This may be an unusual posting. Being a thinker, I have, over the years, spent a lot of time thinking about — at times agonizing about — things we did wrong as parents. But first, I think I deserve the opportunity to lay down some caveats.
1. No two children are the same. In that sense, there is no such thing as an “experienced” parent. Whatever we do, whatever we say, it is a unique, one-time-only experience for the child. What worked for Johnny may or may not work for Mary.
2. A lot of what we read is right — some of the time. That means that a lot of what we read is wrong — some of the time. All of our best efforts to obtain wisdom and knowledge may improve our batting average, but we will all screw the pooch from time to time. Write that on the back of your hand and pray daily for guidance – and forgiveness!
3. I don’t believe that anybody sets out on this parenting adventure intending to raise messed-up kids. But look around at all of the messed up adults and pray that you somehow find adequate models to emulate so that you can achieve your intended goal of “successful parenting” – however you would measure it.
4. Kids are pretty resilient. They can absorb a fair amount of parental ineptitude and turn out OK. Thank God!
I am proud of my kids, and as I have shared before, they are old enough now that I can believe that they are launched and on their own pathways. Their successes and failures from this point on rightfully belong to them. Now I am looking forward to messing up their kids, the way grandparents are supposed to do.
We succeeded in getting them through adolescence and young adulthood, through high school and college, without a pregnancy, without drug or alcohol abuse, and without arrest records. They both take their civic duties seriously and are wrestling with how they will integrate their faith into their own families.
But there are things I am sorry for, and I would like to share them with you so that perhaps you may avoid making the same mistakes.
First, fairness is over-rated. I have a highly developed sense of what is fair. I got it at an early age, and it affected the way we interacted with our kids. If I had it to do over again, I would try to teach them the idea that not all things will be equal, but that all things will be done according to what is needed by the individual at the time. The list of things affected by this is extensive, and includes such things as curfews, bed times, allowances, gifts, chores, and so on.
Next, I would try to be more positive. By nature and by vocation I have been evaluative and critical in my interactions at work, in leadership, and in my family. I almost completely missed the opportunity to be a cheerleader for my kids. Given the opportunity to do it all again, I would try to be more of an encourager and to keep my negative observations to myself.
Finally, I would have invested more in my relationship with my wife and a little less on my kids. My wife and I each, I think, were guilty of placing our kids above our marriage. I believe this is a common problem. Squeaky wheel gets the grease – that sort of thing. But it is a scary and certainly unhealthy thing to put your marriage on a shelf for 20+ years while you raise your kids. To some degree, we are all guilty of that. I wish I had done it less.
Perhaps this will stimulate some discussion about things to avoid. Guess it’s that negative, evaluative thing coming out again …
But it is all part of the adventure!