Birthday parties. Sports games and practices. Music recitals and lessons. Tutoring. Help in homeroom. Help with homework. Robotics. Scouts. Lunch with your child. After-school adventures. Youth group. School carpools.

And that is just part of a list for one child at one school. You might also have just as much to do for other children, as well as plans as a family, taking care of other relatives, neighborhood gatherings, and church and social commitments. Not to mention the fact that you work and need some personal downtime every now and then. 

If you are like most dads, you may feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. What do you do when you realize you can’t do it all? You may even feel anxiety or guilt over not doing some of the things available to us and our kids. 

Say No—To Increase the Quality of Your Yeses 

“No”—this one small word is a very powerful weapon in making a schedule that is right for you and your family. Most self-help experts agree that, if you are going to be successful at anything, you will have to say no to a lot of things. The famous billionaire and investor Warren Buffet says it this way, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” 

That might be easy for Warren Buffet to say, but how do you do that with kids? How do you say no when you are trying to help each member of your family be successful in what they want? We know we can’t please everyone all the time, but how do we know which things to say yes to?

How to Say “No” and “Yes” with Confidence—Know What Is Most Important 

Self-help expert Stephen Covey says, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” You have to know the definition of success for you, for your family, and for each child. Yes, this is the hard part—to take the time to define success as a family and for each person. 

Let’s start with one child. What is your definition of success for that child? What does that look like in 10, 20, 50, and 100 years?  “Begin with the end in mind.” Stephen Covey and others have said this, but more importantly, the Bible has a lot to say on this subject to guide us. Jesus tells us, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:26-27 NIV). 

To be clear, this is not about gaining your soul any more than it’s about gaining the world. It’s not about what you can earn or do at all. It’s about knowing you are loved and giving your life and family back to the One whose love you can never lose. 

To be strategic dads, we first need to fully accept God’s free gift to us: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV). Only then can we “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph  2:10)—works like loving our kids and showing them how to love God. (Read more about this here.)

This helps reframe everything. The decisions you are making now will impact your children for the rest of their lives. If you define success for your child as spending eternity in glory with God, you can create a simple grid that allows you to make decisions on everything, including schools, vacations, technology, after-school activities, and even how you can best support them and where to be involved. 

Two Questions For Guidance 

If we define success as following Jesus and enjoying eternal life with him, we can use the great commandment passage in Mathew 22:37-39: 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Based on that verse, ask these two questions to bring great clarity to any decision:

  1. How will a “yes” or a “no” to this decision help your child know God better? To know God is to more deeply understand his holiness and to rely on his grace and mercy in a way that leads us to worship him with all we have. 
  2. How will a “yes” or “no” to this decision help your child know, love, and serve others better? 

It is important to know what works for one child or family might not work for another, especially as it involves a big decision like school choice or whether to join a team or club. What could lead one child in the wrong direction could be beneficial to another (see Romans 14 for what God says about this). Also, remember that making a decision for one child can impact the whole family. If saying “yes” means it takes up many weekends or weeknight dinners, you could be in effect be saying “no” to other things you deeply value. 

Of course, it is not easy, but through prayer and reliance on God to guide us, we can make decisions that lead us and our kids to God.

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.