The other night before bed, my twelve-year-old daughter asked, “Have you ever regretted something?”. I took a minute to think about it and then replied “Yes, I suppose there are some things I’ve regretted. However, in my class I’ve been taking with Dr. Shefali, she says we shouldn’t regret anything.” My daughter frowned a little, so I continued. “Whatever we regret is in the past. There is nothing we can do to change it. Many people get stuck regretting an event, thinking about it over and over again, wishing for it to be different. But all that thinking, wishing and regretting really doesn’t do you any good.”
She thought about what I said. I can tell there is a specific situation in her head she is trying to apply this to, yet she isn’t ready to share the details with me. I resisted my instinct to ask more questions and get the details out of her. (I know this is hard for many parents because we want our kids to tell us everything. We want to know what’s going on in their lives and with their friends. But as we approach the teenage years, we also need to allow them to go and figure things out for themselves. If we become too desperate for details, the opposite will happen and they’ll start holding back from us.)
We sat in silence for what seems like a while, but was probably only about thirty seconds. I said “You did what you thought was the best thing to do in that moment. Now that you look back, maybe you see there was another option, but at the time you were doing the best you could do. Right now, I think there are two things you can do. You can learn from this experience and remember it, so that next time you handle the situation differently. Or you can talk to the person and say you are sorry. Apologizing is not going to erase what happened, but it's your chance to tell the other person you wish you had handled it differently.”
I could tell that neither option was particularly appealing to her in the moment, but I had given her something to think about. I asked her if this made sense and she said yes. I asked her if there was any more she wanted to talk about and she said no, so I let it go, but I have a strong feeling we’re not done talking about this situation.
So many times, we think we’ll teach our child something and then we get to check it off the list. Walking? Check. Ride a bike? Check. Memorize multiplication tables? Check. But then as they get older, you realize the things you are teaching them are lifelong lessons. There is no box to check, in fact you may still be working through a similar situation. Are you holding onto regret about something you can no longer change? What will it take to move forward - are you ready to learn from it and let it go, or do you need to reach out and apologize?
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.