The older of my two sons will be graduating from high school in less than two weeks. How did we get here so fast? We raised him to be ready for this time of his life, but now that it’s here, it feels so sudden!  There are last minute things I want to do and say.  There are times I wish we could re-live again, and times  I wish I could do over.

I can’t go back to those moments of time with my child, but I can share what I’ve learned along my way to help other parents make the most of time with their children.  If I had the opportunity to speak to other parents, this is what I would say:

First, be prepared.  Prepare yourself to be a parent.  It doesn’t matter if your kids are age 2 or 22, you are their parent and they need you to be the best you can be.  They need to know you love them and that you are there for them, no matter what.  They need you to be responsible and look out for them. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.  Be prepared to put their needs ahead of yours at times, but also know when your needs should come first.

Be prepared financially.  Money isn’t likely to just appear when you need it, so plan ahead for your child’s expenses – especially college or other training they might want to pursue.  Start putting money aside as soon as you can.  Even if it’s just $10/month per child, it will add up, especially in an account that accrues interest.  I encourage you to make saving for your child’s future an automatic part of your budget.

Loving often means setting limits. Prepare yourself to set limits. Limits are for their own good to develop character, self-control, respect, understanding.  Limits are often for their safety and well-being.   Enforcing rules and limitations does not make you a mean parent.  It makes you a responsible parent who’s looking out for the best interest of your child.

Loving means being patient.  Prepare yourself to be patient. My greatest regrets with my boys are the times I lost my patience with them.  Sometimes we need to be forceful and firm, but we can do so without losing our patience, yelling, or showing anger in the wrong ways.  Children watch what we do as much as they listen to what we say, and it’s true that actions speak louder than words.  What are your actions saying to your kids?

At times my actions taught all the wrong things.  Those times got better after I become a mom of faith.  If I could go back and change only one thing about my years as a parent, I’d be a mom of faith before they were even born.  I grew up in church, always believed in Christ, and prayed to God, but didn’t start growing in faith until my sons were ages 8 and 2.  What a difference it would have made, especially for my older son, if I’d been a woman of faith from the very beginning.

Growing in faith led me to start reading and studying the Bible, learning how God wants us to live, learning about marriage and how to be a better parent, learning to be more Christ-like, and most of all, becoming a more loving person.

Growing in faith also led me to pray more. Be a praying parent!  Pray for yourself, your spouse, your marriage, your children, your home, and whatever concerns you.  Share your praises and joys with God!  He is your Heavenly Father and takes great delight in your joy!

One of the greatest differences faith made was in our marriage.  And you know what?  Having a loving relationship with your spouse is the second greatest gift you can give your child.  The first is having a loving relationship with God, knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and sharing your love of Jesus with your children.  Which brings me to the most important thing I want to share.

Your kids should not come first in your life.  Your spouse should come before your kids, and God should come first before all else.  Getting my priorities in order was the best advice I was ever given (by my friend, Gretchen, back in Fishers, IN), and now I want to give that advice to you.  It’s like this:

God first.

Marriage second.

Children third.

Extended family.

Then job, friends, hobbies, all other things fall in place.

I have to tell you that when Gretchen first shared this with me, my priorities were way out of order!  My children were first, marriage was second, and God was somewhere after that.

The last thing I would say is to ENJOY YOUR KIDS!  ENJOY YOUR FAMILY TIME!  MAKE THE MOST OF IT!   Don’t let time slip away because you cannot get it back.   I spent so much time looking forward to when my kids would grow out of various stages in their lives.  Now I’d give anything to have that time back so I could enjoy it and cherish it more.  Make lists of things you’d like to do with your kids – go bowling, teach them how to bake cookies or throw a baseball, go to a museum, catch fireflies, pick berries, see grandparents, family and friends, go on trips even if it’s just across town, whatever it is, but make sure you follow through.  Trust me, your greater regrets will be for the things you didn’t do.

Learn what interests your kids and do what you can to share those interests with them.  A grandmother recently told me that her mother told her not to send her kids, but to take them.   Don’t just drop your kids off at practices or send them with someone else and then sit through their games or recitals and think you’ve shared an experience with them.  Take an active role.  Get to know their teachers, coaches and leaders.  Get involved.  Be a part of what they like to do.  Support them in their interests.

Get your kids involved in church activities.  If you don’t have a church, start looking for one.  Find a vacation Bible school for your kids to attend this summer, and when you sign them up, see if there’s a way for your to volunteer.  Maybe all they need you to do is send in cookies or help cut out shapes for a craft, but both are great helps and ways to get involved with your kids.

Cherish each day you have with your loved ones because each day is gift from God.