Last night, a parenting page I follow on Facebook posted the (highly loaded) question, “What are your thoughts on circumcision?” I replied with the same answer I’ve given for the past 15 years:
It’s harmful and unnecessary. And if it’s not your penis, it’s not your decision.
I’m not sure why I answered it, as I generally stay fairly far away from such threads. Just a quick skim of the other responses reminded me why. They hurt. I cringed as I read reply after reply, ironically from people (like myself) who are against the practice of circumcision. I finally stopped reading when I got to, “Anyone who would do this to their child is a piece of shit.”
We chose to have our first son circumcised. I so wish that that was not the case, but it is. We made an uninformed decision. We consented to a medically unnecessary cosmetic surgery on a newborn. A surgery to remove a perfectly healthy, functional part of our son’s body. A surgery that carries real risks, including death, and a surgery that was not our choice to make. I think that’s the part that haunts me the most: that we thought, even for a second, that we had the right to alter someone else’s genitals?
But we made that decision, and we can’t un-make it. So I know – I know – the pain that comes from the harsh comments. I do. I know what it feels like to read those threads and be called a “piece of shit”, and a terrible parent, and a child abuser.
I cringe because it digs at the deepest regrets, the biggest hurts, and the most painful mistakes. I cringe because there is so much room for gentleness, for kindness, even in advocacy. I cringe because strong words turn people away, because the message is obliterated in the delivery.
I cringe because while there is much room for kindness, for gentleness, for compassion… there is room for truth too. And people aren’t going to hear the truth if they’re too sucker-punched with regret.
It doesn’t have to be circumcision either. Substitute spanking. Or crying it out. Or the way we approach education. Or food. Or bedtime. Or any of the other decisions, large and small, that we make for our children every day. I don’t care who you are, or what you believe, but at some point in your parenting journey, you’re going to receive new information, and you’re going to be faced with the question, “Did I make a colossal mistake here?” And sometimes the answer is “no.” Sometimes you’ve done everything right, and the problem is your own insecurity.
But sometimes the answer is a very very real “yes.”
It’s “yes” whether or not we’re willing to admit it. It’s “yes” whether or not someone is kind when they point it out. It’s “yes” whether or not we’re feeling judged. It’s “yes” whether or not the realization makes us feel sick and uncomfortable and icky.
We make mistakes.
We make mistakes, and we can either learn from them or we can let ourselves be governed by pride and ego and just plain stubbornness. Because facing the truth might be unpleasant and messy and hard.
But you know what? Unpleasant and messy and hard is worth it if it means you do something about it… if it means you take your new information, and make new decisions, and find better choices, and forge a different path.
Living in a place of guilt and/or regret is not an ideal place to be, which is why I’ve worked to make peace with decisions that I cannot change. But I’d still rather regret than complacency any day. Living with regret isn’t nearly as bad as living in denial, and refusing to admit that I was wrong in the first place.
TLDR: You will make mistakes. Own them. Do better.