The Gift Children Need Most
It’s one that keeps giving back in return.

It’s summertime and the children are out of school. You’ve made your travel arrangements and organized the itinerary. Bags are packed. The point of departure has arrived.

But wait! Before you leave, project forward three months. It’s early September and the children are now back in school. What is it, do you suppose, that your children will cherish most about their summer vacation? The answer might surprise you.

For the past two summers, I’ve spent three months living in Jerusalem with my wife and two children. During the day, my work hours consisted of writing, teaching and research. At night and on the weekends, as you might expect given the location, my wife and I scheduled frequent family excursions—many of them valuable learning experiences for us and the kids.

The ones that stand out in my mind are Yad Vashem, the Bible Lands Museum, the Garden Tomb, Tel Dan, the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, the Temple Mount, the City of David and our hike through Petra.

For the kids, two of the more memorable highlights were family day at the beach in Netanya and more family fun at a water park in Tiberius. No surprise there.

But I was surprised by something my 6-year-old son said last year as we were preparing to leave for Jerusalem the second time.

“Dad,” he asked, “when are we going on our date?”

“Our date?”

“Yeah, like the one we had last year in Jerusalem,” he reminded me.

Of all the activities we had enjoyed together as a family the previous summer, our “date” was the one he asked to do again. It consisted of falafel for two, a 40-minute bus ride to the Jerusalem mall, an arts-and-crafts project, a few games at the arcade, an animated film, and the return trip home on bus 38.

My son surely learned more during the visit to Bible Lands Museum. His strength and endurance was tested more severely during our hike to the Monastery at Petra. But as far as memorable experiences go, for a 6-year-old boy, five uninterrupted hours with dad ranks right at the top of the list.

That’s because children need to spend time with their parents—sometimes one-on-one time alone with Dad or Mom. For parents, time and attention are the most precious gifts you can give to your children.

God First Loved Us

Over the last half-century, the amount of time parents spend interacting with children has fallen to embarrassingly low levels. A few years ago, a time-management study in Britain found that adults spent most of their time sleeping, working and watching television (July 19, 2006). Reading and spending time with children, on the other hand, were at the bottom of the to-do list. Other studies have found that the amount of time fathers devote to their children has decreased by 10 to 20 hours per week over the past two generations.

And we wonder why so many of our children are insecure, lonely, unhealthy, emotionally immature, unruly, disrespectful to their elders and rebellious toward authority.

“Most fathers and mothers—especially fathers,” Leslie Hohman wrote in a book we often cite here at Herbert W. Armstrong College, “do not devote many hours enthusiastically to their daughters and sons after the first novelty of babyhood is past. They listen to the troubles of middle childhood when they have to, and occasionally come swooping off their perches for sudden reprimands. By the time children are old enough to be really interesting as companions to the average parent, it is too late. The children have been forced to establish other interests, pleasures and affection relations” (As the Twig Is Bent; emphasis added throughout).

It’s too easy to assume that we’ll be there for them when they are older—playing catch with him in the yard, having open dialogue with her about struggles at school, enjoying a game of Monopoly on family night and so on. But if we don’t invest quality time in their lives when they are young—frolicking on the floor with them at babyhood, playing tag in the yard as toddlers, reading to them before they can do it themselves, building model airplanes together, playing with blocks or Legos, flying kites, enjoying family outings together, and occasionally setting aside more focused, one-on-one time with each child—we may lose them before they reach adolescence.

On the spiritual level, the Bible says God’s children love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). Describing His relationship with the children of Israel, Deuteronomy 32 says that God found them in a desert wilderness alone and helpless. He then delivered them from captivity, protected them from danger, instructed them in all His ways and judgments, made them ride upon the high places of the Earth and kept them as the “apple of his eye.”

It must work the same way on the physical level. In the eyes of his parents, a child should be made to feel like the most important person in the world, Ross Campbell explained in How to Really Love Your Children: “Few children feel this but oh, the difference it makes in that small one when he knows he is special. Only focused attention can give him that realization and knowledge. It is so vital in a child’s development of self-esteem. And it profoundly affects a child’s ability to relate to and love others.”

Children learn the meaning of love from parents who first take the time to express unselfish, outgoing concern and love for their children. This, of course, takes an abundance of time and sacrifice. And unless we are willing to invest the time and effort it takes to raise children properly, we shouldn’t have children.

Think for a moment about the memories and experiences you cherish most from your childhood. If you come from a good family background, it’s probably the road trips, campouts, game nights and the occasional alone time you spent with Dad or Mom.

This summer, love your children first by building those same unforgettable experiences and life lessons into their upbringing. Spend time working and playing with your children. Enjoy sports and exercise as a family. Create and build things together. Open lines of communication. Talk to them. Make mealtime family time. Read and study more together. Plan a special evening activity at home with the family once a week. Have a 20-minute Bible study with the kids two or three nights a week. Pray together before bedtime. And every once in a while, set aside special time to spend alone with each child.

Of course, the bigger the family, the more challenging it is to fit “dates” into the schedule. But if you make time for it, you will reap a fruitful harvest in return.

In the case of my family, on the night I went out with my son, my wife planned a special evening at home with our daughter. Later that night, when we all came back together, both children excitedly summarized the events of their evenings, both of them trying to convince the other that theirs was just a bit more special.

“Daddy,” my daughter asked later that night while I was tucking her in, “when are we going on our date?”

We had our time alone two weeks later. During the date with my daughter, while waiting for the bus, we decided to visit a bead shop nearby. For about 20 minutes, we walked around admiring the beads, chains, necklaces and bracelets—something I would have never done on my own. But it meant a lot to her. And now, in looking back on the many memorable experiences I’ve had with my daughter over the years, roaming the aisles of that bead shop ranks pretty high on my list too.