Parents of small children! Have you been in paid employment today? Were you aware that this working “habit” of yours is something which, in years to come, you will deeply regret? In case you didn’t notice this – in case, for instance, you completely failed to take note of all the complete strangers around you saying, on a daily basis, “enjoy them while they’re young!” and “ooh, don’t they grow up fast!” – Huggies Little Swimmers have commissioned research in the top 20 regrets of parents today.

I’m not sure why a manufacturer of swimming nappies is so interested in exploring all this (well, actually, I am. It’s to create some laborious tie-in with not doing enough sports with your kids when they’re young, which will then make you – the guilty working parent – want to take them swimming, which will then make you purchase … well, anyhow, it’s pointless. Even if it did work, I’d be on the lookout for cheaper supermarket own-brand nappies, so take that, Huggies! Seems your cunning plan has a fatal flaw!). Anyhow, whatever the motivations for the research, spending too much time frivolously earning money instead of going to the park on endless sunshine-filled days is the thing that has mummies and daddies kicking themselves the most.

Lauren Revell, Huggies’ resident Woman of Wise Platitudes, has this to say:

When your little ones are young, it’s easy to imagine your baby being that age forever. It’s only a few years down the line, as your children are getting older, that you really start to look back and wish you had done some things differently.

Well, that’s just bollocks, for starters. As a parent, I have had regrets about my own parenting from the moment my children were born. I have had regrets about doing things while still doing them. I have had regrets about doing things before I’ve even done them. This is because making parenting decisions is a complete bugger, plus a lot of things which feel like decisions aren’t actual decisions – they’re just things you have to do which you know you’ll feel bad about later. Going to work while your children are young is just one of them. And when it comes to this, Lauren, I’ve been looking back regretfully before I’ve even moved forward.

As a mother and a feminist, I’ve learned two things:

  1. starting any sentence with “as a mother and a feminist” makes me sound like a total tosser
  2. discussions about paid employment and raising children are  filled with judgments and so-called “principles” which have nothing to do with why mothers and fathers behave as they do

I’ve always been in full-time paid employment, but  it’s not been some breezy, unthinking choice. The regret I feel is more sadness than a wish that I’d done something else – because I don’t know what “something else” would be. Partly I’ve needed to earn money, but partly I’ve wanted to work. I don’t necessarily think things would be better for my children if I’d spent more time with them. The truth is, I don’t know. I fear smothering them, and I fear neglecting them. And then I fear over-analysing the relationship itself – why can’t it be simple?

My children are three and five. When they’re not being total sods, they’re adorable. Sometimes I want them to stay exactly as they are, forever. I hate the fact that every day I’m losing my little boys and I’ll never have them back. Yet at the same time I know that if time were to stop for them, I’d feel even worse. I want my sons to grow and become independent of me, not just because I’d be a damn sight less tired, but also (and mostly!) for them. I want to see the adults they become and the relationships they form away from me. Perhaps regrets about “working too much” are more to do with this fundamental loss – a loss which is right and needs to happen, and about which we can do nothing at all.

Maybe as parents our biggest regret should be indulging in so much regretting. We have children! They’re ace!  So they won’t be children forever – that’s good, too! And so we didn’t take them swimming, or when we did, we didn’t realize that you actually needed a swimming nappy underneath the waterproof pant (okay, I’m using the royal “we” here). It doesn’t matter! We should save regret for hangovers and caffeine overdoses. Or songs by Edith Piaf and New Order. That’s what regret is for, not parenting. Otherwise it’s just spoiling what little time we have.