Ask any man if he wants to be a great dad or an ok dad and I guarantee that you will never hear a man say he wants to be anything less than a great dad. We want our kids to look back on their childhood with nothing but fond memories. Memories of when we took them out for ice cream, made a fort out of blankets in the living room, taught them how to fish or wrestles on the floor (can you tell I have yet to experience having a daughter). We want them to remember important life lessons we taught them about compassion, empathy and giving their hearts to God.
We think that no matter how long a day we have had or how stressed out we are, that as soon as we get home we will want nothing more than to spend some quality time with our kids, teaching them and playing with them. In theory, this sounds simple but in reality, it can be a little more difficult.
This is something I struggle with frequently. I daydream about sitting on the floor and building legos with my son about taking walks on our property and teaching him about God’s love. But when I get home after a tiring day at work, my flesh wants nothing more than to sit in my chair and shut my brain off. Being an intentional dad can be harder than it sounds.
I am not an expert, as I said, this is something that I still struggle with. But here are five practical ways that I believe can help us to build stronger relationships with our kids and help us to be more intentional dads.
- Develop your relationship with God
As Christian dad’s our first priority should be helping our children to build a relationship with God but in order to do that we must first have our own relationship with Him. It’s hard to teach a child about the attributes of God, His grace, mercy, love, or forgiveness if we haven’t experienced those things for ourselves. The Bible is filled with wisdom on how to be a great dad but if we haven’t read it, it’s very hard to put into practice. The first step in being an intentional dad is understanding that God is the ultimate father and the better our relationship with him, the better we understand how to be great dads to our own kids.
- Plan “dad time”
Like most dads, my time fills up quickly. At the beginning of the month, I always have the best intentions of setting aside time to spend with my son. Unfortunately, if I don’t schedule the time on my calendar, it is far too easy to allow other things to take priority. However, setting the time aside is just the first step, you must also have an activity in mind for your “dad time.” It can be something as simple as reading a story together or as elaborate as a weekend camping trip. Your “dad time” can be anything that interests you and your children and allows for one-on-one interaction.
- Limit distractions
This is a difficult one for me. I, again like most dads, wear many hats outside of my family. I’m a public/media relations manager, a minister, a youth leader, and a church deacon. Needless to say, my cell phone is never more than a few feet away. I am constantly bombarded with emails, text messages, notifications, etc. I’m so used to being on call 24/7, it’s very hard for me to set my phone aside and just be present in the moment with my son. But there are a few things I have been trying recently. First, I pick a day or two a week that are considered “no tech days,” meaning that from the time I get home until I go to bed, I ignore my phone – I’ll be honest, this is a work in progress for me. Second, I have turned off all social media notifications on my phone. If I can’t hear the constant “ding” there is less chance I’ll be tempted to look at my phone. These tricks have helped but I’ve got a long way to go. Whatever tricks you use, the point is to do your best to show your child that you value the time with them and that you won’t let other things take priority.
- Listen/Talk to your kids
My son is turning one this week. Outside of a handful of words, we usually communicate with hand gestures, grunts, and baby babble. But one of my favorite things to do when he is babbling is to respond to him as if we are having a real conversation. It usually goes something like this: My son: a-ga, dada, ooohhh
Me: Really, your day was that crazy? What happened next?
My son: a-ga, a-da, da-da-da-da-da
Me: Well, I’m so glad I got home in time. Sounds like things here were out of hand.
We both find this exchange highly entertaining even though there isn’t much that either of us understands at this point. But I believe there are few things more important than for a dad to listen to and talk with his kids. I remember as a child there was nothing I wanted more than for my parents to listen and validate what I was saying. I’m sure there were times that they didn’t understand me any more than I understand my 1-year-old but that isn’t always the point. Knowing that you care enough to try is what is important.
- Think like a teacher
As any teacher and the will probably tell you that a majority of their time is spent in preparation for teaching a lesson. They don’t just walk into their classroom and start spouting off information. They first have to gain knowledge about a subject for themselves, then plan the best way to convey that information to their students and be ready for the millions of questions that will come their way. Why should being a dad be any different? We can’t go through life hoping that random opportunities will arise in which we can teach our children the things we believe they should know. Just like a teacher, we need to plan how and when is best to teach our children those important life lessons. Not all lessons will be throughout, life hands us many unexpected “teachable moments” but we shouldn’t rely solely on those. By doing so we run the risk of realizing a lesson was missed long after it’s too late.
This list is by no means an exhaustive list and may not work for everyone, so I’d love to hear about the practical things you’re doing to build stronger more intentional relationships with your kids, please comment below.
Remember, being a great dad is not always easy. Being intentional is not always easy. But as the saying goes, nothing worth doing is every easy. God has called us to be great dads and it’s our responsibility to strive each day to learn a little, to grow a little and to be a little better. With His help, I believe we can.