We have three daughters. When they were young, a trusted mentor told us that if we wanted to have legitimate relationships with our girls when they were older – the kind of relationships where we could speak truth into their lives – we had to put in time while they were younger doing things they wanted to do. We want our kids to still speak to us when they are teens, but not because we host wild parties or buy them Porsches.
So for years, we played dress-up, made-believe with Polly Pockets, and sang along with Blues Clues. If our girls wanted to play sports, one of us was their coach. And on every vacation, we purposefully planned plenty of little-girl-friendly activities. As the girls got older, we started introducing them to things that (we hoped) we could enjoy together: fishing, geocaching, classic 80’s music and mud-riding in our Jeep.
A few weeks ago, we reviewed our schedule and realized that our family calendar runneth over. All good stuff, but very busy. Can anyone relate? So I (Tim) took a half-day off, checked our two youngest girls out of school (one in 6th grade and one in 4th grade) for lunch and an afternoon with dad. We ate sushi, found three geocaches (we looked for four), and picked up a movie from Redbox. When we got home, we put on our pajamas and snuggled on the coach to watch a deeply moving cartoon. When Tasha got home from work, she asked the girls how their day was. After sharing details of our day together, they told Tasha, “We had a great dad-venture!”
A dad-venture … I was stunned listening to their report of our day together … and they had a name for it! And it wasn’t “dates with dad” or “daddy-daughter time.” When I heard “dad-venture,” it conjured up images of fire, bb guns, burping, running with scissors, and explosions! And since I have girls, it probably included some glitter … exploding glitter!
Truth be told, I could write a nearly infinite number of blogs on all the ways I’ve screwed up as a dad. Losing my temper, mixing up my priorities, ignoring subtle signals, etc. When it comes to missing the mark as a dad, I’m an expert. But in this one area of my dad journey, I think something special is happening.
As I’ve reflected on this exchange between my wife and daughters, I realized there were three things that I hoped happened in the time I spent with my girls. In addition to knowing how much we love them:
- I wanted them to know they were priorities in our lives.
- I wanted them to know their interests were as important as our interests.
- I wanted them to know I enjoyed spending time with them.
What does a dad-venture look like in your family? (Mom-ventures are equally important, but y’all don’t have as cool of a name as dads do.) What can you do to put in time today to build towards healthy relationships with your kids tomorrow?
- Make the most of the everyday. Many of us live and die by our calendar. The wiser among us have begun scheduling dates with our spouses, and it might be ideal also to schedule time with our kids. Unfortunately, few of us have the luxury of blocking large chunks of time to spend with our kids, especially if we have more than one or two munchkins running around. Instead of beating yourself up for what you can’t do, maximize what you can do.
- Once a week, let one (or more) of your kids stay up 30 minutes later than the others for some one- or two-on-one with them. One kid will feel extra special, and the others will look forward to their special night.
- Once in a while, bring a kid (or more) along for an errand that you’re running. A trip to Home Depot definitely fits in the dad-venture motif.
- Once a month, let one (or more) of your kids plan the family dinner menu. You probably do a version of this already; keep doing it, but frame it with your kids so they feel empowered and special with the extra effort.
- Once every other month or so, plan a family activity focusing on what one (or more) of your kids love to do! In the Levert family, when we say, “Let’s go open a keg of nails!”, our kids know something surprising is going to happen.
- Keep doing things they enjoy doing.
I hope my kids never read this, because I don’t want them to know how NOT FUN it is to play with Polly Pockets. I can never get the shoes to stay on, they don’t have any weapons, and everything they wear is pastel. But I play with Polly Pockets because my kids like to play with Polly Pockets. Recently, I’ve started playing their video games with them. And any time our girls want to put on a show, we stop what we’re doing – even during the superbowl – and smile patiently as our kids sing and dance to the latest Disney tune.
Your kids don’t need dad- or mom-ventures to be fancy, expensive, or even one-on-one. Some might disagree, but it is entirely appropriate that they involve fire and bb guns. Most importantly, what they need is time with you, reminding them that they’re loved and liked and special. And you can become an expert at communicating that message.
What do you think?