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Habits of the Heart

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By Jamie Roach

Recently our two oldest kids, ages 28 and 31, asked my wife and me to take a trip with their two families. This past weekend, our 25-year-old son asked me if I could hang out at the pool with him. During the same weekend, our youngest daughter (22) asked my wife if she wanted to grab dinner and drinks.

My wife and I count our kids among our closest friends. This does not invalidate the asymmetrical, parent-to-child, aspect of our relationship. My point is simply that we can be with our children in ways so that when they have moved out and are on their own, they still choose us. When they are thinking about whom they want to go on vacation with, whom they want to spend a Friday evening or a Saturday afternoon with, we come to mind.

Developing this kind of relationship with our kids does not happen overnight. It is slow work that requires faithfulness over the long haul or as Eugene Peterson aptly put it, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” points out that real change comes from the compound effects of hundreds of small decisions or habits that over time accumulate to produce remarkable results.

As your family begins a new school year, is there a meaningful habit that you could intentionally pick and stick with? A habit that over time draws your family closer together enabling you to enjoy this journey we call life together?

One of the habits that most profoundly shaped our family was doing what we called “Take 5.” (Here is a link to a downloadable file if you want to know more about it.) I think the magic of this practice is that it taught each of us how to more deeply listen to and understand one another and in that experience of deep resonance we encountered the Presence of God. Our goal was to take time every day to listen to one another. Did we actually do it every day? Not a chance! However, we did spend this time “circled up” more days than not for years and years. In fact, it is something we still practice, with great meaning, to this day.

As you choose a new habit, it’s important to know your own heart and family. I want you to pick something that works for your family and stimulates a sense of excitement.

Here are a few other ideas that came from some of the great people I get to work with at Youthfront:

Pillow Journals– I bought my kids notebooks/journals to write in before bed and leave for me to read. I would check them later in the evening and respond. It was a great way for us to communicate, especially about some of the hard stuff.

After Dinner Walks– We try to keep it simple. We are committed to eating dinner together and then going for a walk. Sometimes the conversation goes deep, other times it is light. Sometimes we let the beauty of nature do most of the talking.

High, Low, Bet You Don’t Know– As we walk back from the bus stop, the kids and I will swap our highs (best part of our day), lows (worst part of our day) and bet you don’t know (something we think that everyone else won’t know). It’s such a fun way to catch up from our time apart.

Back to School Send-Off– On the night before the first day of school, we decorate around the kid’s door, set out their favorite snacks and drinks so they can take them to school that day in their backpack, make a special breakfast (we had a particular plate to serve it on that we only used on the first day of school), take their photo with a sign “first day of x grade” before they leave. We also tried to be intentional to be available more than usual after the first day (i.e. didn’t make evening plans, etc.) to be sure we could check in with them, ask how the day went, etc.

As you consider what one habit you would like to begin doing together, consider the four laws of behavior change as found in the book “Atomic Habits.”

  • Make it obvious – The habit needs to be effortless for us and require no active thinking.
  • Make it attractive – Come up with some ways to make the habit appealing.
  • Make it easy -Minimize the friction between your family and the habit.
  • Make it immediately satisfying – We tend to repeat things that offer immediate rewards.

We all want to develop close relationships with our children that last a lifetime. There is no magic pill that will guarantee your kids will choose you forever. However, by consistently doing a few small things with great love for years to come, you will profoundly impact the way your family travels the path of life together.

If you have any questions or if you start a new family habit, I would love to hear from you and explore together what you are thinking. Send me an email with your questions and comments.


Get to know Jamie Roach: Jamie has served on the staff of Youthfront for 35 years, working with students, parents and youth workers. His passion is seeing people live their best life. Jamie is a spiritual director, author, communicator and Licensed Professional Counselor at Youthfront’s affiliate, Presence-Centered Counseling. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts in Counseling from Mid-America Nazarene University. Jamie loves Nebraska football, reading, walks in the woods and hanging out with his family. Jamie and his wife Lea Ann have four children: Megan (31), Haley (28), Logan (25) and Sophie (22).

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