Regrets From Living With No Regrets (or are they just teenagers?)

I have been thinking lately about choices I have made in my life.  Like my choice to leave my now ex-husband, my choice to dedicate my life (for nearly ten years) to leading the Wisdom Course for Landmark Education, my choice to retire from leading that course, my choice to marry my husband Rich and my choices around my work and creating a consulting business based on working with non-profit organizations.

Since they were born, I strived to live by example for my children. A core example I wanted to give them was one of living life to the fullest, following your dreams and honoring yourself as well as those around you.  I also wanted to give them an example of being accepting of their limits, though not being limited by them but using them as the edge you can push up against and move beyond.  I think I have done a pretty good job at doing all of this for them and my life has been extraordinary because of it.  Except… lately I notice that I have regrets.

A couple of days ago Rich and I were driving to Vermont for a week-long vacation in Stowe.  I felt very quiet and didn’t know how to explain it so I allowed myself to be quiet for the 6 hour drive.  “Are you ok?” Rich asked me at least twice, if not three times.  “Yes”, I replied, thankful for his ability to let me be even though he had some inkling that something was brewing.  I used the trip to observe my thoughts and my feelings associated with those thoughts. Much of what I thought about centered on my life as it is today and how it might have been different if I had made other choices in the past.

My children are now teenagers and I long for the days when they were young, soft and cuddly.  I long for the days when they were thrilled to be with me and to talk and share everything – but those days are gone and no matter how much I long for them they will never be back, at least not the way that they were.  As we drove, I wondered what it would have been like for them, and me, if their father and I had never divorced.  Would we have found a way to be happy?  Would I have been able to follow what was really important to me?  Would the way we worked or didn’t work together have changed?   I reminded myself that I’ll never know.  I wondered to myself if there were something that could have saved the marriage. Of course, I thought, I’ll never know.

Then I thought about Rich and our relationship and how lately I have been distant trying to get back to being connected and close.   We have such great lives and it is really something remarkable that he finds such joy in having me have what I want in life.  I thought about what I want and I notice that my longing for a past is something that not even he can give me.

Our relationship and our life together is so very important to both of us and to our children that I decided to dedicate this week’s trip to us, my love for him and what we are together now and what we will be together in the future.  We have something very special.  Thinking of this makes me smile.

Continuing on, I think about the level of training I have received and the skills I now have from years of leading the Wisdom Course.  Just last week I led a workshop for the Human Services Coalition (HSC) in Ithaca for 17 Volunteer Coordinators.  Scot, a seasoned professional in the non-profit world as well as the person accountable for the training programs offered by HSC commented when I asked him how he thought the training went that “I think you are amazing, I have seen many trainers and the way you handle a room is masterful.”  He continued on saying that I should tape myself and then sell the tape as a training on how to handle a room in a training setting.  My response to him was “I have been highly trained” which was a short response for the several years and hours I dedicated to being successful in my role with Landmark Education.  My ability is something I achieved from having worked hard, loved the experience and seized the opportunity, and yet, in the background was this lingering of regret…

Regrets…  My children grew during the time I gave my all.  They were four and six when I started and thirteen and fifteen when I finished.  Those years are gone.  Don’t get me wrong, they were good years but at the same time what I remember most of those years was my growth and development as I became more and more facile at leading programs as well as the difference I made for hundreds of other people who participated in my courses.  Secondary to this I remember the special times I spent with my kids.  I was on calls almost every night, traveling to deliver trainings for between 3 and 5 days at least once a month and my mind was often occupied with what I needed to do.

I am sure that this is much like many other mothers who work, but for me this is very personal.  Having my children and being there for them was and is one of the most important aspects of my life.  I did the best I could and my kids are great kids but somehow it feels as though I missed out on enjoying them.

Lately I have contemplated how to stop time or rather, how to go back in time which is obviously crazy making.  I cannot stop time, I cannot turn time back and I cannot push my children back to stages that they have grown through.  The years where they were so open and preciously excited to be with me, where they listened and shared everything with me are gone.  These times have been replaced with short responses, secretive actions, keeping things to themselves and once in a while letting me know what is happening.  They are teenagers.

Yesterday I realized that what I was doing in all of this pondering of regrets and suffering was losing the chance to enjoy my teenagers where they are now.  They need me here where they are today, not where they were yesterday or a year or two or five ago.  I need to let go of the past. I need to let go of the longing for a time that will never come again.  I need to forgive myself for not being a perfect mother, for getting swept away in something that I loved so much that my kids took a back seat for a while.  I need to forgiving myself for not having balanced my passion for my work and my passion for my children very well.  I need to forgive myself for not being able to say no when I needed to.  It is time to forgive myself for being human.

What I love about my husband is that when I shared all of my thoughts, feelings and insights with him over dinner once we arrived he listened.  He heard my pain, my suffering, my humanity and he heard my insight.  And in his own special way, without saying it specifically he let me know that I was on the right track.

Welcome to the life you have created Shirley Brown, it is a glorious life.