By: Scott O'Malley
June 4th, 2021
Over 20 years ago, when our oldest was still young, my wife was talking to an older woman. This woman made a profound statement about parenting that has stuck with us ever since: “The days are long but the years are short.” At the time, we were regularly exhausted and could certainly relate to the “long days!” But we knew this woman was speaking from experience and we wanted to pay attention, by God’s grace. This simple phrase challenged us to be focused and intentional every day in the raising of our children. We recognized that while each day with young children is long and demanding, the years will fly by and our kids will be grown before we know it. More than two decades later, we can absolutely affirm “the years are short.”
The days are long but the years are short.
The time really does fly, and we want to make every day count. One of the ways we’ve practiced this with our kids was to really invest in connecting with them at a relational level. This was a high priority for us because we first love our kids and want to know them intimately. Second, if we ever hope to influence them for Christ, having a healthy relationship that has been filled with love, kindness, mutual respect, and lots of grace is all a necessary part of discipleship. In addition, having a loving relationship with our kids also gives them a sense of belonging that will serve them well as they mature.
In the interest of full disclosure, while my wife and I have been very diligent and intentional in our parenting, I also have to admit I am prone to get distracted (i.e. a football game, podcasts, internet, music, etc.). What this means for my parenting is that when I engage, I am very thorough and diligent in whatever the task of parenting requires in the moment. However, there are times when I get distracted and don’t notice things I should and my wife has had to call those concerns to my attention. Can I especially challenge you dads who are reading this to pay attention and limit what distracts you from this important task of raising children?
Foundation #7 – Enter in and pursue connection with your children so they know they belong.
As Christian parents we should desire to follow the example of Jesus in John 1:14 which says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” While there are many wonderful implications of this verse, notice Jesus entered our world. God did not just shout instructions from heaven and demand unquestioned obedience. He actually entered our world (Matthew 1:23), gave us an example to follow (1 Peter 2:21), sympathized with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15); and He did all of this with a balance of grace and truth.
What exactly does it look like to enter in with our kids? While there are many ways to do so, if we even have a chance to pull it off we must adopt Jesus’ attitude of humility. Philippians 2:5-7 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
If we view our kids as inferior or a nuisance or a burden, we will never enter in and connect with our children. But as we learn to grow in humility here are four suggestions to help us pursue our kids:
1) Be available. My wife is fantastic at this as she regularly stops all of the various responsibilities she has to listen to their stories, struggles, and triumphs. In addition, it is important to realize that our kids will not always want to talk at times that fit neatly in our schedule. They will be ready to open up sometimes at very inconvenient moments for us as parents. In those moments, will we die to self and make ourselves available for them when God is stirring in their hearts?
2) Listen long. Not only is it important to be available, we also need to be ready to listen long. Many short conversations or just being in the same room can eventually open the flood gates to a lengthy conversation, especially with teens and young adults. Also, be ready to ask questions that help them process what they are sharing.
3) Ask questions of your kids when you are doing things. Many children are much freer to talk about things when you are driving, working on a project together or other similar circumstances when they don’t have to look at you.
4) Encourage their interests (rather than push them towards your interests). As our children begin to develop interests or have goals for themselves, as much as possible we should encourage those pursuits. When we encourage our children to explore their interests, rather than push them towards our interests, they feel known and appreciated for their uniqueness. Some of my greatest childhood memories were playing Little League baseball. Therefore, when my boys were young I got them involved in baseball too. As a result of their lower level of interest, there were times when I had to repent of my impatience and irritation with them because they didn’t take it as seriously as I did. After both of my boys played a couple of years of baseball, I had to let go of that dream of watching them play as long as I did. They were both interested in other things so we moved on. I had to realize that my goal was not to make my boys like me; I wanted them to be the persons God created them to be.
If we view our kids as inferior or a nuisance or a burden, we will never enter in and connect with our children.
All of this entering in and seeking to pursue our children is vital if our children are to know they belong to us. Genesis 2:18 says it is not good that man should be alone. Proverbs 18:1 tells us it is unwise to isolate yourself. Christians are told in Romans 1:6 that we belong to Jesus Christ. Luke 18:16 teaches us when the disciples were keeping children from Jesus He was not happy because the kingdom of God belongs to them. As parents we can help our children have a real sense of belonging that is a foreshadowing of the belonging that comes from being a part of the body of Christ. Think about it, everybody longs to belong with others. In God’s common grace we have things like athletic teams, drama club, student government, the marching band, a church family, etc. While all of these groups have a specific purpose, they all give children a sense of belonging. Consider what happens when these things are not available for children. When various clubs and places of belonging do not exist, things like gangs, substance abusers, and other negative influences are ready to step into the void and lead our children astray. The bottom line is, everybody wants to belong and we have the privilege of helping our children know they belong to us as we point them to the greatest family to belong to – the family of God!
Next week we’ll discuss the challenging reality that faithful parenting takes time. Let me conclude with a few questions for you to reflect on this week.
Questions for Reflection
1. How am I doing at minimizing distractions and being available to talk with my kids when they are ready to talk? Pay attention to your use of time this week.
2. How well do I know the current interests of my children? Be intentional this week to ask more questions about what is going on in their lives and how they are doing.
3. How are you doing at encouraging the interests of your children?