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What Your Kids Need Most is You

A child who knows the love of a parent through a multitude of shared experiences receives a taste of the beautiful relationship God wants to have with us.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Do you know what is likely the most valuable gift you can give your children? It’s not your old pickup, a college education, or even your reputation for integrity. They’ll benefit from all of those things—but your children ultimately want more than your stuff, your wealth, and your good family name.

What they want and need most is a relationship with you. They want to know your heart. They want you. And if they don’t get you, they are less likely to know and give themselves to God.

This truth about what children want applies to all ages. I (Dennis) remember my first “date” with Ashley when she was just three years old. I called her from the office and said, “Hi, Princess, this is Dad. I would really like to have a special date with you tonight.”

She giggled. Then I heard her say to Barbara in an excited voice, “Daddy wants to take me out on a date!”

A short time later I pulled up in front of the house, walked to the front door and knocked. When Barbara opened it, I said, “Hello ma’am, is your daughter home?” Ashley pranced out in her finest dress. We held hands as we walked to our old station wagon. I opened her door and she scrambled in.

As we drove away she slipped her little arm around my neck. We went to a restaurant and ate chocolate pie and chocolate ice cream—washed down with chocolate milk. Then we drove to a theater where Ashley had a great time crawling over the seats and occasionally watching Bambi.

We ate popcorn. We spilled popcorn. We drank soft drinks. We spilled soft drinks.

On the way home, the faint green light from the dashboard lighting our faces, I asked, “Ashley, what was your favorite thing about tonight?”

She patted me on the arm with her little hand and said, “Just being with you, Dad; just being with you.” It’s too bad we’d spilled all that popcorn, because right then I turned into a pool of melted butter.

I continued this practice of “dating” my daughters into their teenage years. It was my chance to have fun with them, catch up on how they were doing, and stay connected.

Allowing the love of Christ to flow through us

A parent who lavishes love on a child through intense involvement mirrors what God does for all of His children: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). When we give ourselves without reservation to our children, we draw them to us. A child who knows the love of a parent through a multitude of shared experiences receives a taste of the beautiful relationship God wants to have with each of His precious ones.

Children often see God when they look at their parents. Our influence in this role—and our responsibility—is great. When we model qualities of our Father in heaven by allowing the love of Jesus Christ to flow through us and into our children, we’re succeeding as parents.

We do not propose a complicated, deeply theological set of practices to make this happen. Our advice is simple and summarized by three Ts: time, touch, and talk. These three Ts make a relationship with our child a reality. And through this relationship our child begins to grow the roots of a spiritual life.

We have yet to meet a child (or an adult, for that matter) who feels deeply loved when he is given only occasional bursts of “quality time.” Children don’t seem to understand this concept. When they want mom and dad, they want mom and dad.


Parenting children just takes time. How that time is disbursed varies as they grow older—and when your little guys and gals become teenagers, you may want them to give you some quality time! But their need for you to be available and flexible with your time never changes.

This creates a definite challenge in today’s fast-paced culture, especially if you are a single parent. Since time is finite, we must set priorities for our schedule. We encourage you to carefully consider how you spend your time and whether or not you are available to your children.

My (Dennis’s) schedule has always been demanding. But by the time we had graduated four children from high school, the responsibilities of a daily radio program, writing, speaking, and travel began to take me away from home even more frequently. It was Barbara’s gentle and persistent admonishment that ultimately caused me to adjust my schedule and focus so that I could have a better relationship with our two teenage daughters still at home.

As a result, I was more involved in their lives and the issues they faced—dating, peer pressure, boundaries, and more. The bottom line: My teenage daughters needed a dad who would love them and speak the truth to them. They knew I cared because I was there—all there!