“You need to date your kids.” The words just hung there. I was new to Tampa, with not a lot of “discretionary income” and my kids were 5, 6 and 7 at the time. “Why would I do that…they are so little?” He smiled and said, “You will get to talk to them and hear what is going on in their lives.” I said, “They are so young, not much is happening in their lives. And where do you take a kid on a date?” He smiled again, this time a little more smugly, “You need to date your kids.”
I took the challenge. Once a month, I would take one of our children out to Burger King. I would order them a Happy Meal and hamburger for me. I would eat my burger and some of their fries and ask this question, “What do you want to talk about?” Taylor would talk about her books (she loved to read) and her friends. Abby was sly – she would take any question I ask and turn it around on me. “Abby, how are you doing?” “Dad, how are you doing? “Abby, what is fun in your life right now?” “Dad, what are you doing that is fun right now?” Casey would just talk…about everything bugs, sports, Thomas the Tank engine…anything that crossed his mind, he would say it.
Can I be honest? I really didn’t want to hear about all that stuff, especially Thomas the Tank Engine when I started dating my kids. But, I really did need to hear about all of it. It was important to them at that time in their life. After a few dates, I got my bearings and began to really find out more of what was important to them. Here is the nugget. If you set an environment to talk to your kids about anything at this time of their life, then you create an environment for them to talk to you about anything later in their life. I remember when boys, music, sports, friends, God, disappointment and victories started becoming our discussion topics with the girls. Casey moved into music, dealing with CP, girls, friends, sex, marriage, etc. Because Kristin and I created a “safe place” to talk about the “little things,” our kids knew that they had a safe place to talk about the “big things.” I also remember the first time Taylor said, “Dad, here is what I think about ____.” It was the moment we moved from just answering questions to finding out what they think. This was huge! Over the years, we have had extensive talks about what they believe is true and what they are going to “own” in their lives.
I still date my kids. It has changed a lot. Once a week, I take out one of our kids or one of their spouses. We left Burger King a long time ago and moved into restaurants. (I still remember the first time one of them who shall remain nameless asked if they could order an appetizer and a soda…) I have it set in my calendar and treat it like an appointment. Unless I am out-of-town or a true crisis comes up, I am dating my kids. These days, I ask fewer questions and they usually will come with stuff on their minds to discuss. I listen a lot and am amazed how wise and insightful they already are at such a young age. In my mind, I have become a support to them instead a parent leading the way. Finally, I enjoy just hanging out with them. They all have unique personalities, giftings and eating habits (fun to watch).
I sometimes wonder what all of our lives would look like if those words were just brushed aside…”You need to date your kids.”