This is how to make the days count with kids

This week, Team Phenix hits a new watermark; by Friday there are less than 3,000 days before our daughter goes to college.


That's 428 weeks, or more importantly, 428 weekends. 107 months 8 years.

Approximately.  But who's counting?  We are!

Oh yes, we're counting.  We believe when you count the days, you're more likely to make the days count.

We've installed the apps and numbered every spring break, summer break, and "back to school" activity (8 for our daughter/10 for our son).  We are counting how many times they'll want to celebrate Halloween with the family (3/5), how many years they'll still decorate Valentine's boxes (1/3) and how many days we'll walk them to the bus stop (180/540).

In the same way it's unwise to live with credit card debt, it's equally unwise to ignore the limits on time.  When an app on your phone ticks away the days to an event as momentous as college,  it's easier to pay attention.  Paying attention is, after all, half of the battle.

After that, however, what practical steps are there for making the days count?

We take a page from the "business" side of our brains.  In fact, Billy and I discuss managing the time with our kids like managing our money (hang with me here!); we set goals, budget activities, track our progress, and flex and adjust as situations require.

After all, the only way to set a financial budget is to know how much money you have on hand.  Similarly, the only way to make the most of your years with your children / teenagers is be crystal clear on how much time you have left.  For us, we picked a "distant" marker, when both of our worlds radically shift as they shove off to college.  Though you may feels like there's plenty of time left,  most parents of college-bound students say, "Weren't you a baby just yesterday?"

It will go faster than you think.  Guaranteed.

Goal Setting

We work to have a clear vision for how we want our family to operate. We struggle (and often fail) to reach our goals, but the process brings clarity on where we want to be.   Our ideal is has three factors, we want to:

  1. Be together on weekends
  2. Eat together most nights, and
  3. Have enough rest that we're not grumpy.

When those three things happen, our family dynamics work.  Those are the elements for our ideal (again, we miss this, but that's our encouragement to keep trying!) We also notice that all three of those goals are dependent on a healthy supply of time together...and that time will slip through our fingers if we don't keep an eye on it.

Can you describe YOUR family's ideal? Are you all on the same page?

Budgeting Activities

When we think about budgeting activities, we ask ourselves one question, "Does this activity help or hurt us from reaching our family goal?"  This is a a VERY tough question and a difficult criteria for us to work through.

For me, spending an extra day on the road is often appealing (especially if I'm in CA), but I have to decide whether the decision works for this season of life or whether I need to hurry home. In a similar way, as a pastor, my husband has a demanding job where more people want more of his time than he can manage, so he has to say "no" more often than "yes."

We apply the same filter to our kids activities. Will sports involvement kill family dinner time? If so, we usually say no. Is the friend's birthday party scheduled for our only time together? Pass. Do the neighborhood kids still want to play when we need some family time? Sorry, time to go home.

Some days it seems we say no to activities and events outside of our family more often than yes. Still, we work to remember why.  Extra-curricular activity is EXTRA; which means it's optional and should be added as an accessory, not as a driver.   If  the activity doesn't help the goals (or actually hinders them), it has to take a backseat.

Are they hard conversations?  Yes.

But, are they important decisions? Absolutely.

We still feel like our kids get plenty of exposure to outside relationships, life-shaping experiences, and fun activities, but it just isn't at the expense of our family.

Our goal is to have a under-committed calendar so we can say yes spontaneously (and joyfully) when an opportunity to be together exists.  If you know us, you know our yes is more likely to happen last minute than upfront.

Think of it as paying for activities in CASH rather than CREDIT!

Tracking Progress

Goal setting and budgeting activities aren't enough unless you routinely ask, "Are our tactics working?"  You HAVE to evaluate your progress.  For us, we have three simple steps:

  1. Calendar Check - Are we happy with the space and activities on our calendar?  What needs to come in and what needs go out?
  2. Date Nights- Margin is one of our topics on awkward date nights.
  3. Ask the kids - We routinely ask the kids if they feel like they have enough time with us.  Be ready for honest feedback!

Do you know if your tactics are working?

Flex & Adjust

Finally, you have to realize the seasonality of time and make adjustments often.  I can confidently say our formula won't work for you because just when we get a "formula" down for us, something changes and our formula doesn't work any more.  Life happens and our schedules aren't there to boss us around; we boss schedules around! The goal isn't to find a system and rigidly stick with it, but to develop principles for your decisions.

The goal is to intentionally and wisely invest your time.  You don't mindlessly give away large piles of money.  Why would you mindlessly give away buckets of family time?

I have a wise friend who reflects on her season as a mom with small children by saying, " The days are long, but the years are quick." Be strategic in setting your goals, ruthless in budgeting activities, diligent in tracking your progress, and flexible along the path!

Remember... when you count the days, you're more likely to make the days count.

Start counting and make them count!