When our children were small, I was reading them a Bible story and an “important” phone call came from someone in the church. In fact, the call could have waited until the next day. So which was more important, taking that call, or finishing the story and praying with my children? I realized my error. From that day I determined I would never be pulled away from Bible story and prayer time with my children by anything less than a true emergency.
Sometimes the idea of “quality time” is a way of justifying not spending quantity time with children. Dads (and much of this applies to moms too), if you’re already spending lots of time with your kids, by all means focus on quality. But if you’re not spending enough time with your kids, or constantly being pulled away by distractions, don’t try to compensate by making your meager time “quality.” It will be unnatural to land at home just long enough to drop your “pearls of wisdom” before taking off again.
We don’t just need more face-to-face time with our wife and children; we need shoulder-to-shoulder time when we are focused on things like work, play, or ministry. Going to visit the sick and needy makes a great impression on children and cultivates a ministry mindset. Seeing poverty and sickness widens their world and enlarges their hearts. It also fosters a spirit of personal gratitude for what they have, rather than the more prevalent spirit of entitlement that poisons our culture.
One of the most spiritually impactful things we did with our children, when they were nine and seven, was take them on a two-month trip to six countries, where we visited missionaries. Twenty-three years later, we still talk about that trip.
What were the long-term results of that mission trip? The quantity and quality time we spent together prompted us to discuss world needs and where to send the money God entrusted to us, some to of the very places we visited. Even today that quality time bears fruit, as I periodically ask our daughters and their families to help decide where to distribute the royalties from my books. As our grandchildren get older, we plan to involve them in distributing the royalties. I’m not sure any of that would have come about if we hadn’t made the bold decision to uproot ourselves and go overseas with our children for that life-changing two months.
One clarification: Some dads might feel guilty because they work hard to support their families and can’t be at home with their kids as much as they might like. Working hard and making money to care for your family is a great and biblical thing. I did it, and I’m glad to hear about dads who do it too. I also spent a lot of time with my kids.
But when I’m talking about the need for dads to spend more quantity time with their kids, I’m addressing dads who do not spend plenty of time with their kids (and many don’t) because they are always gone working—or golfing or watching TV or looking at their phones or whatever (and of course the point isn’t that work, golf, TV, and phones in and of themselves are wrong).
Dads, while fulfilling the biblical mandate to provide for their children, should also make sure they’re not away from home so much (or so passively detached from them while at home) that they neglect a calling even higher than the workplace—being there to invest their lives in their children. (Of course, there is no guaranteed formula or outcome, and godly fathers can have rebellious children.)
Fathering and vocation require a difficult balance, in which we must call upon the Lord for wisdom and strength, but we are commanded to do it nonetheless: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We must be with them a substantial amount of time in order to “bring them up.” This helps them not to resent us, as they will if we’re with them only to correct them.
So dads, there’s a biblical mandate to raise your kids and invest time in them to do so. And there’s a biblical mandate to work hard to provide for your family. Just make sure that your work commitments don’t overshadow your need to be there for your kids. And remember that making enough money to provide for your children’s needs is not the same as providing for all their wants. There is no substitute for time spent with your children, and no substitute for your undivided attention.
More than anything, what they need is the Lord, and to be drawn to their heavenly Father. But it will help them immensely to have a loving, holy, and heavenly-minded earthly father, who is full of grace and truth.
For more on being a dad, see Randy's novel Courageous and the book The Resolution for Men.