The back-to-school season can trigger many emotions in parents, from relief and excitement to nervousness or sadness. If snapping that first-day-of-school photo makes you think “They’re growing up so fast”—you’re right. They are.
The beginning of a new school year means your kids are one step closer to finishing school altogether. If your child is a senior, you have just one year left before they are either heading off to college or entering the workforce. It means you have one more round of holidays with them at home, one more childhood birthday to celebrate, one more season of every sport. If they are a junior, you have two years, and so on—you can quickly calculate the number of years you have left with them, and are probably able to count them all on your fingers.
This isn’t meant to be depressing, but rather to provide you with an appropriate sense of urgency. The childhood years are critical, and as a parent, you are the most critical part of those years. You have the biggest influence on training your children and setting them on the right path in life (Proverbs 22:6). Knowing that you only have a set number of days with your kids can encourage you to make the best use of that time (Ephesians 5:16) and fully appreciate the opportunity you have, instead of later feeling the sadness of regret.
John McGee has talked about how the concept of a shot clock can be helpful in reminding you to make good use of the limited time you have with your kids.
In basketball, a shot clock counts down the time a team has left to shoot the ball at the basket. If they don’t attempt a shot during that time, they lose possession (and will eventually lose the game, if they consistently fail to take a shot).
As a parent, you have your own “shot clock” counting down the time until your kids leave the home. From the moment your child is born, you have about 6,575 days (give or take a leap day) until they turn 18. Of course, most kids don’t leave home the moment they turn 18, but even if their birthday falls early in the school year, you’ll still only have about 6,900 days before they either graduate or head off to college. (You can calculate the exact amount of time you have left with your child here.)
To keep you from wasting those days, McGee suggests imagining that there is a shot clock displayed above your child’s head. It is constantly counting down the time you have left with them. When you are reminded that you have limited time with your kids, it changes your perspective and your priorities. You want to make the most of that time and use it in meaningful ways.
Of course, you can’t do everything, and saying “Yes” to your kids means you will have to say “No” to other things. If you spend an hour reading books with your kids, building a LEGO spaceship with them, or studying the Bible so that you can share with them what you’ve learned—that’s an hour you can’t spend doing something else. Maybe it means you won’t win yard of the month in your neighborhood, or you won’t be up to date on the latest TV show everyone is chatting about. Maybe you’ll have to shut down your social media profiles, because you’re too busy making memories with your kids to worry about filtering those memories to impress your friends.
You might even have to say “No” to some truly good things—and that’s OK, as long as you’re doing it in order to focus on even better things. Your family is your number one ministry opportunity, and it’s the only job that only you can do. No one else can be the dad or mom to your kids (or be the husband or wife of your spouse). Set your priorities accordingly.
How can you spend that time with your kids in meaningful ways?
At Watermark, we often talk about a parenting framework of “model, train, pray, and trust.” You can disciple your kids by:
As you can hopefully see, discipleship does not have to be complicated; it has a lot to do with just continually learning and growing in your own faith and passing that on to your children. It’s about being faithful yourself as you spend time with your kids.
Plus, all time with your kids can be meaningful. It’s been said that children spell love “T-I-M-E.” Children are notoriously bad at spelling, but you get the point. By spending time with your kids, you show them that they are loved. And feeling secure in a parent’s love can help children gain a better understanding of God’s love for them. Spending time with your kids also helps you get to know them better, so that you fully understand their unique personalities and know how to best teach them, correct them, and show your love to them.
Whether you have kids at home or not, each of us has a “shot clock” on our own lives. We don’t know what tomorrow holds (James 4:13-15), so we don’t know exactly how much time we have left. We do know that this life is relatively short, whereas eternity is really, really long. Use your days wisely (Psalm 90:12) by investing in things—in people—that will matter in eternity.