“Write every day down.” – Jason Upton
I always thought I would be a rock star of a parent. I was going to be fun but hardworking; always attentive but not overbearing. I was going to be approachable but also strong; open-minded but firm in my deeply held convictions. I was full of opinions on how that all ought to be done, well, before I had kids anyway. I have significantly fewer parenting opinions these days. Turns out, I am like an average parent, doing my best on most days, and doing my mediumest on some others. I seldom bring my flat out worst, but those days happen too. Parents need lots of grace. Everyone does.
I am amazed by those who have some serious parenting stuff figured out though. There are some incredible parents out there! Those with parenting blogs, books and Insta influencing sort of parenting ninja skill accounts. These folk are mega parents, and when I hear or see what they do with their kids every day, I am 60% ashamed and about 75% certain that I am not going to try it. It looks like, well, a lot, if I am honest.
Turns out, most days of the parenting journey (for us) seem to be pretty average, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t matter. They matter a great deal.
Every single day matters when shaping the life of a human, even the average ones, maybe especially the average ones.
Days stack into weeks, and months, and years, and those years, collected through all of those individually average days form the early chapters of stories which are chronicled in the form of actual lives. Our kids become formed and functioning people, with early chapters that set trajectories and shaped directions. The years that we have them in our care can be built into strong platforms from which they can launch, or they can be stacked burdens from under which their wearied souls will need to crawl. All from the accumulation of our average days.
Average days are the molecules that structure actual lives. Every one of them matters. I have written about the tremendous burden and potential of this parental responsibility elsewhere. It is something that I think about often, and when I am tempted to compare my parenting to those book/blog writing, Insta awesome families, the weight can feel pretty crushing. A season of working from home while social distancing and home schooling has amplified this significantly.
All that said, I have looked for really simple daily tools that I can use to engage my kids and to create an open community of shared vulnerability and love in the time that I have with them. There will need to be lots of love because we will make lots of mistakes. Every family does. I just don’t want to be a family that hides ours, and allows them to fester into decades of bitterness, given the opportunity to grow in the rancid greenhouse of keeping up appearances.
Every day matters, and so we have a few keystone daily things we try to do with our kids. We pray, we read, we laugh, we also unfortunately often sit in the same room on a variety of individual tech devices. One thing we introduced at our dinner table a while ago has unlocked so much for us though. It is almost embarrassing in its simplicity, but perhaps its simplicity is part of what makes it so effective and repeatable.
Every night at the dinner table, each one of us has to answer two questions.
- What was your favorite part of the day?
- What was your toughest part of the day?
That’s it. So simple, but my kids love it. For the first few days I had to model it and get everyone else to participate. Now, my kids lead the charge. Our five year old daughter won’t let us forget it. She usually starts the questions, even if I forget.
Here is why I think it has proven helpful to us.
- It means that everyone at the table gets the chance to speak and the resultant responsibility to speak thoughtfully. The same is true for everyone’s chance and responsibility to listen. All too often, my desire would be to zone out at the dinner table after a long day. This forces me (and us) to lean in, to listen, and to share what we are thinking as an act of simple love.
- It reveals patterns in our personalities in terms of the things that we enjoy and the things that we find difficult. It is fascinating to me what my kids describe as the toughest parts of their day. I need to listen in these moments. They are letting me in to fears, insecurities, doubts and worries; but also to joys, delights, hopes and aspirations.
- It invites vulnerability. My kids have heard me say, “My toughest part of the day was the disappointment I felt when I lost my temper/didn’t keep my promise/got criticized at work/heard that my friend died.” I want my kids to hear my struggles and my triumphs from me. They are going to observe them anyway, I might as well invite them in. This is tough to do, but to share your failings openly only to hear your kids say, “that’s okay dad, you can try your best tomorrow” is one of the greatest delights of my life.
- It shows that this life is a marvelous mix of joy and sadness, goodness and wickedness, potential and danger. The world is complicated. We are hoping our kids will revel in the mystery of that complication and will emerge as hopeful realists ready to celebrate the world’s good and willing to lament the world’s bad. There is so much freedom available to us in our experience of the world when we don’t expect it to be always good, or always bad. It can, and usually is, both … even on the same day.
- It marks every day and puts signposts on the road of the early chapters of their life. It gives us a chance to not let days blur, but to stop and acknowledge that we are being formed and shaped with every day that passes and the experiences that each one contains. I love the song from Jason Upton called, “Write Every Day Down.” This is, in essence, what we are trying to do. To capture it, learn from it, put a mile marker next to it, so that we can see how far we have come.
- It generates gratefulness. We press our kids to celebrate one awesome thing about their life every day. Every day has its blessings and stopping to mark them daily helps us to remember that. Even our toughest days have our favorite parts, our green shoots of grace.
- It makes the need for and the availability of grace a daily anchor. The best parts of our day are evidences of God’s abundant grace to us. The toughest parts of our days are reminders of our desperate need for yet more grace. They are little stones in the shoes of sojourners forcing us to stop and ask for help. I don’t want our dinner table to just be a place where we say grace, I want it to be a place where we give it, and need it, and live it, and celebrate it.
I am an average parent stacking up lots and lots of average days that are the shaping years of my kids lives. Sue and I want to at least interrupt those days with markers of God’s provision, guidance and grace. Believe it or not, these two simple little questions, asked every day, have helped us to place plenty of those markers.
Every day matters. Record every one with grace.