This second key to building strong families is the simplest but also one of the most difficult. It doesn’t take any special training — only a mom or dad who knows it’s important to be available to their kids. Did you know that children spell love differently than most adults do? Most children spell love with a T, an I, an M and an E. That's right. TIME is how most children spell love.
Key #2 says: “Healthy parents don’t find time, they make time.”
Why is it so difficult? We’re all busy with demands and pressures. In the midst of this busyness our children can easily seem like an interruption. It is unrealistic for us to always drop everything and cater to the demands of our children. At the same time we need to remember that children don't have the same sense of time that we do.
How can we “make time?” One way is set aside special times for them. Acknowledge them when they get up in the morning or when they get home from school or another event. Set aside quantity time at certain times during the week.
As you study your children you may discover certain times during the day when they are more open to chatting. A smart parent will try to “set aside” their schedule during these times and just “happen” to be available to talk about their day, read with them, play with them, or share your day with them.
Another way is to look for “teachable moments.” In Luke 5:17-20 Christ was teaching a distinguished group of community leaders who had traveled miles to hear his sermon. Right in the middle of Christ's sermon the ceiling tiles above His head began to move. Then they were pulled off and a paralyzed man on a stretcher was lowered down right in front of Him.
What a lousy time for an interruption. Can you think of a better way to blow a good sermon? We don't know if Christ was on His second or third point or maybe doing the wrap-up for a powerful close. Yet, what most of us would view as an interruption Christ viewed as a unique opportunity. Christ saw the need, He recognized their faith and it was clear that this was more important than His talk. He immediately saw this as a teachable moment and took advantage of it.
Through teachable moments we can help our children deal with their issues. Sometimes they want to deal with them immediately and other times they need to think about them first. But our kids don't forget confusing or painful emotional experiences. They need to learn how to process them with someone who will help them “get it out” but not try to “solve” it for them. Through trial and error we as parents can make time and provide a safe place to help our kids grow.
I don't know of very many families today that aren't overcommitted. I believe that lack of time, or to be more accurate, lack of choosing to make time, may be the most insidious, pervasive, and destructive enemy the healthy family has. That may sound a bit strong but in many ways it is true.
J. Allen Peterson wrote, “If I could start my family again, one thing would be changed. I would play more with my three boys, and cultivate more family sharing experiences. By sharing good times a family builds cohesiveness and unity. They learn to enjoy each other and compensate for each other's weaknesses. The play of children is something of a rehearsal for life, and parents who share these times of play will have a great opportunity to teach their children how to live.”
Time is a concrete, measurable expression of love. When I give someone the gift of time I am saying “I value you” and “You are important to me.” The key to having a strong marriage, to communicating values to our kids is time. If we want our children to know, understand and adopt our values, we need to spend time with them.
In the past two years I have interviewed several hundred couples and each one has said “Yes!” they believe the family is important and that it is one of their top priorities. Then I asked them, “Do you plan your expenditure of time and money around your marriage and family relationships?” Over 80% stated that while they valued their marriage and family, what in fact happened was that they didn't consistently give their marriage and family first place.
When 1,500 school children were asked the question, “What do you think makes a happy family?” the most frequent answer was “doing things together.” Over the years I've learned that in life it's not so much what we do for our kids that impacts them. It’s what we do with them. When you think back to the happy times of your childhood what kinds of memories come to mind? When you get together with family or childhood friends and recall the “good old days” what is it that made those days good?
Several years ago I heard a convicting story of the value and importance of making the family a priority. A middle-class family in the 40's set a family goal of remodeling their old bathroom. After a year of financial sacrifices they finally had enough cash for the project. At the family conference held to finalize the plans one of the children suggested, “Why don't we use the money for a trip and fix the bathroom next year?” Even though it involved a change in plans everyone liked the suggestion and that summer they took the money and went to Yellowstone National Park.
With the money spent, the saving started all over in order to do the postponed remodeling the next year. When it came time to hire the contractor the family's conversation drifted to how much they had enjoyed the trip to Yellowstone and the inevitable suggestion surfaced: “Why not put off the bathroom for just one more year and take another family trip?” They all agreed.
This scene was repeated every year from 1940 until 1950 when the youngest son was killed in Korea. On the night before his final battle he wrote a letter to his parents. The letter arrived months after the family had been notified of his death. There was a special emotion as Mom and Dad sat in their living room to read to each other their son's last words.
In this touching letter the young soldier expressed a premonition that he might soon die. He thanked his folks for their love and the many happy experiences of growing up, especially recalling the annual family trips they all shared. A long silence followed the reading as both quietly wept. The silence was broken when the dad asked, “Honey, could you imagine a son writing home on the night before he died and saying how glad he was for a fancy new bathroom?”
In the next two weeks I encourage you to invest some focused time with your family. There are a lot of options: go to church together, ride bikes, go fishing, play Frisbee at a local park, take one of them to Cracker Barrel for a huge breakfast, and plan your next vacation.