Have your children ever struggled to get your attention because you were looking at pictures of other people’s children on Instagram? More than ever, parents struggle to give their children the attention they need. If you have children who are 10 and under, they have never known a world in which their parents did not spend a portion of their day staring at the phone.
In parenting, there is no substitute for focused time and attention. This is difficult in our increasingly distracted world. We work 8-10 hours a day, face long commutes, and then fight the urge to check our work email after we come home. We have every excuse in the world to ignore our children, hand them in iPad, and let them fend for themselves.
We must learn to get off the carousel of overworking and giving in to distraction because we stand under the divine mandate to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We have both the privilege and the responsibility of teaching our children the truth about who God is, who we are, what Christ did for us so we can know God, and how we can live wisely in this foolish world. Teaching our children these things cannot be done in ten-minute devotions twice a week.
Here are two reasons you need to give time and attention to you children along with four tips to help you make the time.
Your Children Need You to Teach Them
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses told Israel that they were to love the Lord their God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their might. Then he told them that they were to take what they had learned about who God is and pass these things down to their children. He even explained how they were to pass these things down. He said they should teach their children as they sat down, as they walked by the way, when they laid down, and when they rose up. In other words, they were to be constantly teaching their children.
The chief way we teach our children the glorious truths of the Gospel is through conversations in ordinary life. When we eat together, play together, walk together, and travel together, we can take part in unhurried conversation. God uses these everyday, ordinary conversations to build the truths of the Gospel and the beauty of wise living into the hearts of our children.
In her book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle presents research which shows that it takes seven minutes for a good conversation to develop. When a distraction enters the conversation, the clock starts over. If we abandon conversations with our children every five minutes to check our phones, we will never dive deep into important conversations.
Spending real time together will have an impact on the effectiveness of your family devotions. When you are having spiritual conversations with your children on a regular basis, sitting down to read the Bible together will not feel like a trip to a foreign land for them. It will be familiar territory for them. They will be accustomed to hearing you talk about Jesus. It won’t feel like something added onto your life, but will feel like a normal extension of it.
Your Children Need to See Your Example
When we live in the rhythms of ordinary life with our children, we not only have opportunities for teaching our children about the Gospel, we also get to model the Gospel before them through our example. This includes both our children seeing us live in ways that are consistent with the Gospel and their seeing how we respond when we have acted in foolish or sinful ways.
When we moved into our home almost eight years ago, we only had two children and we had plenty of room. Then, we had two children in less than two years. We live in much closer quarters now and it allows ample opportunities for us to see each other’s lives up close. It also sets the stage for us to get on each other’s nerves and speak unkindly to each other.
We developed the habit a few years ago of repenting to our children when we had wronged them. If we accused them of doing something they didn’t do or spoke unkindly, we would go to them, admit our wrong against them, and ask them to forgive us. It has been a humbling exercise but it teaches our children about guilt, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. We don’t get that privilege if we don’t consistently live real life together.
Practical Tips for Spending Time with Your Children
Eat dinner together.
Family dinner is not a magic bullet that will cure all your family’s ills, but it is a good practice that will give you time for focused conversation, laughter, and catching up on life. You won’t be able to do it every night, but try to let the default position for each day be that you eat together. (Also, this gives you a built-in rhythm to invite other people into. From time to time, have a neighbor or family from church join you for family dinner.)
Have times that are screen free.
The best way to make sure that you can have time to spend together without devices is to set aside specific times that everyone’s devices go to sleep. This may focus around family dinner and the hour after. It may be before bed or when everyone gets home from work and school. Maybe you need to schedule it for the first half of your Saturday or your Sunday afternoon. Whatever you choose to do, make sure there are times when no one has a device in the way of time together.
Take Advantage of Time in the Car
In The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch said that he was surprised by how many good conversations came about in the car. Often, car trips become times when everyone gets lost in their own device. However, some great things can happen when we don’t all get lost in our own world, but enjoy something together. Play games, tell stories, or listen to audiobooks together so you can talk about them later. Many great child-friendly audiobooks exist. (Try The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or Anne of Green Gables.)
Plan Your Weekends
This is one we have been struggling with lately and are working to reestablish. If you do not plan how you are going to spend your weekend, you will likely spend it staring at a screen. The odd thing about our screens is that they distract us from our work and keep us from enjoying our leisure time. (Cal Newport makes this point in his book Deep Work.) Plan an outing or hosting friends during a portion of your weekend. This will give you something to do together and will deliver you from the exhausting world of social media.
Parenting is a long-haul activity. What matters the most is not what we can muster up the energy to do for a week or two, but what we do day in and day out throughout our children’s lives. Let us resolve, by the power of God’s Spirit, to put in daily time with our children to enjoy them, teach them the Gospel, and mold their character so they can live for the glory of God.
“Why Time Away from Your Phone Would Be Good for Your Soul”
For Further Reading:
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch
Parenting by Paul David Tripp