What a month it has been in my house.
The wedding preparations have reached fever pitch (nine days to go now!) and my youngest just turned 18. I am well and truly on the edge of saying goodbye to raising kids and it has made me a little pensive.
Because of my personality, I have found myself thinking about family life and things that I wish we had done differently. It is easy to have regrets because my husband and I were young parents and we made a lot of mistakes. We were way too strict with our children at times and not strict enough at other times. We (actually I) lectured too much. We didn’t pray near enough and consequently we often parented in our own strength which was completely ineffective and sometimes hurtful.
But, as I leave this season and rather reluctantly step into a new one I have also found myself thinking about some of the good decisions we made. Some were accidental and others were intentional, but all were the result of the unending grace of our good, good God.
1. We intentionally kept life simple when the kids were small.
Paul and I decided quite early on that we would keep weekends as free as possible. When I think back over those years I smile. There were endless Saturdays of make believe in the back yard and walks to the park. We decorated bedrooms with colourful murals and worked on school projects on the kitchen table. The kids learned to swim at our local pool. Rainy Saturdays, of which there were many, were for movies and lots of lego.
Resisting the temptation to fill up our time with outside activities wasn’t always easy but it paid dividends in our relationships. We had time for each other and time to just be a family. I have no doubt that the bonds we built then are the bonds that hold us together now.
Because simplicity makes room for the good stuff.
When you keep the family schedule from getting too crazy you leave room for important conversations. There is space for emotions to be worked through and conflicts to be resolved. A routine with margin allows children to explore who they were created to be and what they enjoy doing before committing to loads of activities and the expensive paraphernalia.
2. We made time with extended family a priority. When my brother got married in California, we took our three kids, rented a house and enjoyed every second. When my other brother got married four years later in Colorado, we did the same thing. These were costly ventures, both in time and resources, but those memories are priceless because they impressed on my children that they belong to something and that they are part of a tribe that loves them.
Every birthday my kids ever had, they wanted their grandparents to come. For many years our Christmas day was divided between the two sides of the family. We would open presents with my family, have lunch together and then scoop up children and new toys and head to my in-laws for present opening and an evening buffet that no one was hungry for. Did I resent such a busy day sometimes? Yes, a little. But when we lost Paul’s dad 10 years ago, the first thing I thought was how glad I was that we shared those moments with him. My kids reminisce about those family Christmas days with fondness and gratefulness. It was totally worth any sacrifice on mom and dad’s part to see the joy grandchildren bring to grandparents, and vice versa.
3. We made a small, family church the centre of our lives. My kids were raised in a small church and they grew up serving. You name it, they have done it. They have set up chairs, played drums, done audio visual jobs, played guitar, sang, performed dramas and helped with fundraising for missions. They were part of something that really mattered and they were loved by the people they did church with. Each of my children were baptised in front of people who had been at their baby dedication and many of those same dear friends will be at my daughter’s wedding.
Investing in those relationships was worth every hour we gave to it and has produced young adults who still love church and still love God. I am so grateful.
4. We spent money on experiences, not stuff. As our children were growing up we may have had a house full of second hand furniture and ebay bargains, but we have had some fun together! Some of these adventures cost almost nothing, like our annual camping trip to the beach on the South coast of England. Others, like our mammoth trip to the western United States, had to be saved for.
Last week, when we all got together for my son’s birthday, the subject of vacations came up. My grown children lit up as they remembered swimming in the rain in Devon, driving through Joshua Tree national Park and surfing with missionary friends in the Pacific Ocean. I am absolutely sure that they have forgotten the times they had to wear their sibling’s hand-me-downs or the modest Christmas and birthday gifts the had but they will never ever forget building a house for a family in Mexico or seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.
5. We bought the ugly house with the backyard. When we found out I was pregnant with my youngest, we knew that we needed to move and so we got a pile of house details from the Estate Agent. There were adorable cottages and slick modern town houses and then there was one really ugly 1950’s semi. We kept ignoring it, but having exhausted the other choices, decided to at least visit. It was just as unattractive as we had feared. There was yellow wallpaper and brown carpet and a weird room that had been added on with Formica flooring and wonky walls. But the backyard was long and wide and as soon as we set foot in it we pictured our four kiddies running around. So we bought it.
For the last 18 years we have lived our lives in that yard. We have had birthday parties and July 4th barbecues. Bikes were raced and puppies trained. There were paddling pool afternoons and snowball fights and late evening smores. Friends have joined us for barefoot badminton and Paul and I have spent hours talking and praying as the sun set. The improvements to the house have consequently been very slow and even now we aren’t really finished. But as I make the homemade wedding confetti from the flowers that frame this little piece of heaven, I have absolutely no regrets.
Because no one gets to the end of their life wishing they had bought more shoes or upgraded to a better phone.
And, when it comes time to give your daughter away or move a young adult into their first apartment, you will find great comfort in remembering all the sunsets and sandy toes that you have spent your money on.
If we make relationships our top priority, in the midst of all the busyness and demands of life, we are living life well.
And maybe if we spend our life enjoying and serving others and worshipping and following God there will be no regrets that really matter.