We Asked Our Mums Their Greatest Regrets & The Answers Got Us Emotional

Photographed by Aiposa/Eyeem.
Here's to mums, the unsung heroes of our lives who gave us life, kept us alive and who we’ll all eventually turn into. Here's to all those moment-to-moment sacrifices our mums made for our happiness and wellbeing over the years; always giving us the bigger half, acting as a free Uber service for like 20 years, and just being in a rush all the time while we complained that they were late, that the food they missed out on a promotion at work to cook was horrible, and that they didn’t understand us.
Mums are generally the kind of people who wouldn’t tell their children what they regret about life unless they asked, and even then they might sugarcoat the truth. Ahead, we ask our mums some difficult questions about their careers, their relationships, how they raised us and the one thing they would change if they could go back.
My mum (slide 2) courageously recounted her regrets over a teary half-pint in Soho and we left more connected than we’d been in years. From leaving small towns for big cities, to not seeing David Bowie live, these are the 'what if' moments of our mums' lives. Take it away Mary Ann, Sue, Karen, Alannah, Helen and Kerry...
1 of 6

You have to be so so careful not to let lingering regrets morph into lasting bitterness.

Mary Ann, 63

Do you have any regrets about your career?
I have enjoyed (and am still enjoying) a career as a journalist but what I really would have liked was to be an expert, to possess a real specialised knowledge I could share, preferably in something academic. I did an MA degree in English a few years back and I think I would have really loved to have been a distinguished English professor.

... about your children?
I try to do my best for my children. I always will. It’s not always good enough of course. I am sad that a previous relationship breakdown means my eldest child has grown up without her dad around much. Her stepdad has done an excellent job but I know there is damage and she is more vulnerable because of this. I will always be sorry for that for her.

...about your marriage/ romantic relationships?
I really love and adore my husband and I am so happy I met him. When it comes to past relationships I am not regretful for myself, more for where it affects other people I love, as already mentioned. I think when it comes to past relationships you have to be so, so careful not to let lingering regrets morph into lasting bitterness. I see it in other people and I never want that for me.

If you could go back in time, what would you change?
I would definitely not have let my sister pluck my eyebrows when I was 15. They have never grown back. Otherwise, I try not to regret — it’s as unhelpful an emotion as guilt – and I don’t believe that’s how life works. There are tiny regrets that ripple over me in cold little waves at times. An unkind word, an opportunity missed, a disappointment. They are real regrets but they are transient. I can take those.

What do you still wish to do?
Write a book? Yes. But only if I can make it excellent. I do want to be adventurous, always open for something new and unexpected. In Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf wrote: "This is what I have made of it! This!" With these words her eponymous character was reflecting on her life but those words always make me shiver. I would like to be able to say them to myself at some point in my life. And for them to reflect some real achievement.
2 of 6

I’ve always thought of myself as a plain person, but in actual fact, when I look into myself, maybe I am not as plain as I thought.

Sue, 65

Do you have any regrets about your career?
I regret not becoming a primary school teacher. I was the first person in my family to go to university, so my parents wanted me to do something ‘prestigious’ and the school encouraged that. So I went to a Russell Group university and did a maths degree. I was a secondary school maths teacher for three years and then gave up because I found teaching maths really boring. I was scouted by IBM when I was 16 for an apprenticeship, but it would have meant leaving home and moving to Manchester, and my parents said no because I was needed at home. Not so much a regret since there was nothing I could do about it, and I was scared to move to Manchester anyway!

... about your children?
I have three very successful and lovely children who are all in their 30s and live in London which is where we still live, and where they grew up. Growing up we were very much a nuclear family and my husband worked long hours, so much of the time it was just me and them. I wish I had made more effort to create more extended family times.

... your marriage?
I wish I’d learned to speak Arabic fluently. My husband is Egyptian so his first language is Arabic. It was always my intention to learn and always his intention to teach me, but it never worked. I really wish I’d persisted at it because not speaking the language has been a huge setback. As you get older, you tend to return to your roots, and he’s returning more and more to his roots and they are very much within the Arabic culture and the language and we can’t share that. That's difficult for us both.

If you could go back in time, what would you change?
I love living in London. I love being surrounded by the buzz, the diversity, the interest. And when I go back to my home town up north it’s very slow, but there's a peace and homeliness there that I still don't get in London. I won't move back now, but maybe I shouldn't have left in the first place. Staying in my home town would have meant I could have given more support to my disabled sister and hence in turn to my parents and this would have impacted positively on their lives.

What do you still wish to do?
I’ve never seen myself as a creative person. I was told not to do art at school because I was ‘no good at it’ but there is creativity inside everybody. I know that I am not particularly good at anything creative, but I want to get rid of those shackles – at 65. I’ve always thought of myself as a plain person, but in actual fact, when I look into myself, maybe I am not as plain as I thought. There’s something inside of me that wants to get out and be expressed. I'll work on that in the next decade.

In my early 20s I read one of T.S. Eliot's poems and this phrase impressed me then and more so now: "Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future." So today, by looking at my past and things that I might have done differently, it's been an opportunity to reflect on how I can shape my future. I'm glad I was asked these questions.
3 of 6

I regret that I was never encouraged to go to university. God knows what I would have done though – a degree in partying?

Alannah, 68

Do you have any regrets about your career?
I regret that I was never encouraged to go to university – instead I was pushed off to do a secretarial course. I think it would have given me more confidence in my abilities and of course it would have changed my life completely. God knows what I would have done though – taken a degree in partying!

... your children?
How can you have any regrets about your children? Far from regrets they have given us enormous pride and pleasure – and worries too! Unfortunately I think they inherited our genes and probably party too much. The best thing is that we have so much fun with them. It takes a lot to get us together with two boys in Sydney and our daughter in London but when we do, we make it count.

... your marriage/romantic relationships?
My husband said he is the last in a long line of weirdos and he saved me from getting married to lots of weirdos, I am sure. One weirdo was called 'Chris the Thief'; that ended very badly! I did rather pursue my husband who wasn’t really ready to commit to me and I left messages under his windscreen wiper saying "Time and tide wait for no man". I must have been a stalker! I guess it worked, we have been married for 38 years now. The other evening we were sitting having a drink on our terrace under the awning and he said that some of the happiest times he has had have been sitting out there chatting away. Of course if I had gone to university I never would have met him and never had the three children we have today.

If you could go back in time, what would you change?
I didn’t like my late teens and early twenties. I was silly and foolish and wasn’t very happy. I seemed to spend a lot of time looking for someone to love me and subsequently getting into dead-end relationships. So I wish I could have been a different person and taken on more challenges instead of feeling I wasn’t capable of things and being so unsure of myself.

What do you wish to still do?
Well I think I am trying to cram in as much as possible in these later years and I actually love my life at the moment. We travel a lot, this year – South Africa, Bologna, Australia for seven weeks and a river cruise along the Douro in Portugal. We have just welcomed our first grandchild, entertain all our friends, drink wine and laugh a lot and we are generally having a good time. Long may it continue.
4 of 6

I’d have loved to have seen David Bowie live. I really don’t know why I didn’t.

Karen, 56

Do you have any regrets about your career?
Working in public service brings its own rewards. My career has allowed me to juggle child rearing with various flexible work patterns and I still always had really interesting work – that flexibility was rare in the '80s/'90s. I have always been fascinated by the machinery of government and that hasn’t diminished over the years. Would I do it again – on balance probably yes.

... your children?
I suspect every mum thinks they won the lottery where their children are concerned so no regrets about the two I have, but as the youngest of five I would maybe have liked one more. I do regret that I didn’t push either of my two hard enough to learn a language, though – they’d probably agree with me on that one now.

... your marriage/romantic relationships?
No, I did lots of dating – I married young (23) and after only two years together, which sounds rash by today’s standards but I was sensible enough not to rush into having children. We waited until our 30s. That allowed us to grow together and really have a solid base for building a family.

If you could go back in time, what would you change?
Nothing really, all those twists and turns put us in the place to meet the people we love and all those mistakes make us the people we are. It sounds trite but it’s true.

What do you wish you’d had time to do in life?
I’d have loved to have seen David Bowie live. I really don’t know why I didn’t – I was a big music fan and saw some of the greats but that one just never happened.
5 of 6

I wish I hadn’t married so young

Helen, 65

Do you have any regrets?
I wish I hadn’t married so young – Michael, my friend, but not husband material. I was too young. Met him while still at school at 16! He was 22 yrs old. Married at 23 to please my family (but especially my father). I left the marital home in Lincolnshire aged 27 and sought a life, anonymous in London, and Michael had a severe breakdown. Now, aged nearly 65, I am serenely happy in my idyllic environment in Cornwall.

I’ve given birth to two fantastic children who have miraculously turned out to be most successful and independent.

A long colourful life, with many hitches, all overcome, it's a question of survival and I’m a better person as a result of adversity. So, in short, I only have one regret in a long life of pleasure, and some hardship, and plan to continue waking up each morning with a mission, of helping others less fortunate than myself!
6 of 6

Having my dad around for another 30 years would have been the best thing ever, but that was out of my control

Kerry, 58

Do you have any regrets about your career?
I was never really a career-minded person. I worked my way up in my office and got well paid for a job I liked. I liked working for a big organisation that was very social and enjoyable. I was keen to be a PE teacher, but didn’t fancy being broke for four years. Back in our day it wasn’t as important to go to uni – good jobs were easier to come by.

... your children?
No regrets at all. Waited until I was 30 before I had them which was important because we needed to get ourselves financially set up. When I look back now I would like to have had four, but three children under 5 was busy enough. All of them have turned out to be great, independent and successful adults that I love having around.

... your marriage?
No regrets – other than getting married too young at the age of 24. But we did wait for seven years before we had children. We are still happily married and I hope for many years to come.

If you could go back in time, what would you change?
I never really dwell on 'what ifs'. Would love to have taken the kids away for 6-12 months and travelled the world when they were younger. Having my dad around for another 30 years would have been the best thing ever, but that was out of my control – he died when I was 14.

What do you still wish to do?
Travel and more travel – around NZ and the big wide world. My next trip is to Nepal, I have always wanted to go there so two of my children will be trekking with me next year.

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