How To Deal With Regret

How to Deal With Regret

We know that making mistakes is a part of being human, and yet we beat ourselves up and carry around the weight of our mistakes. How can we let go of regret and stop feeling so terrible?

Today we're going to cover three main points related to this. Number one, we're going to talk about why we have so many regrets. Number two, we're going to talk about releasing the pain of regrets. And third, we're going to talk about the upside of mistakes.

Why do you think we have so many regrets?

We all have regrets because there are some things that we've done wrong. Guilt over some of our choices can be one of our significant regrets. You may have a lot of pain over the guilt of not being the parent you wanted to be.

Guilt is a huge thing, but also fear of how you may be screwing your child up in all these ways that you’re not getting it right. And then if you see the effects of your choices that it's having on your children, it’s overwhelming fear.

The healthier you get, the more you may look back and realize how you did a lot of things wrong. Moving towards health can actually resurface some regrets.

When you know better you do better, but realizing it is hard. We use the word regret to describe sadness, disappointment, and feelings of guilt or shame. They're all very much entwined. If we think to ourselves, “I wish I could have,” and always look past tense and keep that our focus, it may sideswipe the pain. Depending on how you approach and process it, looking back can impact your experience.

One of the things a lot of people regret is parenting out of fear rather than love. Being reactive. It’s hard to overcome the further you get from it. We're not going to be able to get everything right. And to have grace for yourself is really hard to move into because there’s an ache of “I did some things wrong and on the surface they look like I was just parenting.”

We have to acknowledge that identifying why we have so many regrets is that we weren't supposed to parent alone. It was supposed to be two people and there's an ache and a regret that will never go away. It's not necessarily things that we've done, it is also the life circumstance, that it didn't work out better.

There’s tons of sadness and grief that you couldn't be the mom that you were before the divorce. Three snacks a day and little outings and happiness and sunshine. That was because it came from a place of stability. If your world hadn't crumbled underneath you, you couldn’t have done things differently. You may have so much sadness that you couldn't offer your kids that version of yourself who had a good night's rest and had the support of another partner and who had time to do all the Bible studies and really be grounded. You often have to operate from a place of lack; you’re not the parent you were prior to divorce. That hurts.

For single parents who are in the middle of it and dealing with day-to-day regret, trying to be intentional and looking at the past week and the next time the kids are with you, ask how can I be intentional? How can I make the most of our time? How can I be at least a version or a percentage of the good version of myself? Maybe not a hundred percent, that's not possible, but how can I show up in the best way possible? It may be normal for you, when the kids go back to the other parent, to say to yourself, “Did I really do the best I could do?”

That examination is so healthy and beautiful, that next time you want to do it a little bit differently. That question alone is an indication of health that you're moving in the right direction. We all carry around regrets of ways that we medicated or numbed out even though we have trusted and safe places to go, we all have times when we watched Netflix for four hours and ate gummy bears and ice cream and drank a bunch of wine. Or the equivalent. The bottom line here is that our guilt and our fear basically fuel our feelings of regret, which come from choices that we've made or situations that didn't live up to what we thought they should be. We are just so hard on ourselves.

Now that we understand why we feel guilt and shame and regret and fear, how do we release it? How do we move into the process of releasing it?

If we're talking about guilt, are you actually guilty or do you just have really high standards for yourself, and you didn't do anything wrong? It's almost impossible to say this one thing or this series of things that happened have caused your pain or situation. You don't know for sure. Being able to look at the situation objectively with some distance.

Sifting through and sorting through what part of the problems is yours to own, what part of this is yours to repair, and making amends versus what part is outside of your control. Even in the part that is yours, let yourself embrace your humanity. God knows everything and you're loved and worthy, even in genuinely knowing things you’ve done wrong.

An important distinction is understanding what was in your control. There are things that are healthy for you to own. You can have healthy guilt and make amends. Then there's this parenting out of fear that you have to just say, “I did the best I could with what I had.” And the truth is all we can do is our best. It’s not healthy to keep beating yourself up. At the time you may have absolutely thought you were parenting out of love. Now you see it was out of fear.

We all know that hindsight is 2020 and that can beat us down if we let it. But we can allow ourselves to look at it with grace and realize we do know more now. The grace element is so important for single parents to know and recognize, even as we're talking about guilt, we all do have pages of our story that we don't want to read out loud, but God knows and His love for us is sure and secure and unchanged by any of that.

It’s important to say that releasing the pain of regret is like forgiveness in the sense that it's a process. It's not something that you decide once and it’s done because inevitably there are going to be triggers and you’ll start thinking about how you blew it, and here comes the shame and guilt, and the regrets keep popping up and then it diminishes over time.

The process may need to be very intentional with your kids. You may have regrets and guilt over things you’ve done wrong that caused them pain that you absolutely need to state out loud and ask for their forgiveness and start the process to repair with them. Your kids might surprise you and say, “Mom, we never remember those hard times anymore, or you don't need to bring that up anymore.” Part of the process is repair and then allowing yourself to receive grace, but it only comes through repentance. You have to admit it, acknowledge it, and confess it so that your healing will be complete.

Let's dig a little deeper into making mistakes since we know we all have and we're going to keep making mistakes.

How do we deal with this? How do we recognize the upside of mistakes?

Part of dealing with it is practicing self-compassion, allowing yourself to receive grace, and reminding yourself that you have time to still continue to lean into the relationship. We just need to look at our actions with a lot of compassion and less judgment. And from that place, let ourselves receive soothing in our suffering even though it's hard to do.

Compassion literally means to suffer together. Brene Brown's definition is the ability and willingness to empathize without judgment as we face pain. To do that for ourselves is part of self-care and self-compassion, the same way that I talk to a friend is how I want to talk to myself.

Another part of it is allowing yourself the compassion to be able to feel the sadness and the grief. Don't get stuck in the fear because that can take you down a rabbit hole. But just giving yourself the ability to sit in the sadness and the grief and the things that maybe you could have done differently, and grieve those things and be okay with that, picture it as you're hugging yourself and letting yourself just feel the pain. Letting the pain of the experience of regret matter because you matter.

The upside of regret and mistakes is that if you pay attention to them, you can measure your health, your mental, emotional, and your spiritual health. When you recognize regret and mistakes, it's a pathway to peace. It's a pathway to forgiveness and resolve. There is a tremendous upside to acknowledging mistakes because we recognize our humanity, and we recognize the fact that we are dependent on God and others to show grace.

There is so much beauty in repair and being able to own your brokenness and your frailty, not just for yourself and your own mental health, but in a restorative, redemptive relationship with someone else, it gets stronger. When our kids see that process, they can then consider that process for themselves that they are still loved, they are still worthy. They can make repairs when they make mistakes, that it's not catastrophic, that things can be better afterward. Being grateful for where you are, being present, and knowing that you're growing, that's another upside of some of the mistakes.

It helps kids understand that mistakes are okay and that you're learning, and that's part of being human too, that you don't just make a mistake and then set out to make it over and over again. You make a mistake and you learn from it and you're able to change the behavior the next time, find a different way, and keep failing until you succeed. And so, the kids having the ability to see that firsthand is going to be huge in the long run for them too.

God’s mercies are every day. He gives us sweet gifts to show how true that is. It’s important to actually pay attention to some of those things you're doing right. Savor the moments that you're making progress in too as a way to release your guilt and regret. It can really serve us well. The upside of regret and mistakes is the value of your story.


We have so many regrets because we are all human. We all as single parents are way more aware of our mistakes and we beat ourselves up. So it's natural to have a lot of regret.

Releasing the pain of regrets has more to do with the process of examining the things that we've done, the choices that we've made, the circumstances that we find ourselves in, and taking an accurate account for what is your responsibility versus what sadness that you didn't have something turn out the way you wanted it to. As you do this, you'll start releasing the pain of regret.

Realize there is an upside of mistakes and regret that serves us in creating a richer story and an indicator of our growth. Acknowledging regret in a healthy way can help us to come to a better awareness of ourselves and we can use that to pay forward.

Listener Question

Hi, I'm Desiree, a single mom. My kids are a seven-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy. When it comes to helping out around the house, I fear relying on my seven-year-old too much and not requiring enough of my six-year-old. She can be quicker to comply and he can be more avoidant. On top of this, I'm usually overly independent and do more for my children than I ask of them. How do I know if I'm requiring enough or too little of my children?

Well, this is an excellent question because it shows how much you care, Desiree. You want to be a responsible mom that's helping your children to grow and learn and be responsible.

Start with googling a list of age-appropriate chores for children and see what matches your unique children and what you think they're capable of doing. It may be that your six-year-old has some capabilities that are different than your seven-year-old.

And then you as a mom saying you do need to require a little more here and a little bit less here, and inviting God into the process.

Each child could have a zone that they're responsible for taking care of cleaning. For example, the living room, but calling it a zone. It's your job to make sure that zone is free of clutter.

Keep doing what you're doing right now, Desiree, which is asking people. Be willing to have this conversation, bring these questions out into the light and get feedback. There's no absolute right way because so much of it depends on the temperament of the child and your house environment, etc. Find a few trusted people that you can explore this with; don't try to do this alone.

There's also “when then.” You say to your child, “When you clean up your room, then you can go play on the trampoline.” Or “When you finish your homework, then you can have ice cream.” This can be a quick tip for a child that's avoidant or not being compliant.

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