It’s fun to see my children transform into outdoor creatures for a week too—spending all their free time crooning to chipmunks, fishing, or throwing rocks into the lake. Occasionally, for variety, we play a board game.
Even more important for them then the opportunity to be outside, however, might be the opportunity to see their parents totally divorced from our computers and digital devices. Although I do read and sometimes write a little on my iPad, for the most part, our computers and smartphones molder in our bags while we’re up here. So there’s no, “Just a second, boys. I just have to finish this email/phone call/post/online transaction.” Both of us are certainly more present.
I always realize here how important it is to have uninterrupted time with my children. Although I am with them a large portion of the time at home, I’m available to them in a different way here. We take long walks through the woods and chat about random things. I get the chance to ask my older son, “What’s stressing you out lately?” and he has the opportunity to think about the question and respond. Last night as we came in from a post-dinner fishing trip on the cabin’s little boat, my older son tucked himself right in next to me in a way he doesn’t do so often anymore.
These moments of connection are so precious, and they come from just spending time together. In everyday non-vacation life, too, time is the gift I would most like to give to my family and many others in my life, yet it is a commodity I often feel I have in scarce supply.
To me hospitality, a key component of life in the Bible, is all about being available to others, unselfishly giving of time and resources even to complete strangers. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul includes hospitality in a list of virtues of a widows who should be honored: “She must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way” (NRSV).
I find it very interesting that bringing up children and showing hospitality are both included in the list, because I often use the fact that I have children and am very busy with them as an excuse for not showing more hospitality. And though it seems likely to me that Paul here sees hospitality as offering food, shelter, time, etc. to those outside one’s immediate family, I would argue that it’s also important to freely offer our hospitality (especially in terms of our time) even within our own families.
For I long to be available to those I love, for whatever they most need from me. And, in the spirit of 1 Peter 4:9 (“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”), to do it freely and lovingly, even when it means having to set down my iPhone or step away from the keyboard.
Here are three ideas for being available to our children in non-vacation land.
- Schedule time to connect individually with each child. Yes, I know, everyone says this, but I don’t think many of us actually manage to SCHEDULE it and make it a priority on the calendar as well as in our minds. I was inspired recently by reading about a family with twenty-plus biological and adopted children who had a tradition of a one-on-one outing with a different child each Friday. Hey, if they could do it….!
- Do chores with your child. So often I’m telling my children to clean their room or pick up their toys or make the bed. Yet sometimes the tasks seem so overwhelming to them that they don’t even seem to be able to begin. I’ve found that when I get down on the floor or into their rooms with them and we do the task together, not only do they finally get started, I can show them how to do the task and most often we both end up enjoying it and enjoying the time together. Especially as my children get older, time where we’re both engaged in a common task seems to yield better conversation than anything more forced, such as sitting down across from each other and “having a talk.”
- Do what you can to create an atmosphere that encourages your child to open up to you. For school-age children, the car ride to and from school or sports or music practice can often provide a great opportunity, especially if you’ve got just one child in the car. I find that the fact that I’m looking at the road and not at them seems to encourage my boys to want to open up, so I try to protect this space by leaving the radio or music off and asking questions.
Most of all, I want to remind myself that this time when they’re home with me is precious and fleeting, and when I look back at it, I want to be able to say that I did my best to spend as much of it with them (and not just in the same room but really with them) as I could.
I’d love to hear your ideas for being more available to your children!