Have you ever woken up on a weekday, looked at your family schedule, and wanted to just go back to sleep? We all have! Family life is busy life. There are staple factors we must contend with every day as a school-age family: things like morning routine, family Bible time, work for teens and parents, school for the kids, chores, family dinner, homework and bedtime routine.
But very few families have it that simple. Add all the extra-curriculars and discretionary activities and it gets even crazier: sports practice, music lessons, art class, school functions, doctors’ appointments—the list is endless. Different schooling options (private school, homeschool, public school) facilitate different approaches, opportunities, and needs, but the reality of busyness is a fact of life for most school-age families.
There can be great fulfillment and enjoyment as a family in the midst of the busyness. But there can also be chaos and danger. Two things determine which of those realities describes your family: balance and purpose. If we as dads lead our families in being purposeful in our busyness and balanced in our priorities, we will find joy and fulfillment in a full life together. How can we find that balance and achieve that purpose in all the “extra-curriculars” of family life? And what dangers should we avoid?
Remember your job of daily discipleship.
Parenting is an exercise of long-term discipleship—leading those in our care to the Master, Jesus Christ, and then leading them to follow him daily in relationship and service. We are never off the job when it comes to discipling our children. We wake up each morning with the call to disciple them amid the activities of daily life.
God described this daily process to his Old Testament people in Deuteronomy 6:4-7. He put it in terms of loving Him. Love the Lord your God with your everything, and then teach your children to love and obey him too. Later, the New Testament put it this way: bring them (your children) up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4b).
The Deuteronomy passage in particular shows this process happening in the simple daily activities of life. Our children’s walk with Jesus should blossom and grow in and through the daily activities of life. The choices we make about those activities as parents go a long way to ensuring that happens—or doesn’t happen!
When balance and purpose are lacking
Hectic lives often produce problematic family dynamics. Busyness can create exhaustion—for all parties. Families that live in a constant state of exhaustion due to their hectic schedules are going to have a much harder time accomplishing their essential God-ordained purposes of discipleship.
Hectic schedules can also create frustrated relationships. The feelings that accompany stress can often overflow into unkind words and actions. As parents we could subconsciously but easily violate the principle of Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 by overloading the daily schedules of our children.
If your family exhibits that chronic exhaustion or those chronically strained relationships, it’s time to do some reassessing on the balance and purposefulness of your schedule!
When our families are overly busy, the resulting misplaced priorities feed dangerous tendencies and mindsets in our children. For example, pushing our children’s involvement in too many extracurricular activities could produce a family culture in which the child’s accomplishments are central.
While our children’s involvement in various discretionary activities can be immensely beneficial (we’ll see that later), pursuing that without balance and purpose can breed self-worship and overinflated self-importance in our children.
If they know their success on the soccer field or music stage is priority number one for their parents, they will “buy into their own hype” as well. This subtle but scary tendency violates the principle of discipleship we saw in Deut. 6: teaching them to love God with their all, through every pursuit of life.
This idolatrous mindset that their accomplishments are central or their success is paramount or that there is nothing they cannot do is only going to balloon into more grievous mindset issues in college and beyond.
Not only is that pride and misplaced worship produced in our kids, but we as parents can fall prey to it as well. We can easily succumb to the trap of living vicariously through our children, seeing their success as essential to our own fulfillment or feelings of accomplishment.
Finding balance and purpose
Clearly there are pitfalls in busyness that our families must avoid, but what’s the alternative? Can we be busy and still disciple? Yes, dads, we can find that balance and purpose! Here are a few crucial mindsets:
Target activities purposefully.
First, prioritize the activities that are most important, most foundational, or most conducive to the spiritual growth and discipleship of your children. There are certain activities and focuses that are designed by God to be central to that process.
Jesus himself grew mentally, socially, physically, and spiritually (Luke 2:52), so we should pursue activities as families that will help our children grow in all those ways too. Bible study, schooling, social interaction, physical activity, and dynamic church attendance and involvement all serve to enable and enhance the process of our kids’ growth into mature servants of Jesus.
Next, observe and evaluate the areas of giftedness and interest in your children, and seek to develop those areas. In earlier years, this may involve casual involvement in a wide variety of activities and pursuits, narrowing to fewer focuses as they grow older and those gifts and passions become apparent.
Use activities to instruct.
As they develop those skills or interests significantly, teach them the opportunities those activities provide for things like evangelism, service, and reflecting Christ-like humility rather than self-advancement. This is classic daily discipleship!
Teach the practical life benefits of the pursuits you have selected for them. Extra-curricular activities provide things like healthy exercise, development of personal discipline and commitment, social and interactive growth with others, comfort level with others different from me, involvement in a cause bigger than self, etc. Each of these benefits are either directly tied to discipleship or provide opportunities for growth in the ways Christ himself grew.
Demonstrate your child’s limits to them, too. They must learn that they cannot say yes to everything. They must recognize that when they say yes to something they are almost always saying no to something else; therefore they must develop their own sense of balance and purpose.
Finally, teach the biblical value of rest. Christ himself modeled this to his disciples in Mark 6:31. I love the subtle presentation of this principle in the context of Moses and Israel building the tabernacle in Exodus 31.
God gifted people with abilities and gifts for the purpose of serving him, in this case gifts for constructing the tabernacle itself. But in the immediate context, God also reminded them (and the whole congregation) of their need to honor the Sabbath for the purpose of rest.
No matter how good and purposeful our activities are, we cannot forget the essential priority of rest. Use your gifts. Pursue the development of those gifts. Stay busy growing, developing, serving, and being passionately active. But then rest because it’s not ultimately about you.
Model balance and purpose yourself.
Even as we teach our children these principles of balance and purpose, we can devastatingly undercut our own teaching with hypocritical inconsistency.
We must avoid hectic busyness in our own schedules. We must prioritize the most important activities. We must always be growing and stretching ourselves in the development of our own gifts. We must admit and act upon our own limitations. We must lead them in prioritizing rest.
May God graciously give wisdom to all of us dads as we lead our families in schedules that are fulfilling and full but also balanced and purposeful for God’s glory and the furtherance of Christ’s name!