My baby is turning 9 and I’m so grateful for long views and second chances. As our oldest kids are now young adults, my regrets for my parenting mistakes when they were small play a big role in how we parent this little one.
My top regret is not being loving enough. I didn’t understand the right balance between unconditional love and setting limits; I was also exhausted and overcommitted. The late nights, early mornings, and mind-numbing endless afternoons made bedtime the feverish coveted finish line that could not be delayed on penalty of death. Whose death? I don’t know.
I thought setting limits and teaching values was the main objective of parenting but now I know that it’s actually this: making your home the most safe, fun, and loving place to be. I wish I could reach a long arm back through time and hug those kids and also myself. I would say “oh honey. Just breathe. It’s good enough. You’re good enough. Love. Just love.”
Nothing is important enough to get angry for, and also please still love yourself if you do. It’s cliche to tell young moms to laugh more and dance in the rain when they’re so exhausted all the time. “Me time” will always come at the expense of these little people; also you need it desperately to be what they need. So my top regret is too much rightness, too much rigidity, too many rules. Not enough giggles, not enough breaking the rules together.
My next regret, as the kids grew, is not being enough of an advocate. When our big kids were small, the school authorities were my parents’ age (and their friends). I was raised to respect my elders and I did. But when I knew in my mommy gut that a certain teacher, rule, project, assignment, or even school was wrong for my kid, docility and deference were mistakes.
I have gone back in my imagination over and over, perseverating over those conversations and like Groundhog Day, finally getting it right in my mind. I’d go from docility to assertiveness for my kid. I’d take on the establishment for him or her. I’d fight city hall! I am mom! Hear me roar.
Now my daughter’s young teachers are the ages of my eldest. But even when they’re not, I have the calm weariness of a warrior and the combined wisdom of mistakes and triumphs. I know what’s true and I am too tired to care if anyone thinks I am a good mom. I’ve gone to bat for my kids with people twice my age and influence, and survived.
My kids only have one mom and one dad and they’re us. No one else will advocate for them as we will and it’s what teaches them that they’re worth advocating for. One day they will know how to do it for themselves, because we’ve shown them.
If my old mantra was “the teacher is always right,” my new mantra is “you are always worth fighting for.” It’s liberating to have shrugged off the heavy cloak of “good parenting.” No one has to think I’m a good parent except my spouse, my kid, me, and G-d. And I’d rather be too loyal than not loyal enough.
But with all this talk of regrets, I believe that everything is meant to be. And if our older kids had these parents, with their limited knowledge and limited scope; limited energy and awareness – well, they also got super motivated and excited parents who were so proud of them and wanted to give them the sun, moon and stars. Nothing is all good or all bad. We also snuggled and giggled and had the best time being a little family. Their journey in this universe is meant to be and I must love the old me as much as I’m proud of the hard-won new me.
So my regrets, then, must also be tempered with self-love. It’s ok; we’re ok. And if we’re not – that’s also ok. That’s how I’m raising my baby. And that’s how I’m raising, ultimately, me.