
We typically begin the conversation with the basic, “How was your day?” or prod a little deeper and say, “What did you do today?” We might go for some reflection with, "Tell us one good thing and one bad thing about your day so far." As our children answer these questions, we are on the lookout for opportunities to take the conversation deeper and apply biblical truths to what is happening in their life. It doesn’t happen every day. Some days we simply talk about our days (which is still a good thing). Yet, there are days when the conversation opens up and there is a great opportunity for in-depth discipleship.
This past week, we had two great conversations with our kids that began in the car and carried over into our house once we got back home. In asking, “What did you do today?” they told us about a rally they took part in. They had questions about what the speakers said and how they handled things. Something didn’t “taste right” as they listened. So, we helped them process a little bit. We asked them questions like, “Why do you think they taught the things they taught?” or “If we were looking at this same issue from a biblical standpoint, what would we say differently. How would we handle it differently?” We shared passages from scripture and stories from our lives. It was a very formative opportunity for our children that came up simply because we asked, “What did you do today?” and then intentionally took the conversation a little deeper and brought scripture into the conversation.
Interestingly, this is what scripture was telling parents to do thousands of years ago. In Deuteronomy it says, “You shall teach [God's commandments] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 11:19, ESV). We could paraphrase this for our modern day by saying, “Teach your children God’s Word in the every day, all day. Teach them while you are driving down the road. Teach them while you’re hanging out in between games. Teach them when you put them to bed at night. Teach them when you get them ready for school in the morning.”
This is something every single parent can do. Be on the lookout for opportunities to disciple our children throughout the day. When the opportunity arises, say a quick prayer for guidance from the Spirit, then dive in and disciple your child. It may not be easy or natural at first. It may take time for your family to get used to it. But trust me, you won’t regret it and you will begin to see your children maturing in their faith in leaps and bounds.