Playtime with Intention

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How scheduling time with your kids can help you be the parent God has called you to be.

Like many of you, I made a new year’s resolution. And it wasn’t just one, it was a list of goals that I was going to go for this year. This was going to be my year. I created a list of specific daily goals: working out every day, reading every day, writing every day. Set the bar high, right?

Once January began, I started to chip away at my daily resolutions. It soon became very apparent that my daily workout was going to have to be less cycle-and-yoga-class-at-the-gym and more along the push-the-stroller-around-the-neighborhood pace. Something is better than nothing, am I right?

Every day, I pulled out the stroller, clipped the pup on a leash, strapped the baby in, and went on my way. One day, as I was walking, I found myself trying to mentally plan out my day. When I got home, I was going to put the baby in the walker so I could squeeze in a shower. Then during nap time, I could get some work done. For lunch, I could put her in the pack and play while I prepped the food, then feed her in the high chair. Then pack and play again so I could check my emails. Then nap time again (I was being really optimistic here, hoping for two naps).

That’s when Baby Girl interrupted my train of thought with the sweetest little whimper cry and reached her hand towards the top of the stroller. I sighed, knowing that if she began to throw a fit I was going to have to cut my workout short. So much for my goals. After several grumpy little cries and several insistent waves, I made one last desperate attempt to appease her. I reached down and let her wrap her chubby fingers around mine. Suddenly, her entire disposition changed, just because I was holding her tiny, squishy, little hand. She smiled, even giggled a bit, content to just hold my finger while I pushed her around the neighborhood. *Cue the mama tears.*

And then I started to realize that my plan for my day revolved entirely around putting my daughter in one containment device or another so that I could work. And what did she want? She just wanted to hold my hand, she just wanted my attention. And not once did I consider scheduling time to just be with her.

I started thinking about, like really thinking about, the last time I had spent time playing or interacting with my child with no TV on and no phone in my hand. The last time I could really remember was the weekend before when my husband and I had taken her to a pool. It took me being physically separated from my screens by a giant pit of water for me to give my daughter one hundred percent of my attention.

Psalm 127 says this: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (verses 3-5)

This little girl was a blessing directly from the hand of God, a reward for me. Yet, I had never felt more undeserving.

Many of us set screen time limits for our children, but research shows that parental screen time can be similarly detrimental to a child than giving the child them self too much screen time. (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/ ) And Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” We are called to raise our children to seek Christ, but how can we do that if we can’t even find the time to interact fully with them?

Now, I truly believe that parenting is all about balance. So no, I did not run and throw my smartphone into a lake or smash my laptop with a sledge hammer. And I also decided that it was important that I not completely abandon my personal goals either. So I decided to make daily, undistracted time with my child a part of my daily goals. Instead of surrendering all of my new year’s resolutions, I decided to amend them to include family-time related goals.

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a working parent, or somewhere in between, it can help us embrace our call from God to raise our children in him by to creating specific goals to give your children the focus they deserve. Every day might not be perfect, and that is OKAY. These goals are all about being intentional and putting in the effort.

Here was the very first goal that I added to my new year’s resolution:

Short term goal:

  • Engage with child for fifteen minutes every day, without any screens, doing an activity the child loves.

Fifteen minutes may not seem like much, but dedicated, special time is priceless. This is just a starting point. I think you may be surprised how many times you are tempted to reach for your device within that fifteen minutes. I know I was.

I then created a list of more long term goals that I wanted to work up to. Personally, I really like the little rush I get when I check things off a daily to-do list, so I added them to my list of daily goals. Everyone’s list might look a little bit different, but these might help get you started.

Long term goals:

  • Schedule a definitive time to interact with children.

Schedule one hour (or half hour, go with what works for your family) every day to spend focused on your children. Get on the floor, go out in the yard, or dive into their pit of toys–it doesn’t matter, just be in their element–without any screens involved. So my emails might have to wait until the fabled nap time, but if one little hand hold could change my daughter’s day, what could a whole hour do?

  • Eat meals together, at the table, whenever possible. Pray before and after.

Show yourself a little grace with this one, but whenever you can, eat your meals together, around a table. Teach your children to pray and be thankful. Take turns asking what each family member was grateful for that day and what good things God did for them that day.

Personally, this one was a challenge, especially lunch and breakfast. However, long-term, this habit encourages family bonding, healthy eating, and even vocabulary skills. Baby not eating solids yet? I found that holding a baby at the table or sitting them in their high chair even if they are not eating, encourages the routine of sitting, at the table, during meal time.

  • Involve the child in at least one chore, every day.

Does it actually make it any easier to have a toddler “help” with dishes? Or sweeping? Any parent knows the answer is a big, fat, no. But slowing things down and teaching children to get involved in family life will have a big pay off later. And looking back on that time together might be a lifelong memory for your child.

  • On a day off, plan one thing to do as a family.

No, grocery shopping doesn’t count. Although, I’m ashamed to admit that was my first thought. So maybe it is nothing more than a trip to the park or running through the sprinklers, but kids don’t need extravagant outings to create memorable experiences with you. Try to find one thing that you can do together that is outside of their normal routine. I found this difficult as often the weekend is the only time I seem to get anything done. So I had to be intentional about stopping what we are doing–even if its only for an hour–and spending time as a family. If nothing else, put on a family movie and snuggle!

I know the pressure of parenting can be crushing at times, and this challenge is not meant to bring any guilt or shame. Trust me, that would be the ultimate pot calling the kettle black. I fail at these goals daily, but the good thing is that I know I am not alone. God is by my side, as is my spouse, to support me on this journey of parenthood.

There is zero shame in setting your baby in a swing so you can check your Facebook or scan instagram. But I noticed one time, when I was checking my phone, sitting on the floor with my daughter crawling all over me, that I was reading the same post in my newsfeed for the FOURTH time. The exact same post. But that moment, with my daughter desperate for my attention still little and barely able to crawl, was only going to happen once. So check your Facebook! Scan your emails! No shame. Do it once, then set it aside.

Use the time you already have to grow your relationship with your children by getting them involved with chores and mealtime. Use playtime as family time by eliminating distractions. And don’t forget: you are a beautiful individual, created by God, separate from your call as parent. He wants you to care for yourself, as well as your children. Do not feel guilty for having goals that help you be the best person you can be. Instead, schedule special, intentional time with your kids to begin raising them up to be the hands and feet of God.

You have something to give your children that no else in the world can: your time.