The impact that engaged fathers have on significantly reducing at-risk-behavior in their children has been well documented. Additionally, fathers who are physically and emotionally engaged lead to increased cognitive development, emotional health, and positive peer-relationships in their children’s lives. This pattern points to God’s design for families to function with men as active participants, not passive observers.
As men who desire to follow Jesus, honor God, and lead our families, we are not simply called to be present but engaged fathers — and engaged husbands as well. Before we can begin to lead our children well, we must first pursue an actively growing marriage with our wives. Men are meant to be participant-leaders in the home.
Admittedly, it is often difficult to remain engaged at home. After a long day, it is easy to detach from our family and enter the worlds of media, technology, and sports. Our minds are occupied with the work we left behind or looking forward to the sleep that is to come, but God calls us to more as husbands and fathers.
Here are four ways, among many, that men can be more engaged at home.
1. Put away the smartphone.
When our wives and children are awake and want to be with us, our phones are a distraction from what matters most in that moment. By the time we get home most days, our children will be asleep within a few short hours. Don’t waste it on your phone.
I am not great at this. If my phone is in my pocket, I am prone to pull it out and check email, news, sports scores, articles, tweets, or Facebook notifications. It can happen without even thinking. I have tried to proactively remedy this barrier of engagement by taking my phone out of my pocket when I get home and putting it on the kitchen counter or fireplace mantel.
When our wives and children want to engage with us, but they constantly see us choose our phone over them, we send the message that media and the outside world are more important than they are.
Win the battle of distraction before it begins and proactively put away the phone or device when you get home.
2. Ask good questions.
Asking good questions can awaken portions of the heart that may otherwise remain dormant and strengthen the relationship we have with our wives and children. My wife has things to tell me that I may not hear if my questions are general and unimaginative. It doesn’t take much effort to ask my wife, “How was your day?” But remembering she had a library trip planned with the kids, and then asking thoughtful questions about her experience, helps her know I care. It tells her I am thinking about her and know what is going on in her life. Only asking, “How was your day?” is sort of lazy. We can do better.
It will require follow-up questions. It will require we listen to their initial answer and then ask questions that get to their heart. The same goes for our children. “How was school?” isn’t enough. But asking about the friend they are struggling with gets us much closer.
One practical way I do this is by keeping an Evernote document with a list of questions I can ask my wife to prompt good conversation. Before we go on dates, I look at the list and have a few questions ready to ask in order to launch a new conversation. Asking good questions takes effort. It requires intentional preparation and active participation. But it is vital to leading our families well.
3. Do it together.
Life doesn’t always allow us to sit around and play games or ask one another questions. I often have projects around the house that need to be completed, such as mowing the lawn, helping with dinner, fixing a leaky faucet, or paying the bills. My son is at an age where he loves to help me with projects. Sometimes it is simply watching, sometimes it is screwing in a few bolts, or sometimes he gets to pour ingredients into a mixing bowl. One way to stay engaged in our homes is to invite our wives and children into the work we are doing.
Alternatively, we can enter their worlds and engage their interests. With our children, we can get down on their level, throw the ball around the back yard, color pictures, or build towers with blocks (which are certain to be destroyed within minutes). With our wives, we can initiate time together in their areas of interest and be fully engaged in the process, helping to facilitate the relational connection we want.
This can take on many forms. Whether it is inviting them to participate in our worlds, or becoming involved in theirs, find creative ways to do things together rather than doing them apart.
4. Read with them.
The older I get the more I appreciate books. More specifically, the more I appreciate words. In the Scriptures, God has chosen to communicate with us through words, and language is foundational to nearly everything we want to do in the world.
One of the most important things you can do for the development of your child is read to them. I hear of study after study regarding the importance of reading, and what a better way to reinforce the value of reading to our children than having their father read to them. I recommend reading Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. She does a masterful job of articulating the value of reading in the home.
I also have found that reading with my wife can be significant — whether it is a classic novel, a book about parenting, or a book about faith. Reading is a great way to engage with your family when you are home.
It might be tiring and even difficult at times, but God has given us the awesome privilege of leading our families as active participants. Pouring our energy into our wives and children in the service of God’s glory and the good of our families is exciting work, and well worth our best efforts.