When I became a mother, the advice I received more often than any other was to savor every moment. I was consistently warned by parents of older children that child rearing was comprised of the longest days, but shortest years of your life. They implied that while the work of raising kids was hard and made for long days, the years would fly by. I was often sent email forwards filled with stories cautioning the reader to spend every moment possible savoring time with one’s children because the moments of childhood are fleeting and irreplaceable.
While this advice was well intentioned, the advice made me a nervous wreck. I became so focused on savoring every moment and spending quality time with my kids that I was often too anxious to enjoy the time that I was spending with them! For example, I would come home from work, determined to make the hours before bedtime three to four hours of nothing but “quality” time. I would get angry at myself if my mind wandered (because I knew that I should be enjoying every burp and smile), and I felt guilty when I was not “enjoying” every moment of a silly game with the kids.
Upon reflection, I realize that I have pushed myself to the extreme – I have attempted to live every moment to the fullest with my children in hopes that I can avoid the regret that is sure to follow. In fact, I am terrified of regret. I hate the thought of looking back one day and realizing the mistakes that I made as a parent. I have attempted to convince myself that if I can savor every moment, and if I can do everything perfectly, I will have no regrets.
Lately, God has shown me that no matter which choices I make, I will have regrets. Regret is a natural part of life. Sometimes I will regret things that I could have changed (for example, I may look back and regret that I did not travel more or that I took a job that was not suitable for me). Other regrets will be the result of life circumstances that are completely beyond my control (for example, I may regret being unable to prevent my child from suffering pain at the hands of a cruel classmate). Regardless of the source of the regret, I am sure that no matter how hard I try, I will make decisions at the time that I will later look back upon in hindsight and regret. I know this because I am not perfect, therefore, being imperfect, I will make some poor decisions which will lead to regret.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Make the most of your regrets …. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” I love this quote because it is so different from other quotes about regret! Many people say, “live a life without regret!” However, the wisdom of Thoreau’s quote is the realization that by learning from our regrets, we can live a deeper, fresh, and fuller life. If we learn from our regrets, regrets can serve a useful purpose in our life journey.