I’ve noticed a lot of people take pride in saying they have no regrets. It sounds great, but I’d just like to say a few words in defense of this humble feeling, because it has gotten me places I would never have gone without it. It’s interesting, dark, and rich; a great deal of art and literature flow forth from regret; and, it is as natural an accessory to motherhood as a diaper bag. Personally, I did not know the true meaning of the word until I had my daughter, who stirred in me a love so deep and powerful that I would not have to think before taking a bullet or throwing myself in front of a train for her. I had never felt that way about anyone before. And in light of this great love, I wanted to make no mistakes. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be The Best Mother EVER.
This is not rational. It is not reasonable. It is not possible. And it’s stressful as hell. But it’s what many mothers are dealing with and it has deepened my relationship to thoughts like, “If only I had known then what I know now!” and “If I could do that moment over again, I would do it so differently.” At their worst, these kinds of thoughts can make you so mad at yourself that you drain precious energy from your life force beating yourself up. This, I believe, is a misuse of regret. Used properly, regret can galvanize you to do things differently, to do it better, to make up for what you messed up. Used properly, regret can inspire you to actually change.
What I regret most when I look back on my early years as a mother is my lack of understanding, at times, that my daughter was developmentally incapable of doing what I wanted her to do. I also really struggled with my temper, and I regret every time I ever “lost it” with her. The depth of my regret over these mistakes inspired me to do some serious inner work and I have made more progress taming my anger than I ever have in my life. Now, when I start to get off track, usually my regret alarm goes off--a visceral nausea that reminds me, "Don't go there. You will regret it if you do." And 9 times out 10, I don't. The other times, I get a chance to say "I'm sorry" and model for my daughter how human beings can take responsibility for their mistakes, and how they can't be perfect, and how every moment is a chance to start over.