This spring, a pair of blue jays built a nest on my back porch. My family watched with interest as the two birds laid eggs and dutifully cared for their young.
On April 7, the last of the four eggs hatched. And on April 25, the last of the four fledgling blue jays left the nest. In that short time, the baby birds went from being tiny, helpless, featherless things to the avian equivalent of teenagers—covered with feathers, leaving home, and learning to fly. And the visibly anxious mom and dad went from being brand-new parents to literal empty nesters—in just 18 days.
As parents of four kids ourselves, the parallels were not lost on my wife and I. 18 days seems like a ridiculously short time to have your kids in the home, but every human empty-nester I’ve met likes to point out how quickly 18 years goes by.
If we had only 18 days to raise our children, we would be sure to make the most of every second with them. But how are we stewarding our 18 years? Are we making the best use of that time (Ephesians 5:16) to train up our children and set them on the right path in life (Proverbs 22:6)?
The “Shot Clock”
John McGee has talked about the concept of a "parenting shot clock" and how it 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 and editing 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 dad or mom to your kids (or be the husband or wife of your spouse). Set your priorities accordingly.
Making the Shot
How can you spend that time with your kids in meaningful ways?
At Watermark, we sometimes talk about a parenting framework of “model, train, pray, and trust.” You can disciple your kids by:
- Modeling your faith in how you live out your own life.
- Training them by teaching them truth from God’s Word.
- Praying for them (and with them) at all times.
- Trusting God with the outcome, no matter what.
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.
After the Buzzer
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.
Want to become a better parent? We want to help. As part of Watermark’s effort to strengthen families, we are hosting an Uncommon Parenting Conference on November 10 – 11, 2023. You can learn more about the event and reserve your spot here.