I knew I was going to be terrible at parenting. I desperately wanted to be good at it, but when I had my first, and if I were to be completely honest, my third, I still ate cereal for dinner and locked my keys in the car on a regular basis. I was not prepared to take care of tiny people that were completely dependent on me. Having three kids in four years, in my early twenties, meant I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to read and sift through parenting books with conflicting advice. 

However, there was a Proverb that had stuck with me. 

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

This made sense to me. Train them up. I knew how to do that. 

I had been working since I was 15 and knew a little something about training others. 

I knew that a good trainer takes the time to learn more about their trainees; what motivates them, frightens them, what they are good at, how they learn and any weakness that will hinder their success. An effective trainer will show their trainees the ropes, introduce them to their surroundings, and as they progress, advise them on what the coming expectations are. Trainees start out with small manageable tasks or steps, they shadow you on bigger responsibilities, you let them struggle some, but bail them out when absolutely necessary for the good of the company. Trainers prepare and equip trainees for success ahead of time and check their work afterwards looking for opportunities to teach along the way. Always being flexible knowing that no one trainee was like another, they didn’t need the same things, and would need to be trained a little differently.

I could do that.

“Big Rocks First” is a lifehack I had used for my own time management and had trained teams on how
to implement this hack in their businesses. Why not implement it with my little trainees? 

A new family tradition was born. 

The concept of “big rocks first” centers around the idea that your daily life is a jar. It can easily be filled with small rocks, sand, sticks and debris leaving no room for the bigger more important stuff. Without good planning and attention, your life becomes what others dictate or a reaction to your surroundings. 

Equipped with an oversized planner and some gel pens, it was time for a team meeting with my little trainees. 

I sat my 3rd, 5th and 7th grader down to decide what our 6 “big rocks” were as a family. I knew they may change over time, when we all eventually grew up, but we had to start somewhere. What things did we value most as a family? What were our non-negotiables? Those would be the things we planned for every week. They would take precedence over the debris that bombarded us constantly. They would be our decision making guide. 

We then spent time discussing what order they went in and came to a unanimous decision. Our six rocks were put in the jar.

  1. God 
  2. Family 
  3. Work or School 
  4. Friends 
  5. Fitness 
  6. Service 

Each week as we planned school activities, sports, homework, friends, parties, holidays, jobs, and meals, we would include time for each one of our “big rocks.” Before long they would just refer to them by number and graciously remind me when I tried to cut one out if I was short on time or had a busy week. We all got great joy and excitement when we found activities that checked off more than one box. They loved playing sports with friends. Or mowing their grandma’s yard. The days they had to go with me to work suddenly seemed more efficient and less of a dread. Two birds with one stone. 

Since we ranked them, number one being the most important, it made prioritizing their time a system and not an argument. They had a hand in determining what the most important things in life were and they had a voice in deciding what was most important.  When they would ask if they could skip watching their brother’s baseball game to go to a friend’s house or could they skip homework and go out with their friends, I could refer them to the ranking. When conflicts arose, they knew which one was more important and if we couldn’t find a way to do them both, they had to pick the “bigger rock.” It wasn’t a perfect system and there were many exceptions, but for the most part, it avoided many arguments. I was simultaneously annoyed and full of admiration watching their resourcefulness in recategorizing their favorite activities. Could video games be counted as family time if you were playing with your sister? Could basketball with friends be considered God time if you were playing at a church gym or you prayed before the game? Was it technically school time if you went out with friends from school? Some of those questions were never definitively answered. 

2020 threw a lot of debris, sticks and sand our way. We are thankful to have survived and, in the midst of uncertainty, remain focused. 

This month, over 15 years later, we again kicked off our year reevaluating our 6 “big rocks.” They didn’t change. We discussed the order. Our priorities remained. What we did learn was to leave a lot of space for the pebbles and sand. 

We begin 2021 with a great appreciation for a simple time management tool that has directed our planning for over a decade.  

What are your “big rocks?” 

“People plan their path, but the Lord secures their steps.” – Proverbs 16:9