Being a pastor on salary with no contained work hours, I have always struggled with finding the balance between church and home.  There are always 100 legitimate spiritual needs out there that I could be–and perhaps should be– attending to.  I’m around a lot of teenagers and their parents, many who are lonely, lost, confused, hurting, neglected, needing encouragement, needing cheerleading, needing something.

So how do I find the balance so that in my feeble attempts to meet the needs of others my own kids don’t end up lonely, lost, confused, hurting, neglected etc. ?

While I don’t at all claim to have properly figured out the perfect balance, one thing that has helped us immensely is something Cindy and I started doing when the children were small.  We decided that I would take each of the girls out on a “Daddy Date” at least once a month.   I will say that it’s been one of our best parenting decisions.

I tell my youth sponsors that their proximity to the teenagers will have a direct bearing on their impact.  The same is true with these Daddy Dates, and gets us face to face with our kids and allows opportunity for connection to occur.  It’s during these times that everything else gets set aside and I can focus all my attention and love on my kids.  I remember a phrase I’ve always loved, “Quality Time is an accident that happens during Quantity Time.”  I’ve sure found that to be true.

To foster these Daddy Dates, we started budgeting $20 cash [for each of the girls] in envelopes at the beginning of each month for us to use.  The $20 a month does a couple of things:  It frees us up to do fun things like dinner and a movie, or miniature golf or bowling.  It also provides a gauge to see if we’re skipping our dates:   if the money is accumulating, then it’s obvious I’ve been a negligent dad recently.  And it’s a way to make up for my negligence–if we realize we’ve skipped a month, we now have $40 to spend or once in a great while $60.  It’s also a way to ensure that I treat both girls fairly, since each one has the same amount of resources to use.

The girls and I reminisced recently and here are some of our favorite Daddy Dates from over the years…

Taking them as 4-year-olds to Wal-Mart and letting them push the “kid cart” around the store, wherever they wanted to go– for 2 hours!  Visiting the lobsters, getting a free cookie, cruising the toy dept, always being sure to avoid the lingere dept, “Gross!”

With 6 year old Lexi, spending $10 of the dollars at Chuck-E-Cheeses on Ski Ball, cashing out the earned tickets for a cheap trinket, then driving straight to Wal-Mart and spending the remaining $10 on whatever she wanted–she chose a really nice stuffed animal.  (By the way, that was our last time ever visiting Chuck-E-Cheese’s).

Using our $20 to buy activities:  kites, interactive games, model rockets, puzzles, etc.

Playing tag in the main aisle of Lindale mall with 8 year old Lexi, trying to only hop on the dark tiles, until we got to Victoria’s Secret, whereby Lexi ran over to the window threw up her arms in front of the display and yelled loudly, “Don’t look over here, Daddy.”    She knew my eyes were to be Cindy’s only!  Priceless!

Reading the Narnia books with Lexi at Coffee Smiths.

Catching the midnight shows with Brenda for all three Lord of the Rings movies.

One day Brenda and I randomly bought several sets of little plastic green army guys and made an entire battlefield on our dining room table, with mountains and valleys, just to see Cindy and Lexi’s faces when they came home that night.

Going out to a restaurant (which our family rarely does, except for dates).

Renting a clean movie and fixing microwave popcorn.

So as you can see, I’ve been a big advocate of Daddy Dates.  But over the past week, I’ve decided that it’s time for a change and so I talked to Cindy about it.   So last night, I called a family meeting and made a proclamation to our family that it’s time for a change in the whole “dating” arena.  The girls sat wondering what it would be.  My presentation went something like this:

“Your mom and I have concluded that Daddy Dates are no longer sufficient.  We need to make a change.   So starting soon, we’re going to implement a new strategy into our family.  It’s called…Sibling Dates.   Now that Brenda is about to get her license, your mom and I have decided that it’s time to add another “dating” envelope:  for the two of you kids.  You’ll get $20 a month that we want you to spend together.  We want to encourage you to grow in your enjoyment of one another.”

So that’s our plan.  The girls thought it was a good idea!  It’s going to cost us $240 a year, but it seems to me to be a small price to pay for what I know will be great relational returns.  It’ll be a lot of bang for the buck!

(Incidentally, Cindy and I have been doing weekly Couple Dates long before we had kids.  That’s been another huge blessing to our marriage and family, but that’s the subject of another post.)

[Follow-up to this post.  Our “Sibling Date” concept worked amazingly well!   Our girls were not especially close prior to this time but looking back ten years later, we can point to this new practice as having made a turning point in their relationship, bringing them closer together.]