Be There – On Parenting the Heart

Much of the time I blow it.  But these past few months I’ve been focused on being present and engaged with my kids, and my wife, at the expense of so many other things…

Teaching Abigail how to make beaded necklaces and sew a button

Shooting bows, laser tag, picnics at a hidden lake

Teaching Joshua how to shoot pool and change a bike tire

Water parks and laughter until it hurts

Playing games and reading books

Accompanying my five-year-old Abigail to have her ears pierced

Rock climbing and cuddling

Chillaxing in a hot tub and water gun fights at the pool

Teaching Abigail how to go off the diving board

Movie night on the trampoline with a laptop in a laundry basket under the stars

Wading a creek, treasure hunting in the wild

Sitting in the quietness observing baby owls in a local cottonwood tree

This is why…

Years ago my good friend Dave told me a painful story when I sought his counsel about this decade of character over kingdom.  He recalled, “I was there when the kids were young.  I was there for all of my daughter’s cheerleading. I was there at every one of my son’s football games.  But years later I realized I was there, but I wasn’t THERE.  I was worried. Distracted. Caught up in so many other things, that I don’t remember any of it.  I found myself going repeatedly to my wife saying, “Kelly, remind me of the story when Katie turned sixteen and drove away in that new car.”

The most painful part of the story was that Dave and his wife divorced shortly after this conversation.  His “memory” literally walked out on him and left the state, forever.

Perhaps there is no season of parenting that is more challenging to be present and truly engaged than when the kids are young. And in general, there is no season that has more demands on the heart of a man and temptations to miss the gold.

I sit here today with pages and pages of counsel of old men regarding parenting.  So many of them resounding with the same plea: BE THERE.  The children are only young once.  Work will always be there.  But the kids grow up. And the deep bonds of loved are formed in the early years.

“I wish I would’ve spent more money on vacations.”

“I wish I would’ve been less distracted by work.”

“I wish I would’ve been there in the dailies.”

A summary of these men’s collective counsel could be this:

Quality time does not substitute for quantity of time; and quantity of time does not substitute for quality time.

Boy, do I live in this tension.  I confess how I find my kids losing the battle for my time over things that in the end were far less important.  And I confess how I find myself there with my kids, but so often distracted and not truly there.

Loving our children well requires both: quality time and quantity of time.

It is available, but the costs are staggering. Most of us don’t want to pay the price.

The real gold in fighting for the hearts of our children surfaces even more in the dailies than it does in the milestone events.  That’s why quality time isn’t a good substitute for being with them on their day-to-day, week-to-week journey. That’s what it means to have quantity of time, to engage our kids over and over again in the dailies of life.

A few weeks ago my eight-year-old Joshua experienced some major spiritual warfare in the form of nightmares in the middle of the night.  Through prayer we got to the root of the open door, which was a strained relationship he had with a troubled friend.  It took time, and being present, in the middle of the night to talk, hear his heart, engage, pray, walk him through the hard and holy long miles of a boy becoming a man.  I lay in bed after that with tears, thanking God I was there… not on yet another trip. Not on sleep meds.  Not taken out by – you name it – alcohol, exhaustion, passivity.  It was a wake up call. And an affirmation.

And no matter how much time we give them, how much we are “around,” if our hearts are not healed and free, and if we are not growing in our capacity to love out of our true self, we won’t really be THERE. We will be limp and distracted and our kids won’t receive what they need from us.

Quality time.

Quantity time.

Get your own heart back so you can love theirs.

No shortcuts.

No regrets

Ask God, “What is in the way of this? What will it cost me that I am not willing to pay?  What’s beneath that?”

Make this summer matter with your kids.

“The days are long but the years are short.”

Be There.