by Austin Maxheimer
A continuing struggle of mine is being present at home. I learned some bad habits that I considered “necessary for survival” while living through different seasons of life: Working two jobs while going to Seminary full-time; being bivocational while starting a house church network; being on staff of an aggressive, young, fast-growing church planting network…all of that activity and constant sense of needing to provide and achieve made it difficult to be “fully there” when I was physically at home.
That used to be me all the time. I’ve gotten much better. I believe the real key to overcoming the absent-when-home mentality is a fundamental redirection of energy and approach to life. I also know that when busy seasons hit and I start to drift back, I want some real-life practical helps to get me back on track.
So while I am still very much a work in progress, here are seven tips I’d like to share that have been helpful in my struggle and may be helpful for you:
1. Know it’s coming. Awareness is half the battle. I used to let busy seasons happen to me. I’d be three weeks in and look around, and my family was nowhere to be found. Knowing it’s coming before it arrives allows you to both prepare mentally and to schedule a couple of guaranteed times—like Boy’s Day or Date Night—into the rare openings.
Thought Exercise: Knowing my life is going to be a sprint for the next seven weeks, what do I need to intentionally prepare in order to not outrun my family?
2. Remove the word “busy.” I was challenged a while back that busyness is idolatry. That may sound a bit harsh, but after hearing that, I caught myself always answering the common “How’re you doing” greeting with, “Aww, man, busy!” It doesn’t take long to bring that mindset into your home.
Thought Exercise: Every time I catch myself saying “busy” in conversation, simply stop using that word and replace it with something else.
3. More “yes” than “no.” When you bring a mindset of busyness into the home, it’s easy to feel so weighted down that every request seems like an extra burden. Even your son asking to play basketball or your daughter asking you to take a walk; it’s not intentional, but “no” just automatically flies out! Make sure to say yes more than no.
Thought Exercise: Track every time your kids ask you to do something and make sure that you have two yes’s for every no.
4. Give them your best 15. After a long day, especially in a busy season, my natural inclination is to get home and disconnect. But if you can forgo that for even 15 minutes right when you get home and again 15 minutes right before bed, it can make all the difference. You’ll show your family where you place your priority and value when you give them your first, last, and best.
Thought Exercise: On your way home, simply think, “I will give my family my best 15 minutes right when I get home before anything else.”
5. Bring them with you. If at all possible. IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. Even if it’s only one time a week, over a busy season that adds up to 5-6-7 more times together, which can make a huge difference. There are many added bonuses to this as well, like your kids getting to see you at work, interacting with strangers, modeling behavior, etc.
Thought Exercise: Start with this very week. Get out your calendar and circle every opportunity to bring your family along…and then ask them.
6. Connect to community. When you’re extremely busy, an easy thing to remove is hang-out time with friends or your connection to a larger community. This is a disastrous mistake. Not only are we neurologically wired for community, I also know that seeing other fathers interacting with their families can remind and challenge me.
Thought Exercise: Why do I truly disconnect from people during busy seasons? What community do I truly miss? How can I reconnect with it?
7. Plug into the right outlet. We are going to draw energy from something. Typically, the busier I get the more I default to drawing it from myself. As a Christian, I believe this is extremely problematic, as we are intended to draw upon God—specifically, the Holy Spirit—to fill us up. When I am drawing from myself, I become selfish; when I am drawing from the proper outlet, I become self-less.
Thought Exercise: Where can I find 15 minutes every day to redirect what I’m “plugging into”? Lunch? Set the alarm earlier? My first moments at work?
Following the steps above can help not only you, but your family and your church as well.