One of the questions I receive ever now and then is, "What would you do different if you could start all over again as a parent?" This is not a hard question to answer because, in the process of raising kids, I have made many mistakes and would do a lot of things different a second time around. Maybe some of the things I have learned will help other parents be a little wiser. Hopefully, as we mature we become wiser and as a result learn how to be better parents.
If I could parent again I would show more love. I would give lots more hugs. I would not assume that my children knew that I loved them and was proud of them. I would tell my children more often what is in my heart. I have found that there is no substitute for the love between a child and their parent. When I was a child my grandmother would often say, “Love is like paint. Paint covers a lot of mistakes. So does love.” When our children know we love them, it really doesn't matter if we make mistakes. They know where our heart is.
If I could parent again I would criticize less. At the time, pointing out their mistakes seemed to be ways of letting my children know that I cared for them. As they now report back, I have discovered that the criticism only reinforced negative feelings that my children had developed about themselves. I have discovered that there is no such thing as constructive criticism. Kids do not learn from being told what they are doing wrong. They learn by doing and failing and then doing and succeeding. They learn with a cheerleader by their side not a critic. I would have allowed them to make more mistakes and then genuinely felt sad for them as they discovered for themselves how to live with the consequences and to eventually succeed. I have learned that an ounce of empathy is more powerful than a ton of criticism.
If I could parent again I would not threaten and warn as much. "If you don't pick up your shoes you will never see them again!" This kind of threat does no good. Any kid worth his salt will decide that being defiant is the best way to handle a threatening parent. I have discovered it is much more effective to tell a child what I am going to do, not what he/she has to do. I would make more statements that respect my child while maintaining respect for myself. "I would appreciate it if you would pick up your shoes. Don't worry; if you don't get to them today I will store them in my closet for a few days."
If I could parent again I would reduce the number of rules. I would replace all of the unenforceable rules with a few rules that are enforceable. They would be rules like. "I'll be glad to talk to you when your voice sounds like mine." The few general house rules that I would have in place would be simple and straightforward. Rule #1 would be. "All family members share the work load of the family." Rule #2 would be, "No matter what the issue, every family member needs to be treated with respect." Rule #3 would be, "If you cause a problem for another family member, you are responsible for fixing the problem you caused."
If I could parent again I would worry less and enjoy the process more. I would recognize that the process of "growing into an adult" is a process that takes time. I would not fret and stew because my kids are not doing what I want them to do. When they make mistakes I would not lecture my children but would get out of their way as they figure out how to correct the problems they have caused. I would smile a little more as I watched them struggle. I would be patient as they grew and learned about this complex world we live in. I would always be there, if they needed me, but I would learn to interfere less in their life.
If I could parent again I would have more faith in my children. I have learned that every person has within their being the capacity to work out solutions to their own problems. If, as a parent, I provide the support they need, rather than telling them what they must do, they would be able to solve their own problems. If I could do it over my children would know how much I trust them and have faith in their capacity to solve their own problems.
If I could parent again I would not do it alone. I would utilize more effectively the support available in my home, my community, and my church. I would also have more conversations about my kids and the challenges they face with the Man Upstairs. I would not feel that asking for help means that I am not a good parent. As a result I would take more parenting classes and talk to more parents who are "growing up" with their kids also.
If I could parent again I would be less of a parent and more of a friend. To develop a true friendship takes time. We spend many years with our kids as they grow up in our homes. I can't think of a better place to cultivate a long and lasting friendship. The friendships we develop in the home with our children will be ones that can span time and distance. The friendships developed in our homes should be ones that produce joy and peace all through our lives.