The other day my eight-year-old daughter literally sat me down to have a Daddy/Daughter heart-to-heart. Understand that I am very close with my sweet Bella. Also understand that at eight, she often has the insight and conviction of a passionate college graduate.
“Dad, you work all day, get home, eat some food, then go back on your phone and computer and work some more. That is not fair. You need to play more with us kids. Sometimes I want to pour hot coffee over your phone and computer.”
Bella is the truth teller in our family and the truth hurt. I looked into the sweet brown eyes of my precious daughter and offered the only response that made sense.
“You’re right Bella. That is not fair. Thank you for caring enough to speak up and share your heart. I will try harder to protect our family time.”
That was not good enough though. “Try”, was not going to cut it.
“I need you to put your phone in the cradle when you get home and leave it there until after we are in bed. And I don’t want to see you open your computer while we are still up.”
I know what you are thinking, if only she felt free to speak her mind? Right?
She is an incredibly intelligent and insightful little girl, and I have learned that my children are a terrific barometer of our family’s health. She was not being disrespectful or unreasonable. She was being honest.
My guess is many of our children can relate to Bella. None of us set out to ignore or minimize our children. We (usually) don’t plan to remain plugged in to our jobs. It just sort of happens. As one of my mentors says, “Too many of us try to squeeze 36 into 24.” The westernized pressure for “faster, bigger, more, more, more” pushes many of us to tear down healthy boundaries around our families. We all suffer for it.
Here are some practical steps my wife and I have begun to implement in light of Bella’s reprimand.
1. Phones and computers stay off until after the kids are in bed.
2. Phones and computers only come on again if my wife and I both agree.
- Sometimes there may be a deadline that must be addressed (be careful though how often you allow deadlines to dictate actions within your home.
- Don’t get sucked into the social media black hole after the kids do go to bed.
- Set an overall limit to all your gaming, Facebooking, texting, emailing, etc., otherwise you will end up with your spouse telling you the same thing Bella told me. Not good.
3. Play with your kids!
- Throw the football, frisbee, baseball
- Pull out some board games
- Play cards
None of this is rocket science. Ultimately it comes down to intentional choices we make as fathers.
Do we want the image of our faces lit by the artificial light of an electronic device to be the primary image our kids have of their dad during childhood? Of course not. My prayer is that this resonates with you and that you will join me in making course corrections that will pay dividends for years to come.
Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom. Psalm 90:12