Let go of the past and know you did your best at any given moment.

Today I responded to a post on a FB group for parents of children with OCD and anxiety. A mother was requesting advice with regards to her son who was being bullied at school. She was considering pulling him out of school and wanted others to weigh in.

My reply to her post was rather long, because her situation was one that I was presented with not too long ago when Jake was in high school. Now that Jake is nearly 22, he and I have had several conversations about our decision to homeschool.

What parent hasn’t questioned the choices she’s made for her children? Add special needs to that equation and the ante has just been upped. The choices seem to carry more weight. What if I make the wrong choice? What if I ruin him? What if I’m wrong?

The What-If game is a dirty game to play. It’s a game I own a lot of stock in and, let’s just say, the return on my investment isn’t going to make me rich. I have wasted so much time and energy rethinking my choices for Jake over the years. Come to find out, so has Jake.

He often talks about all the things he missed out on by not going to a brick and mortar school. School dances. Class trips. Clubs. Basically any kind of socialization. This was a huge topic of conversation when we made the choice to homeschool Jake. I knew he would miss out on some key high school experiences, but I also knew that he wasn’t learning anything at all, and he was having trouble finding his tribe. I also argued that not all forms of socialization are good. And I firmly believed in every word I said, every argument I countered.

I made every effort to replace those experiences with local groups. But they all fell short. Jake was just too smart, and on such a different social path than his peers. He is an old soul. He doesn’t really understand his generation and the way they act as a whole. I wonder if it would’ve been any different if he’d remained in school?

The things that I didn’t consider that he’d miss out on were tests, taking notes, and homework. None of those seem like such a big deal, right? But going to college has forced him to learn those skills rather quickly. And they are skills. He’s doing just fine it just took him a minute to get up to speed.

So when Jake and I talk and he says that he “missed out on so much” I feel like I let him down. I made the wrong decision, and he’s paying for that in spades. But then I think of all the things he gained from being homeschooled. He was able to follow his passions (higher maths, and sciences like Quantum Physics) and focus on them. He didn’t have to deal with all the extra stuff being fed to him. He was able to learn at an accelerated pace, rather than following the pace of an entire class. And these are things he’s grateful for.

And yet I still feel guilty. The only consolation that I have is that I made the decision that was right at that moment in time. It was a mutual decision. It was what Jake wanted, and it was what I wanted for him. And, honestly, that’s really all that matters.

As parents we spend so much time second-guessing ourselves, beating ourselves up, and carrying the weight of regret around like it might make up for what we now feel was a “bad” decision. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m here to tell you, eight years later, it doesn’t. There is no relief that comes from feeling regret. It changes nothing. All is does is make you physically, mentally and emotionally sick.

What we have to remember is this: at the moment of your (now regrettable) decision, you made it feeling wholeheartedly like you were making the best choice out of the options available to you.

There is a line from the song “Move On” in the musical “Sunday in the Park with George” that is what I want you to take away from reading this.

“The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not.” Read that several times. Let it sit inside your heart and offer relief.

No matter how you feel, no matter what you think in this moment, the choosing that you did for your child was never wrong. It came from a place of love and that’s all that matters.

Remember that. Every time you find yourself feeling guilty remember that. Every time you feel like a bad parent remember that.

Be kind to yourself. Make the right choice today for you, and choose to remember that.

And if you’re interested here is the song in full.

What stories do you tell yourself?

I had a conversation with my son Jake today. A conversation that I am particularly proud of. It all started out as my usual pep talk. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Jake, let me give you a little background.

Jake was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome (TS) at the age of six, and OCD at the age of eight. He “outgrew” his TS around the age of 14, but his OCD went into overdrive. Fast forward eight years…eight difficult years for Jake.

At the age of almost 22 (Feb. 16) Jake is struggling with social anxiety. His OCD mainly takes the form of repetitive thoughts, mostly centering around his anxiety of being “behind everyone else” in terms of where he is in his life. He has held himself accountable for a timeline that has been hi-jacked time and time again by anxiety and OCD.

He regrets that he didn’t have a “normal” high school experience. The local high school was awful, so we home schooled. I wish things had been different. Better choices available. But, at the time, it felt like the best option. And yes, I beat myself up on occasion about this choice. Hindsight, yada, yada.

He continually compares himself to where his peers are, as opposed to where he is. For example, at his age, according to society, he should have a bachelor’s degree by now. He should be surrounded by close friends. But because he doesn’t have those things (yet), he feels less than.

As a result of being home schooled, and struggling with OCD and anxiety, Jake has had a difficult time socially. He has struggled making lasting friendships, and interacting with his peers. Another factor in this has been that his interests are vastly different, and hyper-focused, unlike many of the students in his classes.

You see, Jake is extremely intelligent, and has educated himself over the years. His interests are math and physics…like quantum physics. He wants to answer big questions like “why is the universe?”. He’s been thinking like this most of his life, and has found it difficult to find others who share his intense passion.

But here’s the thing. Over the past few years, I have seen Jake make so much progress. He is currently enrolled in school and is in his second semester as a Freshman. He sees himself as a failure.

Here’s what I see. I see a young man who has walked through the fire, and while he may be covered in soot, continues to get up each day and try. I see someone who has gone from rarely leaving the house to having a job and attending college. I see my son overcoming all the things that have brought him down, and some days still do, making strides each day to change those things.

But I also see this on his bad days. I see him telling the story of an awkward kid who has no social skills. A kid who “doesn’t do anything” and “didn’t even go to high school”. A kid who “has wasted his life”.

But that’s an old story, with only a slight bit of truth written into it…very slight.

Yesterday was a bad day, as I sat and listened to Jake tell his story-the same story he has been telling for years. And I said, “Maybe parts of that story were true at one time…but that’s not your story anymore.”

“You are in school. You are starting to make friends.”

He countered, “Yeah, but it’s not that hard for everyone else.”

“You don’t know that. People are good at wearing masks, making others think they know what they are doing. I think you’d be surprised at how many people struggle socially. Especially in this day and time when everyone is talking to a screen instead of a face. You’re not giving yourself any credit for the things you have accomplished.”

“It’s just hard when I see everyone else surrounded by friends, and making it look so easy.”

“Do you remember what you told me on your first day at Armstrong? You told me that this was a fresh start. That no one there knows you. No one knows your struggles. You said that you could go in and act like the most confident guy in the world and no one would know the difference.”

“Yes, but-“

“Stop it, Jake. You were about to say that you haven’t had the same experiences – or any experiences like the other people. OK, so your life has been different. More difficult than many. More roadblocks. But that was then. You have to stop living in your old story, Jake. You have to put that book away, and write a new story. And that’s what you’re doing, even if you don’t see it.”

“But it’s so hard.”

“I know, but you’re doing it. You’re getting up each day and going out there. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re weighing yourself down with your old story. Let it go. Focus on where you are now. What you’re doing now. When you stop acting like the old you, people will stop seeing the old you. That’s the person you’re showing everyone and that’s not you anymore.

You’ve been telling yourself for so long that you have no social skills, and that’s just not the truth.You have a job where you interact with your co-workers and customers for hours at a time. You’re taking classes and working with other students, raising your hand in class, talking with professors. That’s not what a person without social skills does. I get that it’s not easy for you, but you’re quoting a story that has ended. You are not a person without social skills. You’re in a brand new story now, that you’re writing every day.”

I’m proud of that conversation because it made me think of the stories I’m still telling myself, that are no longer true, if they ever were. For years, I’ve told myself I’m not enough, I have never been enough, and I never will be enough. I’m putting that piece of fiction on the shelf. I’m writing myself a new story.

I think we all create mythologies surrounding ourselves, our identity. Who people have told us we are, who we’ve convinced ourselves that we are. And we’ve told ourselves these stories for so many years, we’ve come to believe them.

What stories do you tell yourself? Are they accurate? Do they reflect who you are now?

Maybe it’s time to consider writing yourself a new story in this brand new year. You deserve it. We all do.