Isabella Dutton’s story in the Daily Mail about how she feels her children are “the biggest regret of her life” struck a chord with me. The story also said Isabella Dutton is 57 years old.
Consider my mind blown. I understand regrets about having children. When my eldest was born I was barely nineteen. I was weeks from starting my senior year in college. Looking back, it seems hard to believe.
My children, during those early years, had a child for a mother. I was entirely unprepared for motherhood. I was an only child until I was almost thirteen, and had never taken care of a small infant.
After my youngest was born I fell apart and my doctor put me on tranquilizers. It was a long time ago; that “child” will be forty-eight this week.
When my eldest was born I had to learn everything about caring for her. I felt completely incompetent. I learned to live in a state of exhaustion and bewilderment.
With the next child, in less than two years, I felt my life was over. One child is a bunch; two children were like a special ring of Dante’s Inferno, imps dancing around me.
With my third little darling, within a few weeks depression crept up on me me, and I could barely move around, I was so listless. How could I care for two children? All I wanted was to sit and read the obituaries in the newspaper. At the time I didn’t understand that powerful urge, but now, long in retrospect, I see how the obituaries comforted me. I think my chop logic went something like: if I die, at least I can leave these unconscionable brats behind.
My fourth pregnancy made me want to throw myself down the stairs in our two story house.
Eventually I went back to work, and I think it was as much to spend some time with adults as it was for the money.
I spent years staggering from home to work to home. Once the receptionist in the law office where I worked said to me as I was hurrying past, “You’re always running on empty, aren’t you?” I remember looking at her and saying, “Yeah.”
There were times I would have sold the lot of them for a can of beans, even though I already had beans. I’m making this light, but trust me, it wasn’t.
Once, when we lived in Honolulu, as our family was walking through Kapiolani Park, an older man came hustling up to us and offered us a million dollars for our youngest, who was a picture-book beautiful child. Several times since then my husband and I have scratched our heads, saying, “Now why was it we didn’t accept that offer?”
That boy is now one of our best friends. We are so proud of our grown children (I used to spell that “groan,” as in four “groan” children) that we talk about it to each other. “How terrific they are,” we say.
I believe that I survived and thrived as a mother because every day I did my best. I simply did not know what else to do except keep trying. I have apologized to my children because for years I truly believed I was a crappy mother. They’ve let me know in many ways that they think I was a lot better than I believe.
But probably the proof was in the pudding. We have four great adult sons and daughters, each a marvel in his or her own way.
The upshot is: we all survived and grew up, even Mom.
At times I look back and think about the other things I could have done during those years.
Yet what could I have done that would give me more joy and happiness now, as I look at each child?
My children taught me patience and endurance and how to show affection when I was so tired and cranky I couldn’t stand myself. My children civilized me into learning how to get along with other people and recognizing that each of us has our own reality and a mere brief and precious span to walk upon this earth.
They gave me far more than I ever gave them. And finally, with all the back and forth of emotion in our years of being family–not to sound sappy sentimental–they really did teach me how to love.