Over all, Ron Edmondson is happy with the way his kids turned out. But in that delicate balance of raising kids properly while pursuing a career, the senior pastor at Lexington, Ky.'s Immanuel Baptist Church has identified a number of things he wished he had done better.
When the avid blogger first posted his thoughts online, his two sons, aged 23 and 26, wrote to say that he was too self-critical and had done a fine parenting job. But he still feels that he – and others, including those he counsels on family issues – can learn from his mistakes. Indeed, he has added one more failing to the original five he identified.
It starts by wishing he had controlled his children more at an early age.
He feels we make a terrible mistake by giving them too much licence when they're very young and then, often in desperation, trying to rein them in and control them as they get older. "We want to give children freedom and let them be free thinkers, which is wonderful. But sometimes we start too early. A three-year-old is not prepared to make wise decisions and needs the parent's guidance," he said in an interview.
Don't think you allow inordinate freedom at such an early age? He sees it every Sunday in the congregation, when youngsters who could be benefiting from his church's excellent programs for children are allowed to sit with their parents in the sanctuary, where they fidget and pay little attention to the service. Or think about restaurants, where you see parents allowing young children to eat inappropriate foods.
"You can make a three-year-old do what you want," he said, stressing he knows that some people object to such rigour. "But it's not cruelty. You are training the child for when they are older and they will have to do things."
As your children get older, you want to control less and influence more. You hope that in their teenage years and later, they will have enough respect for your opinions – and will have inculcated the proper values – so they can be swayed in the right direction. But when parents fail to control at an early age, they fail to set the roots for influencing the youngsters later on, he believes.
"If you give them everything they want when they're three, it's hard to change that when they start liking cars and bigger toys. You need to instill early on that they can't get everything they want," he said.
This doesn't mean imprisoning children. You need to pick your spots – the big stuff. If they prefer green beans over spinach, fine. But control the amount of time they watch television and whether they attend religious observations – shape their values.
If he could get a parenting do-over, he would limit outside interruptions so the family had more time together. Often those interruptions were meant to please the children, such as what those in his area call "travel ball," in which the better athletes travel every weekend for high-end competition to develop their skills.
"We are so busy as a society, we need to carve out time just to be a family," he said. More to the point, often these interruptions are shaping values – children learn from other families on those travel ball outings, rather than their own parents. His children countered after his blog post that they had lots of family time. "But we could have had more," he noted.
He also wishes he had made more of his own time available to his children. "My personal time. My play time. And, my work time. I'm not saying that would be popular with my friends or even with my work – but I would be more concerned with my influence on my kids than what other people think," he wrote.
He wishes he had planned their weeks around church. Given that he's a pastor, he recognizes that sounds self-serving. But he counters that he has never met a family that was sorry they centred their lives around the church. The values the children will pick up are the ones you prefer. However, he stresses that if you feel the children should be involved in some activity of the church that discomfits them, usually there is an alternative within the church – so, on that score, give somewhat to keep them linked to your religious institution.
If he could replay his children's lives, he would try to be less upset about minor annoyances. In the big scheme of things, squeezing the toothpaste from the middle or waiting to go to the bathroom at the most inopportune time is not worth the furor it sometimes caused. "If everything is a big deal, it's hard for kids to discern what is a big deal," he said. "It's important to remember what is important." Still, remind them to pick their clothes off the floor.
Finally, he believes that in an age of social media, it's important when you're home to be home – together. Take a disciplined approach to unplugging from devices, having family discussions rather than sitting in the same room with everyone on a different electronic device.
None of that is earth-shattering. But bringing up kids requires a delicate balance, and how he would replay his time may give you some thoughts for the story you are shaping.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org