Last night was the first night of our Family VBS. And by “Family VBS” I mean that families attended together, rather than just dropping of the kids or separating into different classes; instead, the whole family, however that was structured, participated in all the activities together. There were games and crafts and stories in a Bat Cave. We ate dinner together, survived the Plagues of Egypt obstacle course, built towers to the sky, and threw rubber chickens at “bad guys.”
In the midst of the fun, I couldn’t help but notice a few parents, caregivers and grandparents experiencing some…shall we say, challenging moments with their kids. Whether it was paint on a wall or food on the ground, spilled drinks or excited behavior, there were moments where Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa would probably not have described as “fun.” Interestingly however, it was those same people who messaged me later and shared thing like, “My kids had a great time tonight. I enjoyed getting to do things with them. It was good being able to really be together. Looking forward to tomorrow.”
Maybe you’ve experienced this same thing. Right now a popular blog post making its rounds on Facebook describes a mom who had a particularly rough day but as she lays her kids down to sleep that night, her child tells her that it was the best day ever. While she can only see the challenging moments, her child saw one thing – they had spent the whole day together.
Recent studies show that 8-18 year olds spend an average of 7 hrs and 11 minutes involved in some screen media every day. That is a lot of time in front of a screen. Even if that screen time takes place at home, it’s time that families are not spending “together.” Being in the same space as another person is not the same as being together with that person.
Being together leads to some challenging moments. When we are truly with another person, especially a child, we get the whole package; the good, the bad, and the extremely frustrating. We have to deal with sugar highs and bedtime blues. We cringe when the paint flies and the tears fall and we bite our tongue when the milk spills and the cookie crumbles (all over your freshly cleaned carpet..every. single. time.). Like iron sharpens iron, so one man (woman, child) sharpens another.
But being together also means we get to experience the joys of life together as well. We rejoice when our child tries and succeeds, no matter what that looks like. We hear their laughter as they try new things. We watch their faces light up when they jump into a game or get creative with their crafts.
And when the challenging moments fade, those things remain.
And they don’t just remain for you, the parent. They remain for your child. Those memories become foundational and formational for them in what it means to be a family. Sharing those little victories and fun moments create a framework for relationship with you that will help bridge the gap in the future when they are older and the challenges are a little bigger than spilt milk and cookie crumbles. Because if you aren’t willing to share life in the little things, they probably won’t want to share their life in the big things.
BUT, if you create space to share life together, without a screen to distract or an app for that, you’ll create more than that. You’ll build a relationship for the future that tells your child, “I am interested in spending time with you and having fun with you. I want to be with you and it is something I am willing to give up other things for. You are more important to me than ___________.” And while the moments can be challenging, the long view tells us that children who play with their parents and eat with their parents are more likely to talk to their parents and listen to their parents as they grow older. Coloring pictures (outside the lines) today could lead to life-changing conversations in the future. The investment of time creates dividends that last long into the future.
Because I am “on the job” at our church’s VBS, I wasn’t able to spend that time with my own family. But in the morning, when Caleb got up (way too early) guess what I heard about first? It wasn’t when he sat in time out for being too wild. It wasn’t when he smeared paint all over the table or dropped his lemonade on the floor. He couldn’t wait to tell me about all the fun he had with Daddy. They made a superhero cape (the paint), ate snacks (the lemonade) and played outside (being too wild). His night wasn’t about the challenging moments. His night was about the formational moments. His night was about spending time with his Dad.
As my mom often shared with me, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Take the long view, spend that intentional time with your kids, and create that space for relationships to be built on a foundation of time, love, and lemonade spills.
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com