Living With Regret: A Bad Mom’s Credo

Originally published July 2013

If you could live your life over and over until you got it right, would you?

I just finished a great read—Life After Life—by Kate Atkinson. A piece of fiction, it tells the story of a young woman that is ultimately on this planet to put an end to World War II before it even starts, by assassinating a key player. Or, maybe just save the life of her brother so he can be with his true love. (Swoonworthy ending, indeed.) But along the way, she dies. At birth. As a young girl. As a young woman. Every time she dies, her life reboots, so to speak—leaving her with a residue of knowledge, a sense of deja vu. She’s able to avoid previous fates, only to meet a new one.

And it got me thinking. If this were me, and I had some sense of the fates ahead, what would I change if I could?

I’m sure kismet plays a role in our lives. To what extent, I don’t know. I know this—if my dad hadn’t decided to paint the house one night after dinner, he wouldn’t have fallen from a ladder, to his death. And then my mom wouldn’t have married again, this time to the man who is now my dad—and a great one, at that. Or, maybe my bio-dad wouldn’t have died that day, would have taken a job transfer to California, I would have been “discovered” by Steven Spielberg. Or maybe I would have been “discovered” by Joe Francis. Eww. The point being, with all the twists and turns you take in a single day, there’s no way you can be sure of anything in your future, so why not just enjoy the ride?

I know this. I KNOW this. But as all bad moms know, what you know doesn’t stand a chance up against what you wish you knew, or wish you could have done differently.

For example …

I know I didn’t eat anything wrong when I was pregnant with my oldest. But I’d go back in the Wayback Machine in a heartbeat to go all organic and never pop so much as a Tylenol if it would take his learning disabilities away.

I know that really, my anxiety in pregnancy (after having lost a child at 20 weeks) isn’t the reason my oldest has major anxiety issues (or maybe it is—I suck!). But if I could go back in time, I’d spend a blissful 40 weeks at Canyon Ranch or Miraval, piping in New Age covers of Beethoven in utero and meditating for at least 6 hours a day.

I know the fact I didn’t shove flashcards in front of my oldest child’s face from birth on isn’t the reason he still struggles with reading comprehension and a pragmatic language impairment, but if I could just go back! I would enroll him in social language classes at 6 months old instead of just assuming his development preschool was “enough.” Silly me.

Does being a mom mean always living with regret? Wishing you had done this or that better? I know it shouldn’t, but so often with my parenting, “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” is my manifesto.

We coulda studied more. But “Under the Dome” is only shown for the first time, one time. Just ain’t the same on DVR.

We woulda listened to NPR, but it’s more fun to listen to Will.I.Am and Britney, b*tch. Now? They’re not properly prepared to discuss the impact of Snowden’s actions on U.S. foreign policy. Damnit!

I shoulda made them eat their veggies. Now they’re gonna raise another generation of sugar addicts. Bring on the Cap’n Crunch!

Parenting kids, from those with special needs to those that just think they’re special, is never easy. And if what I really believe to be true is—that there is no certainty in any decision we make, so stop beating yourself up over what you think may be bad ones— how do you quiet those voices inside your head that keep taunting you with the notion you could have done better? Tell me about it by leaving me a comment.

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