The Power of Family Routines

by Chris Pennington

dad, mom, and child on a walking path

The job of parenting is overwhelming. I think like many dads, I hadn’t properly considered my calling until I was holding my oldest child for the first time.

“All we need to do,” I thought, “is raise this little girl to be a competent, God-fearing woman in eighteen years.” How in the world do you do that? Where do you start?

I like to think I’m an organized person, so I set straight away to making a plan—you know, like a detailed recipe, but for children. A few years of perfect parental responses, patient sessions of discipline, and family devotions in the evening … I was feeling pretty good.

Then we hit the first night.

It wasn’t long until I was apologizing for my poor discipline, questioning our family rules, despairing over sin in our kids, and generally feeling like a failure. What went wrong? How could I fix it?

In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a silver bullet. I don’t have a 5-step plan, and I haven’t learned any magic—no matter how many times I re-read the Harry Potter series. But I have realized the power of small things repeated over and over again.

A Revelation of Memory

My wife and I were discussing our own childhood memories one day when I realized a particular grace of God for the first time: I remembered only basic themes of my childhood.

Admittedly, I have a bad memory, but I don’t think I’m unique. The faultiness of memory truly is one of the hidden graces of God. For the most part, we remember basic themes and general trends.

With that realization, my wife and I sat down to create a list of themes or trends for our home. What were the basic things we wanted to characterize our home?

The goal wasn’t to compile the perfect list, but to find some core characteristics for our home we believed would honor God.

Practices over Ideas

I think our first attempt resulted in a bunch of fuzzy concepts. It read something like this:

  • We want our home to be full of love.
  • We want our home to be God-centered.
  • We want our home to be a place of inquiry and learning.

You can probably spot the problem already. How were we supposed to evaluate our efforts? Were we doing a good job? How would we know?

We wanted our home to be full of love. Okay, great! How? We wanted our home to be God-centered. Okay, great. Again, how?

We came to the realization that if we wanted to follow through with our plans, we’d need to move past the concepts to actual daily practices. We’d need to focus on something objective, something discernible, something quantitative.

In other words, we realized we needed to move past the theories, themes, and concepts to the actual how. How would we build the home we wanted? We needed to define daily practices, not merely general concepts.

Four Daily Practices

We landed on four basic daily practices that have a good chance of producing the kind of home we believe would honor God. I’d love to say we’ve never missed a day for any of these practices, but we try to always keep them before us. By focusing on the daily practices, rather than the theory or the goal, we’ve started to see some fruit. Planting apple seeds eventually grows apple trees.

Here’s our current list:

1. Pray to God each day.

Every day, we try to make prayer a major part of our home.1 Our desire is that this practice along with our instruction can reinforce realities like …

  • God is the most important being in the universe!
  • God is in control of everything. Nothing escapes his notice. Nothing happens without his choice.
  • We desperately need God. We need him for food, for money, for joy, for justice, for anything and everything you could imagine.
  • God is the source of every joy, grace, and success. He deserves praise for it all.
  • God wants to listen to us. He tells us to speak to him and he hears our prayers. He is not distant, but near. He is not aloof, but caring.
  • God is the answer to every problem. He is the Great Physician, the Provider, the Rock, and the Fortress.

2. Listen to God each day.

Whether reading a Bible storybook, reenacting a Bible story, or memorizing a Bible passage, we want the sound of God’s words to fill our home. We want to communicate that …

  • God is a speaking God. We don’t have to wonder what He thinks or pursue him in a mystical, non-personal way.
  • He wrote down his words for us (cf. Rom 5:23–24; 15:4; 1 Cor 9:10; 10:6) and wants to change us as we behold him (2 Cor 3:18).
  • God wants to show us himself. He wants to enter into a relationship, not merely send edicts down from above.
  • God has faithfully revealed himself since the beginning of time and has always shown himself faithful. People never understand all that God is doing, but his purposes are always good and for their good.

3. “I love you” each day.

We want to tell our kids we love them every day. Those three simple words carry tremendous weight when paired with time, godly discipline, and rich conversations.2

  • We want our kids to see God’s love through us and in us. God makes it a habit both to speak and to show his love throughout the biblical narrative. The most famous verse in the Bible begins, “God so loved the world” (John 3:16).
  • Part of the image of God in man is our ability to enter into relationship. God made people relational, and we want to express the joys of godly relationships in our words.
  • We know our words and actions will not always agree. Sometimes we will only say “I love you” while our sinful responses communicate something else entirely. Our hearts need instruction by our words, too. And saying “I love you” every day teaches us as much as it communicates to our kids.

4. Read books each day.

My wife is a voracious reader. And I try. Before we had kids, her favorite date involved any book and some coffee. We spent hours our first year of marriage sitting in coffee shops and bookstores. Reading opens doors to so many worlds and grants access to learning beyond what we can teach our kids.

  • We want our kids to develop imagination and a thirst for learning.
  • We want our kids to find delight in reading so that they will be excited to read the Bible. God communicated nearly everything we know about him in a book. In a very real sense, if our kids are going to know God, they need to read—and like it!
  • We want our kids to develop patience and self-discipline. Reading—especially reading longer books—requires a kind of discipline not afforded by screen time or play with friends.3 In a distracted world, the ability to sit still for more than fifteen minutes is quickly fading—even for dads!
  • We want our kids to surpass us. We want them to learn new topics, dream big dreams, and explore what God might have them do for him! Most dinner table conversations are now punctuated by my 5-year-old telling us some interesting fact about the Great Barrier Reef or something else she heard that day.

A Concluding Thought

I’m not suggesting we’ve stumbled upon a secret or that our home is a perfect little world of bliss. But I do think these four daily practices have impacted our home life despite our faults and failures. They’re steadying rhythms that produce a certain predictable movement to life, like a gentle tide that always moves in and out.

We felt it was important to find something we could manage, to choose consistency over perfection. I’m sure we will add to or adjust our list in the coming years, but I’m thankful for a starting point. It’s just what this distracted dad needed.


  1. We pray for others in public when our kids observe sinful behavior, pray for provision at meals or when a need arises, pray for God’s forgiveness after our children sin and ask for God’s grace to obey, etc.

  2. You’ve likely heard “quality over quantity,” but it’s mostly a lie. Your kids need your time, and lots of it. The phrase “I love you” without time to back that up feels like listening to a love song sung to an army march. It just doesn’t fit.

  3. This last week, I finished a 300+ page book with my oldest (who just turned five 3 weeks ago)—and it didn’t have any pictures! I mostly credit my wife with that victory, as she has always read to our kids for long periods each day. It’s been amazing to see how our oldest has developed the ability to listen carefully for long blocks of time. The second kid … well, we’re still working on her 😏.

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