Do you have any regrets about your parenting?
I know I sure do. My kids, now 22 and almost-17, probably could provide a litany of things I did wrong or offenses I committed if they were given the opportunity. And that wouldn't include the things I personally regret—mainly sins of omission—that they'll never know about: the time I wish I had done this or I'd said that or I'd taken them here or brought them to see that or fed them this or exposed them to that...the list can feel endless.
That's why I'm conflicted about a new parenting book written by a pediatrician. A male pediatrician at that. (No snarky gender-ist stuff here; it's just that even the godfather of parenting in my kids' generation—world-famous pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton—admitted in a 1982 interview, that even though he was the parenting guru his wife did much of the child-rearing and parenting of their children: “... I was in on their infancy and early childhood, but I couldn't stand them as teenagers...I was lucky to have a wife, Chrissie, who really invested in raising kids. They turned out well.”)
Anyway, the new book's name alone gives me pause: No Regrets Parenting. In the book, reviewed here in Motherlode, author Dr. Harley Rotbar, offers myriad ways for parents to slow down and make the most of their parenting journey with their children. He does so with the reminder that, as parents, we have approximately 940 Saturdays with our kids, from their birth to their 18th birthday.
Seems so fleeting when you think of it that way, doesn't it?
Except not so much when you're in the middle of it. I remember rainy days with my son, then a toddler, spent wearing a makeshift cape (a beach towel) and dancing with him while singing countless versions of songs from Sesame Street, most memorably The Batty Bat, a song by the Count Dracula-like character, Count Von Count. It'd be fun for a few minutes but then became boring as hell and I'd find my mind wandering and thinking about what I'd be making for dinner that night or how much I was looking forward to my book group meeting that week when I could discuss thoughts! and ideas! and books! with other adults.
In other words, for many women—clearly not all—the hour-by-hour, day-to-day parenting of young children can be boring, dull, frustrating, and not very intellectually challenging. There, I've said it. So sue me.
The problem is, while the days pass slowly, the parenting years fly by. And that's where regrets tend to crop up. These days, when I see a mother with a little blond-haired imp of a boy, it takes my breath away—isn't that me and Brendan, my beautiful little boy with the gleam in his eye? Just yesterday? (If I'm lucky, the kid will then let out a glass-shattering whine about something he's being denied, and I feel better. For the moment.) Same for seeing a little blond-haired girl frolicking in the sand and waves at the beach, totally uninhibited and lost in play—isn't that my Caroline, my joyous little fairy-sprite? (BTW, that's her in the above photo, taken on a beach many years ago now.)
In a post on his companion No Regrets Parenting blog, Dr. Rotbar addresses parents whose children are grown and who wish they'd done things differently. They ask "Is it too late for me?", and he responds by arguing that "habits and patterns [in parents and kids] are NOT fixed in stone" and can be changed. He then offers involved-parenting ideas such as helping kids with their college applications and "learning their language," referring to Facebook, texting, etc.
Most parents I know, myself included, are already doing this and not because we're trying to practice "no regrets parenting," but because we're, well, parents. And that's what we do.
In the end, I've found the only way to assuage the regrets I feel about parenting is to apply what I call thought-stopping, a behavior co-opted from cognitive therapy: When I feel especially regretful about something I did or didn't do, I replace that thought with the memory of something I DID do right. Or something I did consistently that made my kids laugh and smile and say, grinning, "My Mom's SO weird!"
My daughter reminded me of one such "thing" recently. We stopped into our local grocery store for a few items and while we were turning down the paper goods aisle, she smiled and said, "Mom, you ready?" Distracted, I looked at her wondering what she meant, and saw her mischievous grin as she held up a roll of paper towels. And not just any paper towels: a roll of Bounty, thick, BIG ROLL paper towels. She tossed the roll to me, turned, and ran down the length of the shopping aisle.
Holding the paper towel roll in one hand, and slapping it playfully into my other, I called, "You ready?" When she said yes, I cried, "Go deep, Carls!" and made a beautiful, Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass, sending that Bounty roll hurtling down the aisle, straight into her outstretched arms.
We then dissolved into paroxysms of laughter, and remembered our Grocery Shopping Paper Towel Toss tradition, which started with her brother when he was a toddler.
Parenting regrets? With apologies to Frank Sinatra, I've had a few...but then again, perhaps too few to mention.