I’d like to tell you a story. I was going to call this “my parenting regret,” but regret is probably too strong a word. I know I’ve been a good mother, but do you ever look back and wish you could go back in time and do things differently? Perhaps my particular hindsight can help you see things differently. I was driving in the car with all three of my daughters this week when my eleven-year-old said, “I’m glad I’m getting to know you better now.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, perplexed. “Well, I just feel like I get to see you more now than I did when we lived in the blue house,” she explained. She was referring to our existence prior to traveling, our existence prior to leaving our small town, and, most importantly, our existence prior to truly discovering what is important in life. Allow me to summarize our personal life for those who are unfamiliar. Our lives were transformed when we discovered what was truly important.
I came to the realization that I wasn’t happy almost five years ago. I mean, I was overjoyed. I had a wonderful husband, children I adored, a lovely home, and so much more. But there was something wrong. I was stressed, struggling, and considered myself a “hot mess,” as many women affectionately refer to one another. I was always on the move, always busy, and stretched on all sides.
My husband owned a business and worked six days a week, at least twelve hours a day, and even on his days off, he did work. I worked part-time, 24 hours a week, but homeschooled the girls five days a week and spent my spare time (I know, hilarious) trying to earn extra money with a side business. Crazy. I felt like a single parent, constantly breastfeeding and striving to be better at everything. It was excruciating. I was stressed, my husband was stressed, and my children were apparently stressed as well.
Back in the present, I continue the conversation with my oldest, “that’s strange, because I work more now than I did then!” Work may not be the best word to describe this situation. More specifically, I work outside the home more now than I did then, but in retrospect, I suppose I was always working on something during that “blue house” season, as my child put it. “Yeah, I know you work more now, but it seemed like I never saw you back then,” my daughter replied.
I asked, “Who do you feel was home more, me or your dad?” because I was interested in this topic. “Dad,” she said quickly. You know, the father who worked six days a week! “I was home a lot more than him,” I continued. “You don’t remember me?!” It all comes down to perspective. “I guess I remember doing school with you, but I hated school,” she said after a moment of thought.
Oh, yes, my first foray into homeschooling. If I had to name a regret, it would be how I handled schooling my child when he was five to six years old. I compared her to other children rather than viewing her as an individual learner. I compared her to her age-appropriate public school cousin. I compared her to my SIL’s child, who began reading at the age of four, and my other nephew, who had no trouble picking up phonics in kindergarten.
But I think my biggest mistake was doubting myself as her teacher. I was worried that I wasn’t doing enough for her, so I unintentionally pushed her too hard, basing my worth as an educator on her exceptional performance. She’d cry through her reader, and I’d scream a lot. It’s no surprise she forgot about it! But things get worse. The final nail in the coffin. “Oh, and you cleaned a lot,” she added. “Yeah, you cleaned a lot back then,” my nine-year-old says from the backseat.
Sigh. Not to be outdone, my eleven-year-old adds, “I remember Dad being home a lot!” He’d take me to Walmart, buy me a toy, and we’d spend the day on the couch, watching Sponge Bob and eating Oreos.” First, I made certain that this was relayed to my husband later. He had expressed regret over not being present more often when our daughters were young. He felt better after I told him this story because they only remembered his overworking with fondness, and he hadn’t messed things up too badly after all.
I suppose that every parent is their own worst enemy. This conversation in the car taught me more than it guilted me. I wasn’t drowning in regret, but it did shake me up. My husband had one day off per week, but he made sure it was quality time. That’s what our daughters, who were six and four at the time, remembered. I had concentrated on what I thought were important at the time.
Housework, making sure my five-year-old knew all of her sight words for the week, cooking every night, and working on my business, which was supposed to bring both of us parents home financially. I had rushed us to dance classes and homeschool co-ops, but I had not given them enough time to be kids. What did I take away from this conversation? Okay, I’ll look at it from every angle. I recognize that things must be done. We would have been covered in our own garbage if I hadn’t cleaned the house.
And reading is essential! Ha! Building my future through a small business was a fantastic plan, and activities and classes are essential for child development. So, what’s the bottom line? Remember how I said we learned what was important while traveling for four years? See, we decided to sell our large house, sell our belongings, trade in two cars for one, and travel for work so that one parent could stay at home full time.
We realized we didn’t need all of the space. We realized that we didn’t need to work harder to have more stuff, but we did appreciate having more time. We discovered what was important to us by making the aforementioned significant life change. Spend time together. Become a Supporte I can’t turn back the clock on my oldest daughter’s first six years of life, but I can move forward a little wiser.
I understand that young children will not remember things like eating a well-balanced meal every night or their grades in school subjects, but they will remember Oreos and snuggles. Our relationship will be built on the quality of the days we did have together rather than the number of days I was home from work with them. And believe me, as a full-time working mom, that is a huge deal. As mothers, we often feel guilty for working outside the home, but if my experience has taught me anything, it is that you can be home but not really be there.
Remember to be present when you’re present. That is what I am doing now. As a working mother, I value the quality of time spent with those I care about more than the quantity. If you’ve lost a parent, as I have, you’ll understand how a grieving child longs for “just one more day.” At this point in my life, I suppose my goal is to leave a quality legacy. That the time I spent with my children will be remembered fondly as time well-spent, and while they will most likely still grieve for one more day, they will remember fondly the days we had, no matter how many there were.