A few years ago, Frommer’s came out with a book called 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up. I was intrigued by the title and bought it because it combined two things that I enjoy and are important to me: travel and spending time with my kids. The book focuses on making the most of the time we have with our children while they’re young versus waiting until they grow up, essentially a “bucket list” of ideas to help us capitalize on the awe and wonder of childhood. When we take our kids along on trips, not only do they get to experience the beauty of the world, but we also see it anew through their eyes.
Last summer, my husband and I decided to take the plunge and travel to Italy with our five children ranging in ages from 8 to 24. For nearly three glorious weeks, we explored its ancient cities, tromped around the beautiful countryside, stuffed ourselves with pizza and pasta, and just enjoyed being together. It gave me a taste of what we’d been missing – quality family time – and I honestly loved every minute of it. Even the occasional squabble was an opportunity to learn about each other and grow as a family. I was sad when it ended and we had to return to “normal” life.
How Much is Enough?
While on vacation or holiday breaks, it’s easy enough to spend time together. (That’s the point, right?) But the trick is incorporating it into our regular, everyday lives. How can we make the most of each and every day? Pope Francis has suggested that we need to “waste time” on our kids. In our increasingly busy world, our time is so limited (it’s perhaps our most valuable commodity), yet our children are obviously worth wasting it on. As C.S. Lewis once observed, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”1
The Holy Father’s words hit home because they remind us that our number one priority as parents is to give our children what they need most – our time. Speaking last year to the Pontifical Council for the Family (made up almost entirely of married couples), the pope urged Catholics to never lose sight of the importance of family life. He said, “A family isn’t simply a group of individuals, but it is a community where people learn to love one another, share with and make sacrifices for each other…’”2 Family life is so important because it shapes us like nothing else.
Spending time with our children, then, should be one of our biggest priorities, yet sadly we find a million other ways to use it. “Family time” gets crunched, and the time we do give is often spent in activities that require little to no interaction, things like movies and spectator sports. In many families, even time-honoured traditions like family dinners have become a thing of the past. But we must resist the urge to succumb to the world’s view of “priorities.” Family time is time well-spent. Because our time is so precious, in giving it to our children we demonstrate how very important they are to us.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
A friend of ours used to joke that she would clean her house one day when her kids went off to college. I’m not ready to go that far, but her attitude does say something about the urgency of spending time with our children, an urgency that we often fail to realize until it’s too late. It’s sort of like trying to capture a sunset before it’s gone – if you run to get the camera, you’ll miss it! Time passes so quickly… it seems like only yesterday that my husband and I began marking our kids’ heights on a wall in our laundry room and now they’re all nearly as tall as I am. Two have left home, and one is getting married this year. Pretty soon they’ll all be in double digits…yikes!
Sometimes we think the only way to spend quality time with our children is to play with them. But that’s just not the case. What’s most important is to simply talk to them. One of the best times to talk is when you’re in the car (you’ve certainly got a captive audience!). I can’t understand why so many people have chosen to get DVD players in their cars. Long trips are one thing, but driving to school and back?!? Unplug your kids and I bet they’ll have something to say!
Of course, when they most want to talk is usually when you don’t really want to talk at all, like at bedtime. I used to think it was just a stall tactic (and sometimes it still is), but now I realize that it’s one of the rare occasions during the day when it’s dark and quiet, and kids can finally process all that’s taken place. In the darkness of their rooms, they feel safe to share what’s on their hearts and minds. For parents, there’s no shortage of opportunities to teach and mold our children. We just have to take the time.
Can’t Put a Price on Love
Consider all the years that Jesus spent with Mary and Joseph in Nazareth. It was an important time of preparation before he started His ministry, His mission on earth. The time our children have at home with us is no less important for them to accomplish their mission. We must equip them with resiliency and independence, with life skills and virtues. We must teach them about the dignity of human life and the power of their words to build up or destroy. We must inspire them to use their God-given talents to make the world a better place for all people. As parents, we have a truly awesome task set before us: to nurture the souls in our care. Yet we needn’t feel worried or burdened! The Lord has entrusted this work to us, but He doesn’t ask us to do it alone; He will give us the grace, courage and wisdom to fulfill our roles.
As parents, no one can do what you do. Sure, you can hire someone to clean your house, do the laundry, or any of the countless other tasks that go along with parenting. But no one can take your place. No one has your touch, your words, your mere presence. In other words, in our vocations, we are irreplaceable. When we’re tempted to get caught up in the busyness of the world – the break-neck speed that literally sucks the life out of people – let’s take a cue from children who know a few things about priorities… about the importance of laughter and having fun and appreciating “the moment.” When we take the time to see the world the way they do, it’s almost like experiencing it for the first time.
– Kelley Holy
1 C.S. Lewis; from Good Reads [website]; available from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1461801-children-are-not-a-distraction-from-more-important-work-they; Internet; accessed 7 January 2015.
2 Cindy Wooden, “Marriage Isn’t easy, but it’s beautiful, pope says”; Catholic News Service [online newspaper]; available from
http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1304506.htm; Internet; accessed; 12 December 2014.