Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up. This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up! My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house. This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting. I love being a Mom. In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be. I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.” What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!
Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind. Anticipating each last. Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum. One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream: if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness. This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment. Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end. There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers). I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.
Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question: if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children? I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford). Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:
- I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten. After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school. I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day. But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten. Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more. But what’s done is done.
- I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument. We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible. Our kids love music. But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language. It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals. I do regret this.
- Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life. My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse. It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others. My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
- More family meals. We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week. Better than nothing! I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do! (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that). Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality. I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
- MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions! I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly). To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah! What a beautiful, content baby! She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”. We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents. For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another. Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children. As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.
So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful. Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments. Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.