Barbara Walters’ one regret

I read an article recently about an interview between Piers Morgan of CNN and broadcast journalism icon Barbara Walters discussing her impending retirement at age 84 after a stunningly successful career. At the end of their time together, Piers asked Barbara one last question:

“Final question. It’s kind of not a best or worst. It’s more like, you’ve had such an extraordinary life and career, and it’s continuing on into your retirement, and I’m sure it will carry on after that. If you could relive one moment in your life, the moment that brought you the greatest satisfaction, thrill, sadness perhaps. I mean, what has been, you think, themoment?”

Appearing to tear up a bit, and interrupting Piers before he could even finish his question, Walters asked if she could instead express a regret:

“I regret not having more children. I would have loved to have had a bigger family,” Walters said.

And I would have loved to take over the interview at that point and asked her some additional questions such as, “What is it that you feel you missed/are missing?” “Why didn’t you have more children when you could?” “If you could do it all over again, how would you do things differently?” I’d just like to know a little bit more about what is behind this statement. (Maybe I can get Barbara’s old job and call her in for an interview?)

I mean, here is this very famous woman–whose career included being the first female anchor of an evening news program, three Emmy Awards, and interviews with every U.S. president since Richard Nixon–and she just acknowledged on live TV that having a fuller family life would have been the one thing to make her life more complete. (Yes, I’m taking some liberties with what she said.)

I say “more complete” because I assume she wouldn’t have given up her career for more children, but she definitely seems to be saying that a bigger family would have given her a certain measure of joy she feels she missed out on. The kind of joy and fulfillment that can only be found in family life.

This certainly isn’t the first time someone has expressed regret near the end of their life regarding family relationships. And it drives home the point that while yes, this life is very long, it is also most certainly finite. There are no do-overs.

I am not the kind of person who is motivated by guilt, but I am definitely motivated by the thought of regret–particularly when it comes to my family. I can handle regretting that I never even tried to go after my dream of traveling the world as a National Geographic photographer, but to regret not having more children, or spending more time with them, or enjoying their childhoods, or investing my best efforts toward their future success–these are the kind of regrets I don’t ever want to have.

It might be a worthwhile exercise to take a few minutes while thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions and imagine yourself in Barbara’s shoes at the end of your life. Ask yourself the question, “What do I want more than anything else?” and make sure you put first things first and don’t miss the forest for the trees.

Family planning is a long term proposition. If most of us decided how many children to have and how much of our lives to devote to them based only on how we felt during the first six weeks of a baby’s life or how much “fun” and “fulfillment” we experienced while raising a toddler, there would probably be a lot less children in this world. (Though I have to say, now that I have a teenager, I wouldn’t mind a day or two with a toddler.)

At 84 years old, Barbara’s one daughter is in her 40’s. Motherhood doesn’t end when children go to college. At this point in the road, she probably relishes her relationship with that one daughter and finds it so fulfilling that she wishes she had more children to share her life with. (Again, I’m putting words in her mouth. I really should try to call her for an interview.)

I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting anyone should quit their job or have more children than they can handle. Again, who is to say that Barbara would have done anything differently in her career simply because she had more children? I’m just asking us all to think a little more seriously about life decisions that have to do with family planning, since this repeatedly seems to be the area where people have the most regrets at the end of their life. Following are three suggested “resolutions” to make, but as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below:

  1. Resolve to have as many children as you can handle (and no more). I always said I would keep having children until I felt maxed out, and for me, that number was four. For my sister, it was one. For Michelle Duggar, it’s nineteen and counting. Knowing when to stop having children is a very private and personal decision that is sometimes out of our control, but I can’t help but think that most mothers would be happy (in the long run) to welcome as much love and happy chaos in the form of children into their homes as they can handle. (Again, babies and toddlers are hard to deal with, but they really do grow up fast!)
  2. Resolve to put family first. No one ever said a mother shouldn’t have outside interests or even a career like Barbara Walters, but no one ever got to the end of their life and felt good about putting those things over family. No matter what else is on your list of priorities, always–always–put family first.
  3. Resolve to invest as much time, energy, and love as possible into raising your children. It’s one thing to simply have a child, it’s another thing entirely to raise them into adulthood with everything you’ve got. No one ever does it perfectly or gives 100% all of the time, but I think most of us know when our hearts are in the right place. Again, putting ourselves in Barbara’s shoes might help us when we need a little realignment. Motherhood is the ultimate long-term investment and deserves our very best efforts.

Having and enjoying a full family (whatever that means for you) is a unique joy that can’t be replicated in any other realm of relationships or experiences. Is it a lot of work?  Yes. Is it expensive? Yes. Does it make having personal interests and goals more difficult? Yes. But I think if you asked Barbara Walters today, she would say that having a full family life is something you will never, ever regret.

QUESTION: What resolutions will you make this year regarding your family?

CHALLENGE: Resolve to have as many children as you can handle, put family first, and invest as much time, energy, and love as possible into raising your children. You’ll never regret it!

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