What do you want for your children? How do you want them to remember you?

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily chaos of raising children. When we had our first baby, the pediatrician told us, “Don’t worry about setting habits right now. You are in survival mode—just do what it takes to get through the day.”

That might sound like weird advice, but it was some of the best parenting advice we ever received. It freed us to focus on helping our child the best way we knew how, minute by minute and hour by hour. If you have a newborn in your house or are dealing with another major change or challenge, I encourage you to lean on God’s strength to love your child as best you can today. He will carry you.

But once you’re able to keep your head above water, don’t settle for treading water. You have an incredible opportunity to be strategic in raising your children.

Look at Psalm 127 (NIV):

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.

Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

The first half of the Psalm gives us the only trustworthy foundation for being a Strategic Dad: God’s help. Even when he tasks us with building a house and a family—it’s really God who gets the house built. Even if we are parenting diligently and thoughtfully, it’s God who can transform our children into wise and loving adults.

But the second half of the Psalm implies that we certainly have a role to play. God has entrusted our children to us as a gift, and God wants us to be strategic and intentional as dads. Look at what the psalm compares children to—arrows. Arrows aren’t meant to stay in a quiver forever, and they aren’t meant to be tossed aimlessly into the air. They work best when they are aimed, carefully and attentively, towards the right target.

Step 1: Identify Your Purpose

People follow leaders who know why they do what they are doing. And that is just as true for parents as it is for CEOs—adults and children alike follow leaders who believe in what they are doing, not someone with a list of what to do. (To learn more, check out one of the most-watched TED Talks of all time, Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”)

You aren’t left alone to figure out your purpose in parenting. God tells you your purpose in his Word. God has made men and women in his image, and he gives us an incredible role to play while we are on this earth. In Genesis 1:27-28, he calls us to be fruitful and multiply, and he calls us to be co-creators as he calls us to put all of the earth under his dominion.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Step 2: Establish Your Vision and Your Values

When we know our “Why,” we can establish foundational vision and values.

It’s good to go to the most foundational resources when you consider what to use to inform your vision and values. The supreme foundational truth is the Bible. Think about what Bible verses or quotes inspire your family values. (If you’re married, make sure you are doing this alongside your wife!)

Here is a great example from the Bible: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). And here’s a worthwhile quote from Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Use can use an online Bible with a search feature (or Google) to search for truths and values that inspire you. You should also ask men a decade or more ahead of you in the parenting journey what they value, or wish they would have valued sooner.

Step 3: Make Plans for Your Family

When we know our purpose as a parent, we can make life plans based on what we believe. Here are three elements of making plans for our families. Below each one, I’ve added some questions for you to think and pray about.

Vision: Look ahead to see where you want your children to grow and how you want them to be remembered.

What is your ideal vision for your child:

  • In 20 years?
  • In 10 years?
  • In 5 years?
  • In 1 year?

Discernment: Evaluate what is best for you and your family.

  • What are your child’s gifts? How can you encourage those gifts?
  • What are your child’s struggles? How can you help them?
  • What are some ways your child grew over the past year?
  • What is a potential challenge or change your child will face in the future? How can you be preparing your child to face that challenge?
  • Is there anything you are doing that could be holding your child back?

Planning: Making practical plans to turn vision into reality.

  • What are the things you want your child to be able to do by age 10? By age 18?
  • When is the right time for your child to learn these things?
  • What are the things you need to start doing now to teach your child these things?

As you are making plans, remember that we don’t have to do this on our own—in fact, we can’t! God gives us these responsibilities, and he gives us the help we need to raise our children. When we put our full trust in Jesus, he covers all of our mistakes and sins in the grace of our Lord and Savior. And, thankfully, his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Howard Graham is the Executive Editor of Strategic Dads. He also serves as the Chaplain for Presbyterian Day School and the Executive Director of Building Boys, Making Men. Howard is passionate about teaching people to know God and to help them live out their faith in Jesus. He enjoys spending time with his family. He and his wife, Kimberley, have a girl and three boys. They live in Memphis, TN.