“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

This may seem like an odd verse for this topic, but one of the ways we can provoke our children to anger is by trying to buy their affection instead of investing in their hearts.

Many of us as single parents live in situations where there is great financial disparity between one parent’s household and the other. Seeing our kids experience all the ‘finer things’ in life with their other parent, then coming back to our shabby place where money is always tight, clothing is always secondhand, and we don’t have satellite TV can feel very unfair.

For those of you who may be feeling the frustration of having a tight budget and watching your kids go off and be lavished with expensive items and entertainment with the other parent, just remember…Just because you have a lesser budget doesn’t make you a lesser parent.

Perhaps out of guilt, or maybe out of fear that our children are going to love their other parent more or choose them over us, some of us as single parents feel the need to indulge our kids with material things that we hope will swing their affection pendulum in our direction.

Unfortunately, kids know when they are being “bought.” They sense when our motives are less than pure and also when one parent is trying to ‘one-up’ the other. Children should never feel like they have to choose between their parents; it’s an awful pressure to put them under. This is very hard on their hearts, harder than if we simply let them feel the gap of unequally resourced households. As much as they might whine for the latest toys and gadgets and clothes, kids can really have content hearts with very little material things if they are in a spot where they have at least one loving parent who is spiritually leading and encouraging them.

Single moms, or any single parent who has primary custody, do not feel like you are at a disadvantage if you have less disposable income to invest in material things or entertainment. While you may feel the strain of tighter finances and greater responsibility in dealing with the harder everyday issues of parenting—discipline, chores, keeping up with school and extracurricular activities, and navigating all the emotional ups and downs kids go through—you also have the gift of being most present in your child’s life. This is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Make the most of this season to invest your time and love into your kids, even at the expense of downsizing your lifestyle, so you can look back without regrets and know you did your best to raise your kids in a loving and God-honoring way.

Single dads, it is you I most want to speak to because you are who God specifically addresses in this passage. While it may be the mothers who most often get awarded primary custody and who might have the most time in front of their kids, it is still the fathers who God assigns the greatest responsibility to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Dads, don’t equate hours of custody with level of influence. Just because you have the lesser time doesn’t make you a lesser parent. You still can and should be the greatest spiritual leaders and encouragers in your childrens’ lives. Don’t try to be your child’s buddy and don’t perpetuate the “Disneyland Dad” stereotype by trying to earn your kids’ affection through over-the-top entertainment or lavish purchases during your time together. This sets them up to believe that they have to try and earn love too.

Instead, spend ordinary but meaningful time with them. Share the load of routine activities as much as possible. Do homework together, teach them something, read or tell them stories, practice sports with them, have conversations about school and church and their friends. Most of all, show them what it looks like to follow Jesus. (Note: You cannot lead where you haven’t gone. Pursuing an authentic relationship with Christ yourself is the best thing you can ever do as a dad.) If you happen to be in a situation where you rarely get to see your child, you can still be a primary influence to them by writing A LOT of letters, remembering their special days, calling consistently, and praying unceasingly for your kids! I cannot overemphasize how much your spiritual involvement and influence matters. Your children will largely base their relationship with God on their relationship with you, if that gives you any idea! If they believe they matter to you, they will believe they matter to God.