The other morning I looked at my dining room table, which had black marker dots all over it, and I promptly yelled at my 6-year-old.
“I told you that Sharpies may only be used at your art table. Now I’m taking the Sharpies away!”
“But I haven’t used any markers today,” she cried.
I glanced over at my 3-year-old, who had ink stains all over her hands.
“I’m sorry,” I said to my older daughter. “I was wrong. It wasn’t nice of me to blame you or yell at you. I should have asked you first.” I kissed her on the head and she smiled.
I don’t make of habit of trying to be wrong, but it happens pretty regularly, anyway. These days, when I do or say something I shouldn’t have, I try to make a point to apologize specifically for what I’ve done — and what I’ve found is that both of my daughters are saying sorry more often, too.
I read an article recently on Yahoo about moms and dads confessing their biggest parenting regrets, and I instantly shook my head. I spent my first few years as a mom regretting so much — not being more present in the small moments, not trying harder to get my firstborn daughter to drink milk from a cup instead of a bottle earlier on, not insisting she eat a healthier variety of foods, and not establishing stricter screen-time boundaries, for instance.
More recently, however, what I regret most are my regrets. I’m not sure why I ever thought it was going to be easy or intuitive or not a struggle as I navigated a baby for the first time. I put so much pressure on myself to create a picture-perfect childhood for a baby who wouldn’t remember any of it or care about most of it. The second time around, I’ve marveled at my children’s resiliency — and my own. We didn’t cease being simply because someone missed a nap, I didn’t create Pinterest-worthy cupcakes for a class celebration or we skipped going to story time at the library and stayed inside on a sunny day watching Dora instead.
It’s not as if ridding myself of parenting guilt has meant my kids eat frosting out of a can for breakfast or don’t shower nightly and I think that makes me a great parent. Depending on what and who you read, there are plenty of parents who delight in being bad moms and dads — almost like a midlife adolescent rebellion club in which the cool parents are members. I find that I’m just better now at putting my regrets in context and re-framing them as something other than regret. I don’t think my kids would be any better or worse today had I been more or less rigid with sleeping schedules, acted more charitably, or attended more museums and fewer McDonald’s. Not having regrets doesn’t mean I don’t try to be a better mom or learn from the error of my ways — it means I recognize our time is better spent looking forward instead of backwards.
What I know I will most lament as my kids continue getting older is not being the person I want them to become more regularly. I attempt to be kinder to strangers, not get so annoyed with other drivers, and generally practice the golden rule. I don’t always succeed, but when I can admit out loud more frequently what I could have done differently, and that I’m not always right, I can see them in some small way breathing a sigh of relief that no one is projecting expectations of total excellence on them, either.
I regret not realizing earlier on in parenting that my mistakes were just a sign that I’m human. It’s not as if I wouldn’t do anything differently, but what I once regretted is now among my proudest parenting accomplishments: showing my kids that I’m far from perfect, and perfect is hardly what I want from or expect of them, either.
Photo credit: Meredith CarrollMore On