I have heard a few people in my life that say they live with no regrets, and if given the chance, wouldn’t go back and change a thing. In my estimation they either a) have lived a near perfect life, b) have become Jedi Masters in the art of self delusion, and are borderline sociopaths or c) have never raised a child.
Most everyone who looks back over their parenting career, with any degree of honesty, will undoubtedly recall times where they really dropped the ball. Maybe they had to work late and missed a birthday party. Perhaps lost their temper and said some things they’d give anything to take back. I am certainly no exception. Stepping into fatherhood at 19, while still a child myself, didn’t help matters much. Adding to the mix a rather strong affinity for Tennessee sour mash whiskey (and other miscellaneous mood altering substances) completely knocked me out of contention for “Dad of the Year.” While I’ll spare you all the gory details, the bottom line is this: I utterly failed my children. So I can assure you that I am a more than qualified to speak on the subject of parenting guilt. I spent years beating myself up for the choices I made and the pain I caused, but no amount of self condemnation could ever absolve my shame. I’ve found that only through forgiveness can the wounds of regret be healed, but they always leave scars. Not too long ago I was reminded that the scars of regret, though they do fade with time, never completely go away.
I was listening to a podcast while driving one night, when the topic of parenting came up. The host, Andy Andrews, made the following observation, “Our job as a parent is not to raise great kids, it’s to raise kids who will become great adults.” No wonder I had blown it as a dad. I was aiming at the wrong target! How could I have equipped my children to lead successful adult lives, when I was, at best, barely an adequate adult myself?! The fact is you can’t teach what you don’t know.
Despite my all my shortcomings, my kids managed to turn out pretty good! While I’d like to think the changes I made later in life provided some positive examples for them to follow, I suspect that my biggest contribution was probably a long list of “things not to do”. I realized recently that, still motivated by regret, I was trying to atone for the past by offering unsolicited advice to my adult children. As you might imagine, that didn’t work out very well! It reminds me of something I heard years ago: Never try to teach a cow to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the cow! As much as I may want to help them avoid some of the pain and pitfalls of life, I know that those experiences are usually life’s greatest teachers.
So, is there any redemptive value in all this regret? I’d like to think so! Obviously we can’t undo the past, but it can motivate us to do something about the future! Almost every parent at some point has said, “I hope my kids will have it better than I did.” It’s almost as if we’ve admitted defeat and are consigned to the fact that “it’s just too late for me.” If we want the best for them, why not want the best for ourselves? While it’s true that you can’t teach what you don’t know, the opposite is also true; you can teach what you do know! I figure I’ve still got a lot to learn, and some pretty good reasons for learning it. Even though they’re grown, I still want to be a positive influence in the lives of our children. I also have a bunch of little kids running around here that call me poppaw to think about! So, I don’t have much time for all that regret…there’s just too much hope to think about!