A critical part of raising children is spending time with them. You cannot replace parent/child time with money, gifts, television, computer games, or other people. If you don’t spend time with them, they will eventually come to the conclusion that they are simply not important enough to spend time with. That’s sounds harsh? Yeah, but what else would they think? You can tell them till you are blue in the face that they are important, but in this case, your walk always talks louder than your talk.
Following are ten things we did with our children. This is a list that I hope you can get ideas from. These can be varied to fit your family. You may not agree with some of them. But I am telling you, if I had to do it all over, I would change absolutely nothing. Because they worked for me!
1)-My kids loved the outdoors, so a couple times a year we would go camping. Usually to a camp ground close by. Since we didn’t have a lot of money, I would sometimes rent a tent. I eventually bought one. We would get to the camp ground on Friday evening, have supper, have breakfast and lunch on Saturday, then pack up for home on Saturday night. Needless to say, my wife and I didn’t get much sleep on those trips – but they weren’t about sleep. We cooked what we could on the open fire, and the rest on a camp stove. We would do some fishing, sit together by the campfire at night and roast marshmallows, and get close by it in the cool mornings to get warm. And it wasn’t always perfect. One trip it rained and stormed like crazy. We huddled together in the leaking tent and laughed about it. On another trip we brought the dog. Big mistake. Dogs like to bark. But, because we were only 30 minutes from home, I was able to jump in the car, get the dog home, and be back within the hour. We hiked, we played, and we just had fun. Our children still have a lot of great memories from those “no frills” camping trips.
2)-Another special time was hiking. We loved the outdoors. Minneapolis had some great parks that we could hike. They had a special fall program that if you hiked four different parks, you received a “hiking medallion” for that year. On your first year, you got a hiking stick and a medallion. The way it worked was you got a hiking card that needed to be stamped at each park. The stamper was about halfway down the special trail you were to hike (no cheating – you had to walk the trail to get the stamp). The trail lengths varied in each park – from half a mile to one and a half miles. We always brought a special snack when we hiked – and we couldn’t eat it until we reached the stamper – the halfway point. Fall hiking was beautiful with the colors, and my children got to hear the wind blowing through the trees – I told them that was God’s symphony – more beautiful and peaceful music than anything man could create. We still have 5 hiking sticks, each with 10 medallions for the 10 years we hiked (we started when my youngest was three).
3)-We lived in Minnesota – the land of cold winters. Usually once or twice, around February, I would get a hotel/motel in town that had an indoor swimming pool. I’d get off work on a Friday as early as I could, and took everyone to the motel that night so the kids could go swimming, and stay in a special place. It was almost like camping – one of those great times to do a “summer thing” in the dead of winter!
Of course ice skating, snowman building, and tubing down snowy hills was a special winter activity too.
4)-I had special date nights with my wife, but I also had date nights with my children. We always had chores for our kids to do. Usually particular chores would go in one-month cycles – and then switch to a different child. But once a month, I would take one of the children out on a special “date” night. They looked forward to that very special one on one time with dad, almost as much as dad did.
5)-We always read stories to the children at bedtime – I believe that is why they are all such avid readers. Not only did they like the stories, they looked forward to them (thus making the bedtime process easier). When I ran out of good books to read, I began making up stories – all with the same characters – a bunch of neighborhood kids, with odd names, and their adventures. The stories usually were based on the antics of my own “colorful” childhood.
6)-Meal times were a very important part of our family, and I protected that time. One special meal time rule was you always ate everything on your plate. You got a portion of everything that was made. And you ate all of it. You could not say, “I don’t like this”, to any portion. If you did, you got a double portion of it, and you didn’t leave the table until you ate it. Making a face or any indication of disdain for whatever it was, got you a double portion. If you didn’t like something, when seconds were offered, you could only reply, “No, thank you”.
Now, to those of you picky eaters, who think I am an evil father for making such rules, let me say this: My wife made almost all of the meals at our house and she was an excellent cook. But there were plenty of days she was very tired and it was discouraging for her to hear complaining about a meal she had just prepared. That little rule brightened her day considerably by removing all of that complaining, and thereby, the discouragement. And you know what? We actually had a lot of fun with that rule, ate healthier meals, and to top it off, my children were able to handle the pain and suffering of eating their vegetables.
7)-We took about 30 minutes each morning for our family devotions. We always read a chapter of proverbs, and with that, psalms or something else in the Bible. I read it, and as each child learned to read, they would help with the reading. Each family member would talk about which verse stood out to them and why. That helped them think about what they were reading.
8)-If you want your children (and you) to see God answer prayer, start a “family prayer book”. This was a special item that the children loved and learned from. The pages had 3 columns. 1-Date entered. 2-Prayer request. 3-Date answered.
Anyone could put a prayer request in the book (no silly requests – James 4:3). You entered the current date, and the prayer request. We prayed for all requests listed. When God answered one, we would then enter the “Date answered”. If you ever want to know whether God answers prayers or not, just start a prayer book with your family. It was exciting seeing God answer prayer in His time!
9)-I said at the beginning that my children liked the outdoors, we read stories to them, and they all loved to read. We became a very close family – there was a reason for that. I removed the television from our house for 10 years when my children were young. Because of that they communicated more with us, with each other, their minds were more creative, they were outside more, they lived in a real world all the time, and they became what we wanted them to be, not what the TV taught them to be.
A TV is a lot of things to a lot of people; it’s entertainment to some, a baby sitter to some, it is “noise” in a quiet house to others. But don’t be fooled, the number one thing a TV becomes to a child is a TEACHER. It teaches your children how to live, and what to want in life. Its commercials are designed to break down their self-esteem and to make them think that the answer is to buy whatever it is they are selling. Computers were not an issue when my children were young. If I had a young child today, I would NEVER allow that child to surf the internet in private, and I would NOT allow my children to play as much computer games as they want. The games are designed to be addicting. Look at the adults that can’t stay away from these games…. what do you think the games are doing to your kids? They want your child to live in a world of speed, killing, murder, and sexual innuendos, all under the banner of ‘they are just playing’. And then your children start asking for the new versions of that game. Please just think about that.
This area of your children’s lives is incredibly destructive, and a parent needs to protect their children here.
10)-I always liked smiling around our home. Now sometimes smiling was not an easy thing to do. However, it was always better than frowning. At our home there were two kind of smiles;
The “regular” smile was easy. It was when you felt like smiling.
The “obedient” smile was when you didn’t feel like smiling, but you did anyway. The “obedient” smile was for others, not for you. Your smile was to make them feel better, thereby taking your thoughts off of you and focusing on someone else. It really does work – you can make others smile!