The other day, I Googled “what I wish I’d done differently as a mom” and got 10 million results.
Apparently, a lot of moms have a lot they regret about their mothering.
Apparently, as a parent with some mom mileage on me, I should be writing about my own regrets and done-differently wishes.
And, mercy, do I ever have them to write about. I’ve messed up and made bad decisions and taken wrong turns more times than I can count.
But with 29 total years of motherhood racked up, I’m so thankful to be able to say there are a few things I don’t wish I could undo, by the grace of God.
These things I have done and things I haven’t done have worked for me and for my girls and for our family.
Some of them may be deal-breakers for you. Some of these may be non-negotiables at your house.
You may read this list and think, “Good grief, woman! Have you no shame? How can you possibly not regret this?!” Which is okay, actually.
Because you see, sweet mama, this is not a list of how I think other moms should do motherhood. This is only a collection of what, with the benefit of some hindsight and two older, happy, healthy, thriving children as evidence, I can leave off my personal do-over wish list, by the grace…
As a mom, I’m thankful I don’t regret that I…
1. Let my girls be cared for by other people. My husband is an only child, and I am the oldest, so you’d better believe the birth of our firstborn was met with no small amount of enthusiasm from both sets of new grandparents. We were blessed to live near my husband’s parents and mine, and from their very earliest days, both my babies spent time with their doting fan club. (We were also blessed to be able to absolutely trust all four of our parents not only with our girls’ physical safety, but with their mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, too.)
Early on, I would race off to Target for the 86.5 minutes I had between nursing sessions. Later, my husband and I left our girls longer and went farther—to Hawaii, in one memorable instance. I loved being home with my babies, just as I have loved being with them into their tween and teen years. But I wanted my girls to know they could depend on people other than their father and me to love and care for them.
I wanted them to have the security and reassurance of a wide net of love and affection and familiarity. Too, those very early days when I lugged the car seat in and out of my parents’ and my in-laws’ houses laid a foundation for closeness that continues to this day.
2. Fought the church battle every Sunday. When my girls were newborns, I could not imagine EVER being able to make it to church again. The number of things that had to happen for us to go was so crazy-impossible, I couldn’t even think about it. But I got used to sneaking in one last feeding session while I practically had one foot out the door, and eventually, we started making it every week. (And years later, on the first Sunday my daughter stood at the top of the stairs wearing tights she had PUT ON HERSELF, I had a flash of what Moses must have felt like when he watched God part the Red Sea.)
We established this routine from the get-go so that going to church every week was not a decision we had to make every week. It’s just what we did. And it’s what we do.
Still, now that my girls are older, I’m not sure there’s any time my family members like each other less than we do on Sunday mornings at about 8:15. My husband is trying to get two minutes of bathroom time to brush his teeth before he backs the van out of the garage because we DO NOT HAVE TIME PEOPLE to wait for that to happen once we’re all in the van, by the grace of God. Meanwhile, I’m running around yelling that we have to leave in two minutes and my girls are being unhappy with their hair and everyone just wants to be back in bed, for crying out loud. In this mood, we set off for church. Because we will not offer sacrifices to the Lord our God that cost us nothing (see 2 Samuel 24:24).
My point (and I do have one) is that all this has been worth it. Because it has laid a foundation for faith that I witness growing stronger every day. I see my girls reading their devotions at the breakfast table and leading worship with me and praying and posting inspirational quotes online. And the point of all this is not all this, but that all this is pointing them toward God. They are filling the God-shaped hole inside their hearts with the God Who put it there. Which makes all that Sunday-morning angst so worth it, I can’t even talk about it.
3. Waited an extra year before sending my youngest to preschool. When my second (and last) baby was three, I agonized over where to send her to preschool. I thought every three-year-old needed to be in preschool. I searched all over our area for a program that was a good fit, but most of them started at 8 a.m.—right when I was getting my would-be preschooler’s big sister on the bus.
Finally, after endless phone calls, I had a moment of clarity: I did not have to send her that year. I was at home with her. She was learning and growing and developing. We could just hang out for awhile longer. We could do library time, and she could come with me to Bible study and play in the nursery, and we could take naps together on the couch. She could go to preschool the next year, followed by kindergarten.
So this is what we did. And thank God for it, because when, two years later, I sent my baby to kindergarten and everyone asked if I was sad, I was able to honestly tell them I wasn’t (much). We had done that “bonus” year together. We had hung out. We had taken the time. And it had been a wonderful gift.
Now, as I watch her navigate middle school, I know I wouldn’t trade that year for anything. (I also sure wouldn’t mind another nap on the couch.)
4. Sent my girls to public school. I have so many friends who are amazing home schoolers, and I am in awe of what they do every day…usually before 11 a.m. But my husband and I felt very clearly called to be Christian public school parents—a full-time job in and of itself.
For one thing, I believe teaching is a gift not everyone possesses to the same degree. And the degree to which I possess that gift would not have gotten my daughters past preschool nametag day. I so greatly admire the talent and training of professional educators and understand that I cannot do what they do. So we intentionally bought a house in a school district we knew and respected and trusted and sent our girls there from the beginning.
We have been aware of what our children are doing and learning. We have been involved. The staff knows us by sight and by our first names. I have been PTA mom and room mom and “attendance hotline” mom and band mom and popcorn mom. While I’ve been around, I’ve seen what my girls’ teachers do every day and have been awed and grateful.
My daughters have not just had good teachers all along—they have had amazing educators, and many of them have been Christians who have nurtured my children not only educationally but spiritually and morally. My daughters are growing daily in their knowledge of and love for God, and they exercise their faith muscle every day when they are around their public school teachers and peers.
5. Limited my children’s activities. The formula for the way our girls spend their time pretty much looks like this: school + family/home + church + dance + friends = life. Band is the other big component of their existence, but because it is a school activity, the extracurricular time they spend on it is limited.
We like being home together as a family, and this requires us to semi-regularly be: 1) home and 2) together. We’ve never done teams or groups that have Sunday practices or games. We’ve never done multiple sports at the same time. We’ve never done anything year-round. This doesn’t mean any of this is wrong. It just isn’t the plan we went with for our little family.
I know the pressure to allow kids to try everything and not “limit their potential” is huge in our culture today. And we have created opportunities for our girls to explore various interests in case they became passions. But having afterschool and evening and weekend activities every day of every week of every month was never an option for us.
I call this “selective scheduling,” and it has worked for us. For. Us.
6. Set the bar of expectations low. From family vacations to the house we live in to back-to-school wardrobes to Christmas gifts to birthday parties, our secret to family contentment is pretty simple: promote low expectations.
Our thinking was—and continues to be—that if we set a low bar for what is good and satisfying and acceptable and worth looking forward to, contentment would probably follow. If my family expects M&Ms, and they get triple chocolate layer cake, they’re thrilled and pleasantly surprised and think I am the greatest mom ever. But if they expect the cake and all I deliver is the candy, they’re disappointed. I’d rather exceed low expectations than fall short of high ones.
7. Was “lax” about reading to my babies and toddlers. I knew I was supposed to read to my children…poetry in utero and then classics with discussion in their teen years. But my girls didn’t particularly care about being read to. They reacted to my dramatic interpretations of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with approximately the same level of enthusiasm they reserved for having their runny noses wiped. So I gave up.
I listened to kid-safe books on CD in the van and around the house, made plenty of actual books available, read in front of them, and left it at that. Today, they’re voracious, enthusiastic, and skilled readers. They’ve both usually got about three books going at once in various formats. Also, they wipe their own runny noses now. It’s all good.
8. Have learned to be okay with my daughters growing up. I well understand the melancholy tug moms feel at seeing their babies mature. I know that tug myself. I look at my tween and teen and long for one more chance to hold them when they still fit in the crook of my neck…or even on my lap.
But whenever I feel sad that my girls are moving from one age or stage to another, I remind myself of something that helps me keep things in perspective: if I asked any parent who has lost a baby or a toddler or a young adult or a middle-aged child what they would give to “have” to watch that child go off to preschool or middle school or college or a job or their first colonoscopy, I know what they’d say. Anything. They would give anything.
Watching my girls grow and mature is a blessing and a gift I try not to take for granted. I also believe this to be true: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind” (C.S. Lewis).
9. Took—and enjoyed—mom “alone time.” I loved and love being with my girls. But I am a better mom when my batteries are recharged so I have fresh energy to pour into their lives. For me, that recharging happens when I am alone and have a break from some of my maternal duties. And I’m not the only one who has benefited from this occasional separation. See #1, in Part 1 of this post. (You might also like to glance at “5 Reasons Moms Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About ‘Alone Time’.”)
10. Picked my battles. My younger daughter told me one day, “I’m just not gonna get in a big hassle.” I don’t remember what the issue was, but that was how she decided she was going to approach it.
As a mom, I could choose to “get in a big hassle” about every bite of food my girls eat, every minute of TV they watch, every book they read, every outfit they put on, every everything. But I haven’t. And not because I am some laid-back, relaxed personality, either. Please. I drove four college roommates to the brink of insanity with my uptightness. (I’m so sorry, girls.)
That I’ve let so much go as a mom is quite possibly pure laziness on my part, but I like to think I’ve tried to fight the battles that needed fighting. The battles that had eternal significance.
I want my girls to purse faith in God and purity and compassion and self-control and kindness. I really don’t care if they eat an Oreo while they’re doing it.
Maybe someday I’ll put together a list of what I wish I’d done differently. (And let me say it again: I have plenty of fodder for that collection. Mercy.) But right now, I’m just incredibly grateful I’ve got a few things to put on this list…a few things I’ve done that I wouldn’t undo.