SummaryJohn Clark says it’s the quality time we provide them that our families notice most. Particularly when we’re tired and spent and have nothing left to give.
Years ago, I had a job that required me to leave my house at about 6 AM every morning and return home at around 10 PM at night.
I also worked Saturdays for three or four hours, again accompanied by that lovely sixty-minute commute each way. Some nights, when I pulled in the driveway, I looked at the twelve stairs leading up to my second-floor deck and front door, and wondered if I had the energy to climb them all.
And I knew that when I opened that door, I would be greeted by a little boy who would want me to pitch wiffle-balls to him. Of course, after pitching a few wiffle-balls and watching him run around the green Persian rug that doubled as an imaginary major league infield, I would quickly remember why I worked those long hours in the first place.
What I experienced in those days wasn’t your garden-variety exhaustion; the fatigue was exquisite.
And I was young then.
I’m not claiming that my work schedule was unique; far from it. Some of you parents reading this have an even tougher schedule and/or more demanding profession than I ever did, and as you know, it is not only the physical demands of a schedule like this that takes a toll.
It is often not without an overactive conscience that we leave home early every morning and arrive late every night. And the popularity of the maxim, “it is not quantity, but quality time that matters to children,” doesn’t help.
Of course, like many clichés, this is not necessarily a binary question—in the great debate between the quality and quantity, its worth observing that many boys and girls in America experience neither quality nor quantity time with parents.
Looking back over 23 years of parenting, what I can tell is that there will be periods of your life in which quantity is not a feasible option. Remember that while God often expects the difficult from you, He never expects the impossible.
While He always expects love, it is a stark reality of a fallen world that though love always means union, it does not always mean presence; in fact, it may dictate absence. In our role as parents, love demands providing materially for our families—quite often outside the home.
Sometimes, providing for our family means being really, really tired. And that’s OK. Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, motivator, and devout Catholic, once expressed:
“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle…victorious.”
As you’re finally travelling back home, consider Coach Lombardi’s words. You haven’t just worked a full day; you have worked your heart out in the cause of your family. There is a proper pride you should take in that reality. Consider also that maybe exhaustion helps us in some way.
Maybe exhaustion grants us an opportunity to answer questions otherwise left unasked, like: what is important to you, who you love, who you are.
Though the query exhibits both faulty metaphysics along with an intentional ignorance of Zen, the real question is: What do you have when you have nothing left?
Children notice how you answer that question.
Give your children a little credit—your sons and daughters probably do understand that you have to work 40 or 60 or 80 or more hours a week.
In my experience, it is not our work time, but our free time that our families notice; they notice what we are doing in the time that does not need to be spent at work. Maximize the quality of those times—of those moments.
If you’re working ridiculous hours, here’s a tip when you get home, bring all of yourself home.
As you’re pulling in your driveway, say a quick prayer giving your concerns, anxieties, and worries to God for the night. Time for you to be a parent. Trust me, that flight up the stairs is a lot easier without a briefcase, and not just physically.
Try to be an energetic, happy, and present parent. If you have to fake it, then fake it until you make it.
Enjoy these moments. Be home. Enjoy the company of your family, and let them enjoy the company of you.
As the song says, “Laugh a little, cry a little, until the clouds roll by a little.”
And don’t forget to pray a little, too.