How to Stop Fearing Regret and Find Clarity

A few weeks ago, we delved into the topic of regret. It was once assumed that every parent loved being a parent, but we now know that’s not true. As a childfree person nearing closer and closer to thirty years old, I am often warned that I will eventually regret my decision to be childfree. While I know these people do not possess the ability to predict the future, the question tends to haunt me.

Back when I was on the fence about the decision to have children, I was most worried about regret. What if I have kids and it turns out terribly? What if I don’t have kids and start to regret it once its too late?

Just as the people questioning me cannot predict the future, neither can I. There’s really no sense trying, either. The only thing anyone can do when facing a major life decision is to consider matters carefully and choose accordingly. I’ve learned that regret itself isn’t all that bad. The fear of regret, however, can be paralyzing.

By nature, I am an indecisive person. A question like “What do you want for dinner?” can send me into a spiral in which I may never formulate an answer. However, when my husband returns from the local deli with an egg salad sandwich, I’ll quickly realize what I don’t want to eat. And that may just be the key.

Sometimes we have to figure out what we don’t want before we can figure out what we do. In my case, I had to realize that despite the fear of regret, I truly didn’t want to have children. Once I decided against parenthood, I could begin focusing on what I wanted my life to look like.

I spoke about regret and indecision with Ann Davidman, Motherhood Clarity Mentor, licensed marriage and family therapist, and co-author of Motherhood – Is It For Me? Your Step-by-Step Guide to Clarity. Ann holds comprehensive 14-week clarity courses that help women and men who are struggling with indecision about parenthood.

Here’s what Ann had to say:

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Five Realistic Ways to Overcome Regret

It has been scientifically proven that we are more likely to regret the things we didn’t do as opposed to regretting the things we did do. However, many would agree that they would rather regret not having children than feel remorse over having them. More and more parents are coming forward and admitting having kids was a mistake. Last week, I interviewed a woman who told me she will always love her children but would much rather live without that bond than live with the regret she feels.

It is only human to both feel regret and hate regret. But, regret in itself can be useful. This emotion helps us to gain insight and understanding. It also helps us hone our future decision-making skills. Rumination, however, is never useful.

So just how can we overcome regret, even over major life-changing decisions? Follow these five simple ways:

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“I Would Give Anything to Not Be Their Mom”: An Interview About Parental Regret

“You’re going to regret not having children.”

Whether this statement is given as a warning or uttered out of ignorance, if you’re childfree, you’ve probably heard this before. In retaliation to parents’ bluntness, some childfree people have been know to reply, “Well, do you regret having children?” This question is, of course, meant to be a conversation stopper. Little did we know though, some actually do regret having children.

Recently, we are seeing more and more brave individuals stepping forward and admitting that having kids isn’t all they thought it would be. The Guardian published an article last month featuring parents who regret having children. One of whom is Victoria Elder. After giving birth to her baby girl, her immediate instinct came by way of this thought:

“‘Oh, no. What have I done? This was a huge mistake.’”

When Colin and I were trying to determine whether or not to have children, regret is a topic that came up often. Our society as a whole seems to be regret-centric.

“…regret in cultures such as the U.S., where individuals have more choice over their life’s course, versus in cultures with arranged marriages, where family have much more control over life choices…regret is much more commonly experienced and reported…”

-Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D of The Psychology of Regret

I suppose it is not unusual, then, that I can quickly call to mind several of my regrets. From eating something unhealthy for dinner last week, to snapping at my boss a year ago, to the purchase of our fixer upper home some eight years ago, I’ve certainly felt my fair share of discomfort from poor life choices- both big and small.

Even though I am no stranger to this feeling, when I think of Elder’s experience of looking into the small eyes of her brand new and totally dependent human and seeing a giant mistake staring back at her, I can’t help but think her feelings are stronger than regret. When reading her story, I myself was overcome with an overwhelming sense of sadness. A sadness that gives way to empathy and helplessness. A sadness that makes me want to travel back in time to wrap my arms around both mother and child and replace remorse with assurance instead.

Shortly after the article on the guardian.com was published, a woman came forward saying she would give anything to not be her children’s mother. She was kind enough to speak with me and gave me permission to publish her words anonymously. Here is our conversation:

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