Five Things You Can Do With Your Child That You’ll Never Regret
I’m at the stage in life where I have more in my rearview mirror than in my windshield. We’re at the stage of “empty nest” (almost), kids are getting married, grandchildren have arrived, retirement plans are growing in urgency and I’ve got quite a few miles on this ol’ body. We were so blessed to be parents of four kids who are as different from each other as they could possibly be. From introverts to extroverts, athletic to artistic, noisy to quiet, bubbly to broody – we have about every personality type possible represented in our home.
I’m constantly surprised at how quickly those parenting years flew by. I wish I could relive them again with my current mindset and life experiences, but that’s now how life works. I’m sometimes asked if I have any ‘regrets’ about my parenting during their “living at home” years and I reply quickly, “Regrets? I’ve got plenty of regrets, baby!” with a smirk, but there’s also some truth to that. I think if a parent doesn’t have some regrets about their days of active parenting, then they aren’t very honest or perhaps not very introspective.
But why focus on “regrets”? What about the things you DON’T regret? There are plenty of those too. Let me give you a few miscellaneous things we did with our children that I do not regret.
Emphasizing experiences over possessions.
Our kids did not grow up poor – the Lord always blessed us with more than many in my profession and most people around the world have in terms of material possessions. But we weren’t and aren’t driven by “stuff”. So…no gaming system until the oldest were in their late teens, no cell phones in elementary (or middle) school, no shopping at trendy mall stores for cool clothes, no elaborate parties with tables of gifts. Instead, we took excursions (often difficult for a guy who works week-ends, but easier because we mostly homeschooled). We had experiences – mom taking the kids to the beach, dad taking the boys on right of passage trips, renting a place along a mountain river, going to visit the cousins who lived in the Midwest in the country, destroying tons of fireworks every July 4th, always going to the South Florida Fair, visiting a farm, dragging them with me to visit people in the hospital, mom taking the girls on their right of passage trips, building bonfires in the yard.
Your kids will likely remember little of what they received for their birthdays, Christmas or on other occasions, but they WILL remember those shared experiences for the rest of their lives.
Having Bedtime Rituals
For us (and this isn’t the case for every family), we didn’t make a big deal about an exact bedtime every night of the week. We actually staggered bedtimes connected to age, but also so that we could have a few minutes alone with each of the kids before they went to bed when they were younger. I don’t know if the kids thought it was fun, but I enjoyed laying on the bed telling some made-up story before they went to sleep. For one of my kids, I would bounce him like a basketball while they were laying on the bed before I kissed them and shut off the light. At some point I stopped, thinking that he was too old. A few weeks later he asked his mom if I still loved him. When she asked why, he said, “Because he doesn’t bounce me at bedtime anymore.” I think I went back to bouncing that kid all the way to his 16th birthday! It’s sad, but many times the last thing a kid hears before going to sleep is, “If you get out of that bed ONE MORE TIME, I’m gonna….”! Having nightly rituals provide bonding moments and opportunities for sharing that will leave you smiling well into your retirement years.
Eating Dinner Together
The number of families who never or rarely eat dinner together is shocking and has grown consistently over the years. An even more disturbing trend is that many of those who do have dinner together, either have the TV on while they are eating or in today’s world – everyone is on their cell phone. I’m constantly seeing families at restaurants where each kid has their own “device” to occupy them. Sure, we’ll all have to fight this at times, but putting a “rule” in place that requires devices to be off and everyone to be present multiple times per week at certain meals is something that opens the door to communication, storytelling, debates/discussions and teachable moments. Try it – even if it is awkward at first, eventually, you’ll get the hang of it. And yes….at times, it will be just miserable as someone gets cranky and gives everyone else indigestion. But in the end, the good times will far outweigh the bad ones.
Reading Aloud to Your Kids
My doctoral project involved how recreational reading impacted student performance in elementary students. Even more important than that, is reading to your children when they are too young to read for themselves and during those first few years that they are reading. Reading well-selected books will help your child learn important facts, develop character qualities, improve critical thinking and master basic skills of conversation and dialogue. Yes…you’ll fight off drowsiness sometimes and yes, they’ll want to hear the SAME STORY over and over, but having regular habits of reading aloud to your kids will not only be good for them, but will be good for you as you remember those sweet moments of a pile of pajamaed kids sprawled in your laps munching a nighttime snack while you imitate the voices of your favorite Dr. Suess characters.
Taking Your Kids to Church
Few things make me shake my head harder than those parents who say, we’ll wait until our kids are older to expose them to religion when they can decide on their own what they want to believe. Seriously? Do you let your kids decide whether or not they are going to go to school? Attend sports practice? Eat their veggies? Taking your kids to church is called P-A-R-E-N-T-I-N-G. And notice I said “taking”, not “sending.” In the earliest years of attending church, your kids will develop Biblical literacy – learning the great stories of Scripture, the characters of the Bible and the significance of events like Christmas, Easter and the Lord’s Supper. Later on, they will learn about spiritual disciplines – prayer, serving, reading Scripture, meditating, giving, etc… If you are in the right kind of church, as they reach those crucial high school years, they will be exposed to critical thinking, apologetics, living for others, ethics/morality training and thinking aside from themselves. Sit in worship together. Partner with their teachers and leaders. Discuss what you study and learn. Serve as a family. Work through frustrations and conflict in a faith-family setting using Biblical principles. Help your kids identify their spiritual gifts and how to use them for the Glory of God and the good of others. The most important disciplemaker in any home is not the pastor, the youth leader or the Sunday school teacher. It is the parent.
Eventually, your kids will determine for themselves what they will do for God. They will also decide what kind of marriage they want. They’ll also be called upon to parent their own children. By doing the right things early on with them, you set them up for making better and healthier decisions about their own futures and responsibilities later. They won’t be just like you. They’ll be different. And maybe…maybe, if we are blessed….they’ll be a whole lot better at parenting than we were.
So….what are YOUR favorite memories, practices and rituals of parenting that come to your mind? How about sharing them in the comment section below and let’s learn from each other!
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