A few nights ago I woke up in a frantic panic. It wasn’t because of a big loud noise, it wasn’t because of my wife Bridget, or one of the kids, it was because of a nightmare. No, it wasn’t Freddie Kruger, The Babadook, or the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man, it was worse than that, way worse. It was a dream about my kid.
We were living is this dystopian reality in a small whitish cinderblock house. Rubble surrounded our little home, but it was sorted in piles outside, so there was some promise of order on the horizon. I’m not sure why, but it was just my youngest and I, living and working together. She is 7, and like many 7 year olds, isn’t a great helper all the time. I can remember that I felt frustrated with her, she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to do. I felt like I was working all by myself and no one was noticing what I had accomplished, and she couldn’t even work beside me. She kept losing focus on the tasks I would give her, and instead was fascinated with a little flower she had picked from all the rubble. She was full of joy, I was annoyed.
In this irritated state I decided that I needed to run an errand, just up the hill and around the corner. I wouldn’t be long, she should just stay put. I’ll be right back. So, I jumped in Goldie, the old Ford pick-up I drove 5 years ago, and took off to get whatever it was I was supposed to get. I wasn’t gone long in the dream, but I can still feel the pit in my stomach as I rolled back up in front of that crumbling little house.
She was gone, without a trace, and I immediately knew something had happened. I shouted her name as I looked for her, I tore the place apart, I ran to every neighbor’s home, and that’s when I woke up. Terrified and deeply thankful that it was just a dream.
I believe that our dreams often hold meanings for us, maybe not every time, but for me they often do. The message of this dream was simple, and personal: Don’t lose your children in the busyness of life.
We all know we need to take time with our kids. We know we need to do fun things with them. We KNOW it, but we often think that those times will happen after we get done with whatever has our attention right now. The problem is that things just keep coming up, and often our families get bumped to the back of the line.
It’s not a father or mother issue, it’s a parent issue. To make matters worse we can often be present with our families bodily, but absent in every other way. You are in the room but out of the conversation. You’re at the game with your head back at the office.
The Bible doesn’t directly say too much about being active and present in the life of our children. It does say a few things that should get our attention though and one of them is found in Ephesians 6:4.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.– Ephesians 6:4 NIV
The word for exasperate here means to provoke them to anger, or to spur opposition. We often read this as don’t tease them too much or treat them too harshly, but this is more than just a command to be nice to your kids. One sure way to exasperate our children is to intentionally or unintentionally withhold relationship from them. You are their parent, the only real superhero they have ever known, and believe it or not they want to connect with you. They want to have a solid, safe, relationship with you that helps them grow. According to the Shema, doing life together is the best way to bring them up. I realize that connecting can be hard, so here are 5 ways to connect with your child.
1. Set a date and honor it.
If you are like me, your day is extremely busy and very scheduled. Planning is the only way to get everything done, and often if it isn’t on the schedule, it simply doesn’t happen. So why not just take time to set aside to be with your kids? (hint, hint, this works for date night too!) A few years ago I wanted to spend more time with my kids so, I made standing breakfast appointments with them that they looked forward to every week. My youngest son still complains that our favorite breakfast spot went out of business, not because he loved the food, he just really loved the play time with dad. A word to the wise though: don’t make plans with your kids and bump them in favor of something else. They need to know they are important in your life. By taking time to plan time an activity together and then honoring those plans, you will invest deeply into the lives of your children.
2. Invite them into your life.
This can happen in several ways, one way that my wife recently did this was by asking our 7 year old to help her cook. Now to fully appreciate this, you have to understand that she HATES casseroles. She is a very picky eater and has huge control issues, so if she can’t plainly see what a food item is, the battle for dinner is on! This time though, she helped cut the vegetables, she seasoned the hamburger, and stirred it around as it browned. She was involved in every step of the process, and that night she became a casserole evangelist! Not only did she eat it, she sang the praises of it, had seconds and thirds, and went on and on about how good it was. It wasn’t the recipe, she had patently refused to eat the very same casserole just weeks before, but inviting her into the process made all the difference.
3. Put down your phone.
I know it’s awesome. It has all the features you were looking for, there is a reason that the HD, 4K, wifi, ultratechy goodness of your personal mobile device is hard to resist, but not only are we teaching our kids how to tune the world out, we are missing amazing opportunities that we will never get back. Researchers claim that we are spending as much as 4-5 hours a day on our mobile devices. Let that sink in, for a second. 5 hours a day is 35 hours a week, almost a day and a half every week. This isn’t healthy. The irony isn’t lost on me that you are likely reading this article on a mobile device, and you most likely accessed it through social media. But really, a day and a half per week? You can’t get that time back even if you do take the perfect photo, with just the right filter, and post it to Instagram. Our kids are watching us teach them how to pretend to have a great life instead of how to actually live. I don’t think we need to unplug completely, but we do need to cut back and exchange Facebook with actually being face to face with our kids.
4. Share highs and lows.
Some of our younger kids might not be able to do this until their communication skills improve, but taking time to share what the highest and lowest points of our days are is a great way to connect. It helps you know what is going on in their world and it gives them a glimpse into yours. Of course use discretion, but I have found these times to be vital in passing knowledge on to our kids. It has led to talks about the realities of life, death, and eternity. Those are conversations our kids need to have with us because it gives us the opportunity to share why that time was so good or so bad. It helps us see each other’s hearts when we share what impacts us on those levels. Want to take it a step farther? Instead of just asking about the highs and lows, ask them what made them feel closest to God, and what made them feel farther away? Don’t use that time as a chance to nail them (unless it’s necessary), just listen and ask questions.
5. Plan an adventure with them.
|Our most recent family adventure at
Echo Bluff State Park was a blast!
This could be a simple walk around the neighborhood, a fishing trip, or a day trip to a nearby city, museum, or park. Kids love to explore, and they love to be exposed to new things. Can you remember the fun things you enjoyed as a kid? Share those things with them! Real fun never goes out of style. So give it a chance, be patient, make it about them, let them have input, expect things to go wrong, and plan to have an unshakably positive attitude when they do.
I normally don’t like nightmares, and I didn’t like the one I had this week, but I am thankful for the wake up call. I haven’t been a bad Dad, (I asked my wife just to be sure). I am actively engaged in our kids lives. I am also prone to get busy, can get too deeply involved in my own life, and can allow precious time to slip by that I will never get back. I only have 5 years left with my oldest before he moves on in life, and only 10 with the youngest. That is just a blink in the span of a lifetime! I want more than regret, and missed opportunities, I want memories. I want my kids to know my heart as I know, and help form, theirs. But as I am fond of saying, that doesn’t happen by accident.
Do you have other ideas to connect with your kids? Do you have your have stories to tell? If you do I would love to hear about it, please share your comments in the space below!
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