We parents can spend a lot of time worrying about whether we're giving our children enough of what they need. But what if we're giving them too much of the wrong things? Here are five things I wish -- with the wisdom of hindsight -- I'd given mine less of.
1. Less time with me -- more with their father. Everyone would have benefited. But once you're the one in the family who works from home, and knows where the clean socks are, and what time soccer practice starts, and why Sarah fell out with Safi so can't invite Susannah over... then somehow you're the one who ends up doing everything for the kids. It's a law of family physics. Introduce that imbalance early, and the pendulum of daily life makes it bigger and bigger. It doesn't happen as much as it used to, but traditional roles still evolve easily as children grow up. Watch out and push back. For everyone's sake.
2. Less time with only half of me. I was around for my kids -- but often not really. The parent on autopilot who murmurs "Uh huh" and "Mmm, hmm" while really thinking about their next phone call, or when they can sneak off to their office to write some emails, isn't much of a parent at all. Much better to be fully absent or fully present, than haunting the twilight world between.
3. Less nagging. Sometimes I seemed to go on for days -- weeks, years -- about things I wanted them to do, or not to do. It became a habit. If I could wind back time, I'd listen to myself more carefully, hear how I sounded, realize it was unproductive, and think much harder about better ways to get them to listen and do what I was asking. Then I'd try to put them into practice. And when I slipped back into default nagging, I'd try again. And again. And again. And again.
4. Less time in front of screens. So hard. You have to be the ultimate bad cop parent to make it happen, but when I look around now at the young adults I know, I can see that those who were made to live more in the real world than the virtual one, drawing on their own imaginations and resources, interacting with real people in real groups and communities, and getting to understand who they themselves really were, have a grounding and depth that I wish I'd given my children. What does that mean in practice? More games, more talk, more music, more sports, more mooching time, more hobbies, more outdoors, more boredom... more life.
5. Less of what they wanted. Or, more specifically, not giving in when they said they didn't want to go and live with a Spanish family in the summer to learn Spanish, or carry on with their flute or clarinet lessons. It seemed right at the time, they seemed really anguished about the thought of being made to, but these are two areas where I wish I'd insisted on them making that effort. Because now, of course, they look wistfully at their accomplished friends who speak other languages fluently, and play instruments well, and wish they could do that too. And, yes, of course, it's never too late to learn, but it's so much harder when you're a busy, working adult -- and have to pay for lessons yourself.