I am very much a “one-and-done” kind of parent. It is by very deliberate choice that I have an only child. The reasons for this are numerous and maybe the topic of another blog. Because I only have one child, and one shot at raising her, I often find myself looking back on my parenting practices and feeling some regret. I know there are things I could have done better, done more or done less. She’s nearly a teenager. I try not to dwell, because I can’t change things now and I believe I’ve mostly done my best.
There was a thread on Reddit recently that asks what parents of teenagers would have done differently in raising them. I appreciated the conversation that followed because it reminded me that I still have time to get things right. If I can learn from the regrets of other parents, perhaps when my kid is an adult, I’ll look back knowing I avoided some major missteps.
The Reddit thread inspired me to write my own list of things I look back and wish I had done differently. Maybe the parents of little ones will be able to learn from me.
Be More Present
This is probably the most cliché of the bunch, but true. The advice you get from other moms is almost always on-point, but you don’t realize it until you’ve lived it for yourself. It’s easier said than done, but I wish I would have just enjoyed my daughter more when she was little. Looking back at pictures of my tiny, delightful toddler, I feel heartbroken that I wasn’t so delighted then. I was always worried about my responsibilities and making sure she had everything she wanted and needed.
As a single mom, it was super important to me to provide a life that wasn’t lacking anything. I focused a lot on college and my career so that I could have a good income. As a teen mom, I wanted to prove to everyone and to myself that I could do it, that I was going to be a good parent, regardless. I wish I could have chilled out and realized that doing the dishes tomorrow so we can play a little longer doesn’t make me a bad parent.
Show More Emotion
That’s right, show more emotion. As most parents do, I have tried to course-correct in areas where my parents made mistakes. The risk we take with that is we may over-correct and make a mistake on the opposite end of the spectrum. I think that’s a bit of what I did in this case. I grew up with a mother who was very emotionally volatile. Her emotional responses were wildly different in any given situation, which led to insecurity and anxiety around trying to manage her unpredictable emotions.
The memory of that experience has stuck with me throughout my life. My determination has been to give my child the experience of an emotionally steady parent. I never want my daughter to feel she can’t reach out to me about something because she doesn’t know how I’ll react. In practice, this means I cry behind closed doors when I’m upset, step outside to vent on the phone with a friend when I’m mad and generally shelter my daughter from seeing any of my negative emotions.
A Stern Talking-To
Once, when I’d caught my daughter lying about something trivial to avoid getting in trouble, I asked what she thought was the absolute worst thing that would happen to her if she was in trouble. She responded, “I’ll get a stern talking-to.” Inside I rejoiced. I thought this meant I’d been successful at my reasonable and measured reactions to things. If the worst-case scenario is a stern talking-to, I’m doing good!
Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of hiding my own negative emotions is that I inadvertently stigmatized expression of those emotions. It’s not that I wasn’t letting out my anger and sadness, my daughter just never saw me do it, so she concluded that it’s not to be done. Now I have a pre-teen on my hands who bites back her tears and internalizes her anger. It’s caused a whole host of problems that will require a bit of effort to correct.
Less Self-Awareness, More Self-Assuredness
In a similar vein, I taught my daughter early about being self-aware. This is a quality I posses that has served me well in my life. I do believe it’s an important skill to have; to understand how you show-up in the world, your own strengths and weaknesses, and your effect on other people.
However, I failed to teach self-assurance in equal measure. This is critical because being self-assured is what allows us to be self-aware and still understand our value. It’s what compels us to stand up for ourselves and ask for what we want. Self-awareness gets us thinking about our effect on others. Self-assuredness allows us to consider the effect others have on us. Without self-assuredness, we don’t stop to say, “Hey, I matter, too.”
I don’t think the damage here is irreparable. I do wish I had done better with this on the front-end, rather than having to fix things later on.
It’s not easy to admit that I’ve messed some things up as a parent and could have done better. I think it’s an important part of the process to let myself feel the sting of regret, because it motivates me to raise the bar for myself in the future. I can’t turn back the clock, so there’s no point wallowing in self-pity. If I can help another parent in their journey by learning from my mistakes, perhaps I get a little bit of redemption.