She approached me with a toddler boy balanced on her right hip, and a preschool girl hanging off of her left leg. A perfect picture of motherhood. “This really hit me.” She began. “My husband and I have been talking about these very things lately. We’re trying to figure out what it means for our family. We’re considering a move. We just want to do intentional parenting, you know?”
Oh, I did.
These were the same thoughts my own husband and I had voiced to each other one rainy day, three years prior, after we were given a mason jar filled with 936 pennies, one for each week of the 18 years of our child’s life before adulthood. What do we want to be the central values of our family? What’s important to us? What will drive our decisions?
Now this young mom looked me in the eyes with the same kind of life-altering conviction. I had just spoken to her and her fellow moms’ group about the importance of the 936 weeks we have with our children. I had shared with these brave moms my own journey over the past three years, while I wrote my book, 936 Pennies: Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting. In the book our 936 weeks are represented, each one of them, by a penny in a jar. Every single week, as my husband and I remove a penny, we have to ask ourselves, how did we invest these seven days?
Intentional parenting is a choice.
Did we invite laughter into our home?
Did we model to our children what it looks like to live boldly and kindly?
Did we speak words that build our children up?
How did we have fun together as a family?
Is there anything I need to ask my child’s forgiveness for?
How will I invest my penny this coming week in my child’s legacy?
We cannot remove those pennies without asking ourselves these questions, the ones that hold the power to alter our family’s story. At least, that is what they did for us three years ago, when we wrote down the values that we wanted to drive our family going forward. That list–our family values scrawled across a page in my journal—did not seem anything refined or elegant at first glance. But those values, paired with this new perspective of our 936 weeks, would change everything. On it we wrote of exploration, adventure, awe, wonder, respect, creativity, and travel. We wrote of hands-on education, of faith, generosity, and decision making, of problem solving and physical activity.
Afterwards, glancing down at that list, my husband and I realized two very important things:
One: These were the very things our hearts had been longing to make a priority in our family, but had slipped to the sidelines.
Two: The intentional parenting values on that list did not match up to our current lifestyle or location. They couldn’t.
Intentional parenting is more than a “parenting style,” it’s a LIFEstyle
Within a couple of months we were packing our boxes, selling our home, and moving from the Midwest to the Mountains, all because of that little list. It has helped guide us in every parenting decision since that day. That list is our heart on paper. When we are making a decision that will affect our family, does it agree with those values?
With only 936 weeks to raise our children from birth to eighteen, we cannot afford to give any of those weeks to anything less than those values.
This is why I knew exactly what that young mom was saying to me that day after I gave my presentation. She, too, had realized that time is too short to throw our weeks to the wind and see what catches. Our days are meant for more than that. They’re meant to build one upon another a breathtaking legacy of time well spent. They are meant for intentional parenting and an intentional life.
And when we see it, when we glimpse the pennies in our jar and consider the limited time we have to invest them—we cannot continue on the same way. And we don’t want to. Because we as parents hear it time and time and time again—don’t blink. It’ll be over before you know it. They grow up so fast. But we do know it. I know it every time I peer into little eyes, every time a bedtime kiss is planted on my cheek by tiny lips, and every time I walk past those penny jars on our mantle.
Time is meant for counting, despite the ache it might place in our heart. The ache moves us to action, and that action produces a beauty worth chasing after week, after week, after week.