Intentional parent. It’s a term we often hear yet perhaps not fully recognize and appreciate what it means. Of course I’m an intentional parent, we might think. I’m certainly not doing any of this accidentally.
Intentional parenting really just means having a plan, prioritizing where you put your time and energy. Those priorities then guide your day-to-day decision-making and what commitments you make.
Should we go on this trip? Should I accept that job even though it means I’ll have less time with my family? Should we buy that used van instead of a new one? Should I work out or go home and take my daughter for a run? As I face these sorts of decisions everyday, I’m always reminded of two inescapable truths: First, time is a precious resource that we never can get back. Secondly, the seemingly small day-to-day decisions we make directly shape our years and ultimately the course of our lives.
To be an intentional parent means recognizing that time with our kids is precious and limited, and that there is a long-lasting impact to how we decide to use that time.
Long days, yet the years speed by
It seems like just yesterday that I was holding my baby son to my chest, or playing with stuffed animals with my daughter. They’re now both teenagers, and we’re suddenly talking about driving and dating, marriage and sex. So I’m always asking myself: What am I doing with the precious opportunities I’ve been given to influence my kids?
That focus is the heart of intentional parenting. How are we spending our time together? What are we intentionally teaching and modeling? Are we intentionally imparting godly wisdom and providing spiritual guidance?
When Moses instructed the Israelites to teach God’s wisdom to the next generation, he recognized the importance of being deliberate: “You shall teach [Scripture] diligently to your children, and shall talk of [it] when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Thankfully, good parenting doesn’t demand perfection in these areas in the areas of guidance and discipline, but it does require us to be deliberate. So to be an intentional parenting, we must remember the following:
Intentional parenting is relational.
Life gets busy, particularly as kids get older and their lives fill with events and milestones. Look for ways to consistently connect throughout the busy seasons of school and extracurricular activities. Find opportunities to have one-on-one time with each of your children. Look for times each day to laugh, play and talk even if it is just for a few minutes. When time is especially precious, take a few moments to write individualized notes to your kids, something they can look at throughout the day to appreciate the bond they have with you. And look for the unique ways your kids seem wired to connect with you. In our home, my son and daughter seem to thrive with constant encouragement. They both look forward to hearing genuine affirmations and encouragement from me and my wife.
Intentional parenting is consistently (even persistently) attentive.
Parents today have so many things to distract them from family. When you look at the precious time you have with your kids, what really captures your attention? What are your eyes and ears and mind focused on? Would your children say you pay attention to them?
One of the best ways to intentionally demonstrate love to your kids is by just paying attention and listening to them. Sounds simple, I know, but it requires us to be deliberate in using our time with our children, to be purposeful in quieting the distractions of entertainment, news and social media.
It also requires us to be persistent with connecting with our kids, not giving up on future connections just because the present moment doesn’t meet our expectations. Intentional parents see parenting as a blessing and not a burden. They view every opportunity to influence their kids as an amazing gift.
Intentional parenting is instructional.
When is the last time you told yourself, “I really have to teach my kids how to...?” Teaching is a crucial component of intentional parenting. What traits or skills are modeling for your children? What do you want them to know for the next stage of their development?
In an intentional, relational home, kids are usually willing and eager to learn. Look for teachable moments every day, or moments to reinforce previous lessons. Then plan for special, dedicated times to work on some bigger objectives.
It’s never too early or late to start. These qualities of intentionality are exactly what Moses said parents would need in order to pass along their faith to their children.
We all have many flaws, weaknesses and imperfections, but no one else has been chosen for the job of parenting your children. No one else can do this job like you can. You are made to be intentional. Your kids will appreciate it, and they'll thrive because of it.
Danny Huerta is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed School Social Worker. He has maintained a private practice counseling families since 2004 and has written several articles in various publications. He was a contributing author in the Smart Groom’s Answer Guide: An Eye-Opening Guide to the First Year of Marriage and The First Five Years of Marriage: Launching A Life-Long Relationship. He has been a guest on the Focus on the Family Broadcast and is an ongoing contributor on the Focus on the Family Parenting podcast. He has also been a guest on many radio shows and news shows throughout the US covering various topics related to family and parenting.