What is one thing you would do differently as a parent? 

I recently considered this question while talking with my youngest child. He is now 21 and on summer break from college. He asked me what would I do differently if I could change only one thing in raising him and his sisters? A daunting question for those of us with mostly grown kids. 

It was a good exercise for me. After some thought, I came up with many ways!  But I did eventually narrow it down to just one: I would have focused on being a more humble disciple of Jesus while raising my kids. I think this one thing could have helped me disciple my children more effectively. 

What does that look like? 

I would have spent more time in pointing out and correcting my own sin and less time on my kids’ sin. I certainly would not ignore my kids’ issues, but I would have used my failures to more poignantly highlight the path of confession, repentance, and hope that the gospel has for all believers. Both for parents and kids. 

I would have illustrated my need for a savior and used more of my life examples as a testing ground for my kids to learn. I was pretty good at pointing out my children’s sin and correcting it—often very vocally and emphatically. It might often have seemed to them that they were the worst sinner in the room. Not always the case, right? Why not target the most experienced practitioner of sin first and lead by example? In the few times I did this, it was amazingly effective. 

I will share one example. It was a Sunday afternoon after church, and my young teenage daughter was upset with her mom and me when we would not let her participate in an overnight activity with her friends. She responded in a very dishonoring manner and refused to listen to us. I ended up correcting her in an impatient and angry manner and sent her to her room. Immediately, I was convicted, but I struggled with how to respond. I knew I needed to address both her heart and her response, but I was also keenly aware of the sinful way I had responded. 

Often, the temptation for us dads in these instances is to justify our sin by putting the blame on our kids, making an excuse for our sin (being self-righteous). In this case, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sinful response and led me to deal with the “log” in my eye before I went after the “speck” in my daughter’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). 

I went into her room and began by confessing to her my sin of anger and impatience. I shared with her how sometimes I viewed myself as “god-like” when she disobeyed, and I could often take great offense. I walked her through how my heart was wrong and needed help. How I was discouraged that I could respond this way as a Christian dad. That I was keenly aware of why Jesus had to pay the price for my sin as a father, because I was far from perfect. I asked her to forgive me and pray for me. She was happy to do this. 

Then, amazingly and with no prompting, she asked my forgiveness for her response to her mom and me. We had a very helpful conversation about being two sinners on the road to following Jesus and why we both equally needed a savior and prayed together. This was one of the sweetest memories I have with my daughter.

If I could do one thing differently as a dad, I would have been a more humble follower of Jesus as I tried to lead my kids!  

How about you?