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Feeling guilty never helps
March 22, 2013 11:33 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian collects parents biggest regrets.
posted by Gilgongo (43 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
this is incredibly depressing. besides those that posted about the death of their children, couldn't they correct these "regrets" by simply telling their children these thoughts?
posted by kbennett289 at 11:36 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah the spaghetti incident is hilarious... but I had to stop reading. I wish it was separated into "humorous" and "about death" categories.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:38 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


My wife's mother has still never let go the fact that she never got my wife and her sisters a swing set. Never mind that they are three wonderful, healthy, well-adjusted women: the swing set is still a tragedy to her.

Now that we have a daughter, I am dreading the day a swing set magically appears in our tiny yard.
posted by selfnoise at 11:42 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I wish it was separated into "humorous" and "about death" categories.

No kidding. Strange to have "I regret adopting you" next to "I regret letting you sell your Optimus Prime Transformers".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:45 AM on March 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


I never told [my children] how much I loved them. I was a stay-at-home mum and my husband and I tried our best to make their lives full of fun and interest. We loved them and I hope they felt loved but this is my regret: I never put that love into words to my children.

I love them still and I hope they still feel loved. I want to hold each one in turn in my arms and say: "I love you, James; I love you, Jenny; I love you, Naomi; I love you, Tom." But I think it's probably too late to do what my grandson has just taught me to do.


I am genuinely baffled by this. Nowhere does she say James, Jenny, Naomi, and Tom are either dead or estranged, so it is utterly mystifying to me that she seems to firmly believe that it is literally impossible for her to hold her children and tell them she loves them.
posted by scody at 11:49 AM on March 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


my thoughts exactly. welp, i guess that's why the title of this post is "feeling guilty never helps." Also, what kind of parents says I wish I never adopted you? Yeesh.
posted by kbennett289 at 11:53 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.


Regret is an interesting thing; I still have things I regret from being a kid that no one, even the affronted party, cares about today. But they still stick in my craw. I feel like those moments were some secret core essence of my being that I must always shore myself up against. Sometimes I feel like I've worked out all the kinks, and then I find myself doing something that's tangentially related to some bygone failing and think I've just found ways to better camouflage it from myself.

I'm sure it will be worse when I'm a parent, if I get to be a parent, because there is someone who witnesses and indelibly records it all. I remember one time my father was doing something in the close and I kind of pitched or rolled a hacky sack at him, as if he was a bowling pin. I caught him on a bad day, because he turned around and wailed it at me. It didn't hit me, and I wasn't particularly terrorized by it all, but that vignette is crystal clear in my brain, three decades later.

But man, I think the editor collecting these kinda got the story wrong. The spaghetti thing seems just right. The dead kids, maybe save that for a different piece.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:53 AM on March 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I am genuinely baffled by this. Nowhere does she say James, Jenny, Naomi, and Tom are either dead or estranged, so it is utterly mystifying to me that she seems to firmly believe that it is literally impossible for her to hold her children and tell them she loves them.

Yeah, but they live all the way over in Epping, and, like, who's even got the time to get over there.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:07 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I regret reading that article. : (
posted by orme at 12:12 PM on March 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


I regret nothing.
posted by srboisvert at 12:19 PM on March 22, 2013


Well the spaghetti incident was interesting to me because my aunt did the same thing to me as a toddler (with a bowl of spaghetti, even), but always tells the story in boastful, gloating way, as if she got one over on 2-year-old me. I'm in my mid-40s now and she still likes to tell the story. It literally never occurred to me that an option for her was feeling ashamed of losing her temper. Just one of those stories that you've been told all your life and never stop to think about. Hm.
posted by HotToddy at 12:23 PM on March 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I regret nothing.

Me neither.
posted by Dasein at 12:29 PM on March 22, 2013


The Father Christmas one resonated with me because I found out from my Dad and his side of the family pretty much the same way. "You don't still believe in Santa, do you? You know he's not real." Well, not until that very moment, no, I hadn't considered the possibility. It's funny, I don't think I've really enjoyed Christmas since. For a number of reasons, naturally, but that was one little pebble that started the avalanche.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:30 PM on March 22, 2013


The Christmas one ended with, "I was wrong and had carelessly shattered her belief in Father Christmas; the first test of faith for a child. I hoped and prayed she'd still believe in Jesus and the reason for Christmas."

Unintentional comedy?
posted by Pecinpah at 12:33 PM on March 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't really get the guilt about the Transformers one. The kids wanted to sell their toys. The parent let them. Now they're mad at the parent because he/she couldn't predict that the toy would be worth so much more?

Maybe they're not really mad and the parent is beanplating this, but if a parent lets a child do something and things screw up later on, well just treat it as a lesson learned.

Reminds me of when I was back in college, and a manipulative ex got mad at me because I didn't convince her to drop a university course. "You knew how tired I would be at the end of the day and that I wouldn't be able to concentrate in that class - I can't believe you didn't beg me to drop that course!"

In retrospect, she was either being a mega-troll or was trying to get me to dump her, but instead being the sucker that I was, I just continued to apologize profusely and offered to do her assignments

posted by bitteroldman at 12:35 PM on March 22, 2013


I feel guilty about pushing my brother onto the floor once, right after he had woken up, so groggy that I couldn't even stand up straight to brush his teeth. I really wanted to push him back so that he would go back flying onto the bed - I thought I\it would be comically fun - but instead of falling backward, he tripped over himself and banged his head on the bed rail.

Everyone was in the room at the time, and just looked at me dumbfounded - like "why in the hell would you do that, you asshole?!" I was in so much shock that I couldn't even answer - I was a bit of a jerk anyway - no one would have believed me had I told them the truth. It sounded so outlandish anyway.

He seems to have gotten over it fine, but 30 years later, I am still haunted by it.
posted by bitteroldman at 12:40 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, a mint condition Optimus Prime might sell for $2000, but is that really such a big deal to whine about for 20 years? And much, much more likely that if they hadn't sold them that they would have been in mediocre condition at best. I was curious and checked on eBay, there is one selling for just $60 right now that looks a little beat up but typical wear and tear for a toy that's actually been played with.
posted by skewed at 12:41 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a very sad story told by Montaigne in one of his essays that I've always tried to keep in mind as a father:

The late Mareschal de Montluc having lost his son, who died in the island of Madeira, in truth a very worthy gentleman and of great expectation, did to me, amongst his other regrets, very much insist upon what a sorrow and heart-breaking it was that he had never made himself familiar with him; and by that humour of paternal gravity and grimace to have lost the opportunity of having an insight into and of well knowing, his son, as also of letting him know the extreme affection he had for him, and the worthy opinion he had of his virtue. "That poor boy," said he, "never saw in me other than a stern and disdainful countenance, and is gone in a belief that I neither knew how to love him nor esteem him according to his desert. For whom did I reserve the discovery of that singular affection I had for him in my soul? Was it not he himself, who ought to have had all the pleasure of it, and all the obligation? I constrained and racked myself to put on, and maintain this vain disguise, and have by that means deprived myself of the pleasure of his conversation, and, I doubt, in some measure, his affection, which could not but be very cold to me, having never other from me than austerity, nor felt other than a tyrannical manner of proceeding."
posted by otio at 12:42 PM on March 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Yeah, about Santa Claus, I really, really can't understand the thought process of Christians who try to convince their kids that Santa is real. The inevitable disillusionment would seem like the perfect way to instill doubt about God.

"Sorry honey, but the other guy who watches over you constantly to see when you're good and bad to figure out what kind of reward or punishment you get later on? He's real. I swear."
posted by skewed at 12:45 PM on March 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


"I regret letting you sell your Optimus Prime Transformers".

I didn't sell my Optimus Prime, but I sold a bunch of Transformers to buy a TMNT Pizza Thrower. I hope my parent's didn't regret that because fucking hell that thing threw tiny plastic pizzas; that's awesome.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:00 PM on March 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


Regret can often come about very very late in life. I know I've felt guilty about certain actions of mine, but whether through fear or plain laziness, I never sought to make things right. It wasn't until much later, when I no longer had the means to contact those I've hurt or wronged, that I really felt the regret.

I know I would say to them, if I had the opportunity, "I'm very sorry I broke your heart and shattered your trust. I wasn't a nice person, too caught up in my own selfish needs, and I took things for granted."

The silver lining is that I've tried to improve my relationships with others that are still in my life, and I have the chance to "do right" to new people I meet. And I'm thankful that I learned this (or at least am highly aware of it) before I had children, so that I might spend a few more moments considering my actions before taking them for granted and hurting someone that doesn't deserve it.
posted by CancerMan at 1:05 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always say I don't have any regrets. I do have a whole bunch of things that I've done that I don't like and hope to not do again, but as that's precisely how I learned not to do those things, I can't really say I regret them.

Long suffering regret--of which I admit I can easily be a victim of--is for me, just a manifestation of my own egomania.

It's dwelling on how terrible I made someone feel (or in many cases a simple assumption of how I made them feel), who, because it was the all-encompassing ME who harmed them, they cannot possibly recover from the horrible truth that I am not perfection incarnate, and that sometimes I do irrational, inconsiderate, stupid, and/or hurtful things for no real good reason other than that's what regular humans do from time to time.

My parents did all sorts of terrible things, and while I operated on that for a good while, I learned to let that go, learned some valuable things from those old hurts, and am a much better person for it.

While I admit that as a father, I can relate to the story of "Christoper and Harry" and feel the tugs on my heartstrings, I can't help but imaging this father's regret being that he forced his son to have Harry Potter read to him at 14 if he had actually done so.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:20 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nowhere does she say James, Jenny, Naomi, and Tom are either dead or estranged, so it is utterly mystifying to me that she seems to firmly believe that it is literally impossible for her to hold her children and tell them she loves them.

If you read the comments, two of those children speak up and say that they never in the least doubted that their parents loved them--that they told them so in many ways even if they didn't say it verbally. (One of them was the father of the little boy who could so easily tell his grandma that he loved her--he just said, "I love that he does that.") I don't think that mother has anything to regret--if those children are any indication, they turned out just fine.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:35 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, about Santa Claus, I really, really can't understand the thought process of Christians who try to convince their kids that Santa is real. The inevitable disillusionment would seem like the perfect way to instill doubt about God."

Ehh, as a Christian I see this as, if anything, one of the better arguments for not trying to fight the collective madness of Santa and just rolling with it. Outside of small minority of those those suckered in by prosperity theology, for whom this might actually be cogent advice, most of us really don't want to indoctrinate our kids into worshiping a God who meaningfully resembles Santa. The whole Santa experience also has the added benefit of demonstrating clearly that even adults who love you and genuinly want whats best for you are occasionally full of shit, which is true.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:42 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of these "regrets" are sort of a reverse humble brag. I'm sure there's a word for that but I just can't think of it now. Getting old.

"I regret not giving my son, the doctor, a T Rex figure for Christmas in 1988. Perhaps he would have finished higher in his class at Yale or done better in the 500M Breast Stroke at the 1996 Summer Olympics. I was a *terrible* parent."
posted by Infinity_8 at 1:44 PM on March 22, 2013


Growing up in a family that never verbalized love, it can be awkward and uncomfortable when the normally unemotional parent suddenly wants to start getting all affectionate. Honestly, it becomes very embarrassing and weird for the former child to start hearing all this stuff as an adult. And once a pattern has been established that those verbal expressions aren't used in the parent-child context, it can be nearly impossible to break that pattern. Or maybe I'm just projecting.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:51 PM on March 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


You know, just because parents don't say they love you, doesn't mean you don't know they love you.

It's when they START telling you. Why are they saying that? Do they really? Are they trying to convince themselves? Are they trying to convince me?

It's how people ACT, not what they SAY, that counts in the long run.

I can't believe how many people, including my own father, don't get that.
posted by unSane at 1:55 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, about Santa Claus, I really, really can't understand the thought process of Christians who try to convince their kids that Santa is real. The inevitable disillusionment would seem like the perfect way to instill doubt about God.

Contrary to what Blasdelb just said, figuring out Santa wasn't real was probably the beginning of the end for my belief in God. The way Santa is presented to kids is very much the way God is anthropomorphised. Throw in the fact I was overly literal and concluded that heaven had to be a specific place God lived (like the North Pole), theism and I were not made to go together. No prosperity theology in sight, just fairly mainstream US Catholicism.
posted by hoyland at 2:20 PM on March 22, 2013


So many of these just add up to: I wish I'd never made a single mistake as a parent.

I don't get the one about Christopher AT ALL. Tragic that the boy died so young, but trust me, a normal 14 year old boy doesn't want someone reading to him.

As the father tells the story, he read to his son when he was the right age for that, and then he got older and his son read for himself.

I get that; I have teenage sons and I sometimes get a little twinge about some cute thing that we did with them when they were younger. But regret would be if we hadn't done those things THEN; that doesn't make them age-appropriate NOW.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:19 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Optimus Prime story doesn't actually say that the boys are upset because they could sell them for even more today. I'm miffed (at myself, not my parents, obviously) about some of the childhood collectibles I got rid of, and it's not because of their current market value.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 3:33 PM on March 22, 2013


So many of these just add up to: I wish I'd never made a single mistake as a parent.

We sure are good about beating ourselves up about our parenting, aren't we?

I guess I'm not old enough, not far along enough in my journey as a parent to have regrets about how I've raised my kids yet. They're 17 and 21. I look at them and I know that I've tried my hardest and done my best to make sure they've had everything they need. Maybe not everything they've wanted, but certainly everything they've needed.

I'm not the perfect parent. Never tried to be, never wanted to be. All I ever wanted was to be better at it than my own parents. With a bar that low, it wasn't hard. My boys have never gone hungry because I've spend the grocery money on drugs. They've never been cold because the gas is off because I spent the utility money at the bar. They've never been beaten - hell, I think each of them has only ever had one sharp swat on the ass for doing something dangerous. We've had our arguments...but in the end, they've gleefully brought home their friends and girlfriends, hang out with me purely for the fuck of it, and seem pretty happy overall.

Maybe I'll have regrets later, but right now, I'm too busy having all the fun I possibly can with this job. If, after they've moved out, married (or not) and have done with their lives as they please, my biggest regret is that I let them sell some toy or other, I guess I'll have done OK.
posted by MissySedai at 5:56 PM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


The thing I like best about my mother (unlike my father) is that she doesn't worry about this shit *at all*. It would never occur to her to tell me that she loves me. She never turned up for sports day at school, and (after the first time) never bugged me about coming home late or, anything really. She looked after us both but she never lost sight of her own priorities, and once I was 18 she followed them and let me get on with it. But she was *always there* if I needed her, and she looked after her own life without being selfish. She laughs about being a 'terrible mother' now, but she really wasn't. She was, for me, almost ideal, and did me the honour of treating me like an adult from this time I was about 13 or so.

My father, on the other hand, pulled all sorts of shit, and now wonders why we roll our eyes when he sends us enormous Hallmark cards telling us how much he loves us. Fuck off.
posted by unSane at 6:26 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


My mother's biggest regret, as reported to me about ten years ago: "That I had kids."

I suspect this regret is more common than most parents can bring themselves to admit.
posted by Decani at 8:40 PM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


She was, for me, almost ideal, and did me the honour of treating me like an adult from this time I was about 13 or so.

Each to their own, I'm 35 and secretly love that my mother still treats me like a child. Asking me what I've eating and do I have enough jumpers. Wooly garments are apparently essential to my survival.
posted by Damienmce at 8:46 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I suspect this regret is more common than most parents can bring themselves to admit.

Mine certainly regretted me, and made no bones about it. I was born just two months after their wedding, which occurred just a month after they graduated from high school. They "had to" get married - no legal abortion in 1970, and neither set of my grandparents would hear of adoption.

Christ, what a clusterfuck. They went on to have two more kids! And bitched forevermore. I was not wanted, neither were my brothers, and I heard about it my entire life, until the sperm donor died and I managed to get the fuck off the egg donor's radar.

There's a certain societal pressure to have kids that many people are unable or unwilling to buck. I know more than a few people who had kids because their parents pressured them for grandchildren, and instead of doubling up on the contraception, they caved and had children they now resent. I can't even fathom pushing either of my sons to have kids, but people do this shit ALL THE TIME, and it's wrong.

I wanted my Monsters. Loudly, enthusiastically, and with delight aforethought. Only two, though, no matter the howling from the in-laws about "trying for a girl". I knew my limits, and stood my ground. I didn't want to be Angry Resentful Mom. Being Tired Crazy Mom was enough, thanks.
posted by MissySedai at 9:01 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't get the one about regretting not teaching his sons to fish. They're only 14 and 16, for crying out loud. Teach them to fish tomorrow! or when they're home from college! or when they're 30 and 32 and want to spend time with Dad again! It's a bit shortsighted to assume that things like a love of fishing can only be imprinted upon your children by you when they are small and pliable.
posted by daisystomper at 9:16 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hope, and soon, that my father begins to regret constantly telling me and my wife stories about diarrhea he's had. My sister couldn't wait to go back home on her last visit.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:20 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the collectables front I had a bunch of Matchbox classic cars that had to be kept in their boxes because "they might be worth something one day". When my son was old enough to hold them and not eat them I gave them to him and he, basically, destroyed them - I gave them to him knowing this would be the outcome. A small act of rebellion, but oh so satisfying.
posted by IncognitoErgoSum at 3:17 AM on March 23, 2013


My mom regularly told us that we were all accidents when we were growing up.
posted by reenum at 7:28 AM on March 23, 2013


I hope, and soon, that my father begins to regret constantly telling me and my wife stories about diarrhea he's had.

Good luck. I'm in my thirties, and my father has yet to tire of telling us all about his dumps.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:41 AM on March 23, 2013


On the collectables front I had a bunch of Matchbox classic cars that had to be kept in their boxes because "they might be worth something one day".

Arrrgh. That is TORTURE. I had some Barbies like that when I was a kid. Why give your kid toys they're not allowed to play with?? I took them out and played with them, and was severely punished for it. Ugh.

When my son was old enough to hold them and not eat them I gave them to him and he, basically, destroyed them - I gave them to him knowing this would be the outcome. A small act of rebellion, but oh so satisfying.

He must have been thrilled to have them. My boys had more Matchbox cars than my poor feet could bear. They loved the hell out of them.
posted by MissySedai at 3:02 PM on March 23, 2013


Why give your kid toys they're not allowed to play with?? I took them out and played with them, and was severely punished for it. Ugh.

My son was given legos for Christmas at his father's house when he was 6. When he didn't play with them *right,* they were taken away from him. He didn't tell me about it for TEN YEARS he was so ashamed.

I didn't know about that, but I knew there was ugly shit going on there. Among my regrets is continuing to send him and his brother to that house for legally mandated visitation.
posted by headnsouth at 10:48 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and once when I was 12 and my brother 11, our Dad told us he & Mom were going out to their Anniversary dinner. I said, "Which anniversary, Dad?" Without hesitating he said, "Tenth. And you neither of you little bastards better say anything about it."
posted by Infinity_8 at 6:50 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


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