Parenting a boy, not a herd

His backpack was packed a week in advance. And the questions lasted as long too.

How long is the plane ride? Is there food on the plane? What hotel are we staying at? How late can I stay up? What does a road manager do?

My wife, Becky, is good about spending time with each of our kids individually. She sits at the art table and draws with Penelope (age eight). She lays in bed with Gabriella (age 12) and talks about school, faith, feelings, boys. Becky reads books with Sambhaji (age six) and destroys Gresham (age 10) in intense Skipbo matches.

But as our family has grown, I’ve treated my children more like a herd than four individuals. Sure, I spend time with them one-on-one, but usually when I play games or go out to eat or read books, it’s with the whole herd at once.

"Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children." Charles Swindoll

I wasn’t always this way. And I wanted to change.

So when I was asked to come speak at a men’s conference in Virginia, I asked Gresham to come along as my road manager. He liked having a fancy title, a job to do. He liked that he wouldn’t be sharing me with anyone else for two days. He loved that we’d fly on a plane, stay in a hotel, and wear All Access passes.

Father-And-Son-On-Airplane

I learned a lot about Gresham on our road trip together that I missed when parenting the herd. I learned there are things he’ll tell me that he won’t tell his mom. I never knew he wondered if I wanted him to grow up to do the same thing I do for a living, if I’d be disappointed if he played football instead. I never knew that if he could eat one food every day for the rest of his life it would be a hotdog – a “real hotdog made out of cows” and not a “fake hotdog like mom buys.”

I forgot how cool it is to stay in a hotel “like a famous person.” I never knew that when he grows up he wants to drive a red Mustang GT. Turns out the rental car agent had one in his lot. A convertible. And upgraded us for free.

Gresham's-sweet-ride

Gresham learned a lot about me too. A side of me he doesn’t see often enough. I realized I’d not only slowly reduced parenting to herding, but I’d turned conversation with my kids into not much more than relaying information: giving orders, teaching lessons, reinforcing the positive, correcting the negative. But, away from the herd, alone with Gresham, I found myself cracking jokes, retelling stories from my own childhood, asking better questions.

Gresham got to hear me speak, for the first time, to an arena packed with 9,000 men. He understands now what my work is, a bit more of who I am.

And he got to sit with the VIPs upfront and listen to one of his idols talk about football and perseverance and integrity and how important his relationship with his own father has been to him.

Gresham really wanted a picture. So I asked. “Tim, are you allowed to take pictures with Steelers fans?”

He laughed. “Sure. Just this once.”

And Gresham shook Tim Tebow’s giant hand and introduced himself. Then he introduced me. “And this is my Dad.”

Tim-Tebow-&-Gresham-Groves

You can say no to constant busyness.

To lead your family with peace, you need to know your NOs and YESes. But what are they?

Like Your Life can help you figure them out.

51 Comments

  1. Cheltz

    Maybe it’s lame to schedule it, but my husband spends a “Daddy Day” (really just an hour or two) with one kid each week, rotating through all the kids. Each kid also has a day of the week where I lie in bed with them for a few minutes after bedtime and tell them stories of when I was little. They love it and call it “My Story Time.” We have spontaneous alone time with each kid, as well.

    I bet your son will treasure this trip as one of his fondest memories growing up. Good job, Dad!

    • Shaun Groves

      Not lame at all! Every Wednesday is Daddy Day in our house. I get them all to myself, which they like. But I also do all the cooking, which they’re less fond of. ; )

  2. Tracy @ usingtimewisely.com

    Touched by your heart-felt moments. I love taking my children on outings one at a time. Though I would rather be alone, I cherish these times as my children are growing way too quickly. At ages 8, 5, and 3, I work at investing in them. I don’t always succeed. But when I do, it is a precious time. Thanks for sharing! I love the picture with Tim Tebow. Glad it was a special trip. Priceless!

  3. Gayle

    Memories cherished for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing your world and your heart.

  4. Micha

    Love this article. It is so important to have special time with just one child, perhaps especially for fathers and sons!

  5. Victoria

    My husband recently took one of our sons for the day to help him build a set for our church play. My son came back glowing! He told me over and over again about using the different power tools. He then took my daughter to help paint and my eldest son to be a stage hand. It had a big impact on them.

  6. Sarah

    Thanks for posting this Shaun. So timely with our third baby due in a week, it is something to keep on the forefront of our minds. It is so easy to get into the ‘pack’ mentality rather than seeing those little souls and personalties. Thanks for the much needed reminder.

  7. Sarah @ An Inviting Home

    I love this, definitely going to re-pin it! We recently jumped from 2 to 5 kids and figuring out how to spend time with each one of our kids individually was important. Our “dates” with them don’t happen all of the time but this is a great reminder of the special things that happen during those one on one times and how important they really are.

    ~Sarah

    P.S. I love that your bio says that you are the reigning Candyland champion. 🙂

    • Shaun Groves

      I guess I need to update that bio. I’m now a dad of four (added another by adoption) and that little guy beats me in Candyland on a regular basis…I suspect he cheats. ; )

  8. Martha

    This is the single best post at simple mom ever! I am still all emotional that you got the rental car upgrade, awesome! My family (and my two boys) thank you for posting

    • sonya

      I totally agree! & not because the rest of the posts are not good….but this one, Shaun, you spoke to my heart.
      {forwarding to my husband now}
      ~

  9. Sarah G

    Shaun, As always, so much food for thought! I was also recently convicted that my parenting also gets reduced to “enforcing the positive and correcting the negative” far too often and we’ve only been blessed with one (almost 3 year old) son so far! I saw it last night after I spontaneously became “Mr. Dentist” who had a crazy accent and goofy glasses as I brushed his teeth and heard him laugh and laugh and laugh. It made me realize I hardly ever just “have fun” with him in a way that isn’t also trying to teach him some positive life lesson! It was humbling : /

  10. Kathy

    Awesome post! A great reminder to spend individual time with each child.

  11. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    What a sweet story and a great reminder to be intentional to spend quality one-on-one time with our kids. Lately, I’ve been trying to listen to my daughter “with my face” more and it’s amazing how her countenance changes when I do. And then I realize, sadly, how little I was doing that before.

  12. Mom Off Meth

    I have four kids also, and am always struck when I get one alone for a period of time, how personal it feels. How they are as “one” gets missed when we have a “herd”. Great post.

  13. Missy June

    I’m a single mother of three and this is such an important reminder to single out time one-on-one. It IS tough, but not impossible and so very worth it! Thanks!

  14. Kimberly Monaghan

    I loved this story! My husband is a GREAT Father, simply because he took the time to really connect with each of our three kids…they are all in their 20’s now but they have a special connection to Dad because he really made the effort with them. Kudos for being that kind of Dad. Wish there were more like you! (And everybody loves a Steeler fan!)

  15. Tricia

    i really loved this so much. I shared it with my husband and my friends. My husband is a theatre dirctor and spends many months of the year away. We are hoping that in the near future our oldest son will be able to go with him over the summer months and just love the idea of training him to be Gabe’s “road manager”….i think the one on one thing is crucial – boils down to belonging and significance…anyway just loved loved loved your story. keep up the good work!

  16. donaB

    I loved reading this. My parents divorced when I was 9 and my brother was 6, so alone time with each of our parents became even more rare. We were the small herd that commuted back and forth, always together. But about the time I moved off to college my dad took my brother on a road trip to work a trade show. He would have been about 15. He still talks about that trip, and he’s 35 now. I now live in a blended family – my partner and I have a 2-year-old and he has a 18-year-old almost man who also lives with us. As grueling as it can be for me to be at home alone with the baby, I make sure they take a trip together each year. This year they went to Venezuela and climbed Mount Roriama. Last year, Madagascar. Our struggle is making sure he gets enough alone time with the little one!

  17. Erica Flores

    What a great reminder for those with more than one child. I am a single mother of three and often find myself with the “herd” rather than one-on-one with my kids. I know your son will remember this special trip with you and cherish it for a lifetime. All of our children deserve more frequent moments just like that. Thank you for sharing and for opening my eyes. Keep up the great work!

  18. Frances

    What a sweet post! When my kids were younger, each month my husband would take one of them out to breakfast on a Saturday morning. I have one son and he and my husband took a very special camping trip out west, requiring them to fly cross country. The trip described here reminded me of that special trip. It is so important to have this one on one time!

  19. Jill Foley

    Shaun – what a great post and a great reminder that each of our children needs our attention. I don’t do this nearly often enough. Even with homeschooling – I try to teach them at the same time and shirk away from individual attention because it takes too much time…. but that’s just not fair.

    Just this past weekend I had the opportunity to run errands with just one of my children while the other was with my husband. It is special to spend time individually and I need to do it more often.

  20. Lindsay

    What a lovely post. Can’t wait till my to do road trips with my boy when he grows up. One of my friends gives each of his kids a trip with one parent for their 15th and 18th birthdays. The stories from those trips are pretty colossal, less parent and kid are much more mates.

  21. Lisa

    What an amazing opportunity to get to know your son. He will remember that trip for the rest of his life.

  22. Sarah m

    Oh my goodness, I loved reading this. Your son will never forget that (and not just the picture with Tebow, but the WHOLE thing) time spent. I feel like this is an example of honoring one’s children for who they are. I have much to learn about this! Thanks for sharing.
    Sarah M

  23. Suzanne

    Shaun, thank you for this beautifully written reminder. You sent me running for the tissue box. In the all-too-rare times I’m with just one of my kids, I realize we are both so different one-on-one. Those intimate moments are vital. Thank you for articulating why.

  24. Kris

    I love and appreciate this, Shaun. As a mom of four kids, I too often find myself parenting the herd rather than the individuals. It’s a challenge in this particular season to find time to really hang with each of my kids solo, but I appreciate the reminder of the beauty and blessings that come from making the concentrated effort to do so. This was really good. Thank you.

  25. Amy Corley

    I enjoy finding small pockets of time: on the drive to school with my son; staying at the table after the meal is over and chatting with one of the kids; grabbing just one child to accompany me on errands. I did want to say that in January I took my 12 year old son with me on a trip to Boston (we live in So Cal). My husband was going there for a conference and I love Boston, so I thought it would be a fun thing for the three of us to do together. While my husband “conferenced”, my son and I explored the city. I experienced the same thing you did, Shaun, where I learned so much about my son, and found myself sharing different parts of myself with him as well. Our trip was in January, and he mentions how awesome it was at least a few times a week :). Now I am thinking of special places I can take my two girls :). Thanks for sharing this precious time you had with your son!

  26. Kaylie

    This is awesome! I’m at home all day every day with my babies so it’s easy for me to get one on one time. When we realized my hubs wasn’t getting it we staggered bedtime and he does is all by himself each night. I’ve noticed due to mucho laughing and thrashing about my girls go to sleep much later because they can’t wind down but who cares? That’s their time with daddy and that’s the kind of guy he is. Way to be a great dad!

  27. Jessica

    I try to take my daughter to a different country every week.

    And by that I mean we make the 15 minute drive to hop the border into American and check the mail. It’s the only alone time we get and the only “unplugged” time I get to do more than “uh huh, uh huh” along.

  28. Karen

    Many years ago, 18 to be exact, before our 3rd son was born, my husband started “donut day”. Each boy got a day of the week when they would walk down the street and have breakfast with dad. It was a sweet time that lasted all the way through 12th grade. Our youngest one graduates next month and dad is starting to feel the pangs of this tradition ending.

    Also when each boy turned 15 we celebrated a Rite of Passage and then I got to take them on a trip anywhere in the US that they chose and we stayed about 5 days. It was some of the best parenting money we ever spent.

    You are right……SO much can be learned when you have them one on one!

  29. Carla

    I love the simplicity yet realness of this post. It seems like a simple concept and such a small thing to spend individual time with our kids but even when we make the effort, we tend to multitask and forget the point of getting to know our kids as individuals. I too am guilty of parenting the herd and forgetting that they have different interests. Thanks for reminding me to make the change!

  30. Kristin Taylor

    This is powerful. Thanks for sharing this and giving me lots to think about. I have only two kids but I know this herd mentality already.

  31. RaD

    Last year for Mother’s Day my son gave me a coupon for a “Free Date” just him and I. I realized then he was asking for my time, just the two of us. Since then we have started trying to find things to do one on one with each of them, my husband taking one one month, me the other and vice versa. Sometimes I pick, sometimes they pick. Sometimes it’s just a walk, sometimes dinner, a movie, a bike ride, an ice cream cone… you get the picture. My daughter requested dressing up in their best and going to a nice restaurant for her and my husband’s last “date”. Bottom line though, they just want the time.

  32. Lindsay

    It’s so easy to forget sometimes to slow down and truly appreciate our children for the people they. I appreciate too you sharing the importance of your son learning more about you. Especially as our kids get older they need to see us in our different roles beyond just mom and dad. Good words!

  33. Amber

    Thanks for this… It’s something I’m trying to learn to do better with my own little herd, ages 2 months, 2, 4, & 6. Funny story, when I glanced at the title of this post, I thought it said, “Raising a Boy, Not a Nerd”. Haha, I was a wee bit confused for a second, there.

  34. Emily

    Such wise and touching words, thanks Shaun! There’s no doubt in my mind, and my husband’s, that one on one time is special and needed. However, if I’m very honest with myself, deep down I have a fear that after one on one time they discover I’m not as a cool as they thought I was, or it wasn’t as fun as they had wanted! Silly I know, and it doesn’t stop me from investing the time, but I do have those fears from time to time 🙂

    • Shaun Groves

      To do anything worthwhile it seems we have to push through fear doesn’t it? Push, Emily. Even if our kids think we’re not cool (and that’s inevitable right?) one day they’ll have perspective…and with it appreciation. Or that’s what I tell myself when my twelve year-old rolls her eyes at my jokes ; )

  35. Kelli

    This is so great. It really is easy to forget that they are people, not just kids, and they want to be known – especially by their parents. I’m good at spending one on one time with my daughter because she’s the only girl and with my youngest because he only goes to preschool in the mornings so I have him alone all afternoon. But Sloan is slipping past me. Thanks for reminding me to make an effort. 🙂

  36. Meg D.

    Shaun,
    Thanks so much for this post!
    We are really growing in seeing our children as more than just projects to be shaped and molded with ideals and more as beautiful, powerful souls already that are really in need of love, security and encouragement.

  37. Emily

    When I was little Dad would take one of us girls out with him.. just running errands and chatting.. nothing more than ordinary. On the way home, we’d always stop at a corner store and he would buy a pack of Rolo for us to split. Other times we’d stop for an ice cream cone, or lunch somewhere. He’d say that this was our secret.. not to tell Mom or my sisters.
    A few years ago, my sister and I were talking and discovered these “secret” moments with him. 🙂 It never occurred to us that he did this tradition with each of us. It seemed to make it more sweet.

  38. Elizabeth Kane

    Wonderful story, Shaun. Kids open up in a completely different way when there’s a one on one setting involved, don’t they? All kinds of ideas and questions rise to the surface.

    Absolutely love this line from your son to Tim Tebow: “And this is my Dad.” I remember giving the same intro line as a kid, so proud and beaming ear to ear.

    • Shaun Groves

      It sure felt good that he’d actually claim me…and to his hero too. I’ll never forget.

  39. MomofTwoPreciousGirls

    Hubby and I try to take turns once a month having a one on one day with each of our two girls. We also take turns putting each of them to bed so we get to talk to them about their days and dreams and read stories they want and tickle them and giggle with them. My 5 yo is just starting to really get jokes so I have been telling her some really silly ones and she just laughs and laughs! Bedtime is the only time the 3 yo is willing to be cuddled and kissed! So important to let them feel special and importantly…especially in these busy lives we live!

  40. Robin Dance

    ~ smile ~

    Shaun…as one of Simple Mom’s token contributors WITHOUT ovaries, YOU shed light into a side of parenting (the testosterone-laden side) that helps open eyes. I like that. You, an eye-opener.

    Gresham’s face w/Tebow speaks volumes; this trip will be one of his youth’s highlight. Not only for meeting one of his heroes, but for learning his dad is, too. I’d wager you’ve altered his estimation of you, not for the sake of “idolizing” you, but for meeting you in new ways.

    Wise words, you share.

    🙂

    • Shaun Groves

      Thank you, friend!

  41. Lara

    Love. Thank you for this reminder.

  42. Kim @ Extra Organised

    Great post, and I like not only how you talk about one-on-one time, but also doing something different depending on the child’s interests. It sounds like your son had a brilliant time with you, not only because you were together. but because you take the time to really know him and that means you can make extra special memories, like the Mustang GT and the photo, that he is going to treasure for years to come!

  43. QuatroMama

    DUDE. You just wrote that for me, didn’t you? Like, you had my name written on top of this post “To Jen/QuatroMama” and then deleted it at the last moment? Fess up.

    With quadruplet boys, it’s sooooo easy to group them. It works logistically, and often times in survival mode it’s our go-to plan of action. However, when I take the effort and spend time with them individually – taking them to the library, spending the night with them while they are sick, taking a walk around the block, reading a book just to one of them, etc. – I glean so much about them, and they soak it up like a biscuit to gravy.

    Clark claims the best day of his life was a night he was sick and stayed home from church with just me. I let him take a bubble bath in our garden tub, and I don’t think he’ll ever forget it. So ridiculously simple, but profound in his memory of doing something special, unhurried, and without having to compete for my attention.

    Thanks for the encouragement to continue to seek these opportunities, Shaun. So valuable.

  44. Sarah @ An Inviting Home

    I’m linking up to your article today in my post about birth certificates…something that is standing between my husband and daughter from experiencing some amazing memories together!

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    ~Sarah

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