By: CHAP BETTIS
For 12 years, our family of six would make a 22-hour, 1,200-mile, two-day trek from New England to Alabama to see grandparents. Buying airline tickets for all of us was not in our budget. As we strapped ourselves, astronaut-like, into our beloved minivan for our 22 hours of forced confinement, the question lingered. Would we survive?
Reminiscing now, my children in their 20s would tell you we not only survived, but we thrived. They look back on that long trip and “forced fellowship” with fond memories.
When we started our trips, our highest motive was to keep the children occupied, keep ourselves sane, and arrive safely at the grandparents. Only later did I realize our trip was a unique opportunity to build family identity and togetherness.
Families are in a similar situation today. This hard shutdown of activities is forcing us into an extraordinary situation. We’re quarantined like we are sick, though we aren’t. We’re isolated from others, but together as a family.
As we approach this unusual crisis, each household has a unique opportunity to disciple our children and grow relationally stronger. Too often our families rush from activity to activity, functioning like Airbnb and Uber services. This unexpected situation gives us a chance to love our closest neighbor: our family member.
Journeying together in confinement yielded good fruit in our family years later. But it required intentionality and work. Here are six opportunities that may help guide your family.
1. We have an opportunity to grow in leading our family well.
Driving our family down to Alabama, it was vital that Sharon and I keep the right perspective. Establishing new routines in the car would challenge our patience. How would we respond to the stress?
Often we want to parent on autopilot. During this time of turbulence, we have a time to grow in patience, active encouragement, wisdom, and leadership skills. The first place we live out the gospel is in our homes. Our children are watching. Do they see us anxious, or trusting the Lord? Are they seeing peace in us?
2. We have an opportunity to teach service.
When our children were young, Sharon and I did the heavy lifting. But as the children grew older, they were called on to serve. Some could pack the car. Others could occupy the youngest. Everyone had a way to contribute.
In a similar way, we need to think of ways our children can serve. Perhaps this is the time to teach them to cook. Or maybe it’s a good time to clean out the basement. Perhaps the oldest doesn’t like playing with the younger ones. This is a perfect time to train him.
Our child-centered culture rarely asks children to serve. But Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. If we want to give our children the best, we need to give them chances to serve the family. And of course, all of us should look for opportunities to serve others in medically appropriate ways. We shouldn’t ignore the church—the household of God—during this time. Checking on neighbors, or calling those who live alone or are especially vulnerable, are just a couple ways to teach the virtue of service.
3. We have an opportunity to get to know the heart.
While you can’t have private conversations in a van, traveling together did slow me down. With Sharon driving, I could crawl into the backseat and hang out with the kids. I could look over their shoulders at the books they were reading. It forced me to enter into their world.
Similarly, this crisis can also give us quality time with each family member. Quality time happens when quantity time happens. And it looks like we have lots of quantity time coming our way in the near future. Make sure you carve out time to connect with a family member. Consider asking good questions using The Donut Date Journal. If your teen has grown distant, take some time to learn about his or her world. Serve together or learn a skill together for the purpose of connecting to the heart.
4. We have an opportunity to balance fun and learning.
There’s no doubt about it—22 hours in the car is trying for anyone, especially an energetic young child. We wanted to capture some of that time for learning in many different forms.
There was devotional time, silent reading time, singing time, read-aloud book time, audiobook time, handheld electronics time, and TV time. Yes, it took effort to prepare those resources, but offering lots of defined “times” throughout the day gave structure while providing variety.
Similarly, we can put structure in our day. We need both routine and variety; but these are not planned mindlessly. They come from goals we have for our children. Rotate through different activities with purpose. Set a time limit to keep things fresh. Use screen time sparingly and as a reward.
Our heavenly Father both teaches us and also delights in us. Joy is essential to our homes. The current crisis is a good reminder that teachers teach in loco parentis—in place of parents. And it reminds us that, as dads, we should be the chief encouragement officer in our households. In five years, will they look back on this crisis with positive thoughts? Teaching, order, routine, joy, and fun are all ingredients in that mix.
5. We have an opportunity to create family unity.
On his last night before his death, Jesus prayed for unity for his disciples. By our love, he said, all men will know we are his disciples. On our long trips, I gradually came to realize that this forced closeness was an opportunity to bend the natural selfishness of each child toward the greater good of the family.
Yes, this new isolation could easily put a strain on family relationships. What an opportunity, though, to cast a vision for family unity. Don’t let screens continue isolating individual family members during this time. Do what you need to do to detox your teen from her device in order to connect with and love the whole family.
6. We tried to be sensitive to the morale of the troops.
The trip back was always the hardest! So was the end of each day. What treats could we save for the time when they were most down? We brought out the screens and the candy necklaces for when they—and we—were at our limits.
Though our children can handle more than we think, they do have their limits. A good leader takes responsibility for the morale of his sheep. Even as he was facing the cross, Jesus thoughtfully prepared his disciples for the coming shock.
Reconnecting in Rough Days
There’s no doubt these will be rough days. Yet we also have a unique opportunity to reconnect, rediscover, and rejoice in the family the Lord has given us.
Good leadership is vital to any group of people. And that includes our family.