Parenting Regrets and Guilt

When a child struggles, it has to be your fault. It’s probably because you bought regular sweet potatoes and not the organic ones. Or you yelled at them that time when you should not have, or didn’t give them a dog when they needed the unconditional love of a pet.

Maybe your child suffers from depression which comes from your side of the family, used medication you had in the cabinet and became addicted, or used it to attempt suicide. If one of your children was more challenging, maybe you weren’t able to give the siblings as much attention because your bandwidth just didn’t reach that far.

Do you count the birthday cakes you baked? The costumes you put together for the play that took a special fringe that had to be ordered from England? What about the ten years you spent coaching their baseball team, ferrying them to and from sports and plays, the spend-the-nights, brownies, and bonfires? The meals you cooked and the love you shared?

We carry so much guilt, take a magnifying glass and hyper-focus on everything we did wrong.

And as a mom whose child killed himself, I didn’t just feel guilt, I tortured myself for it for a long time before I forgave myself for being normal. Prior to his death I just knew his drug use was due to some parenting error.

Our kids are part of our families but they are snowflakes. Each one brings their own will, personality, and genetic code. We can’t control them or anyone other than ourselves. Two kids in the exact same home will react entirely differently to adverse circumstances. One hardly registers the event and the other can internalize it and blame themselves.

Parenting is hard. Period. And today, it’s especially hard. Life is also hard and beautiful at the same time.

We all have regrets but can you put them in perspective and stop living in the past?

Here’s my formula for removing the fangs of regret:

  1. Write out the regret and in so doing allow the pain in.
    • The intense part will last only 60-90 seconds.
      • Don’t wallow but rather give it a time limit. “I will sit with this for three minutes. Then I will distract myself and do something else.” Need more on this, see this post on the coulda woulda shouldas and what ifs.
  2. Think about and/or write what you knew at the time
    • Understand that in hindsight you know the outcome and have more education and support than you did then. Tell yourself that you can’t measure your reaction back then with the wisdom of “after.”
    • Accept the feelings of regret without further punishing yourself with comments like, “I’m so stupid. Why did I do that?”
    • Speak to yourself as you’d speak to a friend. “I was emotionally underwater and unable to think straight. I knew little compared to what I know now which took years to learn.”
  3. Think of ways that you can forgive yourself.
    • Paying it forward?
    • Righting a wrong with an apology? (A person might not forgive you if they are alive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive yourself.)
    • Telling yourself you will forgive yourself one day without demanding a date but simply setting the intention to open the door for it to happen. Forgiving myself post
  4. And finally, remind yourself that harboring regret will do nothing for you and find healthy ways to heal that help you become a better person.
    • Giving back
    • Observing how you’ve changed and become more compassionate
  5. Use your regrets to spotlight what you value and what’s important in life

Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

2 thoughts on “Parenting Regrets and Guilt”

  1. You are so right. I still beat myself up for not getting with the program quicker, and figuring out how badly he was doing. Even so, it’s hard to make a 25 year old do anything.

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