A palliative nurse, Bronnie Ware, recorded the top five regrets of the dying and has written a book on this and what we can learn in terms of living a fulfilling life.
1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
This came up as the most common regret expressed by the dying and is something that every parent should take note of. Your kids are not you, are not extensions of you, and are certainly not on this planet to fulfill the dreams that you didn’t fulfill for yourself.
Every child has their own dreams and hopes for their own lives, and our job as parents is to raise them with the confidence and belief that they can do anything that their hearts desire. Drop expectations.
Accept that your child is someone now and is amazing just by the very fact that they are. Allow them to be who they are and to follow their own life path, regardless of what that is. And, of course, have the courage to do this for yourself too —our children learn so much by simply watching us and how we live our lives.
If you don’t believe that you can live a life true to yourself, your kids will pick up on this and start limiting themselves accordingly. Live large, live true to yourself, and live a life that inspires your kids to do the same.
2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
Please note that no-one on their deathbed is going “I wish I made more money”. Your kids don’t need lots of cash, expensive gifts, fancy homes, or overseas holidays. What they do need is you — your time, your love, your guidance. And you can only give this to them if you are around to do it.
You have your whole life to work, but your kids are only young for a very short time. So make a bit less money, live a simpler life, and be there while your children grow up — you will never regret that choice.
And then offer your children the same attitude by not pushing them to grow up so quickly, by not enrolling them in endless extracurriculars so that they never have time just to be, by not placing so much emphasis on achievements and instead placing emphasis on living, enjoying life and connecting with others.
3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Feelings are real things, and repressing them is harmful to our bodies and souls. Allow your children to see you expressing the full range of emotions — excitement, happiness, peace, anger, grief, and guilt.
By watching you go through the normal human emotions, seeing how you handle them and seeing that you come out OK on the other side, children learn from you. They learn that all emotions are OK. They learn that we can survive even the most intense of emotions. They learn compassion and humility and forgiveness of both themselves and others.
Never ever tell a child that the emotion they are experiencing is wrong or that it should be ignored or repressed. Help little children to work through their emotions, to find healthy ways to express them, and to talk about what is going on with someone that they trust. Tell them often that you love them.
4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
Remember that as a parent, you also have friends, hobbies, and things that you enjoy. Although children can be time-consuming, it is important to remember who you are and what makes you tick.
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By giving up your own friends, relationships, hobbies, and pleasures, you are not doing your children any favors. Kids learn via osmosis, and by watching you treasure your relationships, nurture your friendships and do things that bring joy into your life, they will learn to do the same.
5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
Happiness is a choice. And it’s a choice that you can only make right now. Be a role model for your children of bringing happiness into everything that you do. If you are postponing your happiness until the kids grow up or you have more money or your partner changes or your mother-in-law dies, what you are essentially doing is saying that you will only smile when the face in the mirror smiles back at your first.
If you are not happy now, you will never find happiness in the future. Stop procrastinating and be it now.
Children are an excellent example of finding joy in the small moments of life. Slow down, watch your kids, and instead of always trying to get them to be more serious like you, do your best to become enveloped by their ability to bring happiness to every moment.
Have fun. Be silly. Smile. Laugh.
Both life and parenting are journeys and the destination is right now. Slow down, live in the moment, be free to be human and experience all the emotions and love that comes with that and allow your kids to do the same.
Childhood is such a brief moment in time and living a life with no regrets means also parenting without regrets. Today is the first day of the rest of your life — make it count.
If you are struggling with any of these things give Mia von Scha a call.
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