When I first heard this quote from the famous Swedish psychologist, it took me a moment to understand its gravitas. But after I rolled it around in my brain for a while, I realized it was one of the most profound statements I had ever heard regarding parenting.
Regret for what we haven’t done, but wanted to do, is like a poison that infects our psyche, and in turn, impacts the people we love. Even though we may know intellectually that we didn’t “give up” a certain job or career path or opportunity for our children, just the slightest notion that we did can create a simmering resentment. Children see this, internalize it, and soon come to believe they are responsible for their parents’ unhappiness.
For this reason, I think its so important that parents truly live their best lives, doing what they’re passionate about, taking risks, remembering to do things that make them feel fulfilled and engaged. While this may sound self-indulgent, I think it is actually the exact opposite. It shows a child that he is she is not the center of the universe, that parents have ne too. It ultimately puts a child on the path to have an independent and an equally self-fulfilled life.
My mother was a lawyer. She went to law school when I was in junior high. And while it meant big sacrifices for our family, I can’t imagine her not having the three-decade career that helped to define her, inspire her, and fulfill her. Yet, at the time, I selfishly didn’t understand why my mother spent so much time studying, and why she couldn’t pick me up at school or come to my field hockey games. But I now understand that the example of hard work and dedication to a craft she loved set the stage for how I would approach life.
It doesn’t have to be a job — it can be a hobby, a sport, an artistic endeavor, a trip — whatever the voice in your head is telling you you must do, you need to listen to it, not just for your sake, but for the sake of your children. They are watching you, and gleaning life lessons from what you model to them.
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