On Regret

On Regret

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about guilt recently. A related – but different – emotion is regret. Wishing you’d done things differently. I think I may have experienced more regret over my adoption decision than guilt – but even that waned after one of my coaches encouraged me to perform a mental exercise.

“See it,” she said, “the whole situation, again, in your mind’s eye. Now, replay all of the possible outcomes, without judging any of them. What might have happened if you’d taken this road instead of that one? How could it have been different?”

Note – her question was not “How WOULD it have been different?” but “How COULD it have been different?”

So I thought back to my adoption decision, and what exactly went into it. The thing that most stays with me is that I was trying to solve what I perceived as an enormous problem for all of us with one decision. My goal was to make the best choice I could for my son, his birthfather, and myself. If one thing has changed since that time, it’s that I’ve become much more adapted to living in the present. At the time I was 27, though, all I could see was the giant expanse of all of our futures hanging in the balance before me, and I needed to come up with the one best solution for all of us.

I was terrified at the thought of being a single mother. I didn’t know how I’d do it to feed, clothe, and care for an infant son while working full-time. My family was back in Phoenix and I was in New Jersey/New York, so who would help with babysitting and errand running, especially since I didn’t have a car at the time? How would I possibly afford the great education my son deserved? Or braces? Or sports equipment? These were the questions that pummeled me, and I felt I had to have an answer to all of them immediately. Had I had the presence of mind to simply take each day as it unfolded (those AA people have one thing right, with their “One Day at a Time” mantra), I probably would have made a different choice.

But I did the best I could with the information I had at the moment.

So, as I performed Vickie’s thought exercise and tried to see the situation with alternate outcomes, I realized that the outcome that occurred was really the only outcome I was capable of at the time. And that helped dispel a lot of the regret.

The only time it really came up in a big wave of emotion was when Eric was maybe 3 years old. It was the only year I remember them doing it, but the Investment Banking Division at Lehman Brothers held a Christmas party for the kids of the employees – and I was on the planning committee. We hired a Santa and some people to dress as the Teletubbies characters. We decorated one of the giant meeting rooms and wrapped hundreds of gifts for some of the most privileged kids in the Tri-State Area. (I still wonder how one more toy truck could have mattered to the child of a millionaire when so many other children really would have appreciated those toys.) We strung lights and hung decorations. This was a PARTY! And then the kids started to arrive. That’s when it hit me. Had Eric been with me instead of with Kathy and Bruce, he would have been at that Christmas party, tearing into a talking Buzz Lightyear.

talking Buzz Lightyear

The overwhelming feelings of sadness were, thankfully, brief. But I’m really glad I experienced them. They reminded me that I had made a conscious choice – the best one I could. They made me grateful for Eric’s family. And they actually reinforced my decision, because I realized that as much as I loved my son, I’m not sure I would have loved being a mom. Not the way Kathy did. Not the way he needed his mom to love being his mom.

I think I’ve actually been blessed to have the best of both worlds: a connection to a kid who is absolutely amazing, along with the knowledge that he had the best parents I could ever have hoped for. I did a good job mothering him for the better part of the first year of his life. Then I handed him over to the people who did the bulk of the work. But it took all of us to get there.

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