Like most parents, I have those moments where guilt and regret comes over me like a wave. I consider then how much of my parenting time has already passed by and how little remains. My oldest child, my son, is thirteen. He is already a teenager, just one year away from high school, just eight years from the age I was when I left home to get married. My girls are following close behind him. When that wave rises up, when I feel like I could drown beneath all that regret, I sometimes consider those things I will never regret.
Here are 18 things I know I will not regret doing with my kids.
1. Praying with them for them. It baffles me that one of the things that most intimidates me is praying with my kids. I don’t mean praying with the whole family before or after a meal, but praying with my daughter for my daughter or with my son for my son. Yet this kind of prayer lets them see that I am concerned for what concerns them and it lets us join in prayer together for those very things. I know I need to prioritize this because I will never regret praying with them for them.
2. Reading books to them. As summer turns to fall, as the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, we spend many of our evenings together in the living room as I read books aloud. We’ve read our way across this world and across many others; we’ve read forward in history and we’ve read about days long past; we’ve met heroes and villains; and we have experienced it all together as a family. I will never regret reading books to my children.
3. Kissing them goodnight. The days get long and I get so weary. By the time the children head to bed I am sometimes so worn down that the very last thing I want to do is see the kids to bed and to kiss them goodnight. But I am always glad I did and often find these the times where the children are most tender, most eager to speak, and most eager to listen. I know I will never regret all those goodnight kisses.
4. Taking them to church. There is such joy in sitting in church together as a family, worshipping the Lord together and hearing from him in his Word together. I do not take my children to church so they can learn good manners or be better people; I take them to church so they can learn who they are, so they can learn who God is, and so they can encounter and experience Grace. I will never regret prioritizing church.
5. Taking them out for breakfast. One much-loved tradition in our family is taking my children out for breakfast on Saturday mornings—one of them each week. It’s a tradition I have lost and revived and lost again and revived again. It is a tradition worth maintaining. The $10 or $20 expense and the time it takes pales in comparison to the investment in their lives. I will never regret our breakfast daddy dates.
6. Letting my friends be their friends. I love it when my children befriend, and are befriended by, my friends. I want my children to have friends who are older and wiser than they are and friends who can help them in those areas where I am weak. I will never regret encouraging my friends to be their friends.
7. Doing family devotions. Family devotions is a difficult discipline to maintain, and especially as the kids get older and have more lessons and responsibilities. But we commit and re-commit and persevere because these are precious times—just a few minutes together to read the Bible, to talk about what we’ve heard, and to pray. I know I will never regret a single moment spent pursuing the Lord together.
8. Disciplining them. I hate disciplining my children; I hate having to discipline them. Yet I am absolutely convinced that to refuse to discipline them is to refuse to love and respect them. The lost privilege, the stern talking-to, the time spent alone in their room—these are all seen as hatred in the moment, but seen as love later on. I will never regret lovingly disciplining my children.
9. Doing special things. Life is largely lived in the mundane and love is mostly shown in the day-to-day. But there is also value in the afternoons at the ballgame, the evenings at the ballet, the business trips with dad. I will never regret doing those special things with my children.
10. Asking their forgiveness. I have more trouble apologizing to my children than to anyone else. Somewhere way in the back of my mind I am convinced that to apologize to them is to show weakness; but at my best times I know that to apologize to them—to ask their forgiveness when I have sinned against them—is honoring to God and to them. I will never regret those times I have asked their forgiveness.
11. Forgiving them. My great weakness is one of my kids’ great strengths; when they sin they are almost always quick to seek my forgiveness. I will never regret sincerely and immediately granting the forgiveness they ask.
12. Loving their mother. I know that the stability of a mother and father who are firmly committed to one another brings stability to the whole family. I can love my children by assuring them of my love for their mother through my words and deeds and affection. I will never regret regularly affirming my love for their mother.
13. Identifying God’s Grace. As my children make professions of faith and as they begin to grow in godly character, it has been a joy to see God’s grace in their lives. I am learning to tell them what I am seeing, to commend them for it, and to point to the One who has generated it. I know I’ll never regret identifying this kind of grace in their lives.
14. Expressing affection. I love to walk hand-in-hand with my daughters and I love to hug my son before he goes off to school. This physical affection makes them feel safe and loved while teaching boundaries and platonic, appropriate touch. I will never regret continuing to express physical affection.
15. Planning little surprises. The small and occasional gifts when I return home from a speaking engagement; a single rose for my girls when I buy their mother a bouquet of flowers; the dinner at McDonald’s for no reason at all. I will never regret planning and delivering these special little surprises.
16. Giving them my full attention. I almost always have an electronic device within reach and often I have two or three of them. It is so easy to break out of a conversation with every buzz or beep, to break eye contact and to break concentration. I know I’ll never regret giving my children my full attention when they have something to say.
17. Pointing to the gospel. The gospel is not merely a gateway to the Christian life, but the very source of hope and joy in the Christian life. We need to return to the gospel again and again; we need the gospel every day. And I will never regret pointing my children to the gospel.
18. Telling them “I love you”. I love my children dearly and I can show that love in each of the ways I’ve listed above. But when they head off to school, when they go out with friends, when they call me at the office, when we FaceTime from afar, I will never regret telling them one more time, “I love you.”