When I found out I was going to be a dad, I was filled with excitement about what the future held. I envisioned great hallmark-like-moments I would share with my unborn child. Well, if I’m honest with you, those weren’t the only feelings that filled me.
At times, waves of insecurity and self-doubt came crashing over my excitement. My wife wasn’t the only one who had sleepless nights. Her problem was one of trying to find a position comfortable enough to rest while another human grew inside of her. Mine was these lurking questions: Are you ready to be a dad? Are you even capable of being a good father?
Years later, these questions still find ways to surface. Most days, I still feel like a rookie—learning as I go. But I’m embracing that fact. From what I can tell, the only “expert” parents are the people who don’t have kids. No one I’ve ever met would consider himself to have reached the Major League of parenting. And that’s okay. Hopefully, this feeling of unpreparedness drives us to be better and to rely more deeply on God. It's one of the many reasons there are Field Guides for dads.
My youth and teenage years were spent in locker rooms. I played four sports in high school and one in college. In high school, I was confident I knew a lot about the games I played. But I was wrong. I only knew what I was naturally talented at. Once I got to college, I had coaches introduce me to concepts about a game I had played for over 15 years–things I knew nothing about.
There was a whole world of technical approaches and strategy I simply didn’t realize. But with their insights, I was able to grow quickly as a player. The same is true when it comes to biblical fatherhood. There are some areas we will be naturally good at—but there is a world of insight we simply don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know.
This is why it is crucial we constantly grow as godly dads—that we remain teachable. Actually, our own ability to stay teachable is a key marker of victory as a dad. Are you more teachable now than you were five years ago? We can’t win as a dad and be losing personally.
Here are seven ideas we can practice so we’re making the most of what God has given us with our children.
1) Read the Bible together
Start this practice as soon as you can. Create a habit within your kids. There is nothing more life changing than inviting God’s Word into a person’s life. The sooner we introduce our children to Scripture the better. Stroll through any bookstore and you’ll find different levels of Bibles targeting different ages of kids. We are still working through a picture Bible with our youngest daughter (she is fascinated by Jonah and the big fish). Our oldest daughter is into books set up like graphic novels, so we bought her a Bible that looks like a comic book.
Don’t over think this. God’s Word is powerful. This time does not have to be an in-depth Bible study, nor does it need to be time consuming, which means we don’t have to be biblical scholars to try this. Just spend a few minutes reading the Bible with your kids and trust the Holy Spirit to take over from there. Try this for a week and I promise you, regardless of the age of your kids, they will begin to ask you questions.
- Questions about what you just read.
- Questions about why you read the Bible.
- Questions about God.
- Questions that open the door to discussing your faith.
Bam! In case you forgot, this is you winning as a dad! When our kids are asking questions about stuff that matters, we’re making progress! Mark it down.
2) Pray together
This can go hand-in-hand with reading the Bible. Maybe set aside a few minutes in the morning or right before bed to read the Bible and pray together. Either way, it’s important for our kids to hear us pray with and for them. This practice will provide them several important truths.
First, you will demonstrate to them how to talk to their Heavenly Father. It will draw them closer to you. We are supernaturally moved toward anyone we hear praying for us. In my experience, our kids will begin to ask you to pray for certain things going on in their lives, which gives you opportunities to talk about those issues.
Praying aloud with your kids gives you an opportunity to share your heart—something very difficult for most dads—in a very natural way. Allowing them to hear you speak to the Lord on their behalf will do wonders for your relationship. Think about when the biblical patriarchs of the Old Testament passed down blessings to their kids. In a sense, they were praying over their kids for God to work in their lives in mighty ways.
3) Get involved in their ministry at church
One easy way to be a spiritual leader for your kids is to get involved in whatever ministry they are involved in at church. If you have a teenager, consider becoming a small-group leader. If you have an elementary-aged kid, serve in the children’s ministry. This way you are aware of what they are learning, which makes it easier to talk about outside of church.
You will also learn different techniques for leading your own kids. Think of your involvement in the children’s and student ministry as a coaching clinic where you learn from the pastors and other volunteers. I promise, you will learn new and different ways of leading you weren’t aware of previously.
When your kids see you involved in the ministries they are involved in, it reinforces the idea that this is important. At the very least, this will make you more popular at church! As a family pastor, we typically do a celebratory dance any time an adult approaches us to volunteer in our ministry. I’ve seen children’s pastors do it as well.
4) Create memories
One of the best practices we have as dads is to simply be present in the lives of our kids. Quality time is vital for the relationship with our child, but it’s often found within the friendly expanses of quantity time. One of the best ways to spend time with your kids is through family vacations and weekend trips.
Whether good or bad, moments on family trips tend to leave lasting impressions on our memories. And, every time our kids bring up “that one time,”—for those who are counting—this moment goes in the win column!
Think about it for a second. You can probably recall a few memories right now that happened while on a road trip with your family. Pulling your kids out of their regular routines and taking them on an adventure practically forces bonding to take place.
5) Take interest in the hobbies of your kids
What us dads tend to be great at is imposing our interests and hobbies onto our kids. If we love spending our Sundays painted in the colors of our favorite football team tailgating with our buddies, we try to introduce this joy to our kids as soon as we can.
There is nothing wrong with passing down or creating family traditions and hobbies important to us—as long as we realize our kids may not have the same passions. Let’s not be the dad who welcomes the kid who likes what we like and ignores the kid who has different interests.
A great way to connect with our kids is to take an interest in what they are interested in. Whatever it is doesn’t matter. What matters is they see you making an effort to step into their world instead of always having them step into yours.
6) Give them their own time
Does this weekly schedule look familiar?
5-7pm—kid’s extracurricular stuff
7-9pm—help with homework, catch up on work emails, eat dinner and clean up afterwards
9-10pm—try to get kids ready for and into bed so you can spend just a few minutes with your wife before you both pass out
Sometimes we allow our schedules to become so full the only time we spend with our kids is when we are driving them from one place to another. We need to get better at saying “no” to certain stuff to clear away some of the clutter from our schedules. But, there will be seasons of our life where busyness is just part of it.
We must calendar time specifically for our kids. Block out time dedicated only for them. This could be some guy-time bonding with your son or daddy-daughter dates with your girls.
Your time is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Setting aside specific time with your kids will reinforce that they are your priority. If it’s simply not possible at the moment, either because of your schedule or theirs, to do this weekly, try doing it monthly.
7) Eat together as a family
This ties in to the above point. Busy schedules have made it difficult for most families to share a meal together. But it’s not the only culprit. Entertainment is just as bad as busyness when it comes to stealing time away from the family. Whether it’s eating in front of the TV or bringing different electronic devices to the table, entertainment has captivated us. Don’t let these enemies invade the dinner table.
There is something special about sharing a meal together. Read through the Gospels and see how many times Jesus decided to meet with people over a meal. It simply unites people. Eating dinner together as a family forces conversation—in a good way.
It leads to investing in what happened in the lives of your kids. Simply lead with the basic statement, “Tell me about your day.” Boom. You win. Conversation started. This is an easy opportunity to take advantage of, so try and share a few meals per week together. Because you’re keeping score now, what would family dinner at the table be? A first down? Maybe for your family, it would be a touchdown. Either way, I can sense the momentum shift. Do you sense it? You’re starting to win.
These seven suggestions are by no means an exhaustive list nor are the most important ideas to implement. They are only suggestions. But, sometimes that’s all we need. Trying these ideas may lead to better, more fruitful ideas that encourage bonding experiences between you and your kids. The important thing is the effort. Try something and then gauge how well (or not) it worked within your house.
Question > What qualities of fatherhood are you naturally good at? Which areas still need some practice? Pick one of your weaker areas. What are you going to specifically do this week to help make this weakness into a strength? Tell us in the comments below, tweet @manhoodjourney or email us.
About the author > Eric Ballard
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