Anyone out there remember the game Whack A Mole?
In this delightfully infantile arcade game, participants hold a rubber mallet and whack a plastic mole back into the hole it sprung out of. The game starts out slowly, but eventually the moles come so fast and furiously that you simply can’t whack them all.
I’m not sure about you, but sometimes I feel like my life is a lot like Whack A Mole. I can stay on top of (some of) it (sort of) for a time, but eventually I get overwhelmed and it all comes crashing down.
Maybe you can identify.
When I was doing my weekly review the other day, it struck me that the ‘moles’ I miss tend to have a pattern. When I think about what tends to get out of balance, the areas are pretty consistent.
And one of those areas is my kids. If something important in my life is going to be short-changed, it’s often (sadly) them.
If you have kids, I know you can identify.
It’s totally understandable, of course. Other priorities – usually work and other responsibilities with some kind of accountability – are hard to ignore and cry out for our attention.
But our children are more important than nearly anything else in life. We can’t afford to neglect them.
Today I want to speak to the dads out there (and myself, really) about five reasons we need to stay engaged with our kids.
Defining Our Terms
Before we dive in, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what it means to be ‘engaged’. I think it’s pretty obvious, but being engaged means that we’re not merely physically present, but we’re actively attentive to our children. To their hopes, strengths, weaknesses and needs.
This is not easy to do on a consistent basis. As dads, we often see our children when we’re tired from other responsibilities, so it’s easy to be disengaged. (Moms, I see you raising your hands, too!) To be distracted by the TV, computer or our smartphones. With household responsibilities or other pressing things. And they do need to get done. But if we’re going to be engaged, it will require us to put some of those things aside, some of the time, so we can be present and actively involved with our kids.
5 Reasons Dads Need To Stay Engaged With Their Kids
So here we go. Here are 5 reasons that we, as fathers, need to stay engaged with our kids.
- God has called us to it. In Genesis 18:19, we read ‘For I have chosen [Abraham], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.’ As Randy Wilson points out, God chose Abraham not only to be an essential part of Israel’s heritage, but also simply a dad. And part of that calling was for him to be engaged, specifically in the form of ‘command[ing] his children… to keep the way of the Lord’. The same is true for those of us who are fathers, and it requires us to be actively present in the lives of our children.
- Our kids need discipline. Anyone who has children – or knows themselves – understands that children need correction. Like us, they naturally do things that are… sub-optimal. God calls dads to speak into this with loving correction and discipline. ‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline… of the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4) Drawing boundaries and giving consequences isn’t in vogue these days, but it’s so important for our kids to learn right from wrong. And it requires us to be attentive. For example, our youngest will watch as much TV as we let him. It’s tempting for me to be absorbed in our bathroom renovation and allow him to zone out, making it easier for me to get my work done. But being engaged means knowing how much TV he’s watched and stepping in when he’s had enough, even when it slows me down.
- Our kids need instruction. Ephesians 6:4 also calls fathers to bring our kids up in ‘the instruction of the Lord’. If you’re a father, you’re automatically a teacher and discipler. Most of this is simply following Christ ourselves and living that out before our children. But there’s also a responsibility to specifically make sure our kids are exposed to the Word of God as it applies to the little moments of everyday life (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Especially as they get older, this requires a surprising degree of wisdom and – you guessed it – being engaged. In all honesty, this is an area I need to grow in.
- Our kids need love & grace. As long as we, and our kids, are imperfect, we’ll need God’s love and grace. As dads, we have a special opportunity and privilege to shower our children with that grace when they fail. It can get challenging, though, when our kids fail repeatedly in the same areas. And the the strength and directness that can nudge our kids forward can lend itself to becoming harsh. The other day, one of my friends asked me to pray for his young daughter, who hasn’t been very open to the Lord. I’ve been impressed with the way he’s patiently prayed for, and kept loving, her. He’s actively trusting God, and it’s giving him the tenderness he needs to embody God’s grace to his daughter while he waits for God to work.
- Statistics show us our involvement matters. A large number of studies, both secular and faith-based, support what we already know from the bible and our own experience. In particular, the studies show that fathers and mothers each make unique contributions to their children’s lives because they parent (very) differently in a number of critical areas like how we play, perceive justice, communicate, and balance risk and caution. Statistics can be biased and shouldn’t trump the bible in forming a foundation for what we do, but, they can certainly support it and provide helpful detail to the principles it contains.
Dads, our active, thoughtful engagement is absolutely essential for our kids. When we fight to overcome distraction, selfishness and just plain exhaustion, we’re investing in our kids in powerful ways that will bless them (and us) for the rest of their lives.
Let’s live it out: On a scale of 1 to 10, how engaged are you as a dad? Which of the 5 reasons above would motivate you to move a little higher on the scale?