My 11-year-old son walked into the living room tossing a football and asking to play catch. I was watching a close football game and didn't want to miss a second, so I put him off and went back to the game. As he turned to walk out, he hung his head, and I caught a glimpse of his downcast eyes. It was easy to rationalize my actions: I was constantly busy holding down a full-time job, working toward my education degree and providing for my five children, so I deserved some time to watch football. But honestly, I knew I could do better.
Whether I'm spending all my time doing "important things" or I'm distracted by the little things, sometimes I forget the most significant thing — making sure my children know how important they are to me.
So, how can a busy father show his kids they're valued, even as he goes about making sure the bills are paid and the kids' lives are stable? Here are a few practical tips I've adopted:
I have a detailed schedule to keep track of my commitments. The one nonnegotiable item on my calendar is my Monday, two-hour appointment with all my kids. Each of them suggests an activity for the evening, and then we vote on which to do together. Sometimes we wind up longboarding. Other times we play board games. The appointments I set with my family have the highest scheduling priority.
When I am spending time with my kids, I turn off my phone. I do my best to eliminate outside distractions — no emails or conflicting appointments. Almost every outside, urgent request can wait at least a few minutes. My kids know how busy my life is, so setting everything aside for them is an effective way of communicating that they matter.
When I can't immediately fulfill my children's requests for my time, I try to follow this simple formula: I make a concrete promise to spend time with my kids and set a specific time to make it happen. I might say something like, "I can't play right now, but I will gladly play catch with you in 30 minutes." Keeping my word to my children means that even if I won't do it right away, they can trust I will do what I say.Josh Greenwalt is a children's pastor.