There’s a common expression that we use all the time. It’s pretty harmless in itself, but as fathers we need to think differently with it. It’s the simple concept of spending time.
We always say, “I spent a lot of time on that project,” or, “I spent 20 minutes standing in line at the store,” or whatever. Even here at the National Center, we have often talked about how much time a father spends with his children. Committed fathers spend lots of time with their children, right?
There’s nothing wrong with saying that, but I want to make a distinction that I hope we can all keep in mind as we consider how we manage our schedules and make time for our families. You see, we have to think of time as something we invest, not something we spend.
Some obvious parallels with the financial world may be useful to show why this is important. In all of these different examples, I think you’ll see how they apply to our time as well.
If you put your money in an IRA, a mutual fund, stocks, real estate, or whatever, then assuming you invest it wisely, the money is still there, and chances are its value has grown. But it’s still yours. You’ve chosen to use it for a specific purpose; it’s invested to help you reach a particular goal.
Even with other things you buy, where it seems like you’re spending your money, they’re still investments: a new motorcycle or big screen TV, an exotic vacation, or even the monthly bills you pay like electricity or your rent or mortgage payment. They are all investments you choose to make. Some bring valuable long-term dividends. Some are more like tossing a fistful of cash into the wind.
Wise stewards invest in the things that last and bring a high rate of return; they leverage their resources to bring about the most benefits. Time is the same way; we choose how to invest every minute, and our children are clearly one of the highest-yield investments.
How do we know we’re making wise choices? Once again, some financial ideas are helpful.
First, we have limited resources and budgeting is key. If you’re investing money in one place, you’ve chosen not to invest it in another place. When it’s gone, it’s gone!
In the same way, we only have so much time in a day, a week, a lifetime—so we have to prioritize. We all make daily decisions to invest our time in certain ways and not in other ways. Much of our time goes toward providing for our families, and that’s important. But if that investment takes us away from family events and activities, then it’s like piling up debt, and we may be headed for disaster at home.
Dad, is it time to make some changes in your time portfolio?
Also, financial experts say it’s important to focus not so much on the price of an investment, but on the value you’re receiving in return. We’re all a bit different in the things we value. What one person considers extravagant or a waste of money is well worth it to another person. It’s true for our purchasing decisions with homes and cars, furniture, computers, clothes, entertainment, and on and on.
It’s also reflected in our time investments. For example, maybe that mountain climbing trip in Colorado, a week-long bike tour, or a new hobby will have considerable expenses attached to it. To some people, it’s worth it. And if it’s a great opportunity to bond with your son or daughter, well how can you put a price tag on that?
Sometimes that investment will mean sacrificing time in other areas of your life, or forgoing opportunities at work or in other areas. Decisions about priorities are always difficult; every dad needs to really consider how he’s investing himself and the value he’ll gain in return.
Just to be clear, this isn’t an argument for dads to pursue quality time with their children instead of quantity time. Trying to invest only in activities we think will be the most rewarding with our kids is a high-risk proposition with little promise of long-term success. It’s the steady, smaller investments of quantity time that yield the best rewards through the years.
Time is a precious commodity, dad. And time with your children has the potential to pay huge long-term dividends. As your “fathering advisor,” I urge you to divert a large chunk of it to your children. Only God knows what difference your investments in them can make in their future and in your grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Ron Nichols is a former staff member at the National Center for Fathering.