by Steve Watters
It’s too bad the primary context for “family planning” is on spacing or avoiding children altogether, because family planning is an important responsibility for parents — especially at the beginning of a new year.
As we’re encouraged to plan the year ahead for our work, spiritual disciplines, and ministry, health, budget and investments, home and vehicle care, and so forth, we can overlook the importance of family planning — of stopping to consider family priorities within our busy lives. As a result, we often give much thought and energy to our various new year plans while leaving our family on autopilot — when they most need our thoughtful and engaged leadership.
Candice and I just finished a time of planning for the year ahead up at a cottage beside a frozen lake in Michigan. We talked through priorities for the year ahead in the categories mentioned above, but some of our richest conversation related to our children. After spending much of the last season in prayer and working through Scripture and studies on biblical parenting, we considered each child’s development in body, mind, and spirit and anticipated specific needs and opportunities on the horizon for each child.
For our 14-year-old son and almost 12-year-old daughter, we recognize that the major priority is preparing for baptism and church membership. For our 5- and 7-year-old sons, we recognize specific discipline and discipleship needs that are pressing for their age and development level — especially in resolving conflict. Additionally, we discussed with our children goals for reading, physical development, and growth in spiritual disciplines.
A highlight for our kids was planning out our big trips for the year and then brainstorming leads for outings and activities to keep in mind for open weekends, holidays and school breaks. In the four years that we’ve been including our kids in our annual planning time, we’ve seen steady progress in their engagement with the process as well as in their enjoyment of the payoff that comes from planning and goal-setting.
Our planning time generated some great insights and leads for the year ahead, but we know the real work starts now as we head back to our normal routine and try to incorporate our new goals and priorities. It’s for that reason that we’ve given our primary attention over the years to managing our family routine — seeking to build regular time into our routine for discipleship, exercise, reading, relationship building, game time, and more. We know that routines are powerful and that they provide the simplest means to keep us committed to regularly living out our family plans.
Looking back over the past few years, we see some of the best fruit in our children’s lives growing from daddy date nights, Friday breakfast discipleship time, weekend game nights, family reading nights, dinner time devotions, and other routines. Each of these routines required persistence to get going — that’s true of anything that’s fighting against existing inertia — but now the inertia of these routines is working for us and providing our best vehicle for regularly living out our family plan.
Ultimately, we submit our plans in humility to God and pray for the Spirit’s wisdom and strength to guide us. We recognize, however, that our family planning is a primary way we steward the responsibility God has given us to discipline and disciple our children. We hope this context for what we’ve experienced in our family is helpful for you as you consider your plans for the year ahead and the responsibility God has given you for your children as they add yet another birthday and grow one year closer to independent lives beyond your home.
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