You might compare yourself to other parents, and you’ll almost certainly compare your parenting style to your own upbringing. If you have grandchildren now or in the future, you will probably compare your grandparenting to what you did the first time around as a parent.
What happens with “what if” and “if only” statements?
In all this comparing, you might spend a lot of time thinking about how to be a better parent—or how you could have been. Or, you might find yourself regretting mistakes you made along the way. Your biggest parenting regrets can be looming beasts of doubt, chasing and trapping you in a corner of inadequacy. Better parenting is well out of reach when you shrink into that corner. Put simply: regrets are never productive.
But hang on—we do make mistakes, right? There are things we say and do that aren’t constructive, and we have to recognize poor choices in order to learn from them. So how do you do that without regret?
Whether you recognize a misstep right away or look back years later and suddenly see it—perhaps you even have something you call your “biggest parenting mistake”—start by re-framing how you look at it from the ground up. Remember:
• “Mistake” and “error” are heavy-handed words that deal in unrealistic absolutes. • Recognizing a misstep as something you could have done differently does not require self-condemnation. • The important thing after a misstep is to learn from the consequences of your decision.
Is regret such a bad thing?
By making the distinction between regret and acknowledgment, you immediately recalibrate your internal dialogue. If you do look back, remember that the hard moments protrude disproportionately in your mind—and it’s unproductive to say that if you “had done more or less” of a certain thing in all your parenting, that somehow that would have decisively changed an outcome.
No one can really know whether more of one thing or less of another would have directly produced a desired result. The human element of making missteps at all, especially as a parent, can even nurture your relationship with your child(ren). And by recognizing missteps without self-reproach, you will be clear headed in applying the lessons learned to future decisions.
In assigning “correlations” and “reasons” and “causes,” especially in the infinite web of interactions with your child, the only regret would be to trap yourself in that corner believing s/he would really be more ambitious, more confident, or less rebellious if you had only done “X” differently or thought of “Y” earlier.
And whatever the challenges may be that your child(ren) face, do you regret who they are now? Would you trade any moment with them?
Missteps are not destructive, they’re instructive—and they are human and inevitable. We build ourselves up on hardships as long as we look back honestly and take away the important lessons.
The only thing you might regret is not having embraced “no-regrets” parenting earlier. Contact us for more insights and resources at firstname.lastname@example.org.