My youngest sibling is a teenager right now, and there have been plenty of times as she was growing up that I thought, “Mom and Dad would NEVER do/react like/let me do/get away with that when I was your age.” My parents have gone on field trips with her, attended school events, and given her the kind of independence that I didn’t have until I moved out! Now this isn’t to say that I was deprived, locked up, or that I had a horrible childhood, things were just.. different. For the longest I thought they relaxed their reigns because she’s their baby and they’re “spoiling” her or maybe cause they are older and don’t have as much energy to deal with things. Either way, how she is being parented is undoubtedly different from how I was, and it took me awhile to understand why.
I look at my four children and it could not be more clearer. How I parent now is completely different than how I parented almost fourteen years ago, so my five year old is getting a whole other experience than my first born did. I have more patience, I understand the education system better, I am more conscious of their nutrition, how I think and how I live is just.. different. I look at my oldest and wish I could do it all over again. I look at him and know that while I celebrated many of his “firsts,” I was also balancing a lot in life at the time, which kept me from ENJOYING him. Momfession? I regret my first years of motherhood.
I believe this is a normal feeling that each mom will experience at one point in their children’s lives. In fact I know this because my own mom has hugged each of us and apologized for what she feels she could have done differently. We all have mom guilt, we worry, we feel like we’re never doing enough.. it’s just part of loving our kids. Right now just happens to be my time to feel like this, but instead of being overwhelmed with guilt I’m going to reflect, adjust, and grow.. I have to.
I married at age twenty, became a mom at twenty one, again at twenty three, divorced at twenty four, mom for the third time at twenty five, and graduated college at twenty six.. all about four hundred miles away from my immediate family. Let that sink in for a minute. To say I was dealing with a lot would be putting it lightly, but I was doing what I had to do juggling school, work, and kids.
My oldest son was a great baby. He walked by nine months and even though he had tons of energy, lucky for me he never strayed from my side in public, so running errands was pretty easy. He has fond memories of sitting in on my college classes, coloring and eating snacks I packed for him, even during my finals. While he remembers that I worked 4 am shifts at a coffee shop, he forgets the days I wasn’t able to greet him good morning or take him to school, and instead misses the free hot chocolate and treats I would bring home.
My guilt lies in the idea that I may have taken his easy-going nature for granted. My memories of that time are filled with him in the playpen watching Blues Clues while I did homework, resorting to a good friend watching him at 4am so I could go to work, and not being able to attend his first school field trip (yes, I’m crying as I type this). I just hope he understands that I tried my best, that I didn’t KNOW if there was a different way, and that I’ve been working hard ever since to make up for it.
I think it would be easy for someone to say “well thats why you should wait to have kids,” but I don’t think it’s as easy as that. Regardless of whether you’re a young mom and in school, or an older mom in an established career, I believe first time moms don’t truly understand how precious and fleeting the time is when their children are little. Other moms can say it a million times, we’ve all heard “they’re only young once,” but dang.. you really just don’t get it til the time has passed. Life has a way of taking our attention away from what matters most, so while I was busy trying to get on my feet, others might be distracted with work, social media, and a million other things.
What’s frustrating is that there’s no single solution that applies across the board. We can’t quit everything just to spend every waking moment with our kids, because we still have to provide and make sure we’re taken care of as individuals. Something that works today may not work next year, so our solutions are constantly changing! My only advice? Stop. Stop whatever it is that you’re doing and take a look at your kids. Ask yourself if how you parent now is any different from how you parented before, and then how you can be a better parent in the future.
I get it Mom and Dad.. you’re not just too old and tired to discipline my sister. The longer you parent, the more you learn. The older you get, the more patience you have. The more kids you have, the more chances you have to “do it over.” I’ve been a mom for fourteen years and I’m still growing, I definitely don’t have all the answers. I won’t dwell on my regrets, because nothing can be done and my oldest seems to have turned out normal? Only time and therapy will tell..