How to Love Your Family with Your Calendar

Fall 1995 was a terrible time to start a church. Not globally, but personally. My husband, Andy Stanley, and five former staff members of his dad's church decided to launch North Point Community Church at the exact time he and I had two toddlers waddling around in diapers and a baby due any day.

Maybe you know or don't: starting a church is a lot. Andy worked in the office all day, had dinners and meetings scheduled some evenings, and preached on the weekends. Meanwhile, I was at home with two preschoolers, preparing for a newborn. That season of parenthood is also a lot, and we were short on margin, especially in our schedule.

We weren't naïve about how demanding it would be to build a church and grow a family simultaneously. We anticipated the obligations that would pull Andy away from home and the solo responsibilities I would have as a result. We were both willing to play our parts to get it all done. The question was, were there enough hours in the day?

The answer: No.

We quickly discovered that if Andy stayed at work until every task was accomplished, he'd never make it home. If he stayed home until the kids got all the attention they craved, he'd never make it to work. And even for a task-oriented person like me, getting through everything on our family's to-do list was not even close to possible. Trust me. I tried.

Tensions grew as the months wore on, both grinding through exhausting hours. We hit a wall and realized the unsustainability of our situation. That led to one of the most crucial conversations and one of the most important decisions of our marriage.

If we were going to survive this season, we needed an overhaul of the Stanley family schedule. The dilemma we faced back then is not unique to us. You've likely experienced your own version. The demands of work, both inside and outside the home, and the demands of parenting are destined to be at odds.

One day Andy was talking with a busy corporate VP about juggling work and home. This man mentioned over and over how much he loved his wife and kids until, eventually, Andy interrupted and said, "You love your family in your heart, but they can't see your heart. You have to love them on your calendar." Ouch. Point made.

But I'll restate it anyway. How we spend our time telegraphs a message to our loved ones. We can say we love our families every hour on the hour. But who and what we spend our time on is what really communicates. It communicates either acceptance or, regrettably, rejection to the people closest to us, especially to our kids.

Sure, the busy executive loves his children. But how were they supposed to know that? What conclusion could they draw, except that dad's work was more important and interesting than they were?

To kids, time is the currency of love.

This is great news. Stick with me for a second. Your calendar is a powerful, practical way to communicate love to your kids. And who primarily controls your calendar? If you're honest, you do.

Your presence—on the sidelines or at the dinner table – sends your kids the message that they matter, are worthy, valuable, and even interesting to you.

Yes, you love them in your heart. But for them to grow up knowing it and feel it, you have to love them on your calendar.

parents with children reading a book

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Halfpoint

Let's get more practical.

The primary parenting objective in our home was to raise kids who enjoy being with us and with each other even when they no longer have to be. It informed every aspect of our parenting—the words we chose, the tone we set, our approach to discipline and correction, and even the schedule we adopted. Achieving that objective relied on everyone reaching adulthood with their relationships intact. Because of that, we had a litmus test for decisions about our schedule: Is this good for our relationships?

If the answer were yes, we would do it. Here's what that looked like all those years ago when we overhauled our family calendar.

-Are piano lessons for the kids good for our relationships? Yes. Music is important to Andy, and he is excited to share that passion with them.

-Is a planned weekend getaway without the kids good for our relationship? Yes. Making our marriage a priority and modeling that for our kids brings stability and security to them and us.

-Is using my time to launch a new ministry at church good for our relationships? No. It will stretch me too thin to be the kind of mom and wife I want to be. Participating in ministry, yes. Carrying the responsibility of launching a new initiative while having toddlers at home, no.

-Are Andy's travel and speaking opportunities good for our relationships right now? No. This season is busy enough, and the demands of building a church are all-consuming.

Applying this question to our schedule made it obvious what should stay, what should go, what should increase, and what should be dialed back. Asking it day after day was how we brought clarity to the chaos of our family calendar. Asking it year after year was how we continued moving toward our goal as our kids grew up.

Once you define your primary parenting objective, it should impact your calendar. This may mean saying no for now. But you are not saying no forever. This is only a season. I promise you this: giving up something now for something better later is not a sacrifice; it's an investment. And standing where I now stand, with kids in their late twenties and early thirties, I can tell you one more thing with confidence: the return on that investment is 100 percent worth what you give up on the front end. Trust me on that.

Parenting getting it right bookABOUT THE BOOK: Am I getting parenting right? Most parents, at any and every stage, find themselves asking this question. Whether you’re sleep deprived with a colicky newborn or navigating the emotional roller coaster of a teenager, parenting has its ups and downs, its confusion and clarity, its big blowups and small victories. And no matter our family makeup or our children’s personalities, many of us experience anxiety over our children’s futures and often fear making a mistake. Andy and Sandra Stanley are no strangers to this feeling. As parents of three grown children and cofounders of North Point Ministries, they are seasoned experts on faith and parenting. Together they have spent decades counseling countless families, mentoring others, and learning from mentors of their own, all while leading one of the largest churches in the country. In their new book, PARENTING: Getting It Right (Zondervan Books; 1/17/23), Andy and Sandra combine their experience and wisdom into a guide that helps readers understand and live by essential parenting principles. In an inviting, conversational approach that is both informative and accessible, the Stanleys help readers understand the most important goal in parenting – parenting with the relationship in mind - and learn the steps to pursue it by.

Andy and Sandra's book Parenting: Getting It Right releases on January 17, 2023. You can check it out here.

Excerpted from Parenting: Getting It Right (Zondervan, January 2023, © Andy and Sandra Stanley)

Photo credit: ©Zondervan Books

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ChainarongPrasertthai

Andy Stanley founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries (NPM) in 1995. Today, NPM consists of eight churches in the Atlanta area and a network of 180 churches around the globe that collectively serve over 200,000 people weekly. As host of Your Move with Andy Stanley, which delivers over 10.5 million messages each month through television, digital platforms, and podcasts, and author of more than 20 books, including Irresistible; Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets; and Deep & Wide, Andy is considered one of the most influential pastors in America.

Sandra Stanley received her bachelor of science degree from Georgia Tech and master of arts from Dallas Theological Seminary. Sandra has a heart for foster kids and foster families, as she and Andy have been foster parents since 2010. Her ministry passion is promoting foster care in the local church. Much of her time these days is spent working on various writing projects and continuing her involvement with Fostering Together, the foster care initiative of North Point Ministries.

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