Children don’t come with owner’s manuals, nor are they anything alike even if they come from the same mother and father. As young parents my wife and I poured over all the marriage and parenting books we could find. Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson, as I recalled seemed to be one of the most popular authorities, but there were many others. It didn’t take us too long to figure out that the experts in child rearing were as diversified as theologians.
I was reluctant to have children, but not for very long. After a touching song by the Oakridge Boys (Thank God for Kids), an inspiring sermon on Father’s Day, and marrying a woman who desperately wanted children, I changed my mind and really wanted to try my hand at parenting. It didn’t take long. We had our first child before completing college, something I would deeply regret for the rest of my life (having her before graduation).
Like all parents, there were some very specific things I was hoping to pass down to my children. For me, I wanted nothing more than to spare my children from the horrible experiences I had as a child. My home would be drug and alcohol free–totally. There would be no smoking. Paula and I were both committed to the Christian Faith. Church involvement would be a regular part of our family life. We would emphasize education, faith, and good morals. Furthermore, as a child of divorce I was had a very deep resolve not to divorce. As a young parent, I was convinced I could do far better than my own parents. As the years went by I was to gain more love and respect for them as fallible people, who just like me were simply trying to do the best they could with their own situations. They made mistakes. So have I–many mistakes.
There were several things that influenced me as a young parent.
- Perhaps my biggest influence was the desire to do things different than my own parents. I was committed to do all the things I wish my parents would have done but didn’t. Even though I felt no desire to sugar-coat life for my children, I desperately wanted to keep them far away from the pain I experienced.
- Even though it never worked for me, I was still convinced the way to keep children from harm was stern discipline. The
- The Bible was also very big influence on me. My understanding at the time was that I was the head of the family. I was to nurture, train, provide, and when needed discipline. I took my role very seriously.
- Last be certainly not least I believe the Marine Corps influenced my parenting much more than I was willing to admit at the time.
These are not necessarily bad influences, but my understanding of parenting lead to many mistakes that hurt my children. Looking back now, I wish I could have a do-over. When it comes to parenting, I have more questions than I have answers. I’m not as convinced about what will work as I am about what didn’t work. I have learned many things in the process and more than anything else, I have been humbled. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I am convinced I should have done somethings differently.
I should have listened more and spoke less.
When children act defiantly, there is usually something going on behind the scenes. I know this now because my children have talked to me about it now that they are adults. Their perspectives were much different than my own. I had no idea of what they were facing at school. If we knew they were being bullied, we would have taken action. But there was so much I never knew. As a young parent, I really tried to keep communication open between me and my children. For the most part, I was able to do this. But when it came to things I feared or didn’t understand, I would often become intolerant and impatient. I would become angry instead of listening. It’s harder than it sounds. I still have this problem of not listening, but I really wish I could change it about myself.
I should have given more affection and less discipline.
I was committed to giving my children affection, but it became more difficult when there wad defiance. There is always need for discipline, but I wish I would have taken the time afterwards to try and reconnect with my children.
I should have laughed and played more and worked less.
I like to goof around about as much as anyone, but when life got tough, I got way too serious and depressed. I really struggle with this even though I know well the need for laughter and play. Sometimes punishments were too long and were counterproductive because they took away from our families time to laugh and play together. We still have responsibilities and life can be really tough. But nothing makes life more bearable than a bit of laughter and play.
I should have been more patient and less critical.
I am an incredibly impatient person. I always seem to seek out the flaws in order to strive for improvements. I have never been able to measure up to my own standards and I really regret when my children feel like it is impossible to please me. Perhaps it is impossible. I am so thankful for the people who have been patient with me. When people criticize me, it often just crushes my self-esteem. I am so sorry for being overly critical of my children. The truth is I am very proud of both of them. It is my nature to worry. I wish I could stop it, but as of this time in my life I worry a lot.
I should have given respect as well as expecting it.
As a parent, I expected my children to respect me, but I didn’t necessarily show much respect to them. Maybe I thought I was, but I don’t think they felt respected. I wish I would have heard them more and shown more tolerance for what they were going through. I wish I would have considered some of their needs and desires. I wish I would have done more explaining instead of just demanding my own way by force and coercion.
Remember the old Frank Sinatra song, “I Did It My Way”? There is is a line in that song that states, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.” Well I can’t claim that. I did do things my way, and it lead to a whole bunch of regrets. My children are grown and living on their own. Our relationship is very much intact and I am very grateful for that.
My daughter is now a parent raising her own wonderful child. Much like me when I was a young parent, she is convinced she will do better than her own parents did with her. I am hopeful that she can. She has a much different philosophy and she will certainly do things differently. Perhaps my son will as well. Both will face their own problems as parents, and also make their own mistakes. The Bible tells us that love covers up a multitude of sins, and I believe this to be very true. My parents made mistakes, I’ve made mistakes, and I’m certain my children will make mistakes. There will be pain and wrong-doing. It’s all apart of life. But if love is able to shine through, there is grace and forgiveness. Not just for children, but parents too.
To my children I would like to say I am very sorry for my own imperfections and the pain I have caused them in the process. Perhaps being hurt by the ones that we love will enhance our love even more. I will never be perfect, and I know we will disagree and fight, but I love both of you and I’m hoping that my love for you will be what you remember most.