When my oldest son, Caleb, was only a few years old, we moved to Texas. One Sunday, my wife Terri and I were visiting a new church. As we made the drive, she began to tell Caleb what he might expect at a new church, a new Sunday School class and new kids he might meet. I remember being impressed by the way she was preparing him for a new encounter. Caleb is now twenty years old, and from that day until now, Terri has watched for those new encounters. Somewhere along the way I began doing the same. I realized the value of being prepared and bringing my perspective as a dad as I partnered with Terri in preparing our kids for so many "first times." One of the greatest tools I learned came many years ago while reading a book by Stephen Arterburn called Preparing Your Son for Every Man's Battle. In the book, he wrote a chapter called "Doing Book." To “Do book” you buy two of copies of a book, one for yourself and one for your child. Then you pick a time and read them together, sitting silently in the same room. He suggested that you start and end at the same place, keep an eye on them for when they've had enough, then stop and engage them in conversation. As a way to facilitate conversation, he suggested as the parent you may want to write notes in the margins of any memories rekindled by what you read.
After reading his book, I bought two copies of Preparing for Adolescence written by James Dobson. Over the next few months, I began reading it with Caleb, who was just starting middle school. The book begins with simply talking about the changes of the mind, how the awareness level is changing and the questions of "am I weird?", "am I good enough?", "does everybody notice I’m changing and think I'm odd?" and ends with how God designed our bodies and with questions from real kids. Some of my greatest discoveries of Caleb and opportunities to help him came through reading together, which opened the door to deeper conversations. He opened up to me in ways he never would have and I was able to help him navigate through that time of his life knowing he wasn't odd, that he had a safe place to always discuss what was on his mind, and he could find tools for dealing with the issues in his life. Our intentional book time created the opportunity to invite an expert on a hard topic, with a Christian world-view, to open the conversation and diffuse the awkwardness my child might have been feeling. It was a springboard for regular conversations. In fact, it had such an impact in Caleb's life that at age 20 he has asked me to "Do book" with him and his soon to be fiancée via Skype, and we're on our second book.
The best thing you can do for your child at any age, but especially during the time of transition from child to adult, is be engaged in their life. It is never too late to take the opportunity to build a relationship. Before we had children, I observed my brother-in-law being very intentional with the bedtime routine with his children. He would take time every night to read and to pray with his boys before they went to bed. I decided that I would do the same with my kids and, for the most part, I have succeeded in doing that. As small kids, it was kids' books, as they hit double digits, it's the Bible, or excerpts from books followed by a brief discussion and prayer. This, along with family dinners, allowed and still allows opportunity for discussion and provides a safe space and sanctuary for my kids. I like to think that no matter what goes on outside the home, they know they have a safe place where they are loved and accepted. This gives them strength to not just get through life, but be all they can be. Some of these conversations will feel awkward, but if you want influence in the way they think about themselves and the world around them, you have to create a space to have regular, real conversations with them. Don’t leave these topics only for their friends.
Although Caleb will be leaving for Norway this Fall joining Youth With A Mission (YWAM), I still have my daughter in her senior year and another son starting 7th grade. Terri and I still continue to discover and pray almost every night with them. The cool thing is now it's such a way of life that without saying anything, we find ourselves naturally coming together to close out the day. Whether it’s reading a book together, sharing around the table, reading and praying at bedtime, the goal is to be available. Be consistent. Open conversations. Spend time talking about real life issues. You never know what you'll discover doing life with your kids, but know this, if you'll do life with them, you will discover something new every day.
Michael Webb is a pilot who lives for adventure, loves raising his three kids with his wife of 25 years, and chases after God daily. A huge advocate of families and marriages, he has been involved in leading father-son retreats and is currently "doing book" with the high school students from NCC, Gainesville Uprising.