I think there are people who go through life fairly self-satisfied, content with who they are and what they do, regretting little or nothing. Sometimes I think it is unfortunate that I do not belong to that group.Sometimes I think it would be nice to live without regrets but on the other hand I tend to agree with Socrates’ statement that the unexamined life is not worth living. And as self-examination tends to result in a deeper awareness of one’s own failings, I suppose that regret is integral to a life worth living. Ignorance may be bliss – at least for the one who remains ignorant – but I don’t want to bulldoze my way through life, careless of my impact on other people.
All that to say that sometimes I find my days tinged with a considerable degree of sadness, regrets that I have not been a better mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend, regrets that I have not lived my life as well as I could, that I have not brought more joy and love to others and that many times I have withheld blessings from others for no better reason than an unwillingness to get out of my own comfort zone.
Parenting is a perfect breeding ground for regrets. If the regrets lead to healthy change all well and good but too many times regrets paralyse us and make us focus too much and for too long on the negative. Instead of changing us they tend to undermine even what is good in our lives. Rather than empowering change, regret robs us of strength and joy, and blinds us to the myriad good things in our lives and even in our parenting.
This happens to me pretty frequently as a mother. I tend to focus on my failures, the times I have let my child down, the time I didn’t attend her dolly’s tea-party, the time I didn’t read her a story or listen attentively to her chattering, the time I listened without really hearing and answered without really thinking, the time I didn’t cook a decent meal or kiss my child before bedtime, the time I was harsh and not kind, demanding instead of understanding. The list goes on. The failures are there and they are real but they are not the whole story. Sadly I find that I am sometimes more motivated by a sense of guilt and failure than by joy in the life God has given me, and in the gifts He has entrusted to me. Some mornings I have to battle my way through a pile of regrets from the previous day before I have courage to face the day ahead.
That is one of the reasons why I am grateful for the quiet moments at the beginning of the day when all my loves are still sleeping sweetly, when I can gather my thoughts and examine them in the light of God’s Word, where I can receive grace for past failures and courage to step into the new day.
This morning was one such day. I was able to get up slightly earlier than usual thanks to the time change. But as I settled into my usual corner of the sofa with my big mug of tea, my Bible and my journal, I noticed Mia’s beautifully arranged doll’s tea set and I remembered yesterday’s invitation to join her on the rug for a tea-party. And I remembered that I had brushed her off with the words, “later, sweetie-pie”. But later had not happened and the tea set had been forgotten and I had moved on without those few special mummy-daughter moments. And now I regretted it. How many such moments have I regretted in the seventeen years since I became a mother?
And what to do with the regrets?
First of all, I realize I need to keep things in perspective. I need to remember that parenting is a whole complex of activities, each of which communicates in some way our love and commitment to our child’s well-being. It is not just about the tea-party. Just because I missed the boat with the tea party doesn’t mean my child now feels unloved and neglected. Perhaps it is even healthy for a child to realize that there are limits to his or her parents’ capabilities, that even a parent needs some space, some down-time. We live in an age of super-mums and super-dads who are supposed to be abundantly available for their children. But is it kind to teach a child to be so dependent on a parent for all their emotional or entertainment needs? Don’t I need to teach my child how to manage his or her play-time so that they are not dependent on me for happiness or fulfillment ALL.THE.TIME.? I don’t remember my parents hovering over me when I was a child. And I don’t remember particularly regretting it.
Secondly I need to accept my own limits. I need to give myself the grace to sometimes fail and not demand perfection from myself. That’s not the same as setting myself low standards. It’s just recognizing that my life is made up of both successes and failures and that my identity and my worth are not based on either. I need to remember that being a woman, a wife and a mother requires me to wear too many hats at times and that I don’t always wear the hat well. And that is okay. Sometimes I wear the cook’s hat well and sometimes I burn the toast. Sometimes I am a great playmate for my children and sometimes I am a boring adult. Sometimes I have a great day when I seem to have successfully juggled all my hats at once and sometimes I fail miserably in every single area and throw myself a pity party to celebrate. But I am learning that it is neither my successes nor my failures which should determine how I feel at the end of any given day. I am learning that I need to rest with both failures and successes in God’s love and acceptance of me. I have to do this if I want to maintain a quiet heart. If degrees were handed out for the ability to worry and fret over things, I think I would have my doctorate by now.The irony is that being an anxious parent makes a worse parent of me at times.
These are the words I read this morning.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2)
This morning I heard God softly whispering grace to my heart again, the grace to accept my own humanity and resist perfectionism, the grace to leave my regrets with Him and step forth into a new day.
For today I want to leave my questions with God. I wrestle too much and too often with matters which are too difficult for me. Today is another day when I will fail to live up to some standard or other, whether mine or someone else’s. Today is another day for me to receive God’s grace and to walk in it, to receive His forgiveness and to give it, to believe His goodness and rest in it, to rest against Him as a weaned child rests against his mother – no struggle, no fuss, just a quiet contentment and acceptance of my own limitations.
I am learning this slowly, and with much stumbling – much like a child who is learning to walk. I guess running will come later.
Well, see you. There’s a tea-party I don’t want to miss.