Skip the regrets: Prioritize family now

Mary Hasson

Photo by: Vera Kratochvil

In a few weeks, we’ll head north to a family reunion, where 50 of us will surprise my dad for his birthday (don’t tell!) and celebrate my parents’ anniversary.  It’s a 10-hour car trip for us, each way, just to spend a few days with siblings, cousins, and grandparents.

During the school year I drive a lot, putting miles on my car at a fast and furious clip shuttling children to school and sports.  In our sprawling suburban area, it’s nothing to drive a hundred miles in a day for family-related activities. Although I generally enjoy driving (and the captive time it affords me with our teens), one day last week I muttered some mild complaint about the car-hours ahead for our trip to the reunion.

My 16 year old looked at me, astonished, and reminded me, “Mom, you know you’ll never regret time spent with your family.”

He’s right.

It’s a conviction we’ve sought to instill in our children from day one. I’ve often told them that I still regret my decision long ago, as a college student, to skip my family’s first trip to Disney World. My eight younger siblings all went, as did my parents and my older brother.  I stayed at home, convinced that I needed the extra week’s pay from my summer job more than I needed to be a part of that family experience.

It was a mistake, one that I realized shortly after they headed down the highway. Their shared experiences--the Magic Kingdom, thrilling rides, ice cream and cotton candy, long hours playing “the license-plate game,” seeing Mickey Mouse and Snow White, wicked sunburns, cramped sleeping quarters—it’s all part of the family lore now. To this day, my siblings share stories, laughs, and memories about that family trip. My small paycheck for that week, however, disappeared in no time, spent on items I’ve long forgotten.

A recent study confirms what I discovered by experience: Americans feel the most regrets over relationships (compared to regrets about education, work, finances, etc.).  And our regrets about missed opportunities with those we love—as opposed to regrets over things we’ve done or said--tend to linger the longest.

While regrets about romantic relationships rank highest on adults’ list of regrets, especially for singles, regrets about family relationships run a close second. Out of 13 categories, the two areas least likely to be the source of regrets are “self” and “leisure.”  Perhaps we find it easiest to indulge ourselves or find leisure time, and so have few regrets in those areas.  I’m more inclined to think that most of us intuitively realize how much more fulfilling it is to give our time—and our very selves--to others, instead of hoarding that time for ourselves, or being overly focused on our own concerns.

As the summer winds down, many families I know find themselves already gearing up for the school year ahead—buying books, attending orientations, shopping sales for supplies and clothes.

It’s worth asking—now, before the lazy days of summer end—how can I make time to tend my family relationships?

Do you have a sibling you haven’t spoken with recently?  Make that call.
Have you been promising your child that you’ll take him or her out for ice cream or coffee?  Do it this week.

Is a visit to grandma or grandpa, or perhaps an elderly aunt living alone, long overdue?  Get online and make that plane reservation today.

How about a date night with your spouse? Put it on your calendar for this weekend.

Time is fleeting. And our family relationships are more precious than anything but our relationship with God himself.

Spending time with those you love is worth every mile, every dollar, and every minute. 

So prioritize family relationships—today.

You’ll never regret it, ever.

© 2011  Mary Rice Hasson

Topics: Family

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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