“If I’d known then what I know now…”

How would you finish that sentence? I can think of many areas of my life where I would have done things differently if I’d had the knowledge and maturity I have now. Sadly, regrets are a part of life in this fallen world. We make mistakes, we sin, and the impact on our lives is sometimes quite lasting. There is one area where those sins and mistakes seem to have the deepest, most painful impact, and that is in our families—particularly, our parenting.

When they were young, I did the best I could with the information and tools that I had at the time. I did many things right, but I also made a lot of mistakes. My nest is empty now, and when my younger son moved out last year, I did some soul searching and came up with a few things I would do differently, and some resolutions going forward. I’d like to share those regrets of the empty nest with you today.

What I Would Have Done Differently

I would not try to conform to the parenting styles of others.

When my children were young, I desperately wanted to be judged a “good parent” by the other moms. Homeschooling co-ops, mommy groups, and other social groups were full of well-meaning moms who made comments and suggestions that I received as correction. If I were parenting young children now, I would be more confident in my knowledge of what God says about parenting, and better able to follow my own convictions in raising my children. Because I bowed to fear of man in this area, I was inconsistent, changing my standards and expectations with each new group we joined. By doing this, I taught my kids that sin is subjective.

I would never offer rewards for good behavior.

I was an impatient mommy. I wanted my kids to cooperate, and there really was no cost too high. If the promise of a treat at the grocery store would make them behave, I was more than willing to buy it. If a new toy would motivate them to cooperate with schoolwork, I would promise it. I just wanted peace, and I wanted to get things done. If I were raising them now, I would teach them that God expects obedience without immediate reward, and that disobedience has consequences. Because I was more concerned about my own comfort than I was about shaping their hearts, I bribed and bought my way to peace. By doing this, I taught my children that they were entitled to rewards for behavior that should have been a standard expectation.

I would control my emotions, especially my anger.

I home schooled both of my boys through elementary school and most of secondary. Very few boys are eager to obey their mothers, happily doing math and history without argument, and my children were no exception. It seemed like it was a battle every day (partly because of inconsistent discipline and bribes), and usually nobody won. I gave in to my flesh often, yelling and threatening most days, which produced very little satisfaction in the end. I usually apologized, and sometimes asked for forgiveness but ultimately, I sinned consistently in this area. By doing this, I missed many opportunities to teach my children how to handle frustration in a godly way, and instead taught them that it is ok to give in to sin to get what you want.

I could probably fill many pages with things I would do differently when it comes to parenting, and maybe you could too. But the reality is that we cannot turn back time, and whatever we did as parents is done. Dwelling on past mistakes is rarely profitable, but sharing with young parents what we would do differently can be, and that is the intent of the first part of this post. Now, I’d like to focus on what we as parents of grown children can do now, and how God can redeem those mistakes.

What Parents of Grown Children Can Do Now

Love your kids.

No matter what is going on in their lives now, whether they are believers or not, whether they are living as you would want them to or not, love them. I’m not saying that you should endorse or give approval of sinful choices, but you can still love your children, and let them know that you do. Tell them the Truth whenever you have opportunity, and live the Gospel before them, even without words. If you sinned grievously during their childhood, ask for their forgiveness. Perhaps you were unsaved, or spiritually immature when they were growing up, and only now are seeing the sin in your parenting. It is never too late to repent to them about that sin, and doing so is a wonderful opportunity to share with them about God’s power to forgive.

Pray for your kids.

Every day, many times a day, lift up your children before the Lord. If they are unsaved, beg for their salvation. When you are worried, pray. When you are disappointed, pray. Prayer is the most powerful thing we can do for our children. Fretting about their lifestyle, their childhood, or their future will not redeem a single mistake. Only the Lord can redeem. He hears your prayers, and He loves you. He gave you these children, and if he’d wanted them to have a different mom, they would have. God, in His sovereignty, chose you to be their mom, and He does not make mistakes. He sovereignly ordained everything that happened in their childhood, and if he’d wanted it to be different, it would have been different. Rest in His goodness, mercy, and strength.

Trust God

Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good to those who love God. As far as I know, all means all in this passage, and that would include parenting mistakes and sins. Looking back at my own childhood, and the ways my parents failed to be perfect, I can see that this is true. He used everything they did—both good and bad—to mold and shape me into the person I am today. He can do the same for my children and yours.

Most of us have some regrets and sorrow about our parenting, but I want to encourage you today to let go of guilt in this area. Even if your own children don’t forgive you, repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness, knowing that He can use anything and everything you did as a parent for His good purposes. You and I cannot redeem our parenting mistakes and sins, but Praise be to God, we have a Redeemer who can! I don’t know the details of how He does it, but I know that He does. Let’s be content to leave those details to Him.