I think all parents (biological, foster care, and/or adoptive), at some point in their parenting journey, feel jolts of regret: regret at their response, regret over what they didn’t know, and regret over the way they parented overall. I read enough to know I’m not alone on this one.
The things I regret the most and the things I wish I could get a redo on are such personal, painful memories. As a person with anxiety that feels that I am routinely ruining everyone’s lives, you can imagine the sheer number of regrets I have had hanging over my head. In the process of trying to come to terms with these things, I’m trying to figure out what I’d do differently and if they were feasible ideas at the time. (Shocker, most really wouldn’t have gone terribly differently.) But there are a few that I think I could have done differently and had a better outcome than what I had at the time.
1. I would have gone all in sooner.
When we first began our parenting journey it was as foster parents (to kids that are now adopted as our own). I was in love from day one. That was never a question. But I did hold back. I didn’t want to get so attached that it would rip my heart out if they left. None of my friends gave us a baby shower because they were afraid it would hurt me to have memories of a shower with a baby that didn’t stay with us. I wish now I had insisted on a shower. I wish I had insisted on family pictures from those first days. If they hadn’t stayed, I would want the memories. I regret having so few pictures from those days now.
2. I wouldn’t have worried about separation.
This is similar but not the same. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time worrying they’d go back to their biological family. I have anxiety so it’s not as easy as just not worrying. It’s work. And I didn’t do the work. I focused on my fear instead of the beauty of what I was getting to do. I look back at the times I sobbed over the fear that my youngest daughter would go back to her family and wish I had appreciated her sweet baby coos and giggles more. It would have been nice to know she would eventually share our last name.
3. I would have seen to my mental health sooner.
I have almost always, to some degree or another, had depression. I had seen counselors for it since I was in my late teens. I had steadfastly denied that I’d need or want any medication to be better. I am now furious at myself for the amount of torture I put myself through in an effort to avoid medication. It is such a small thing but it makes such a difference. I take meds for depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It took me having a breakdown in my doctor’s office to get me to even consider it. I found out after the psychological evaluation I had panic attacks my whole life. I had no idea that I was having panic attacks. I just thought everyone felt totally overwhelmed the same way I did.
Does everyone need medication? No. Do I? Yes, thank you very much.
4. I would not take anything in foster care personally. Any of it.
I remember being a kid. I said crap all the time that I didn’t actually mean. Yet, when my kids got upset with me early on, I took it as a personal failure. I spent months just trying to keep them from getting upset. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate for my kids to get upset at me. I just don’t take to heart that they hate me, because they really don’t.
5. I would worry less about perfect diets.
I would remember fed is best and not carry guilt over the fact my baby was bottle-fed. Of course, she was bottle-fed, I couldn’t have breastfed her. Yet, I felt guilty every time a friend mentioned breastfeeding. This same child that used to need special hypoallergenic baby formula has eaten gum off a stadium seating floor, licked the doctor’s office floor, and eaten her own buggers. Really, I think whatever was in the formula was probably healthier than anything she wants to put in her mouth these days as an 8-year-old. Takis. Mostly, she wants to eat Takis.
Furthermore, I would buy my boys all the dang Spaghetteos, ramen, canned ravioli, and frozen pizza they wanted. We had so many food battles because I wanted them to eat good food. They’d put vegetables in their pockets to throw out in the bathroom trashcan. It was such a stupid thing to fight about in those early days. They didn’t care that we were trying to feed them good food. It wasn’t at all what they were used to. They eat much better now, which only started happening after we gave in to some of their food wants.
6. I would set boundaries in foster care sooner
I would trust my own limits and ask for intervention much sooner for a foster son of ours. He ended up leaving but not until after he had disrupted my every waking moment for two months and most of my trying-to-sleep-moments as well. I wanted to seem like we could handle anything. This might have been true if this kid was the only one in the house. He was one of six. We needed help. I should have asked sooner. I should have asked friends for help. I should have asked professionals for help. I’ll tell anyone who will listen now to seek professional guidance if you are struggling. It isn’t a weakness. It is knowing your limits as a person. No one is giving out awards for who suffered the most quietly or nearly died from the burden of it all. There’s no first place to aim for here. Don’t let fear of judgment from others keep you from getting what you need in foster care and adoption.