Parents: Have You Felt the Terrible Pain of Regret?

I made decisions that I regret, and I took them as learning experiences… I’m human, not perfect, like anybody else. ~ Queen Latifah

I think the subject of parental regret has largely been ignored.

Much emphasis comes from those who study the science of parenting, on things like:

  • learning about child development
  • what promotes emotional and relational health
  • what are fair and reasonable expectations to have, and
  • what are the healthiest approaches and skills parents need to incorporate in their daily lives.
Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

But I think we don’t take enough time to stop and consider what it can feel like to realize we have all made parenting mistakes that have the potential for long-term negative consequences. 

It can be hard to resign yourself to the fact there are no perfect parents, with no perfect way to parent. Neither are there any perfect children.

In addition, we can’t fully understand every single need of a child, every reason for difficult or challenging behaviors, or the exact right approach or skill to apply in every situation.

This means all parents are bound to make mistakes along the way, even those who read all the latest books on parenting, who surf the web and join parenting groups online in order to educate themselves in every way possible. Add to that, there are so many inaccurate, superficial and in some cases dangerous parenting books and web article out there today.

It can be a devastating for parents to realize they may have followed some kind of scripted parenting approach not based on promoting healthy brain growth with a basis in healthy attachment, and who later discover they have been duped by some “expert”—and therefore, probably hurt their children in some way.

The feelings and sensations of regret can be overwhelming.

Regret is one of the most painful forms of grieving there is. It is the sadness that comes from realizing something you have said or done has damaged someone important to you. It is most painful when that someone is your child.

I think of all the parents who have been caught in the web of the charlatan parenting experts Michael Pearl, Gary Ezzo, and Ted Tripp, who profess knowledge of biblical approaches to parenting. Their approaches basically damage children’s trust in their parents as their secure bases. Their approaches often lead to mild-to-severe insecure attachment, anxiety disorders, mental health issues, and a whole host of other negative outcomes.

Note: [A parent who is using any of the approaches these men espouse, please do your homework online. Virtually all the most respected biblical websites firmly denounce their approaches. For an example of a poignant story by parents filled with regret, check out: “Coping with Attachment Disorder”]

Regret, when viewed as a form of deep grief, requires attention, compassion, and opportunities to heal.

Yes, we all make mistakes as parents, some more serious than others. I have never met a parent who set out to purposely hurt their child.

The regret can be for not having received the right advice or information, or for being pushed into parental behaviors by evil and controlling people who are experts in manipulation…people who deceptively overpower parents’ instinctive sense to appropriately nurture their children.

Sometimes we make mistakes or cannot parent effectively because we are exhausted, are dealing with our own struggles, stresses and anxieties. These feelings happen to the best of us.

However, staying in a place of regret for too long is unhealthy and purposeless.

We can acknowledge regret and then we also need to promote forgiveness for ourselves. Often there are interventions we can discover to allow us to reach out to our children to help lessen whatever negative affects our parental mistakes may have had on them.

As someone who shares information about healthy parenting approaches, I am aware that some of the information I share may produce regret and guilt for parents who did not know what was healthier. I hope you will take the time to acknowledge any regret you have. Appreciate that regret is a form of grieving, and allow yourself appropriate sadness and then forgiveness for the unintentional mistakes you made.

To be human is to make mistakes. To be human requires that we be forgiven for these mistakes, including forgiving ourselves.

Remember, too, that resiliency sometimes arises from surviving the mistakes of parents, and children can learn they can be strong in the face of adversity, even adversity caused by parents.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Do you recall moments when you realized you had made a mistake sometime in the past that may now have caused your child some kind of pain or distress? Can you see what the legitimate reasons were that caused you to make those mistakes?
  2. How can you acknowledge your regrets for the mistakes you have made as a parent, allowing yourself to grieve and then embrace the truth that we are all destined to make mistakes? How can you embrace your power to be compassionate with yourself, forgive yourself, make amends and ask for forgiveness, and focus on ways to help your children recover and heal?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute, Lakeside

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