As people of deep faith, retired NFL star Benjamin Watson and his wife Kirsten know that Christmas is about much more than tinsel, tunes, and turkey. Like a 21st-century version of the eponymous family at the center of the 1970s TV series “The Waltons”—who, like the Watsons, raised four boys and three girls and likewise built their values around God—the couple understand that a well-functioning family is built on a strong, loving relationship between husband and wife as well as parent and child.
At the Watsons’ new home in Fayetteville, a small town south of Atlanta, Georgia, there’s special reason to celebrate this year as father, mother, and the kids, ages 2 to 12, settle into the first home they’ve ever owned. That’s because Benjamin, the former tight end and 2005 Super Bowl champion who played for the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, and New Orleans Saints, now has firm roots after hopscotching across the country.
Benjamin and his wife both graduated from the University of Georgia, Athens, and knew that they would likely return to Georgia. Kirsten has family in Atlanta, while his family is in South Carolina. As their parents got older, they wanted to make sure their seven children spent more time with the grandparents.
Now, without having to worry about finding suitable rental properties in different cities as their kids are growing up, Benjamin and Kirsten are publicly sharing their thoughts on how to build a stronger marriage and stronger family. They’re doing so through their blogs, through a weekly podcast that was started in 2020, in personal appearances, and in print. Benjamin’s “The New Dad’s Playbook,” a how-to on parenting, was released in 2017; “Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us,” published in 2016, continues to garner critical acclaim.
7 Kids, 7 Life Lessons
With seven children in various stages of growth, here is what the couple, who first met through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, told parents and parents-to-be during several episodes of their podcast, “Why or Why Not with the Watsons”:
Bring faith home, but keep work at work: “It’s easy to just wait until Sunday,” Kirsten said about showing a family’s devotion to God. “Bringing it into the family is something we have to be intentional about.” At the same time, Benjamin said, work should not be brought home at the end of the day—something he learned from a former teammate. “Being present, I think, has been important to me; […] when you walk through that door, you’re a daddy, you’re a husband—you’re all those things that are much more important and separate than your occupation outside of the home.”
Engage in annual check-ins with your spouse: “We talk about our highs and lows, we talk about our goals, we talk about sex life, we talk about our fears, […] and sometimes that conversation is 5 minutes and sometimes 50 minutes,” Benjamin said. Kirsten added, “If we can’t communicate together as adults about certain things for whatever reason, we have to be able to understand that those types of things play a role in how we will communicate with our kids.”
Create special moments with your kids, but not always as a group: “Make some memories—a ‘last good adventure of the summer’ type thing. But as a father, I simply wanted to get with the girls because there are certain things that a dad can impart to his daughters or impress upon his daughters that I can’t do when I’m with everybody,” Benjamin said. “To ask them about their fears, to ask them about their dreams and their ambitions.”
Move as a family. Whether it’s in the NFL or some other occupation, parents sometimes decide to live apart when a better job offer comes along, Benjamin said. The Watsons always stayed together, choosing to rent so as to smooth the transition to their next stop. “We decided we wanted to stay together wherever we moved,” Benjamin said, and he and Kirsten presented a united front to their kids despite their own mixed emotions about moving. Eventually, kids “adapt and create memories,” he added.
Build and maintain friendships: “Mommy, why would I go make friends in a new place and we’re only going to be there for a year?” the Watsons’ oldest child once asked Kirsten. She responded in a spirit of giving. “Even if we’re going to be there for a year, there is someone there that needs you. They need the gifts that God has given you. They need how you speak to them. They need your friendship for this one year, rather than you need somebody.”
Don’t be a helicopter parent, but pray: In a tumultuous climate riven by a virus; on-again, off-again schooling; and polarized opinions about race and religion, “we always talk about grounding our children at home,” the Super Bowl champion said, “and then understanding also that we don’t own them, that we are stewarding them. And that quite honestly, we can’t protect them from everything.” Praying for your children is important, added Benjamin, who is the son of a pastor.
Give fewer gifts at Christmas: All across America, there’ll be plenty of gifts under the tree this season. “If you buy a Christmas gift that really grabs your child’s attention for more than three, four weeks, you’re doing really well, honestly,” Benjamin said. He advises cutting back on the number of gifts given and rethinking the holiday. “You receive, but you also understand the importance of giving because Christmas truly is about giving.”
“We do know that God will show up, and He shows up and He meets us exactly where we are,” Kirsten told listeners in one of the couple’s early podcasts. “Our hope is that we can share some of that with you.”