Motherhood is on-the-job training and on-the-job education, and there is no “next time I will…” With lack of a manual, and sometimes, even lack of an example of what motherhood is, and “rules and tips” that don’t apply to all children, they say we get good at motherhood when our kids are grown. We all have motherhood regrets, because the perfect mom does not exist.
Some of us regret what we did, some of us regret what we didn’t do… some of us regret all of the above. And since “motherhood without regrets” is really not a thing, let’s have a conversation about how we can soothe the pain of regret in motherhood.
Before we get into how to overcome our regrets, let’s define this burdensome word:
re·gret [ rəˈɡret/ ] verb. To feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).
Psychology teaches that regret is a negative cognitive/emotional state that manifests in blaming yourself for a an outcome we consider to be bad, in feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been, or in wishing you could undo a choice you made in the past.
Blame. Shame. Guilt. You may think that, in a sense, these can be helpful emotions, because they may cause you to refocus your experience and become better moms, but the truth is that this rumination can actually have long-term damaging results in motherhood, and all aspects of your life. And, what do you know?, studies show that women experience more regret – and therefore, more self-blame – than men do.
Yes, hindsight can be helpful, but wallowing in regret is a waste of time, because truly and really, trying to change the past is a recipe for misery. There are no mulligans in motherhood. There are no do-overs. And you and I both know that…
Yet, we choose to torture ourselves over and over, thinking what might have been.
I should have…
I could have…
I wish I would have…
This makes me think of a certain prayer, that we often know as the “Serenity Prayer”:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Three things — serenity, courage, and wisdom.
Self-Acceptance is the first step to overcome your regrets as a mom. To know that you did what you could… all you could, and all you knew at that time. You had a different perspective, you had different beliefs, you had different information, you had a different life.
Serenity is what comes from accepting that the past is done and avoiding the unfruitful mental rehashing. Serenity comes from letting go. And amidst the serenity, we can muster the courage and the wisdom we need to move on.
Serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. Sounds – so – good!
This is not to say that we won’t admit culpability and live in denial. It’s healthy to say: “You know what? I made a mistake, and I take full responsibility for the outcome.”
And you did what you did and you didn’t do what you didn’t do. You can’t change that. I can’t turn back time… so I must accept what I did and didn’t do, as well.
Self-Forgiveness is another step to overcome regrets in motherhood. We are so hard on ourselves, especially when we make mistakes with our children. There aren’t any guarantees in life, even if you make fewer mistakes, and every mom makes them. I think the worst mistake is to fail to cut yourself some slack. I mean, if you are feeling regretful, it means you care and you’ve learned your lesson, so there is no reason to dwell in that place.
What you did or didn’t do is part of who you were then. If you knew then what you know now, you would have made a different choice, but maybe you wouldn’t really have learned what you know if you wouldn’t have made that decision in the first place. What we consider mistakes sometimes turn out to be blessings in disguise.
There’s an ancient Hawaiian practice called “Ho’Oponopono” that heals by reminding yourself (and others) of these four simple phrases: “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.Thank you.” Say it to yourself in the mirror whenever you feel it’s necessary.
Self-Discovery is one of the blessings that come with regret. Everyone will tell you that you can learn lessons from your mistakes, because there is something to learn. And while that’s true, I also really cherish every opportunity I get to learn about myself – why I act, react, or interact in certain ways, what motivates my actions, what triggers me, what I struggle with, and what leaves me most vulnerable.
Without boring you with a long list of the mistakes I could say I have made, I can tell you that I have gotten closer to self-mastery with each one of those choices, because I have learned more about my values, my beliefs, and my ability to change a weakness into a strength. This is true of many moms I coach and many of my female friends, whether they are moms or not.
Instead of drowning yourself in regret over what could have been, you can use your energy to create what is yet to be, because of who you become in the process.
The Positive Side Of Regret
No one wants regrets, but if you think about it, regret has a function for survival. Regret is a tool our brain uses to send a message that we must analyze our choices and avoid unpleasant or destructive outcomes. As a mom, I can totally use this tool to my advantage, and so can you.
A life of no regrets is a life without valuable lessons learned. And the more lessons you’ve learned, the more lessons you can teach… and I love that. I like to think my life has a purpose that is bigger than the amount of years I get to spend on this Earth, so even when I don’t get to do it over, I can teach my daughters, and I can mentor other moms. You can use your mistakes as a teaching tool to empower others.
There’s a beautiful poem I read a few years ago that helped me avoid regrets because someone shared their own. Learning from our mistakes and opportunities not taken is wonderful, but teaching from our regrets is even better.
If I had my child to raise all over again
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I’d ignore the stares and stare at more stars.
I’d do more hugging and less tugging.
I’d see the oak in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I’d abandon my love of power, for the power of love.
Regret is almost inevitable in motherhood, although in the moment we think we’re the only ones who’ve done something regrettable or didn’t do something important (that sometimes really isn’t). It’s how we deal with regret that counts. We must be aware so our mom regrets can empower us to move forward and take positive steps toward becoming better, instead of falling into the crippling cycle of self-judgment.
These are irrelevant. Take advantage of the insights in the retrospect, and practice self-compassion, focusing on your ability to move forward from where you are.
How do you overcome your regrets in motherhood? Share your thoughts and share the poem with a young mom you know!