by David DeFord
As Kathy and I approached parenthood in the early ‘70s, we dreamed of sitting on the porch swing contentedly watching our children play happily together. We expected to re-live that scene many times over the years of our children’s lives--an idyllic scene right out of the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie.
Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. As Sarah came along, and then Matt, Willie and Adam, we found our lives becoming increasingly busy. Rather than peacefully sitting on the porch, we attended school functions, ball games, church meetings and visits. Quality family time required diligent planning.
Happily, we learned some valuable tips for keeping our family strong and together.
Family Home Evening
Some inspired church leaders counseled us to set aside one evening a week for planned family time. Every member of our family, no matter how involved or busy, took enough control over our schedules to get together one night per week. The phone was taken off of the hook, work responsibilities were rearranged (most of the time), and outside commitments refused on our family night.
Each family member contributed to the evening’s agenda, which could include music, prayer, discussion, games, and always “delicious refreshments.”
Sometimes we substituted an activity for the discussion and games. Once we gave each child an imaginary wad of money and took them to the mall. They were to pretend to spend the money and come back and report on their faux purchases.
Another time we baked goodies for a family in a serious struggle. One evening we dressed up like ancient characters and acted out scriptural stories. We enjoyed talent shows, unusual (and sometimes gross) refreshments, and even a tape-recorded burping contest. I won that one, by the way.
Kathy and I looked forward to our Monday nights.
With our numerous activities, Kathy and I made Friday night dates a priority—we still do. Early in our marriage we couldn’t afford to do much. We took walks, attended free concerts, and found creative ways to spend time together. As we have aged, we can afford to do nicer things, but it has never been about the activity. The most important concept has been to enjoy one-on-one time together and to refuse to allow other pressures to keep us from our most important priorities.
We made serious efforts to make sure we had dinner together every night. Of course, that was not always feasible, but we made it a priority. We made sure our dinner discussions served as avenues of communication with our kids. We concentrated on listening to them.
Those family dinners meant much to us.
As our children reached adolescence, our dinners together grew in importance. Teen jobs and extracurricular activities competed aggressively with them. What could we do to save this important practice?
Matt had purchased an old, used acoustic guitar for two dollars at a garage sale. And after he painted it in vivid psychedelic colors, we placed it in the bay window in our kitchen. By doing so, we actually saved our dinner family time. Each of our kids plays the guitar excellently. In fact, I remain continually in awe of the musical talents they obviously picked up from their mother.
During our after-dinner conversation, one of our teens would pick up the old, garage sale guitar and lightly pick out beautiful background music. After a few minutes, he or she would pass the instrument to the next person. That guitar made several laps around the table each night as we talked and listened to one another. We regularly stayed at the table for an hour or so after the food disappeared, chatting and enjoying our time together.
Those were days not to be forgotten.
Today our children continue to keep us in awe with their own outstanding families, talents and choices. Each has chosen a wonderful mate, and is raising fine, talented and precious children of their own.
As newlyweds, Kathy and I envisioned a Walton-like family existence with our children playing happily in the yard as we watched from the porch swing. We ended up doing very little of that. But we did stumble onto some principles that made our DeFord-like existence even more wonderful. Thanks to some church leader counsel, some priority-setting, choosing to take some control over our schedules and to an old, worn-out acoustic guitar that still stands in a window our house.
I have lived a measure of professional and personal success. But none of it compares to the pride and wonder I feel when I see my own children making happy and productive lives for themselves and their families.
May you remember that true and meaningful success comes from identifying your most important priorities and arranging your lives and your schedules to lead you to meet those objectives.
Always remember the insightful words of David O. MacKay: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
"We all have two choices: We can make a living or we can design a life."
"Set peace of mind as your highest goal and organize your entire life around it."
"Happiness and high performance come to you when you choose to live your life consistent with your highest values and your deepest convictions."
"Don't confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other."
“Meaningful success comes from identifying your most important priorities and arranging your lives and your schedules to lead you to meet those objectives.”
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