Regrets, I’ve had a few. Like the thing I ate last year that gave me food poisoning. I also regret eating all the ice cream yesterday because I would really like some today. I regret making bad money decisions, not saving enough, and spending money on frivolous shit, like wine and fancy take-out deli items and shoes I only wore once. I regret eating too much cheese last week and then feeling all bloated and gassy and shooting down Jeff’s amorous advances. As you can see, most of my regrets involve food.
In general, I try not to hold onto my regrets, because regret is a wasted emotion. After all, the ice cream cannot be uneaten, the shoes cannot be unbought, and the sex that was not cannot be had. What happened is what happened is what happened.
I would love to be one of those people who is all, “I regret nothing!” But it would be disingenuous of me to say that I don’t experience regret. I realize that falling into a spiral of woulda-coulda-shoulda is likely to make me crazy, so the way I deal with regret, when it rears its ugly little head, is this: I acknowledge it and then I try my hardest to let it go, to varying degrees of success. It’s a process.
My particular area of regret-expertise involves parenting. Most parents probably harbor regrets about either what they perceive to be their less-than-stellar parenting, or not doing certain things for or with their kids. I have these feelings, too, but when I do, I acknowledge and try to release them.
One regret I’m still working through is the fact that I wish I had been able to stay home with my son past his first year of life, instead of returning to work at a job I didn’t like. My brain understands that until we can rent a time machine at the local car rental joint, there is nothing I can do to change it, but there it is anyway, that feeling I can’t shake that if only I’d done that one thing differently, I could have changed my circumstances. But it happened the way it happened, and our lives have unfolded, regardless.
There are other small parental regrets I’ve felt over the years, but I’ve learned to let most of them go. It’s just that big one that hangs over my head like a weight, about to drop. But I also know that I can’t waste time worrying about all the things I didn’t do, or I’m likely to drop into a hole of self-loathing so deep that it’s hard to move forward.
Recently, Huggies (the diaper company) asked 2,000 parents about their biggest parenting regrets. What it found was that parents regret a lot of shit, man.
The biggest parental regrets reflected in the poll included working too much, not playing with the kids enough when they were little, and not taking enough photos. I feel like most parents probably feel this way, even if they took 100 photos each day of their kid’s life, or played with them allll the time. Because the one common thread I’ve found between me and other parents I’ve met is that we all feel as if we’re not doing it right.
The top 20 regrets, per the study, are as follows. I’ve added a "yes" to the regrets I’ve ever felt as a parent:
1. Working too much (YES)
2. Worrying about the little things (YES)
3. Not playing with them more (YES)
4. Not going on more holidays (YES)
5. Not taking enough photos (YES)
6. Spending too much time away (YES)
7. Not filming enough events or milestones in their lives (YES)
8. Not taking them on 'big' holidays such as Disneyland
9. Not encouraging them to take up a/more hobbies
10. Not having a shared hobby
11. Not reading enough to them at bedtime
12. Spending too much time worrying about housework
13. Not taking them swimming more
14. Not letting them take part in messy activities more often
15. Not teaching them to swim earlier (YES)
16. Not being at some of the milestones in their life (YES)
17. Not making enough of Christmas/birthdays with them
18. Being too over-protective (YES)
19. Always waiting for the next milestone instead of enjoying the current one
20. Not enjoying days out more (YES)
Raise your hand if you are a parent and can identify with this list. Now put your hand down and 1) forgive yourself for your humanity and 2) acknowledge that you are doing the best you can in your own situation. If you have to work three jobs just to make ends meet, try not to think about all the time you are not spending with your kids, and think instead that you are putting food on the table for them and setting an example that they will carry with them through adulthood. If you feel bad that you can’t take your kid to Disneyland every year, know that your kid values a trip to the movies or the playground just as much. Not one of us is perfect.
We are each trying in our own way, working with what we have. No regrets.