Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Regrets, I Have Many

A great challenge in life, at least for me, is to not get caught up in regrets. Oh, I have so many regrets. I know that living in the past is pointless, and I can only move forward and try to make today the best that I can. But...once in awhile I can't help it. I get bogged down. Many of my regrets have to do with parenting, but certainly not all. For today, however, I'll focus on how bad I suck at parenting and what I wish I had done differently.

Okay, okay, okay. I'll be kinder to myself. I guess I don't totally suck at parenting, but sometimes it feels like I do. I firmly believe we all have our bad days when we doubt every decision we've ever made, whether we care to admit it or not. Maybe you'll read my regrets and think they're dumb. That's alright. They're my regrets, not necessarily yours. And maybe another day I'll delve into how badly I've failed in other areas of my life.

Winter does bad things to my state of mind. I should not live in Michigan. Anyway...

Let's start at the beginning, with my nursing regrets and guilt. This is stupid because my kids ate and grew (and continue to grow) and they're healthy. Not only that, but the one child I never nursed, which causes me the most nursing regret & guilt, is the only one of the four who ended up without asthma, and he gets sick LESS than his sisters. So then I also have this sort of reverse guilt, blaming myself for giving my girls asthma via nursing. I don't know if that is "technically" possible, but trust me that no amount of web MD research will convince me otherwise.

I don't judge others on their choices when it comes to how they feed their babies. So why am I so hard on myself? Because I gave up, that's why. When I began nursing my first baby, I was hit with a Mack truck of horrible, unexpected pain. Maybe I had heard or read that it was probably going to hurt at first, but I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. Plus I never felt comfortable nursing anywhere except in the privacy of my own bedroom, with the door closed. So I didn't last long, only about 5 or 6 weeks. And then I was relieved to turn to formula. I don't think I felt bad at the time, just like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. When I found myself pregnant again well before Bethany's first birthday, I never even considered nursing my second child. And again, I didn't feel bad at the time. Perhaps I never would have started feeling bad if it weren't for baby #3.

For whatever reason, when Lucy was born I decided to try again. It still hurt just as horribly, but this time I knew it was coming. And every day I gave myself permission to quit, after just one more day. Eventually it got better and I finally realized what makes mothers think that nursing is a beautiful experience. And I realized I missed my chance to have that with my first two babies. Ouch.

Here's the thing about having more than one or two kids. In my case two, since my first two are so close together and they were raised very much the same. You gain an understanding, with each new baby, of what you can do better and how badly you screwed up with your first attempt(s). Did you ever see the movie Pieces of April, that line when Katie Holmes' character says she was like the first pancake? Well, I really get that now. Not to suggest that Bethany & Connor are not great kids or that I don't love them to the moon and back a million times, because they are and I do. But yeah, hindsight is 20/20.

Another thing, I rushed Bethany and Connor to grow up. Why did I do that? Maybe because I was overwhelmed with two in diapers, two in strollers, no me-time. All of that and more. Mathilda at age 3 is a world of difference from Bethany at age 3. Bethany has always been so grown up. Partly that is just her personality, but partly it is my fault. On the one hand, she was my first and I was excited to see what was next! I couldn't wait to experience all of it! On the other hand, I had another baby when she was 18  months old and I needed her to do some things for herself. Way back when, I thought Connor was babyish for his age, and I guess he was, compared to Bethany...who was helping me unload the dishwasher before she was two. But Lucy and Mattie are incredibly immature, maybe not amongst their peers, but when compared to Bethany and Connor at their ages. Chris and I marvel at how childish they are, and while that might be partly due to personality differences, it's also definitely because I have not rushed them through every milestone like I did with my first two. I have realized the importance of slowing down. Maybe that started with nursing, something each of them did for 18 months, and which afforded me frequent opportunities to screech to a halt in the interest of feeding my babies. With the first two, I steadfastly encouraged independence because I thought that was best for them. The push for independence has taken a back seat to letting Lucy and Mattie be little girls for as long as possible, because I now know that kids grow up far too fast even without their parents encouraging them to do so.

In my defense, it wasn't all horrible for Bethany and Connor. Actually it was nice having them so close together and being home with them. I've always been a stay-at-home mom, but that term fit the job description much better those first three years. Bethany and Connor had regular nap times and meal times and went to bed by 7:30 every night, in their own beds. While we were mostly able to stick to their every day routines, I kept them fairly flexible and we made lots of time for trips to museums, family visits, and weekend get-a-ways. There was no worrying about getting back in time to pick someone up from school, or making it to basketball practice on time. Bethany had a full three years being truly (more or less) at home, and Connor didn't start getting dragged around to preschool drop-offs and pick-ups and activities until he was one and a half. In contrast, Lucy and Mattie both hit the ground running. They napped in their car seats and ate wherever we happened to be, whenever it was convenient. In my exhaustion and need for a little peace and quiet and a lot of sleep, they were often allowed to stay up late and slept in bed with Chris and me quite often. As newborns, they were carted all over Disney World and spent many an hour hanging out at dance studios waiting for big sisters to finish their classes. While all of this meant that in many ways, things were easier with Bethany and Connor, on the flip side, I have come to understand that having a schedule and sticking with it is not necessarily the be all and end all of successful parenting. I did what I had to do to survive my first years of motherhood intact, but I wish that I had understood sooner that Chris and I were free to make up the rules for our family on our own terms...and that flexibility is more vital than just about anything else.

Wow, I've barely hit the tip of the iceberg of my parental regrets. Maybe this needs to be a three-part series? Or, who knows...a six-part series? What are your regrets, parenting related of otherwise?

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