Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi was well-known for a lot of things, most notably his passion for teamwork, commitment and success. Lombardi was driven to succeed, and he knew that winning required hard work and sacrifice.
"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour," Lombardi said, "the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious."
As a father, my wife and children dominate the list of the things that I hold dear, and I will gladly lay exhausted on the field of battle for the cause of protecting and serving my family. I worked with at-risk kids for more than 20 years, and I've seen the positive role that dads play in the lives of their children. I've also witnessed firsthand the devastation that can occur when a child has no father figure in his or her life.
Assessing victory or defeat on the football field is relatively straightforward. It's simply a matter of knowing the rules and how to keep score. Fatherhood is different. There is no off-season. No signing bonuses. No referees.
Yet victory is still possible.
One of the most effective parenting game plans is to simply take advantage of everyday opportunities to love our children and instill the right values in them. To be the best dad we can be is to make every day count.
So, where do we begin? We start with five key behaviors of a healthy, thriving family. These five behaviors demonstrate that small daily investments can make a big impact in a child's life. They are prayer, laughter, time, conversation and dinner. Let's look at each one:
Prayer: More than just praying for our children, prayer allows us to model for them the importance of taking our requests to a loving and gracious God. A few years ago, when I was without a job and our housing situation became unstable, our entire family sought the Lord together every day, and God provided for us in amazing ways. We continue to seek the Lord as a family (we have three young kids) to this day. Family prayer has drawn us closer to each other and to God.
Laughter: Modern science tells us that laughter has many benefits. It can increase blood flow, reduce stress and even help suppress pain. Laughter also has a profound impact on social interactions: Laughter connects us with others. Having fun as a family strengthens your relationships with your children and helps create positive memories. One of the regular ways we have fun is by watching our family videos. We make popcorn, laugh and reconnect as a family while we recall some of our favorite times together.
Time: We all have to choose how to occupy our limited free time, but you will never regret spending extra time with your children. (Watching TV together is not enough!) Ask yourself: Is the time we spend together as a family positive? Does it draw us closer together, or are we simply in the same home at the same time? In our home, Friday evenings are our regular family time. The kids look forward to it and each pick out a game for us to play. I also set aside one-on-one time with each of my kids. We call them "Date Nights With Dad," which include activities like fishing, an evening at the park (with ice cream to follow, of course!) or a wagon ride around the neighborhood. Most of them involve little or no money – just lots of time together. Regular date nights also pave the way for a deeper and trusting relationship as our children grow.
Conversation: Talking is not always the same as conversing. A lot of family communication centers on superficial aspects of our lives such as managing daily schedules and whether or not we are keeping up with our regular duties (chores, homework, etc.). Do you ever set aside time to learn more about your children, to exchange ideas and opinions free from the regular interruptions of life? Can you name the "one thing" that gives meaning to your child's life? Most parents can't. Dads, if we don't ask these questions – and actively listen to the answers – then we may never know our children's fears and dreams.
Dinner: Researchers have found that family members who eat dinner together at least four times a week exhibit improved communication, healthier eating habits, higher grades and fewer problems with at-risk behaviors. The key to family dinners is keeping them free from distractions. Unplug from the world and pay attention to each other. One of the ways my family does this is by having everyone around the table share his or her "highs" (best thing of the day) and "lows" (low point of the day). Use dinnertime to engage in some of the other thriving family behaviors: time, prayer and conversation (and maybe even some laughter).
If your family is lacking in these behaviors, don't despair. We all fall short as parents, but it's never too late to start. No matter the ages of your children, begin today to take advantage of everyday interactions.
Maybe your children are grown and out of the house. You can still pray with them and for them, even if it's over the phone. Invite them to dinner if they live nearby. Take the time to have a conversation about something other than the weather; maybe you'll even get to share a few laughs.
It's time to make every day count.
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