By Brent Rinehart, Crosswalk.com
Recently, Christian author, speaker, and good Twitter follow Jackie Hill Perry (@JackieHillPerry) asked her social media followers to share their parenting regrets. She tweeted: “Parents of adult children, what do you regret not doing or not doing more of when your children were little?” Among the hundreds of responses, themes emerged, and most of them line up with traditional research on the topic.
We all have regrets. We all would probably admit that we would do things differently if we had a “do-over.” For those of us still in the throes of raising younger children, hearing wisdom from the mouths of parents who have been there, done that can help us see things we might be missing. If you still have young children in the home, we know that our time is limited, and these moments are fleeting. Yet, there is still time to make adjustments in our lives to deal with these common regrets.
My wife and I talk about this one a lot. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustrations of a single moment and lose ourselves. For us, this happens when we’ve given calm instructions continually, and we can’t stand to repeat ourselves one more time. While we know from the Bible that there are certain times anger can be righteous – anger over mistreatment or injustice - I can speak from experience that many times, my anger isn’t righteous. In these moments, I’d do well to remember that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Also, Paul’s encouragement to “Be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).
Overreacting is a common regret for many parents, as they realize that these routine moments can become benchmarks in the parent-child relationship. They can be things that children never forget.
2. Choosing Work Over Family
“Being too busy” is a common refrain for American parents, who are juggling demanding jobs, hectic schedules, and buzzing phones after traditional work hours. Brigid Schulte, a former reporter for The Washington Post, wrote on this topic of work-life balance in her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. “I felt like I couldn’t even breathe. I felt like work was totally demanding. I always felt behind, that I wasn’t doing enough. At home, I felt like I couldn’t be the kind of mother that I thought I should be. I felt like I was falling apart at the seams.”
We live in a culture of overwork – one in which most of us are choosing to spend extra time at the office, expend extra effort on projects, or devote additional time being immediately accessible via email or text. Our schedules seem out of control, when in fact, we do have the ability to set boundaries. And, it’s easier said than done, but if a job is taking over your life, perhaps it is time to pray about finding a new one. Work is important. But, family is more so.
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3. Not Being Present and In the Moment
Studies have shown that the average person touches his or her phone more than 2,600 times per day. We are so eager to be sure we aren’t missing something online that we miss everything offline. While there are many benefits from the advancement of technology in our homes, it has been distracting us from our families for decades. It’s not entirely to blame, though. Even without it, the stresses of everyday life occupy our minds and can cause us to drift. Looking back, countless parents regret having been preoccupied with things that didn’t ultimately matter while missing the things that did.
4. Focusing More on Behavior and Less on the Heart’s Condition
As parents, we are all trying to do our best. But, sometimes, our focus seems to be on trying to raise good children instead of good adults. While it’s important that we teach our children how to behave, we can become so focused on minor behavior issues that we miss the opportunity to teach them about deeper matters. As parents, our top priority is to showcase our faith and teach our children about Jesus and what it means to follow Him. Our goal should be raising up a new generation ready to impact the world for Christ. Before you know it, the moments to foster that kind of faith will have passed.
5. Not Involving Kids in Ministry
One of the best things we can do for our children is to involve them intimately in our own ministry activities, whether it be serving in some capacity at church, preparing and delivering a meal to a friend or neighbor, volunteering with local nonprofits, or reaching out to someone in need. Many parents regret not making the most of these moments, especially when children are younger, as a way to foster a giving mindset that will last a lifetime.
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We constantly compare. We compare ourselves to other parents. We compare one child to another. It’s a major regret that many parents of adult children have as they look back over time, and it’s something that we all do, whether we know it or not. In fact, there’s a whole psychological concept around this called Social Comparison Theory. Basically, it states that we derive our own worth or progress based on how we stack up against others. We scroll through our social media feeds and see how other parents seem to have it all together. We can use it as fuel and motivation for improvement, so it’s not all bad. But, it can cause us to experience guilt, or even worse, depression.
It also shows up in our families when we find ourselves comparing one child to another and maybe even expressing it verbally. “Why can’t you do this like your brother?” “Your sister never did that.” When we do this as parents, we are inadvertently encouraging our children to derive their value from how they stack up against a sibling.
7. Not Having More Meaningful Conversations
My daughter likes to have her deepest discussions at night before she goes to bed. And, of course, that’s the least optimal time for me. I’ve had a long and sometimes stressful day. While I should savor these moments and thank God for the opportunity, I often dread them and view them as my daughter’s subtle way of avoiding going to bed. Looking back, many parents who may have avoided similar moments regretted their feelings and actions. These opportunities are only available for a limited time. I know there will come a day when my daughter doesn’t want to have these conversations. And, I’ll look back and realize that my attitude was all wrong.
8. Not Spending Enough One-On-One Time
Yes, the time that we have with our kids under our roofs is short. Family time is important, but often, parents regret not having spent more one-on-one time with their kids. This is especially important if you have multiple kids. There’s a special bond to be formed between dads and daughters, dads and sons, mothers and daughters, and mothers and sons. It requires an investment of time and intentionality. The relationship we ultimately have with our children when they are grown is built on these moments – these times that we invest in them individually.
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