5 Simple Ways to Put Your Family First

You need to say “no” more often and put your family first. That’s the advice I’ve been giving myself and others after spending some time deep in thought about what really matters in life, and about succeeding in my primary roles: Husband & Father.

It’s crazy how many voices compete for our time and attention, isn’t it? And if you’re a leader, just multiply that a few times. It’s so easy to say “yes” and overcommit, and it’s so hard to get things right again once they’ve slipped. With that in mind, here are five simple ways to keep the ones you love in first place:

#1: Clock-out & clock-in

When my friend Andy Wood was just starting South Bay Church in San Jose, Calif., I was visiting him with some friends, and we were talking about how we could build ministries that allowed us to keep our families first. He said that he intended to clock out of his “day job” every day on the way home, and clock in to his “family job.”

I’ve always remembered that conversation, and it has helped me to think differently about my role at home. My family is depending on me to lead, just like my team is. The difference is, God holds me accountable to give my best, my first, to my family—not my leftovers. Coming home on empty and tuning out, going into hiding, avoiding conversation or escaping into myself is not an option. No more than it would be at “work.” If I see myself as a servant leader at church and not at home, I am the ultimate hypocrite. The mental exercise of clocking in to my family on my drive home has reminded me reserve some energy for those who matter most in my life. Thanks Andy!

#2: Show up on time for dinner

This is a big one in my family. My wife is Italian, so dinner is a big deal! And with her cooking it’s always worth it to be there on time. The dinner table has been a staple of our family’s connectedness. Keeping this ritual as an important part of our lives has meant saying “no” to tons of meetings & expectations, and quite honestly disappointing people from time to time. But I’d much rather disappoint someone outside my family than someone inside it. And I’ve heard over and over again that this priority has been an example other families want to implement as well.

Of course, we have to be flexible with our kids getting older and having “lives” of their own. We’ve definitely had to adapt and go with the flow in some ways. Still, our table is a frequent gathering place that draws us all together. In a frantic world, this sacred time has become an island of calm and connection for us.

#3: Talk about what they want to talk about

Building your family requires connecting, and that means getting into their world. You’ve probably heard the story about Jennie Jerome, the mother of Winston Churchill. She compared two conversations with two different people: “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman.”

What Benjamin Disraeli gave Jennie Jerome was the gift of attention, and that often comes through conversation. Personally I’ve set a goal to become a better conversationalist, and I hope the first and best impact is on my family.

A few tips I’ve picked up so far:

  • Listen for an on-ramp into their conversation. Find a point of connection, a word or phrase that grabs your attention, or a time to ask an interesting question.
  • Don’t derail their train of thought. They were going somewhere with this conversation. Help them get there.
  • Don’t be a “One-Upper.” We’ve all had that annoying interaction where someone else has always caught a bigger fish or jumped off a higher diving board. Nobody likes that, especially your family. Let their conversation take center stage.

#4: Always have an exciting “Next” for your family

I believe common, compelling goals are one of the best-kept secrets of happy families. Some families have absolutely nothing to look forward to. No upcoming vacation, No home improvement projects, No mission trips, No giving goals, No new friends. Families tend to wither away without some next challenge or dream.

Some of ours over the years have been: (1) A small weekly cash fund that the kids got to help oversee. We had to pray over it together and decide how we were going to give it away to help the hurting. (2) Sponsoring a child in a 3rd world country. (3) Taking a trip to Italy together. We’ve had big ones and little ones, but we try to make sure there’s always something exciting that we’re pursuing together. Next on our list is a hot tub for our back yard! At this point we have no idea how it will happen, but we all want it bad enough that we’re sure we’ll see it come to fruition.

#5: Take a yearly vacation together

I know I mentioned this in the previous section, but vacations have been a life-saver for our family. We’ve done road trips, cruises, local, national, global, mission-focused trips, entertainment-focused trips, expensive and cheap. But the ongoing theme has been extended time together.

Yes, this is something we’ve had to sacrifice for. And you will too. It took us 10 years to get our back yard finished! But our kids have seen the world, and we have created a treasure of memories that will last a lifetime. And we’re not done yet! We started by putting $25 per week away and using our tax returns to supplement the fund. The point is not how much money you spend, but how you spend your time together. This should be a work-free, drama-free zone of creating new memories and new connections through meaningful experiences together.