Unlike Frank Sinatra, sometimes our regrets are too many to mention.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my kids and, I’d like to think, they love me to bits, but there are some significant moments I look back on and feel a twinge of remorse, sometimes even shame. Those are the moments I choose to inspire me to be a better dad, though, rather than letting them overwhelm me.
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My youngest child is now nine years old. He doesn’t want to be picked up any more. Neither do his two older siblings, of course, but it’s one thing I really miss: being able to swing my child up into the air and carry him. When he was not yet one year old I smashed my shoulder. I could barely butter my own bread, never mind pick up my baby. His mom did some impromptu bodybuilding during that period, I imagine, but I lost out on an aspect of parenting I’d never valued until it was gone.
I wish I’d been less fearful. It’s difficult to admit, but I had an overdeveloped sense of imagination when it came to my young children. Having read a simple sentence in a parenting book which stated that: “babies and toddlers are top heavy and more likely to fall over railings/down stairs/out of windows”, the world became a terrifying place full of hazards. My kids would be teetering along with that cowboy-nappy swagger, and I’d be zooming into the future in my mind, picturing the horrible Humpty Dumpty SPLAT they’d make when they toppled over. Escalators in shopping centres, walks on the mountain, trees, stairs and minor ridges all became perilous hazards which elicited a panicky “careful!” from me, even if I bit my tongue afterwards.
I understand the importance of “no”. Really, I do. And yet there are times when I wish I’d just said, hell, they’re only young once, and let them go ahead and do something inappropriate, foolish or carefree. Did I overdo it with the “no”s? It certainly feels like I said no more than yes. Then again, I said “maybe” more times than I would have if it was a mantra which was responsible for my salvation.
One step too far
Siblings tease each other. Dads tend to tease their kids. I admit to the latter, and, mostly, it was fun, until it wasn’t. That kick-yourself second when you realise you’ve gone too far, missed the signs, and the silly teasing has hit a nerve in your child. I’d hate to think that what I’d meant as bonding, a thoughtless expression of caring, ended up tapping into some vein of insecurity.
I’ve tried to attend many school activities, some fantastic ones which have left me moist-eyed with pride, others dull as dishwater, but I have also missed out on some events and milestones in the lives of my children. I can never replicate those moments, and I wish I’d valued them more.
All of this is sounding like a guilt trip/pity party, but it’s part of my experience. I have had plenty of wonderful experiences on our journey as a family, and we’re not finished yet. These experiences serve as reminders to me to stay engaged, even if I am tired. They remind me to look my children in the eye and talk to them, listen to them. When they show me a picture they’ve drawn, not to wave it back at them and mutter “well done” absent-mindedly without even looking at it. I look.
Interestingly, divorce made me more observant of their needs. I can't say yet if it will come back to haunt me, but I must say, both my ex and I have worked damned hard at making sure this is one thing we won't regret and that our kids will never suffer as a result of their parents' marital status. No regrets.
What I’d give to time hop back to when they were babies, to swing them in the air once more. Since I can’t, I will cherish where we are now and aim towards living without regrets as a parent.
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
What do you most regret as a parent?