I decided this week that it was time to sort through the vast numbers of stuffed animals my kids have. Many haven’t moved a stuffed paw from the toy chest in more than a year. I explained to the kids that we would give away some that are “less special” and everyone happily agreed it was time. I was thrilled to finish the project with three full bags of animals to give away.
Content with our achievement, we moved on to getting the kids ready for bed. When I leaned down to give Kenna a good night hug, she stopped me with an announcement. “Mommy, I really don’t need the rest of these either. You can take them all now, OK?”
I agreed, gathered an armload of bunnies, and went downstairs.
Then I burst into tears.
I was certainly ready to get rid of some stuffed animals, but I was nowhere near ready to close the door on a whole chapter of early childhood! Sure, we were “just” talking about stuffed animals, but I realized that those animals might represent a bigger milestone I hadn’t otherwise noticed.
What if my twins’ early childhood years really are over? What if the line between small kid and big kid crept up so fast, I didn’t have a chance to be everything I wanted to be to my kids during that time?
What if…what if…what if…
It’s the chorus from a song of regret I’m terrified to sing when my kids leave home someday. This little stuffed animal event made me consider what I’m doing that I don’t want to regret in years from now, since we so quickly get to the point where the opportunity to change lies forever behind us.
It can be hard to weed through the messiness of daily parenting to see that big picture, however. Many times we feel like parental failures because we don’t live up to our own perfecting standards. But what if we could more objectively evaluate our parenting from a long-term perspective and identify the problems now that will mean the most later? The problems that, unresolved, will leave us with truly lasting regret?
I believe the parenting issues which meet the three criteria of 1) persistent, 2) consequential and 3) correctable are the ones which we’ll most deeply regret down the road.
We all have isolated regrets. Yesterday I got absolutely furious at my 2-year-old for making a mess out of potty water in the bathroom. I was filled with regret for getting so mad. But someday when I look back on my parenting, will my heart ache over that incident? Probably not. There is no perfect parent, and I think we’ll all be able to give ourselves grace eventually for the low points. It’s the things that we allow to happen persistently, however, that pave the way for future regret.
Not all things that are persistent are highly consequential (i.e., have a tangible negative impact) for our kids. I’m really bothered that I can’t stop biting my nails, for example. It’s a persistent problem that I don’t like because I wish my kids didn’t have a mom who is so visibly anxious. (Yes, I actually worry about looking worried!) That said, it will probably be of limited consequence to my kids in the long run.
I have a friend who is highly concerned about the impact working full time will have on her kids’ childhood, but she’s not in a financial position to quit. That’s something persistent that she feels is consequential to her kids, but it’s not realistically correctable right now. As a parent, we have to realize that not everything is in our control. There are things we don’t like about our circumstances and abilities that we have a limited capacity to change. Conversely, if we know we can correct something but don’t make the effort, regret will eventually be a natural result.
When I personally consider these three criteria, I see two problems that most urgently need my attention: 1) Impatience with my kids and 2) Mental preoccupation when I’m with them (i.e., always thinking about something other than what’s immediately going on). Both of these things are persistent, consequential, and correctable.
I didn’t say they are easily correctable, but with self-control, prayer, and reliance on the Spirit, they are things that can improve with time. Future regret is in our control.
How about you? What do you feel convicted of that most urgently needs your attention?