Let me say from the outset: I’ve always parented with the end goal in mind.

To the degree we could influence outcome, that meant raising our children to be emotionally healthy, secure, independent, and considerate adults, living testimonies of their faith, givers more than takers.

They are now 20, 23, and 25, and though imperfect humans, they’re resembling the humans I hoped and prayed they’d one day become.

One of my greatest joys as an empty nester is friendship among women younger than me.

Those stripes I earned as a mama weren’t meant for me alone; I truly believe in the value and importance of sharing the wisdom I gained through experience.

It’s hard to see the wealth you’re accumulating when you’re trench parenting, but I can testify with strong conviction you’re learning through the living. It would be a disservice to let those lessons end with me–and this goes for you, too.

If I knew then what I know now

Just like my children, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. It’s liberating to realize that perfection isn’t a goal of parenting (which is different than being the perfect mama for your babies).

With this treasure of rearview insight, I can now see some things we might’ve done differently. It doesn’t mean our choices were wrong or bad – let’s remember what we’re aiming for in parenting – but now I realize sometimes those decisions were made without an understanding of a broader picture.

The examples I’ll share aren’t end-of-the-world stuff; but they are the kind of common decisions many of us face in day-to-day parenting.

With the wisdom of hindsight parenting I likely would have made different choices.

If I knew then what I know now

Taking advantage of individual sports at an early age

Our first-born, a daughter, had friends who enrolled in dance and gymnastics before they were three. Having multiple scheduled activities for a toddler didn’t make sense to me.

Also, I had taken ballet and tap for the better part of 11 years growing up and by my last year I hated it; those feelings carried into adulthood. I was not going to “make” my daughter take dance lessons, and I didn’t want her schedule filled before she even started grade school.

Her first week of kindergarten, Rachel was supposed to be getting ready for bed when I heard her clomping around her room. When I opened her door, she sprang onto her bed with a guilty look on that angelic face of hers.

“What in THE world were you doing?” I asked, wondering how such a tiny thing could make so much racket. Her answer leveled me.

“Trying to do a cartwheel. Everyone at school can do one but me,” she explained.

Though our choices were made with an informed reason, I had missed something important: taking gymnastics could “prepare” her for the social game at school and equip her with confidence-building skills. I enrolled her the next day, understanding that gymnastics wasn’t just about an activity.

Takeaway:  Recognize that individual sports bring value beyond the sport itself; instilling confidence, strengthening body, developing skills and interests, and possibly, finding a life-long passion.

If I knew then what I know now

Taking advantage of team sports

Though commonplace in today’s world, soccer for the preschool set was a new thing when our children were little. It’s weird to me now we never even considered it an option for our daughter, although our boys were all about it by three or four.

I didn’t fully understand the benefits beyond the sport itself until they were past the age of play. Team sports can offer something individual sports can’t–playing well with others, collective goal setting, learning how to win…and lose, submitting to authority, finding a place to contribute (even if it means cheering from the bench), and more.

Takeaway: Team sports teach important life lessons that benefit the average player (not only superstars who’ll go on to play at the high school, collegiate, or even professional level), even kids whose natural abilities incline toward academics or the arts.

The value of learning a second language

I didn’t learn this lesson until mid-life, but it’s one I strongly believe in.

When we lived in Germany a few years ago, it was more common than not for our German friends to speak/read/understand three or more languages.  I realize geography has a lot to do with that–traveling to different countries in Europe is tantamount to me driving to Colorado or Kentucky, or heck, back to Tennessee.

In Europe, drive a few hours in any direction, and you could be hearing a language different than your own.

In 2015, I had the privilege of working with transportation logistics for the Papal visit to Philadelphia. Pilgrims world-wide descended into Philly, and post-event I helped people find their group’s transportation home.

It never occurred to me so many wouldn’t be able to speak English…and I had to rely on body language and a kind, encouraging face to navigate people to the right place. Occasionally I would bump into someone who could translate for me, and I envied the ability to jump seamlessly between two languages.

If I knew then what I know now

Children are sponges; introducing a second language when they’re young takes advantage of their natural curiosity.

I’ve always bought into the notion that learning a second language is harder for adults. However, in writing this post I found several articles that contradicted this idea. Still, I’m convinced that language study is valuable, and beginning earlier will serve learners well.

Takeaway: Becoming multi-lingual opens doors (i.e., vocationally, ministry, service to others) and connects you to people and cultures different from your own in a way little else can.

There are other examples I could point to, but since this is getting long, I’ll bring it to a close with this: if you’re a parent in the throes of raising your children, do seek out moms and dads a few years farther along than you to provide their insight, experience, and wisdom.

Invite them to share their two cents, because if they’re like me, they might be reticent to speak if they think you’re closed to their counsel.

If you’re an empty nester, please share how you might have made different parenting decisions. Please share your answers in comments. If you’re a younger parent wrestling with questions, ask away. It’s always nice to hear how others might handle a similar situation.