That thing called regret
I made a decision early on to live in a way that I would have no regrets. Maybe we all do that at some point. I felt good about the choices I made, the conscientiousness with which I researched before I made those choices. I trusted my worldview and I adopted an outlook about my life that felt solid, reliable, and responsible.
I also committed myself to reevaluation—to question my assumptions.
For instance, I remember when Noah was small and I was pregnant with Johannah, I lived in missionary housing (an apartment building) with a slew of other missionary families on furlough. I remember seeing all these moms running around with their kids while I formed judgments about their parenting. I was in my 20s! That’s what you do in your 20s.
But one day it dawned on me: If I have judgments about those parents, they must have them about me and how I parent too. I can still remember where I was standing when this flash of awareness dawned on me.
I screwed up my courage and went to my favorite friend in the complex and told her: “Kris, we judge each other’s parenting. I just realized that you all must have opinions about how I’m raising my kids. Would you mind sharing with me what you see that I’m not seeing that would help me be a better mother to Noah?”
Kris paused, “What a great question! I want to take it seriously. Let me think for a day or two and then I’ll tell you what I’ve observed.”
And she did. I took her comments to heart. I tried to apply her advice. In hindsight, not all of what she shared worked for my kid (her kid turned out to be a very different kind of person than my kid, as I’ve learned 24 years later, though both are wonderful young adults). But what I felt in that moment with Kris was that I wanted very much not to be in a prison of my own making, blind to my blind spots.
As my children got older, I read all kinds of books (the most helpful for conversational style and tone were the two by Faber and Mazlish—How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and Siblings without Rivalry), I went to therapy, I joined online discussion groups, I attended parenting classes, I sought advice from friends, I consulted my mother, I watched other families and often determined I did not want what I saw there, and in some instances, very much wanted what I saw there.
Over time, a core philosophy grew in me. But it came at a price. I often wished I knew “then” what I had just adopted and learned “now.”
Regret is born when you revise your primary assumptions.
Let me rephrase that.
You feel regret when you shift paradigms, when you discover that what you have been doing (even with resolve, commitment, and good intentions) turns out not to have been as good for you and the rest of your clan as you had originally believed.
Regret doesn’t only come from bad choices or even failure to live up to your ideals.
Regret comes from discovering that what you knew then wasn’t as good as what you know now, and you wish you could go back and have a “do over.”
But you can’t go back. There’s no time turner for life.
As my local running store slogan reminds me every day: “Live life in forward motion.”
You can only do what you know to do now. You can repair through apology, but the most powerful way to get out of the cycle of regret is to enthusiastically embrace the new insight and live into it. Drop the self-recriminations, be glad you have a chance to change, and move into the new paradigm with alacrity.
One benefit to regret: you become human. People like you better when they know you’ve been through a few things, like they have, and are still going, still trying, still learning.
No one gets it right on the first try, or the last try. We all operate with the insight of today. The worst thing to do is to cling to what isn’t working to avoid regretting it.
Be gentle with yourself. Be open to change and growth. Embrace the adventure of living.
Cross-posted on facebook.
Image by Guilherme Yagui