One of the more common questions used by interviewers is, “Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self today if you could?” It’s a great question and I always love hearing others’ answers. There is something very powerful about hindsight.
I often get complimented on my sons and daughters, now adults. There’s usually a similar follow-up question like, “What did you do to enjoy the kind of family you have now?” Gail and I have asked ourselves that many times. But for the grace of God…
It’s impossible to come up with an exhaustive list of things that have value in raising a family. Yet, there are some things that always come to mind quickly which have made a big difference. Some are relatively simple things. I’m not sure I realized at that time just how important some habits, activities, and values would really be in the long-run.
My Current Short List
With that in mind, here are seven things that I would work hard to do again. I’m speaking as a dad, of course, but these apply to moms as well.
- Love their mom. I’m talking about me loving their mom, my wife. I don’t know of anything that creates more security in a child than a strong, loving marriage. Our kids loved the open displays of affection between us. They knew when push came to shove, I would always prefer her needs and welfare. Although not perfectly, I worked hard to give them a good example of what a good marriage looked like and its benefits.
Spend regular time with them one-on-one. We called it “special time”. I spent one hour with one child every Monday. This wasn’t the only time we’d have together, but this time was special. Whatever we did, it allowed for undistracted time together and good conversation. Their ages now range from 27-34 years yet the tradition continues today—now on Sundays. We still call it “special time” and it is.
Teach them to love and respect each other. The essentials of life were meant to be learned at home. If I expected my kids to learn to love and respect others, it needed to start among themselves. Serious consequences followed lying, fighting, mean-spirited teasing, etc. Giving hugs, using good manners and respective titles for those in authority were all non-negotiables. Life favors those who get along with others.
Help them to discover and appreciate their purpose. I believe God creates each of us on purpose, for a purpose. Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Gail and I were very intentional about recognizing and celebrating each child’s uniqueness. It creates self-worth, confidence, and the context for your children to discover their purpose and vocation.
Create family spirit. Every great sports team works hard to build team spirit—so should families. It’s not a matter of being better than others. It’s just that we are proud to be who we are. In our case, we are Andersens—and proud of it. We have our own culture, traditions, and we relive favorite memories often. Some of us have even inked our family crest on our skin!
Know when to move from control to coaching. I believe in keeping young children on a “short leash.” It’s vital for their protection and training. However, it’s also vital to know when to lengthen that leash and help them become good decision-makers. The whole “give a fish vs. teach to fish” thing. I don’t tell them what to do—they are adults. Yet they seek my counsel often for which I’m grateful. Teach your children not just what to do, but the why. The life principles are what will sustain them.
Teach them to love and serve God. I intentionally left the best for last. As much as I refer to them as “my kids,” they don’t belong to me. I have been entrusted with the responsibility to raise them—I’m a steward. It’s my job to point them to their Creator so that they can hit the mark for which they were created.
None of us do everything perfectly. And I’m glad for multiple sons and daughters so that I could keep improving my parenting! But if I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d tell myself to stay the course and do the things above. Simple things done consistently over a long time can produce some pretty amazing results.
Question: What seemingly simple things have brought the most satisfaction to you as a parent? What would you recommend to others? Share your answer in the comments below.