Parenting Regrets: What You'll Think Once They're Gone

Grown children leaving home is a time to look back on our performance as a parent.I sniffled my way through a wonderful personal essay yesterday on Salon.com by the writer Ann Bauer, whose novel, The Forever Marriage is new this month. It was called "All my parenting mistakes," and it was about what Bauer knows now that her youngest child is leaving home, and what she'd look back and tell herself as a young mother.

In the opening paragraph, Bauer writes, "It's a clear night in June, and I'm sitting in the bleachers at the high school, watching my daughter march onto the field, when I begin to cry." The moment is her daughter's high school graduation. She goes on to write of children leaving home:

"The sadness that settles in is deep and profound and as immovable as time. Because my opportunity to change what once seemed like an endless childhood is over. I am done 'raising' children. Countless women before me have had this realization, but we never quite believe it will arrive until it is right in front of us - the point at which you can no longer try harder. And this comes so much sooner than you think."

Her personal story is dramatic (alcoholic husband, autistic child, divorce from the same man twice) but she makes an interesting case that her regrets are not the big bad-decisions in life, but the small ones of missed opportunities. And the conclusion packs a lot of emotional truth. She tells her younger self:

"Be kinder and less trusting, I ache to tell her. Understand how powerless you are. Slow down. Don't lie to yourself. Do the right thing. These are the changes that are within your control to make. You will never fret over how another person behaved, only over how you did. Be vigilant with yourself. As for the rest, there is nothing - no pregnancy, baby, marriage, hope or loving thought - that you will ever want to take back."

Sounds like good advice.