Practical Advice for Prioritizing Family Time

Pat Gelsinger

From: Balancing Family, Faith & Work. © 2003 by Cook Communications Ministries. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Some close friends of our family and members of our church, Lee and Anne Marie, decided they had been led by God to take their family to the mission field. After over a year of preparation they were just about ready to leave in January of ’98 and make the long journey to begin their first term. Micah, our youngest, was seven years old at the time they were preparing to depart. He announced to us one day with bold confidence, “When I grow up, I want to be a missionary to Kenya!” Linda and I figured that was like a kid saying, “I want to be a firefighter” and that he’d grow out of it. So, we smiled in affirmation and kept our doubts to ourselves. Recently, however, on my every-seven-years sabbatical from Intel, we made a trip as a family that included three weeks in Kenya. We visited missionary friends working with the Turkana people in the desolate, drought-stricken northern part of the country, just below the Sahara.

At the end of that time, Micah said, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing us here. I really appreciate it. And I still want to be a missionary to Kenya!” In fact, he’s already planning our next family vacation to Kenya and he expects us to make this sojourn every year or two until he’s permanently on the mission field.

That experience demonstrates the value of two things: making time to help your children develop a heart for God, and making time for family vacations. As you’ll see in this article, I didn’t always do a good job with such things.


Breakfast 1-on-1

About thirteen or fourteen years ago, when our daughter Elizabeth was just five years old, I started a practice of taking her out for breakfast each month. As the boys came along, I then had two, then three, and now four kids to take to monthly breakfast. I now have breakfast with one of the kids every week on a rotating basis. It used to be a cheap way to have some special one-on-one time with each of them. We would usually share a breakfast, which they would choose and which made it even more enjoyable. As the kids have gotten older, however, they refuse to share with me anymore. Instead they demand their own breakfast and part of mine as well.

Over the years, the kids have really grown to look forward to these times. It’s our special one-on-one time. When I return home with the designated child of the morning, the siblings will always say, “Where did you go?” and “What did you have?””¦”You’re lucky it was your turn.” Sometimes, I’ll drop the child off at school after breakfast on my way to work, which makes it even more special.

Of course, with a busy travel schedule, I don’t make breakfasts happen each week. But I have asked my secretary to both schedule and prioritize my breakfast meetings with the kids. Sometimes it takes a bit of juggling, but generally, we get them scheduled in. When I started doing this, I had a simple thought in mind: Maybe if I start young just talking with them, it will be enough of a habit that, when they hit those rough teenage years, we will have at least some venue for continued conversation.

Our breakfast agenda is pretty simple. I only require a formal, written agenda with minutes from our last breakfast, updates on the action items agreed upon at our last meeting, and a new and proposed specific list of topics for this one.

Just kidding. The real agenda is whatever the kids want to talk about. I will bring a topic that I’ll usually (but not always) raise somewhere in the conversation. This might be an issue at home, something that’s on my heart about them, a Scripture or a spiritual topic. We’ll always discuss how school is going, how they are doing spiritually, and anything troubling them.

As the kids have gotten older, they have started to store up questions or issues that they want to discuss. Sometimes it’s stuff related to homework. Other times, they want to discuss items related to their spiritual life. Recently my daughter had three or four Scripture passages she was having trouble understanding. I felt like I was on a Bible Trivia show; they were tough passages. I am so proud to see them looking forward to this time and planning how they can take advantage of it.

In the many years I’ve been doing this, it is rare that a child doesn’t want to take his or her turn. Occasionally, one would give me an “I’m too tired.” If so, I would just go to the next kid in the rotation; and with four to choose from, I’ve only had one instance in twelve years where I couldn’t get anyone to do breakfast with good old Dad. Even so, as my kids move into the later teen years – with more activities of their own and their increasing desire to sleep in – I’m tending to hear a few more no-thank-yous.

I also try every weekend to spend time one-on-one with each kid. This could be sitting on my lap reading a book, playing basketball, playing a board game, playing cards, helping with homework, doing some chores together, playing racquetball or tennis, or just sitting and talking about school or sports. On Sunday afternoon or evening, before the weekend is over and another frantic week begins, I do a quick mental checklist and ask myself, have I spent time with each of them? Have I had a chance just to connect with all of them individually? If not, I’ll quickly try to correct my oversight and ask what they’d like to do.

Some weekends I’ll start Friday night 200 emails behind and start Monday morning 300 behind. While I then feel an incredible burden of work and responsibilities on Monday morning, I’m also confident I’ve kept my priorities in the right places all weekend long.


Family Vacations

As I’ve already admitted, I tend to work long and hard. It should come as no surprise that in the past I have viewed taking vacations as entirely discretionary. In the first ten years of my career at Intel, I averaged less than one week a year of vacation. Being so busy with school, I almost always found myself with more than I could hope to accomplish at work. Besides, I loved what I was doing at work and school. So why would I stop and go off to do something boring like rest and relax?

Then Linda sat me down and explained that while I may not need those things called vacation times, the family needed me on vacation. It was imperative that we spend that time together and build those memories that we will share for years to come.

Well, she was right. As Linda will resoundingly affirm, it’s not often when she’s right that I will agree without hesitation, but this was one of those times. Since that talk our family has not missed a single vacation to which I am entitled.

We try to make a big deal out of our vacations. We plan and talk about them considerably as a family. We take big trips and small. In fact, I did a good amount of the editing of this article while taking my third sabbatical from Intel. We traveled through Europe, including London, Paris, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, then spent three weeks in Kenya.

We had a wonderful time seeing these many countries, cities, and cultures as well as visiting several missionary friends in Kenya and going on several safaris. We followed this with family time at our vacation home, as well as a camping trip. Two years ago we did a trip to Disney World, the Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, and some time at a family reunion on the East Coast. The kids consider this one of our best vacations ever.

Other years we’ve traveled to national parks or to the East Coast for time with my parents. On other occasions, Linda and I have had romantic trips for just the two of us to Thailand, Australia, and Hawaii.

We’ve also tried to carve more vacation time out of our normal routine. We will spend a long weekend or school breaks skiing or at the beach. Three years ago, we purchased a vacation home as a place to develop more of those family memories. It gives us even more opportunities to get away as a family or with a few of the kids’ friends.

Every spring break we go skiing. As soon as the school calendar comes out, I’ll have my secretary start marking these three- and four-day weekends off on my calendar. Sometimes I need to work on those days from our vacation home, but we still get substantially more family time in as a result of just being away.

While family time is always at a premium, with planning you’ll be amazed at how much togetherness you can squeeze in. Add a strong effort to protect those special times and you’ll start to build tremendous family memories.

If you haven’t yet gotten into the habit of making family vacations a priority, I’d challenge you to begin doing so.


Date Your Spouse

I’m pleasantly surprised when I talk to people who regularly date their spouses. I’m also astonished at the number of people I talk to who can’t remember the last time they and their spouses had a date. Too many times, couples have allowed their entire focus to shift to their children. They invest all their finances, all their time, and all their emotional energy in their children. Of course, children need huge quantities of all three. However, we must give our marriages even higher priority than our relationships with our children.

Only from a strong marriage comes a strong family. A strong marriage establishes a foundation for your home, in which to raise your children. The most recent census data, however, showed a continuing decline in households with both the mother and a father of the children – now less than 25 percent of all homes in the United States. Obviously, far too many people have failed to prioritize the relationship with their spouses.

The marriage bond must be held as our most important human relationship. In Genesis we see this powerful command:

For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)

I like to choose slightly different words for each of the three commands we see there. They create a nice rhythmic trio that makes the commands more memorable:

  1. A man shall leave his father and mother. This is the point in his life when he severs the cords of dependency he has had with his parents.
  2. He is to cleave to his wife. He should exchange the dependent relationship with his parents for an interdependent relationship with his wife.
  3. Finally, they shall weave their lives together, becoming one flesh. They are to meld their lives into a single entity, intertwining their values, activities and goals.

I suggest you and your spouse consider this model carefully: Leave, Cleave, and Weave. Lacking this focus on the marriage bond leaves the entire family structure on shifting sand. Soon those children will begin to leave the nest and voila, you will be living with a stranger. You will have lost any semblance of an intimate relationship with this one called your spouse.

At one point, Linda was becoming extremely busy with the children. This wasn’t too surprising, with four children and their many needs combined with my hectic travel schedule. In fact, this was almost to be expected. Feeling uneasy, however, about a few instances where it felt as if she had prioritized the kids above everything else, including me, I questioned her one evening: “Linda, am I more important to you than the kids?” It was a difficult but important conversation, as both of us realized that we were letting our precious children squeeze between us.

We decided then and there that we couldn’t allow that to occur and began making some priority choices. We made it a point to hug and kiss in front of the kids and not let them come between us when we did. We stopped letting them interrupt our conversations, even though young children always think their wants are earth-shattering crises. We also determined to stop sacrificing our times together with just the two of us.

Linda and I regularly date. While our dates are often ad hoc and spontaneous, we usually have at least one every month. Our goal is to date twice per month. When the kids were younger, dating required a lot of planning; now that they’re older, it’s much easier to be spontaneous.

In particular to you men reading this – just do it! Make the plans, hire the sitter, and create a special time for your wife. Of course, wives, you can’t overestimate the pleasure your husband receives when you take the initiative to plan a special evening for him, even if he’s reluctant to admit it.

Some of our dates are expensive, like dinner in a nice restaurant. But often we just grab a burger and go to a movie. Or we rent a video and pop our own popcorn at home. We may just go to Starbucks to talk for a while. Sometimes it’s a walk around the neighborhood to get fresh air and work off the stresses of the day.

Linda and I also spend at least one weekend away each year. We call this our anniversary weekend and go to a beach house or hotel. Something like this can be so valuable for your marriage. Make these times special for you and your spouse, something that you can look forward to for weeks and then recall fondly for years afterward.

For instance, this last year I started building up the excitement weeks in advance. You might have seen those little heart confetti you can buy at some drug stores – they probably cost a whopping $1.29. Each week for three weeks in advance, I’d hide those everywhere you could imagine – in her Bible, in her checkbook, in her shoes, in her pockets, in her makeup, in her car, on her pillow, in her jacket and in her clothes drawer. Multiple times a day, she’d find them falling out from all over. She even became tired of picking them up.

For our actual weekend, I planned the location, got her roses the color of our wedding roses, and had a bottle of sparkling cider waiting in the room. I also waxed poetic with one of the love notes we men hate to write. I gave her a new video camera to record more of our family times. I was excited to make this a special weekend and convey how important she is to me.

I’m sure you can be creative and plan special times uniquely suited to your spouse’s likes and tastes. You simply can’t overestimate the value of these little touches and special times in helping your spouse to feel loved and appreciated.

Pat Gelsinger is a Senior Vice President for Intel Corporation, and its Chief Technology Officer. He is also an elder and Bible study teacher for his church. Pat and his wife Linda live in Beaverton, Oregon and they have four children.

From: Balancing Family, Faith & Work. © 2003 by Pat Gelsinger and Cook Communications Ministries. Used by permission. All rights reserved.