Every parent that I know wants a great relationship with their kids. But just like a great marriage, great relationships with your kids don’t just happen. It’s not as easy as feeding them and trying not to get too frustrated most days. Relationships won’t grow deep and strong because you buy them the toys they want or take memorable vacations.
I recently attended a workshop where the speaker made this statement – “If the conversations with your kids have stopped, you are losing.”
So true! Relationships are largely built through the words and experiences we share with each other. But the busyness of life will crowd out those conversations from happening if you aren’t intentional about finding ways to keep them going.
I’ve heard parents say that even though they don’t have a lot of time with their kids, they make up for it with “quality time”. Honestly, I don’t believe it works that way. Quality time only occurs as you consistently spend a good quantity of time together. In order to do this, you need a strategy because your days (like mine) are packed.
Here are 7 rhythms I’m using to keep the conversations going with my kids. Maybe you can steal 1 or 2:
1. Dinner Time
Here’s a secret: dinner is not for eating. It’s for talking. There’s been a movement taking place for a long time that is leading people away from a dinner table towards eating on the run, in front of the TV, in separate rooms or distracted by their phones & tablets. There’s a lot of research that suggests that the habit of eating together around a dinner table can do massive good for your kids.
I’m really thankful for Jamie’s commitment to cooking and eating together as a family. We eat a meal together at home as a family 6 or 7 times a week. This creates one of our best opportunities for intentional conversations that build relationship. During family dinner, there’s no phones or tablets at the table. We also keep everyone at the table until dinner is over. No slamming a meal and then running back out to play. This is family time and there’s nothing more important during dinner.
2. Bed Time
Bed time is another key opportunity to build relationship with my kids. It might be that they just don’t want to go to sleep, but they always find lots of things they want to talk about when it’s bed time. And you know what? We let them talk. If we’re trading a few more minutes of sleep for another connection with our kids, the trade is worth it. Our routine is to gather as a family on our stairs (stole this from Andy Stanley) to pray and talk together before we head to bed. Each night it looks different, but there are things that come up during this time that don’t surface at other times.
Regardless of how you do it, don’t ever just “send your kids to bed”. Actually engage with them and “put them to bed”. I know this is a time where you are tired and ready for bed yourself, but this window of time into your kid’s heart is too important to miss.
3. Car Time
I find that car time is great for casual conversations. Some of the funniest things get said in the car while we are driving. It doesn’t tend to be the best time for deep or serious talks…but if all we do with our kids is deep and serious we’ve got a problem. Car time is perfect for regular conversations. I resist the temptation to turn on another podcast or talk on the phone and instead, give them my attention. Often times this is the place I’ll ask about friendships, stuff at school, talk sports or music, etc.
4. Family Nights
I think blocking out an evening to spend together as a family is a great practice. What makes it especially great is when someone is intentional about planning it. The same way my wife likes a well-planned date, my kids enjoy a well-planned family night that is thought about ahead of time.
One habit we’re adopting these days is giving each member of the family the privilege/responsibility of planning our family night on a rotating basis. They get to pick the meal and help prepare it. Then they get to choose an activity that we all do together. It’s got to be something that everyone can participate in and can’t cost more than $5 for the whole family. Last week was David’s turn and we eat tacos before we went out for a family game of wiffle ball. We had tons of fun and laughed a lot. We took pictures to put on Instagram to preserve the memories for years to come. When the kids get to be a part of designing the evening, their engagement in it goes way up.
5. Individual Time
We’ve got three kids. The older they get, the more I realize how important it is that I give individual attention to each one. A rhythm that I’ve used for years is a rotation of taking 1 of them with me to shop for groceries on Saturdays. We call it the Daddy Date. Sometimes we’ll actually eat out at a restaurant together, but most of the time it’s just shopping at Winco. But they love it! I let them talk about everything going on in their world and let them have an influence over what food comes home for the week. Your kids need to know that you love and cherish them as an individual – not just as a part of the family. These simple shopping trips give me time to affirm them individually and give them undivided attention.
6. Play Time
I pay attention to our hobbies. One mistake I see parents make is not sharing hobbies with their kids. Problem is that once the kids grow up, they aren’t interested in the same things as their parents and find it harder to spend time together. I’m consciously spending time doing what my kids love to do and also inviting them into what I love to do. We play video games because they love it. Then they help with the garden. I play basketball with them and their friends (and take every opportunity to dunk on them). I color with them. And then we read together and play piano. Playing together is so important for bonding with your kids. We create an atmosphere where we’re learning and trying new things together. Long term, this is a going to pay huge dividends.
7. Ministry Time
The last rhythm that we use is serving together. This started for us since planting Sun City Church. One of the most important things for us in this season was a desire for our kids to be vitally involved in the church plant process. And it has gone so much better than I could have hoped. I wake our kids up around 5:45am on Sunday mornings to get ready and be at the school by 6:30. They set up kids classrooms, chairs and musical instruments. They greet and hold signs and help check kids into the kids ministry. And after it’s all over, they are tearing it all down to load back into the truck. They love being a part of something that is bigger than they are.
This Sunday, Jamie caught David talking with another boy at church saying “What do you think about taking over this place someday? I mean, we could do the worship…and the teaching…”. I laughed and then realized how happy this makes me. I love that he’s dreaming about church leadership. We talk about, pray about, explain and foster a hunger for the things of God. We’re in it together. And it makes serving one of the best times of our week.
I’m far from being a perfect parent. And my kids are definitely not perfect kids. But we love each other and are intentional about developing a relationship that is going to last a lifetime. There are few things that are as important to me as my kids. I’m praying that you go to new places of depth in your relationship with your kids and encourage you to be intentional with every day. God bless!