Parenting Regrets of the Future

March 1, 2011 in Fatherhood Insights  

Parenting Regrets of the Future

I came home from work yesterday and my 19 month old son was HUGE! He was so tall and, like, 18 years older than he was yesterday.

I had just left him earlier that morning and he was this little ball of boy; this small developing bruiser who bumps into things and giggles and cries and who’s easily distracted by airplanes flying by and the first 15 seconds of every song that comes on TV.

But now I come home to this!? This 18 year old, this grown up!? How can that happen in a day?

It was a wild feeling, a wild rush of lots of feelings… Obviously he’s not actually 18 — he’s still just 19 months old — but I felt like I missed something between the time I left him that morning and the time I got home. (FYI: I could tell he wasn’t actually 18 because he was still very excited to see me and didn’t give me any of that “whatever dad!” glare… also, no leather jacket).

I felt a lot in that short span of seconds, when I burst through the door and saw that my kid grew up without me. But what I feel most about it now is regret. It’s like a future regret, a regret I know is coming. Regret for any moments I’m going to miss, for any soccer games I’m late to, or first kisses, or video game level beatings, or bullying at school, or word learning, or tower building, or any single moment that I didn’t watch him sleep.

It’s a built in, inevitable kind of regret for parents. I think every single one of us will look back and wish we spent more time, paid more attention, worked harder and enjoyed it all more. Our future selves will be bummed about our present selves… how we’re working on anything else besides our kids.

That’s probably what our future selves are going to feel about us… they’ll probably kick our asses; we’ll probably kick our ass in a few months when we’re all empty-nesters.

But, I’m pretty sure this regret is built into parenting, and, in a larger sense, built into love. Maybe our future selves could never be pleased because they know how deeply in love with our kids we are.

I think, no matter how much we work to be great parents, now matter how hard we try to impress our future selves, we’ll always fall short because we’re humans loving, and that’s just what it’s like. I mean, if we loved our kids now as much as our future selves will wish we would have, we’d definitely end up being those crazy controlling parents with the crackly-thin emotional structure… and our kids would certainly grow up to be assholes and hate us.

The point of it all is this: Invest everything you can in today with your kid. Later on you’re definitely going to regret you didn’t get to spend more time and attention on your kids, but that’s ok because it means you weren’t a controlling freak of a parent (like that mom in Black Swan!).

I don’t know… this all feels very big and a little half-baked in my gut… what do you think? Can you add some clarity here?

Photo Credit: Hampshiregirl

Please Comment & Add Your Voice!

David Bier March 1, 2011 at 8:09 am

I don’t want to just focus everything on my son. My life is bigger than just being a dad, and part of what I want to demonstrate to him is that fact. Not that I want to neglect him, but I don’t believe you can be a great parent without also showing your kids how to be a great husband, friend, business person etc etc – or at least trying to balance all those roles.

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Ben March 1, 2011 at 9:39 am

I just think to add to that, one of the best things you can do for your children is also show them how much you love your spouse (if they’re still around). You also have a point there in that being a “helicopter” parent would not be beneficial to any party. At all.

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Jonathan Stegall March 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

While my daughter doesn’t arrive until May, I hope I still feel able, and want, to focus beyond her like David’s comment says. If I did focus everything on her (besides being a controlling parent) she wouldn’t have anything modeled for her except focusing on her children, and so on and so on. My family, then, would never accomplish anything outside itself. I want to be able to focus on other things as well (especially my wife, but also friends, creating beautiful things, social action, etc.), and really hope it’s possible.

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Chase March 1, 2011 at 11:14 am

David, Ben, Jonathan – Good stuff guys… bang-on!

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Harley March 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Ah, self-doubt. One of the built-in hobbies that come with Dadhood.

Yes, I sometimes forget to put down the smartphone or iPod. And if my wife doesn’t catch me, sometimes I catch myself and yell: “Self, these are the precious moments with your daughters! Put that crap down!”

And I do. But as in almost everything, moderation is key. I sometimes need to be connected because it’s good for my career, which pays the bills and keeps a roof over our heads.

This goes back to the whole “nobody regrets that they didn’t spend enough time working” cliche. Which is true — especially for parents. We’re often limited to 18 years of full-on face time, and then it’s reduced tremendously unless they still live at home.

My recommendation: Take lots of photos, but not just the e-mailable/printable kind. Burn those happy playtime moments into your brain, too.

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Chase March 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Good words… thanks Harley

Metroknow March 2, 2011 at 8:20 am

This is kind of a stupid, “adds nothing” comment to this post, but I have to say I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now. Thanks for bringing it up – it’s been a great reminder to make sure to be mentally here for my kids when it’s their turn during my day. Thanks Chase – good stuff.

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ThatGuyKC March 2, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I once had this deja vu experience where I was sitting at the kitchen table and looking into the living room. In an instant I caught a glimpse of everything 10 years in the future. My daughter was 12 and reading a magazine on the couch. My son was 18 headed out the door with a backpack to the library. It felt really weird.

Great call out to minimize future regrets by spending the time with my kids now. Time I enjoy wasting with them isn’t really wasted.

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Lars March 10, 2011 at 2:05 am

Yeah. You say that this feeling is simply part of the experience of being a parent. I agree. As the kids grow up, you *will* miss things. There will be things going on when you’re not there to see it, there will be important events in their life going on when you’re not around to be part of it. More and more so as they get older, start doing things with friends, etc.

I think it’s part of a natural detachment process. When the kid is infant, you’re sort of one with the kid. As the kid grows up, he or she will have to learn to detach from you, become a full person. And to support that important process, so will you have to detach. Hard, but it has to happen.

Be there for your kid, but don’t go to the extreme of making the kid your life. That’s far too much responsibility for a kid.

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