“What I Would Do Differently As a Parent,” Ensign, July 1996, 6
Parents who have spent years rearing children have learned much from their experiences. Consequently, in an open invitation, the Ensign asked parents what they would do differently if they could go back and raise their children again.
With the perspective of time, many member parents realize “how precious our time is with our children” (from Pocatello, Idaho), how it is “important to start each day with prayer and scripture study” (from Baton Rouge, Louisiana), how necessary it is to “put the paddle away” (from Lebanon, Oregon), and how they would “set a better example” (from Clearfield, Utah). They have discovered that “the scriptures give us a perfect example of parenting” (from Friedrichsdorf, Germany).
Some of the most poignant letters came from parents who realized they first had to change themselves:
From Delta, Utah—One of our sons was spending a few days incarcerated in a local facility to “pay his debt to society.” As I looked at his sorrowful countenance behind that glass wall, my heart nearly broken, I only wished I had held and rocked that baby boy. I couldn’t, as hard as I tried, think of a specific time when I had held him on my lap and kissed his head, face, and ears and held him close to my heart.
I had washed that boy, scolded him for misdeeds, sent him to school, even taken pictures of him, but I couldn’t remember putting my lips next to his ear and whispering tender, loving, happy words that might have echoed in his memory when he needed them. When my arms couldn’t get to him through that terrible glass barrier, I wanted to remember how it felt to hold him and I wanted him to remember how it felt to be held and loved by his mother.
So, if I could go back, I would hold and rock and sing and whisper love to my child every single day.
From Tempe, Arizona—Too often I responded negatively in the early morning when everyone was preparing for the day. I thought my wife and children should all charge out like I did, and I was frustrated by slowpokes. Then a number of years ago we made an inspired change. We always left the home with a kneeling prayer. And after the prayer I always gave my children a hug and told them that I loved them. They have come to expect the hug and the words. I have learned that it is not too late to change.
From Glendale, Utah—If I could do it all over again, I would commit to never raising my voice. Ironically, as a young mother, I remember hearing an older woman say that she never raised her voice to her children. I thought to myself, How impractical!
Yelling goes way back in my family tree. Everyone yells, I thought. It’s just part of life. I had often given myself over to my emotions and expressed my anger at the top of my voice at my children. Then I became frustrated by their lack of cooperation and yelled my orders even louder at them. I have even screamed to them that I could not tolerate their yelling and quarreling any longer, not realizing that they had learned to yell from me.
Raising my voice invited the spirit of contention into our home. Once it was there, the children learned to call each other names and say cruel things to each other. I would respond with more anger and accusations, and the negative feelings would continue to escalate.
After yelling at my kids for the better part of 20 years, I have learned what 3 Nephi 11:29 [3 Ne. 11:29] means: “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil.” Allowing the spirit of contention to enter our home allowed darkness and depression to enter. It fostered meanness and self-centeredness, and nearly destroyed unity, love, and family relationships.
Thankfully, however, the Lord is kind and has initiated the principle of repentance. I am trying to develop the habit of always speaking in low, civil, calm tones, no matter how tense the circumstances, and I am making this problem a matter of daily prayer. As I have done so, I have seen slow but steady progress toward improvements in everyone. The spirit in our home is changing.
From Warsaw, Poland—My oldest child was 13 when I joined the Church. As a mother, I knew, even before I joined the Church, I was not handling things very well. I considered any deviation by my children from my instructions to them as an affront to my authority. I truly believed that my choices for them were the only right choices. Our home frequently throbbed with tension.
I was also very inconsistent in keeping my word. I’d say we were going to do something—then I’d be late or change my mind. Further, I often contradicted my husband if I did not agree with his disciplinary decisions.
Happily, after joining the Church I began to change. The Lord helped me make repairs. First, I applied my heart and mind to viewing each child as a most precious gift from Heavenly Father. Then I worked at being dependable yet flexible as I juggled everyone’s differing schedules. I tried to listen to my children’s point of view. Our home is improving as I’ve made these changes in myself.
Other parents wished they’d learned earlier the benefit of following the counsel of Church leaders:
From Vernal, Utah—I’m writing this with many tears of regret. I’ve had over 20 years to think about it. What I wish I’d done differently as a parent is, first of all, stayed active in the Church, married in the temple, and stayed home to raise my own children.
I hope that it’s not too late for others. Every child is different and calls for special mothering that only their own mother can give. It’s not easy to stay home, but it’s worth it.
From Simi Valley, California—What I would do differently is not try to teach the gospel through force as I was doing. When inclined to force a child to participate in family home evening or a Church program, I should have prayed first. I should have done more of that.
Fortunately, when my teenage daughter showed resistance to attending an ongoing Church program, I prayed to know how to get her to attend, and the answer was, Don’t force her, and begin to attend her sports events with her more often. This course took me on a different avenue than I had intended, but I have gained the rewards of a closer relationship with my daughter. I’m so grateful for that direction from Heavenly Father.
From Tempe, Arizona—As a father I would be more careful to respect the family as the primary unit of the Church. I’d have better family home evenings, keep better records, and look for more opportunities to serve others. I’d hold family councils more often, and I’d teach the children more about family history work. I wish I’d helped them find names for us to take to the temple. If I could do it again, I’d make a greater effort to pattern our family as taught by the Church leaders.
From Hyrum, Utah—Maturity supposedly brings wisdom. After many years we see the picture from a very different perspective. In my case, it’s faith-promoting experiences that I wish I had instilled in my children. With an inactive husband, I felt too intimidated to pray in front of him or my children. I tried to incorporate family home evenings into our lifestyle, but my husband would not allow me to teach any religion. Fun and games were the order of the evening, and I felt that if that was all we were going to do, we could do that anytime. Sadly, Monday nights became like any other weeknight.
Fast and testimony meetings were very stressful for me. My children always wanted to bear their testimonies, but I had heard their humble beginnings at home, and shamefully, I did not encourage them to go to the microphone, because I felt they might embarrass me. As the years went by, their desire to bear their testimonies diminished.
I wish I had studied the scriptures with them and answered their questions and made their journey through gospel learning more personable.
From Providence, Utah—Knowing what I know now about being a father, I would have personal interviews with my children. I would hold both formal and informal interviews.
In formal interviews, I would start with a prayer and then listen carefully, trying to be sensitive to and understanding of each child’s thoughts and feelings. I would also look for many opportunities to hold impromptu or informal interviews. They could happen while riding in a car, sitting on a stream bank, taking a break while on a hike, or anywhere we could be alone.
Some parents said that they would not overlook the details that can significantly enrich a child’s growing-up years:
From Oslo, Norway—Parenting has got to be the most difficult yet rewarding challenge in my 40 years on this earth. One thing that I definitely would do if I could start again is to tell my children five positive facts about themselves every day! Teaching the gospel and building self-confidence are two of the most important jobs we have. It is also important that we ask forgiveness of our children when we have done wrong. Taking time to acknowledge our weaknesses and ask for forgiveness helps children learn how to repent.
From Eager, Arizona—The thing I encourage my married children to do differently is to create strong family ties and friendships in their own families by playing together. I never seemed to have the energy or time to play with my children. That’s what I would do differently—play!
From Vidor, Texas—If I could do it all over again, I’d turn off the television. The television has hindered our family more than helped, and by the time children become teenagers, the habit is hard to break. It robs them of family time together, reading time, communication time, learning time, and self-enrichment time.
From Boise, Idaho—I would keep scrapbooks up-to-date. I keep a box for each one of the children to put things into for their memory scrapbooks. I wish I had started the books when the children were young and kept them up regularly. Then they could have felt the love and self-assurance that come from seeing and sharing their records and achievements.
From Fullerton, California—If I could do things differently, I would expose my children to many more new activities to make sure their talents would be found. When children try new things, you can usually tell right away if they have an aptitude. Helping children learn to do something well helps build their sense of confidence.
Parenthood is a time to enjoy one’s children:
From Beatty, Nevada—“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). The time of parenthood is our time to heal, to weep, to laugh, to mourn, to dance, to embrace, to keep, to sew, to speak, to love, and to have peace with our children. What I’d do more than anything is to enjoy them!
This article may furnish material for a discussion by parents about what matters they would like to change now or what new ideas they want to implement.
It might also be a subject for a family council about what family members might do to contribute to family unity, goals, and success.