If I Could Turn Back Time

parenting

I had my first child almost 16 years ago. I was 26 and full of excitement, terror, and toggling between “When will the baby get here?” and “Let’s keep her in a little bit longer.” The only thing I really knew about being a mother, I’d learned from babysitting and watching Family Ties. At best, I was winging it, which was obvious if you looked at my registry filled with five different kinds of bottle nipples and 20-packs of baby washcloths.

What I didn’t know then, but what I know now, is that so much of the stuff I worried about before becoming a mother was meaningless, and most of the things I’ve worried about over the last 15+ years falls into that same meaningless category. The realization of this made me think…

If I could turn back time, and go back to that day when I became a mother and my world changed forever, what would I tell my naive self?

It’s all a crapshoot

Yes, we’re responsible for teaching and modeling for our children, and some of that stuff actually sinks in. In the end, what’s really the biggest contribution we make? Keeping them fed and alive. That is our job. Everything I thought I knew about who my kids would be and the things that would be important to them has turned on its axis. And just when I think I’ve got it figured out, it turns again. Most of it has nothing to do with how we’ve raised them. My daughter is practical, no nonsense, lives in the black and white and is liberal to the core. My son is emotional, sympathetic, sits comfortably in the grey, and likely doesn’t know what liberal or conservative means. They were both raised in the same house by the same parents and could not be more different. The one thing they do have in common? They’ve both been fed and kept alive.

They will make boneheaded decisions — don’t sweat it

Exhibit 1: The day my friend who worked at the school heard a disturbance in the lunchroom bathroom only to go in and find it was our two boys leading a pack of other boys who were all standing on toilets and leaning over stalls.

Exhibit 2: My daughter chose not to turn in a paper because she felt it wasn’t her best work and would rather take a zero than turn something in that was subpar.

Exhibit 3: You know what, I won’t bore you. Just know that I’ve given my kids the side eye more times than I ever thought I would.

Instead of dwelling on those instances, I choose to accept that they are not my fault. I didn’t teach them to make questionable choices. Nothing I could’ve done would have stopped my son from bathroom shenanigans or my daughter from a complete lapse of sanity. Those choices are all on them, and they need to own them.

They can go their own way

I’ve spent way too much time thinking about who my children will grow up to be and assuming I know best about their life choices. Their choices are not my choices. I can encourage them, offer advice, and guide them, but ultimately, it is their life. They may not choose the college I prefer or play the sports I want them to play, and that’s okay. I have to let go of my expectations, accept some of their choices, and sit back and watch them occasionally fail.

That covers the big stuff. There’s certainly more I’d say to my 26-year-old self — like hide anything you don’t want broken, borrowed, or mysteriously lost, and unconditional love doesn’t have limits but there’s no such thing as unconditional like — but I don’t want to scare myself. Parenting is supposed to be a bit of a mystery. Otherwise, none of us would choose to do it.

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