My Biggest Regret
I only got 4 hours of sleep last night---more about why later---so I was REALLY tired this morning when my 19-year-old daughter came into my bedroom at 8:30 am and plopped into a chair and started talking to me. She shared her experiences as a nanny to two different families. She talked about the stress of driving a mini-van full of children around during rush hour traffic. And on and on. She was an HOUR late to work because she was just chatting it up with me. (Her work hours are flexible, so it wasn't the end of the world.) She decided it was time to go and hopped up and dashed out the door---leaving her empty cereal bowl sitting on an antique chair that belonged to my husband's grandfather.
Fast forward to the time this morning when I was finally awake and coherent and cleaning up all the breakfast mess. AFTER I loaded the dishwasher and went into my bedroom to get ready for the day, I saw the empty bowl on the chair. And I nearly cried.
I remember a time in my career as a mother when I would have been angry about that misplaced cereal bowl. I wouldn't have abused her, but my actions would have had an angry tone. I would have chastised her. I would have read her the riot act about how many things I have to pick up around the house and how outnumbered I am by messy children. (Remember there are EIGHT of them---NINE if you count the husband, but that is another topic.) And I was certainly RIGHT about how messy my family is---they are REALLY messy. But I was also wrong---so very wrong.
I am NOT in any way, shape, form or fashion trying to say you shouldn't have rules or expectations of your children. I believe just the opposite. I believe we should do our best to teach our children to live in the best way possible. Give them every advantage in knowing how to care for themselves and others around them---including putting your cereal bowl in the dishwasher. Apparently, I was not very successful in the endeavor. And I think I know why.
Sitting here in the waning days of "raising" my children---my youngest is 15 and there are only two of them home during the school year---I see what I believe to be my biggest regret of motherhood. Anger. I almost cried at the sight of that bowl because I am so sorry for all the anger. I am sorry for how quickly I let those small things make me mad. I took all the overwhelming mess as a personal assault and came right back at them. And looking back, I am so sorry.
Patience---it is the word that used to cause shudders to run right up my spine. But now, I wish I would have been so much more patient. I wish I would have known that they will "get it" over time. And if they don't, their future family will have to live with whatever messy habit they haven't yet overcome. And that wouldn't be so bad either.
I was so glad my sweet, beautiful, kind daughter came in to talk to me this morning. I loved watching her VERY expressive face regale the tales of dealing with children hiding markers in the Monopoly game and then lying about it. I can't get enough of watching her eyes fly wide open as she described people pulling in front of her and slamming on their brakes--especially since she was able to stop in time. That cereal bowl was the evidence of the time she took to share with me this morning. She is only home now for a few weeks each year, and I really treasure the time I have with her. I wish I would have seen all the shoes, dirty socks, sports equipment, books, and yes, even cereal bowls with a brown ring in the bottom as a sign that my precious children were here. That we lived and loved together.
I believe if I had been more patient---yet still persistent---about teaching them without anger, I would have been more successful. Perhaps they would still be messy, but the time would have been more enjoyable for all of us. It takes a LOT of energy to be upset. That energy could have been much better spent in countless ways. And mis-spending that resource is my biggest regret in motherhood.
Most of my children are adults now. They are some of the kindest, hardest working, smartest, talented, HILARIOUS people I know. I did do a lot of things right. We have so much fun together now. So please, if you are a young mother (or father) learn from my mistake. Count to ten. Take deep breaths. See the hilarity of spilled drinks---they made a fortune for Charlie Chaplin. Remember the glory of athletic performances when you pick up dirty socks. Be happy that your child is a bibliovore when you gather scattered books. And cherish that conversation when you see the cereal bowl on Grandpa's antique chair.