As my youngest son entered kindergarten, the realization hit me that I was going to miss out on a lot. At the time, I was working a second shift job that provided in great ways for my family’s needs. I remember weeping (like the really ugly kind of crying) when I realized the last day of summer was over because I knew it meant our freedom was gone. My family would be at home while I was at work. I’d be at home while my sons were at school.
Growing up, my dad was absent, not just kind of distant, like really absent. He had a separate family he lived with. As I grew up, I knew I wanted to become the best father possible. I wanted to be at all of my sons’ sporting events and very involved in their lives. I wanted to my own version of Dr. Cliff Huxtable. (What a tragedy the reality of his actions and lifestyle have turned out to be years later). Yes, I watched on The Cosby Show. I expected to be that kind of a dad when I became a father. Well, this just wasn’t the case. I felt so ashamed of it. Because of my schedule, Heather, my amazing wife, functioned as a single mom. That piled on the shame, but our bills were paid. We bought a house, purchased new cars and paid off debt. That part was great, but our family unit was not as strong as it could be"....
Working a second shift job, I had to find creative ways to make sure I was a part of their lives. I would have lunch with our sons at school. On Fridays, I would stop by McDonald's and pick up ice cream and apple pies and wake my boys up and we’d watch TV and eat our desserts. It just felt like it wasn’t enough. I missed out on plenty of soccer games, after-school fun and school events themselves.
So, I made a decision that I was going to do whatever it took to get on 1st shift. It finally happened in 2011. I accepted a position to transfer within the same company in a different department on 1st shift. I didn’t care about its reputation or the reputation of the people I was going to work with. I just knew that for my family’s sake I needed to be on 1st shift.
Later that fall, I started my new position with my schedule. It felt like a whole new life. Heather and I actually got to spend time with our boys as a family. We got our family time and our bills were paid for. I would show up to dinner with my cell phone and answer text messages and phone calls during dinner responding to work-related issues. I would actually be present, but not really there in person.
Heather and I had a come to Jesus conversation shortly after that. I realized how much I was stealing from my family with that kind of lifestyle. I wanted and still want my sons to succeed in life. I want them to enjoy the life they live. I want them to really have a great life that will set them up for success in their adulthood years.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this desire. I think all parents want similar things for their kids. So I had to do some soul-searching and make the decision I was going to do whatever it took to succeed in that desire. I was amazed at what I found. This discovery was shockingly simple, almost too good to be true. I didn’t believe it at first but after the research was explained, I couldn't deny it. So I decided to try it myself.
The one important decision we made was to make our dinner time the most important hour possible. We came up with The Ulrich Family Dinner Rules. We still live by these rules years later.
Parents, this might have been one of the most important decisions I made as a father. Taking time to work on how we lead our families is crucial. It’s easy to allow the days to turn into weeks and the weeks to turn into years. Before we know it our kids are graduating from high school and we have missed some opportunities to set them up for success.
Studies have shown that the best way parents can set up their kids for success had little to do with the school they attend or what sports they participate in. The number one factor according to several studies is eating meals together on a regular basis around the family dinner table.
A Google search will show you the results for yourself. Click here for the results of "studies about eating a meal together as a family and success"
In this blog mini-series, we are going to lay out our suggested strategy for parents to set up their children for success by making the decision to make their own dinner time the most important part of their week.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret, you’re family is crazy. You know that everyone knows that. The reality is simple every family, workplace, school, organization of any kind has its own version of crazy. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but once we realize it and can acknowledge it we can move forward with life.
The challenge for leaders, parents, employers is to manage their own version of crazy to achieve the preferred outcomes. In the previous episode of this mini-series, we discussed the most important decision parents can make to set their children up for success. Realizing, protecting and cultivating the most important hour of the day. The Family Meal. Our dinner times are crucial to the success of our children. So the question becomes how do you manage your version of crazy to achieve the preferred outcomes.
Below are The Ulrich Dinner Rules.
Ulrich Dinner Rules:
1. At least 4 times a week we will eat
2. No technology allowed. That includes answering
phone calls or text messages.
3. Respect will be displayed. If disrespect is
displayed, consequences will occur.
4. We will answer the following questions:
What made you mad today?
What made you sad today?
What made your glad today?
5. No freeloaders! Clean up after yourself.
Everyone will participate in dinnertime.
Two people will set the table and the other
two people will clean up.
6. All disputes should be taken care of prior
to dinnertime. Our table is not a war zone.
Parents, I can’t urge you enough to set these habits in place. There are only 936 weeks from when your sweet innocent baby is born until she graduates high school. Make your weeks’ count.
As you create your own list of family rules, keep these in mind:
Connect by disconnecting.
Connect by rewinding
Connect by building up.
We’ll unpack each of these in our next installment of this miniseries.
Photo by Jaco Pretorius on Unsplash
Look around next time you go out to eat. What do you notice? There’s a TV on and almost everyone has a cell phone in their hands. Even the baby sitting at the table next to you has a tablet of some sort entertaining her. People are so connected to their devices that we’ve lost the art of connecting with people on a personal level.
My family is no different. This is a constant struggle for us. I find myself waiting to hear if any notifications go off. Study after study has shown this is a real issue for our generations.
It’s one thing to say that we want to set our children up for success. It’s a completely different thing to actually create a plan to accomplish that reality. I realize that everyone has a different idea of what success is. I think we all can agree that success doesn’t just happen. If it did, every February everyone would have the ideal body size and type, everyone’s bank accounts would be in great condition and you’d have that dream job. No one hopes to get through life having contributed very little or not leave a legacy.
We should recognize the responsibility and gift it is to raise our children. Out of every human being possible, God chose you to be the parents of your children. Don’t miss the gravity and importance of that statement. God chose you! Our greatest contribution in life might just be the children we raise.
The goal of raising our children so they are set up for success isn’t one that we should just glaze over either. A goal worth setting is one that we should be willing to give the attention and intentionality it deserves. Translation, there’s going to be work involved in this process. There are going to be habits formed and habits broken that are going to be uncomfortable, but we must keep the end goal in mind. Study after study points to eating a meal together around the dinner table is the number one factor in the success of any child.
Learn the art of disconnecting in order to truly connect.
This means no devices at the dinner table. The TV is off, no toys and no distractions. There’s nothing for individuals to hide behind in order to connect. In the Ulrich household, everyone (guests included) surrender their devices during this time. If a guest isn’t willing to surrender, it might result in a game of Cell Phone Roulette. What is Cell Phone Roulette you may ask?The person with the cell phone gives it to the person to their left and the person on their left opens their contact list and swipes up…. Stops on a random contact calls that contact. The person on the left then hands the phone back to the owner and has to have a phone conversation with that contact for a minimum of 60 seconds.
This reduces the distractions allowed during this time. We lie to ourselves over and over again thinking we can multitask, but in reality, we can’t. There is no such thing as multitasking. See Greg McKeown's book Essentialism.
Learn the art of connecting by rewinding together.
After we’ve disconnected from our devices and started to connect, there are some questions we should ask each other. We answer these three questions almost every night:
What made you glad today?
What made you sad today?
What made you mad today?
You can come up with your own questions to ask and answer. The main point is that we spend time rewinding our days. We don’t simply coast through the days and consume food, but we intentionally connect and engage each other. You’ll be shocked at how much your children want to know how you as their parent and what went on during your day. There’s no need to give them all the details. Simply answering those questions gives them a glimpse into adulting.
Learn the art of building each other up.
This is the most difficult one to learn and live out. It’s easy for me to correct and guide. It’s not natural to build and encourage others up. Our table is a safe place for our family. We intentionally work to make it that kind of place. There are several times that Heather looks at me and lovingly corrects me when I’m aggravating embittering our sons. There’s a fine line of overcorrecting. It’s easy to cross it too. Learn the art of encouraging each other.
I believe with everything in me that when we give our families the intention and attention they deserve, we’ll leave a lasting impact on the world. Our legacy will outlast most of our accomplishments, raises we receive at work or certificates that hang in our offices. Our greatest contribution in life might just be the children we raise.
If you’ve stuck with us this far into the miniseries, I’m so glad. If you are jumping in right at the end, feel free to go back to the previous posts. Up to this point, you might be thinking it seems simple enough, but let’s face it, some of us are living pretty crazy lives just to make this life in crazy town actually work. Some of us can barely make dinner a reality let alone be intentional about it.
So what do you do if you work a crazy work schedule? What do you do if your child is in the last years or even weeks of high school? Time is limited and so is your energy.
When my youngest son entered kindergarten, I realized my time with him was essentially gone. When he was at school, I’d be home. When I was at work, he’d be home. It was a devastating realization for me as a dad. I realized I had to change work schedules, but in the meantime, I couldn’t wait until that happened. So, I looked for creative ways to stay involved in my sons’ lives. I decided that each week I would have lunch with them at their schools. This usually meant I sat in an extremely small chair surrounded by other kids and would have to engage in conversations about legos, superheroes and farts (don’t judge, your kids do it too).
Fridays, I would come home from work, stop by a McDonald’s and pick up apple pies and other kinds of snacks. I’d wake them up and we’d watch TV while eating our snacks. In the winter, we’d get bundled up and head out to play in the snow. In the summertime, we’d go and look at the stars. Each of us has 24 hours in a day. We’ll never be able to find more time. As parents, we must intentionally create moments in time that help us connect with our children.
My oldest son just entered high school. My wife and I realize that our weeks with him are slipping away. We are coming to the final stretch with him. I’ve had to re-evaluate what creating these moments will look like. I know that these years of high school will be full of crazy sports schedules, friends, eventually awkward dates and school dances with girls. Intentionality is key when creating moments that will help us create lasting memories. I foresee "guys only" weekend camping trips and driving lessons in which I don’t lose my ever-loving mind in our future!
I’m learning that the key isn't balance. The key to success in life is to be fully present where you’re at. If you’re at work, give it 100% of your attention. If you’re at home, give your family 100% of your attention.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing our realities to the perceived realities of others we see on social media. Don’t compare your life to the filtered perfection of others. Instead, focus on intentionally creating memories your family will remember!
Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash
Just to clarify any confusion, my family is normal. In fact that imagine attached to this blog is my family. We were with some dear friends of ours at South Haven, MI posing for a picturesque family photo, when this happened. We are normal. Just this week we’ve had to break up fights between my sons. I actually had to say these words, “No you shouldn’t fart on your brother’s head…” among so many other ways of correcting our sons. I lose my temper. At times, I feel like I’m losing my mind parenting our boys.
As we wrap up this miniseries, I hope you’ll resist the temptation to fall into the comparison trap. It’s a trap. We all do it to some degree, but it’s a black hole of sinking sand that we can get lost in.
A few years ago, I had to go to the store and pick out a picture frame. I needed something simple but creative. I stood in front of the picture frames for several minutes seeking the perfect one. It hit me while I was looking through the frames, that every picture in them was the same. All of them pictured a couple with some children and a small animal of some sort. Everyone was smiling too, even the dogs! None of them seemed stressed, The siblings weren’t fighting or pulling out each other’s hair. Everything looked peaceful and serene. Strange. My family rarely appears that way. In fact, my family rarely acts that way anymore.
Maybe picture frame companies should start putting real family photos in their frames. That could be fun. Real families like these...
Most importantly, I hope that as we’ve worked through this miniseries, you’ve resisted the comparison trap. The comparison trap is everywhere. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to the filtered perfection of others we see on social media, youtube or any other platform. Behind every Instagram worthy photo are dozens of photos like what we see above.
There isn’t a perfect family. The point of the these blogs has not been to compare one family to another. The point has been to encourage you as the parent to give your family the attention and intentionality they deserve. I believe you can lead your family well and set your children up for success!
If we can ever help you to better lead your family, please don’t hesitate to reach out. At RE.THINK, we have many resources and useful tips that can set you and your family up for success. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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