I believe children mature more and are far better prepared for life when their primary places of learning life lessons are in their family and local church. By comparison, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs are tertiary learning environments, not even secondary.
I played tennis seriously from first grade until high school graduation; lots and lots and lots of tennis. I played on both my school teams and in independent travel leagues. I remember in middle school when the head coach of a well-known tennis league in Houston mapped out the plan for me to become a college athlete. I also worked part-time jobs through high school, first as a busboy at a diner and then later as a gopher at a vet clinic. Through it all, one family value remained in place: our family of five ate dinner together in the evening, and we worshipped with our church family on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Extracurricular activities and part-time jobs either accommodated this routine or we quit them altogether. Looking back now at forty years old with four children of my own, I am so thankful to the Lord my parents stuck to that family value no matter how different it made us. Extracurricular activities and part-time jobs are not irrelevant, but they nonetheless remain tertiary learning environments compared to the home and local church. Our culture wants you to believe the opposite.
I learned so much about the Lord, life, people, culture, and the world around the dinner table. I learned biblical headship watching dad interact with mom and his three children. I learned submission by watching my mom. I learned fatherhood and motherhood. I learned how different males and females are and how they should properly interact. I learned about hard work as day after day I listened to my parents recap their day. I learned selflessness as I had to sit and listen to my sisters share about their day in dramatic detail. I was discipled as my parents debriefed us on our days, helping us look at our challenges, failures, and victories from a biblical worldview. I learned the priority of marriage and family from all the times I told coaches or employees I couldn’t be present with them because of family dinner. I learned how to walk with the Lord by listening to my parents stories and realizing they were far more committed to the Lord than their own personal desires and dreams. I learned how to forgive, serve, and love. I was ingrained with commitment, convictions, and values. Apart from my local church, that dinner table was the most effective school I ever attended. Today in adulthood, many of my childhood friends have great memories of extracurricular activities and humorous stories about part-time jobs, but have little knowledge of how to build a family, the very foundation of life, according to Genesis 1:27-28.
This is why today, I follow a very similar routine with my family. I’m simply replicating what I saw in my childhood. Dinner is not for the purpose of consuming food; dinner facilitates important, quality family time. Four to five nights a week, our family eats dinner together around the table without music, TV, or iPhones. Family dinner time is closely guarded; we say no to many good things to prioritize this value. Every person shares about their day. We also discuss current events from a biblical worldview. Nicole and I hash out serious issues and decisions about our family that are age appropriate for the kids, so that they can watch and learn how to do marriage one day. Anyone can challenge anyone around the table, but the rule is nobody is allowed to yell in anger nor be disrespectful – the kids need to learn to think critically, express themselves well, and defend their personal opinions. As the family’s leader, I guide the flow – prompting people to share if necessary, mediating arguments, asking leading questions, etc. We laugh, we tease, we celebrate, we mourn, we debate, we challenge, we argue, we counsel. I learned from my father that lots of humor is essential – if the kids haven’t seen me with green beans sticking out my nose and ears or mashed potatoes on my face, I’m doing it wrong. Also, I use lots of self-deprecating humor – my kids need to see that I don’t take myself too seriously. On the rare occasion dinner is ruined, the solution is never to get upset, but instead to yell, “last one in the car gets no say in in the restaurant we are going to” and run to the car. Sometimes you have to calmly get up from the table and walk to the garage door and say, “I’m on my way to get ice cream. Whoever wants to go better get in the car.” After dinner, Nicole leaves the table and goes to the couch. The kids and I wash the dishes and clean the kitchen – the kids need to see that husbands serve their wives in the home and they need to be ingrained with appreciation for how hard mom works every day to serve our family.
Do not outsource the primary shaping of your child to activities and part-time jobs.
In parenting, I urge you to radically prioritize family time and local church time over extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. Nobody can teach your child about life like you can. As their parent, God uniquely knit you together to be the most effective life teacher your child can have in this world. Do not outsource the primary shaping of your child to activities and part-time jobs. You yourself are the chisel with which God wants to shape your child for life. They need lots of time with you and their family. Lots. The Lord says so in Deuteronomy 6:6-9.