There is probably no area of regret that brings more pain than that related to children. For most of us, a healthy relationship with our children as they become adults is a desire at the least. It is also a desire that our children grow to be responsible adults and are able to do well in their jobs and families. For Christians, a high priority is passing the Christian faith to our children with them living their lives in a manner pleasing to God.
The Bible is not silent on child rearing. Well known passages include Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In our context, we could paraphrase this to say that training a child in the way he should go will prevent much pain and many regrets.
It is my conclusion from life’s experiences that we cannot teach that which we do not believe ourselves. The do as I say and not as I do instruction does not go very far with our children. So this tells me that the most important part of parenting that brings no regret is that not of being perfect in our own ways but being intentional in dealing with our own shortcomings. Children are extremely perceptive. They can detect double standards and hypocrisy miles away.
There are generally two paths or mindsets in raising children to become what we desire them to become as individuals. One is to train for behavior. This sounds noble as good behavior is normally rewarded. Poor behavior draws attention in another manner. Good behavior and good choices afford a level of protection. We want to protect our children from addictive behaviors so we teach them of the dangers. We implement curfews and establish boundaries for protection. We discipline and punish poor behavior and poor choices. All of this and much more is done with the hope of establishing an acceptable behavior that is rewarded rather than punished. Despite the most noble of efforts, most parents look back at what they could have done differently with regret.
Another mindset is to train or focus on the heart in contrast to focusing on behaviors. Behavioral focus is law based. Kids see it as a list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots. With high enough fences and strict enough curfews, behavior can be controlled for a season. However, when the the gate opens and our children are free to make their own choices, the true results will be made known.
Training the heart focuses on what is going on inside in contrast to what happens on the outside. This training requires a close relationship where trust abounds and where love is unquestioned. It is a huge investment with a demand upon the parent to sacrifice time more than anything else.
At the end of life, I don’t think there are many who wish they would have worked harder so they could have purchased their children more things. I believe a much more common regret will be that of not spending more time with those closest to us and passing good values directly to their hearts.