Putting children and family first - Parenting

Mark Christie was making a lot of money flying around the country as the business manager for big-time athletes like NBA star Ray Allen. But five years ago, when Christie went on a business trip instead of going to his daughter's christening, he decided to give up the fast lane and dedicate himself to his family.

"I was always traveling and living a fast-paced lifestyle," says Christie, 39, who owned the sports business management company, Players Club International, from 1992 to 2000. "I was about to lose everything. Now I'm a real value-driven guy."

His wife, Andrea Christie, a marketing professional for McNeil Consumer and Specialty Pharmaceuticals, was a major force in turning him around. In the old days, she says, Mark traveled sporadically and was gone sometimes for a month at a time. During these periods, she hired someone to help her get their daughters ready in the morning or to watch them in the evening. "It was like being a single mother," she says.

Now, Christie, who owns Zoe Consulting, which offers financial advice to churches and small businesses, shares the daily responsibility of raising their three children. He starts his day at 4:30 a.m. with prayer and exercise. Thirty minutes later, Andrea, 37, starts her own devotions before waking up their daughters, 7-year-old Annette and 5-year-old Greer, and their 1-year-old son Markus. The girls are old enough to dress themselves in the clothes that were laid out for them the night before, but they need help from mom getting their hair together.

Mark's mother, Mary Christie, who has lived with the family for 2 1/2 years, helps get the children ready for their day as well.

After a quick breakfast, the family leaves their Glenside, Pa., home near Philadelphia. The school bus picks up Annette and Greer. Mark drops off his son at the baby-sitter's, and his wife at her job. He then works from his home office until it's time to pick up Markus and Andrea again.

The couple, who met at Hampton University in 1986, takes turns meeting their daughters at the school bus stop, and dropping them off and picking them up from ballet class. The family's schedule will get busier if the girls decide to take gymnastics or play soccer.

This busy routine isn't a problem for their mom, who enjoys the challenge. "I love motherhood," Andrea says. "There's a special bond between the children and me. I love spending time with them. I love talking to them because it helps me to understand who they are and who they are becoming."

The Christies are also busy as members of the men's and women's ministries at their church. Because of their busy routines, they look for ways to spend more time with their children. It's a challenge to eat dinner together every night, but they make an effort to set aside Friday as pizza night and Saturday and Sunday nights as family dinner nights. "It's important for us to have dinner together with the TV off, Andrea says. She cooks large meals on Sundays that last several days. Mark likes to cook or grill his "concoctions" on weekends.

Spending most of his time and money on the family is part of Mark's new value system. "I established a value system and I live by it," Mark says. The Christies say they have only one car because both girls go to a private school. "Our values are more important than comfort," he says. "The tuition is more than a car note."

The couple often stays home to spend quality time together so they don't use extra money outside of the home. Some of their favorite activities are playing table games and watching the girls swim in the kiddy pool.

Instead of going out, the Christies sometimes even have "dates" in the sitting room adjacent to their bedroom. There they'll watch television or a video. "We get away at home," Mark says. "Tickets are too expensive for all of us to go out."

The Christies appreciate the help they receive from Mary Christie, who lives in the house. The girls spend time watching television and often talk about their friends while visiting with their grandmother in her bedroom. Mark's mother helps watch the children if Mark and Andrea want to be alone or have to go out.

"To the girls she's more than grandma the disciplinarian," Mark says. "They're real buddies. They give her youth and she gives them camaraderie and conversation."

Mark says he's learned that spending time with his family is more important than making more money. "Now, if I have to choose between the kids' recital and a business meeting, there is no choice," he says. "I stay with the kids. I tell the people going to the meeting I can't go because of my kids, and they understand. I can't re-see a missed recital."