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What mothers most regret

Published Apr 7, 2014


Guilt and motherhood seem to go hand-in-hand. Trying to juggle a career, chores and children can leave even the most devoted mother feeling as if she’s far from the perfect parent. Here, four mothers write letters to their daughters admitting where they went wrong...


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Dear Lily, I’m sorry for putting work first

Tanith Carey, 46, from North London, is married to Anthony, a journalist, 48. She has two daughters, Lily, 12 and Clio, 9.

When you were born, I held you in my arms and promised to be the best mother I could be.

I gave up my highly-pressurised job as a newspaper executive after eight months maternity leave and took a significant pay cut to work from home as a writer. I vowed I would never miss a day of your childhood.

But as time went on, the credit crunch and our determination to give you the best start in life by educating you privately meant I needed to work harder than ever if we were to keep our heads above water.

I would wake at 5am to get a headstart on deadlines and the sound of your small voice calling would fill me with panic. I still had so much to do!

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And, to my shame, there were times when I responded to the bleeping of my phone faster than your calls to help with your homework.

Even at your school concerts, I had to physically fight to stop my eyes flicking down to read work emails.

Little by little, parenthood became something I fitted in around my career — not the other way around.

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With no family support because my mother lived abroad and your father worked long hours, I started to accept I could never have the luxury of happy, uninterrupted time with you.

But I now realise my stress was as contagious as any virus. No wonder you became fretful about getting to school on time after I’d worked, yet again, through the night and we were the last ones through the gates.

What example of working motherhood have I set for you? Do you think it’s worthwhile — or just a relentless grind that wrenches you from the people that matter most?

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Young as you are, you misinterpreted my distraction as rejection. Recently, you mumbled something and when I asked you to repeat it, you replied: “It doesn’t matter,” as if you assumed I wouldn’t have time to listen.

Lily, I don’t want to squander any more of our precious time together.

Last weekend, I took you to Brighton, just the two of us, and switched my phone off. No calls, no panics. Just you and me doing silly things such as eating cockles on the pier and throwing pebbles into the sea.

Of course, one weekend away won’t make up for lost time, but I promise you many more. I want you to look back and say: “My mum was always there for me.”


Dear Sadie, I’m sorry for being an older mother

Naomi Gryn, 53, lives in London with her 17-month-old daughter Sadie.

I spent my 30s recovering from post traumatic stress disorder after a near-fatal car crash and grieving for my father who died from brain cancer in 1996.

When I met your father — in the summer of 2002 — I was 41.

I was hiking in the French Alps with a friend. On top of Mont Bego, a place of pilgrimage since ancient times, we both made a wish.

A baby seemed an impossible dream so I wished instead for a boyfriend. I told my friend about the gorgeous man who’d sat next to me on the plane to France and had given me his email address.

Someone must have been listening. When I got home, we met for a date and have been together ever since.

Pete is eight years younger than me and some years passed before we decided we wanted to raise a child together.

But with each failed attempt to get pregnant — two miscarriages and four rounds of IVF — we became more conscious of what we were missing. Our fifth and final attempt was in February 2012.

On the day I was due to find out whether it had been successful, I woke in the middle of the night and took a pregnancy test. Nothing. I went back to sleep feeling crushed.

When I woke a few hours later, I looked again at the white stick on my bedside table and saw a faint pink line.

I took it to a chemist and asked the pharmacist, “Could I be just a little bit pregnant?” She told me I was 100 per cent pregnant and I danced for joy.

An early scan showed we were having twins, but at eight weeks we learnt that one had died.

Naturally anxious about your survival, I had lots of scans privately which reassured me you were cooking nicely and you were born by Caesarean section on October 31, 2012. I was 51.

After so many years of silent longing, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of meeting you in person.

These have been the most magical months, watching you grow from two cells on a petri dish to the living sunbeam that you are now.

I wish I’d had you sooner, if only to have had your company for longer. You’re named after my grandmother Sadie who, at 105, is still my favourite tea date.

I hope that I’ve inherited not just her genes but also her attitude towards good living, and that I’ll be around to help guide you and enjoy you for very many years to come.


Dear Dolly, I’m sorry for being a single mother

Clover Stroud, 38, lives in Oxford with Dolly, ten, Jimmy, 13, and 18-month-old Evangeline. She is married to her second husband, Pete, 37.

I was never happier than the day you were born in August 2003.

I’ve never felt more contented than when you opened your bright, currant eyes, and stared back at me and your elder brother Jimmy, who was not yet three, peering over my shoulder.

As a daughter, you were particularly special and I knew I would do anything to protect you. Anything, that is, except remain in a three-year marriage that was showing fault lines long before you arrived.

Your father and I split up first when you were a few weeks old and were divorced within a year of your birth.

You know why I had to leave him, I’ve always been totally open with you about your Dad’s drinking which, sadly, made a normal family life impossible for us.

I wanted to give you a calm, stable, happy home and I realised I had to do it as a single mother.

Of course, I’ve felt sad for you growing up without daily contact with your father. I know that seeing him once a week doesn’t make up for seeing him every day over breakfast, or tucking you up in bed each night.

I wish you hadn’t had to witness such very grown-up problems when you were so small.

I’m sorry for the times you’ve had to shuttle between us, or come home late on a Sunday night, having done your homework on the train.

Unlike so many of your friends, you haven’t grown up in the closed security of a nuclear family, but you’ve never complained about it, despite the difficulty of having parents in two places, which I know is hard.

Especially when it’s your birthday, or when you’re eating a second Christmas dinner on New Year’s Eve.

I know it’s been really hard, but I am proud that you maintained a healthy relationship with your Dad, and I know how much you still love him today.

But I’m also proud of the home we created together — you, Jimmy and me. We spun a sort of magic together to make up for the bad times, with winter picnics on the way to school, or long camping trips in the summer.

It wasn’t all perfect, of course, and I’m sorry when I was snappy or cross, because carrying the entire burden of responsibility for you and Jimmy alone was difficult.

There are times I’ve struggled, without another adult to turn to for advice.

But when I met Pete you were seven, and I knew immediately he would enhance our family life.

Now we’re a family of five, since you have a new little sister, Evangeline, and soon we’ll be six, with another baby due in May.

Family life is complete, but Dolly, don’t forget those precious early years. For all their cracks and imperfections there was a joy to that time, when it was us against the world, that I hold secretly in my heart.


Dear Leonora, I’m sorry for being so strict

Novelist Amanda Craig, 54, lives in London and has two children, Leonora, 21 and William, 18.

I want to apologise for the fuss I made about how you dressed as a teenager. You were my first child, and so of course the one I made my mistakes with. After all, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was young once, and should have remembered what it was like.

Even if I would never have dreamt of putting up a notice on my bedroom door at 16, like you did, which declared you were crossing off the “600 days until I am enfranchised in my own body”, I should have understood that wanting a tattoo was a rite of passage every teenager must go through.

I threatened you with instant cancellation of your allowance should you go ahead with what, it turned out on your 18th birthday, was a relatively discreet Celtic star on your back.

Looking back, I regret the continuous stream of arguments about your choice of clothes that dogged every weekend.

How could I criticise your knee-length lace-up black Doc Marten boots, teamed with a tiny Lycra skirt and plunging top, when you went for a pub crawl in midwinter, at 15?

After all, I myself flounced about in equally inappropriate clothing as a teenager, once going out wearing a pink silk nightdress under a handmade cloak (actually my bedside rug) which resembled something woven from the beards of Tolkien’s dwarves.

I thought I looked great and no doubt you did, too.

My own mother was so much cooler, subjecting me to nothing more than mocking laughter and eye-rolling. She understood that everyone goes through many metamorphoses throughout their life. So why didn’t I?

The answer is that, as every mother knows, love can make you tense and watchful.

I regret that we kept falling out about what, in retrospect, were such trivial things because it drove us apart for a couple of years.

Precious years I now can’t get back — but now I see that you were only exploring the many facets of your personality, as you tried on different looks.

I regret throwing quite such a giant wobbly when you escalated at 16 from multiple ear piercings to giant black plugs in your lobes that looked like they’d been attacked with a hole puncher — and which thankfully have long since closed.

These days, you are a stellar English student at University College London, and I love your sense of style.

You channel Jane Austen one moment and a Gothic goddess the next. You look fabulous, because the secret the young never discover until it’s too late is that you can wear a bin-liner and still look wonderful.

I was wrong to be such a harridan. Your clothes were an expression of your individuality, and the daughter I love. I see that now.

Who knows, I may even get a tattoo myself. It will, of course, say, “Mom”. - Daily Mail

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