by Rob Tims
My daughter turned 3 recently, and it had me reflecting on just how interrupting her birth was on my relationship with her two older brothers (now 10 and 12). I was so focused on our newborn girl that my boys began to wonder, “Hey … what about us?” Realizing this, I started taking random requirements for life (errands and such) and using them as opportunities to spend time with each of my sons.
I distinctly remember taking my then 7 year old to the grocery store. It was “the biggest mistake” and “the best decision” I’ve ever made in parenting him.
- He talked incessantly from the time we got in the car to the time we arrived back at home (30 minutes, EASY).
- He turned every item for our basket into a toy, including the basket itself.
- He gave items in our basket a set of social mores (MOR-ays) and boundaries to “live by” while they were in the basket (“these things can do this, but they can’t touch these things over here”), and explained them to me in detail.
In short, he turned what could have been a pleasant shopping experience (solitude … an introvert’s dream! and at Publix where it’s always 70 and sunny! and I could have just handled the chore quickly and efficiently!) into a tiresome, burdensome process where I actually had to parent my offspring lest I be judged by others in the neighborhood for dereliction of duty.
That’s how I felt until we got home, which is when he promptly asked, “Dad, why did you want me to come with you to Publix?”
(Funny, I was wondering that myself.)
“Because I haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time with you this week, and you’ll be with your grandparents for a couple of weeks soon, so I thought I’d use the trip to Publix as an opportunity to hang out with you.”
“Oh! Well, thanks for taking me with you Dad!”
And off he ran.
And my mind began running as well.
What was a frustrating, inefficient experience for me was a delight for him.
Clearly, leading my child isn’t primarily about teaching him how to get things done as much as it is about being with him in the midst of trying to get things done. Leadership in general can’t be primarily about achievement, but about achievement through and in other people.
And often times, the people are the task at hand. Leaders (parents, etc.) are to simply use other tasks as a means of working on the people.
It was a powerful lesson for me as a parent and a leader: stop worrying about doing, and focus on being.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.