Mistakes
Thoughts on regret and guilt

On someone's facebook page, she wrote about having done some things she regretted, and then recovered herself and made more thoughtful decisions.

Several people responded, but one wrote to do away with the regret.

This was part of her response:

I think it's important to reflect and admit when we could have done better, it motivates me to not settle. I often see in support groups almost too much back-patting and "you're doing great mama". Because of this I conciously search out groups that will challenge me and help me do better. The Radical Unschooling Info group by Sandra Dodd is my absolute favourite for that very reason.
The same mom wrote later in that thread:
Some have read my post as though I was being too hard on myself and felt compelled to "pick me up", I received several PM's today telling me I'm "doing great" or that type of sentiment. I wasn't looking for that, nor do I need that. And without seeing/being in someone elses home, telling them they are doing great can even be dangerous.

I see regret not as self punishment but as a tool as Deb puts it. I move forward and I forgive but I need to *remember* so I can make a better choice in the future

The reason I'm not using her name is that she's afraid her friends will come across it and be offended. That's kind, and it's interesting.
Deb Lewis responded to this in an unschooling discussion in 2008 or so:
Having faith that you ARE the perfect parent for this child for this moment, is a biggie for me, too. (alternately, If not me, then who?)
I know this is meant as a tool for dealing with mom mistakes, and we all probably have some kind of tools for that.

But since this is a list for new unschoolers I'm going to talk about parental mistakes ("blowing it"from a different thread) and parenting and perfection. :-)

It's probably better not to think of our mistakes as "blowing it." That sounds pretty big and defeating. A mistake today doesn't negate all the things we did well before it nor does it have to poison future interactions with our kids.

A long time ago Sandra Dodd talked about the problem of defining a few difficulties in a day as "A bad day." In our mind we decide the whole day will be difficult and that can color every interaction with our kids for the rest of the day. If we recognize a difficult moment as one tricky moment in a day of potential great moments we're more likely to have a better attitude all day long. I think Sandra credited the person who had presented that idea but I've forgotten who it was now.

I think it's more helpful to say "I could have handled that better" and to apologize if an apology is due and then to not do that thing again. (a goal that might not come easy.)

We have all made mistakes. I still make mistakes despite trying really hard not to and my kid is almost sixteen and always unschooled. I don't see any value in beating myself up over mistakes and *I don't see any value in comforting myself about them either*. They are mistakes, things to be avoided in the future if I want to continue to have this great relationship with my kid. I can *always* do better.

I'm not religious or spiritual and I don't believe kids choose their parents. But parents choose to have and to keep their kids. Parents can choose to terminate pregnancy or get rid of kids but kids are pretty well stuck with the parents they get. I don't think "perfect parent for this child" is any kind of reality because there is just no choice for that kid to make. Biology or law makes you the *only* parent(s) for a kid. "Perfect" seems too much designed to be a comfort to parents when they mess up when what's more important is improvement.

I think the emotional comforting of the parent shouldn't come at the expense of improving our parenting of our kids. I know the perfect parent idea wasn't offered with that intent and does not exclude the importance of self improvement, but I want to stress that for new unschoolers here, it's more important for you to improve your parenting right now than it is for you to be soothed over your mistakes.

It feels *awful* to make mistakes. That awful feeling is useful though, because it's part of what helps us avoid doing that thing again. If we think of that feeling as a useful tool instead of a punishment, we won't feel so much need for comfort. Maybe because shame and guilt were used so frequently as punishment on us as kids we feel like were being punished by those feelings that come from making mistakes. Reclassify them in your head as a tool. Those feelings are the slightly delayed barometer letting you know there were short-term changes in the prevailing pattern of peace and thoughtfulness.

A few weeks ago I snapped at Dylan when he asked me a question about his movie camera. Dylan, because he's kind simply said, "ok mom" and went about his business. The moment I realized what I'd done I promptly vomited. (stomach acid is my barometer) It is very rare for me to be crappy to my kid. I want it to be rare. I want it to NEVER happen. I was not a perfect parent in that moment. I wasn't even anywhere near "good" or "barely ok." In that moment when he asked for help almost anyone else could have done better. A random stranger on the street could have done better. I'm glad I know when my actions and choices have been terrible because that will help me avoid being an ass to my kid.

Deb Lewis


From time to time, someone will brag up those moms who have had many lapses in their resolve, or will criticize those unschoolers who are solidly and confidently moving ahead in the direction they've decided to go.

"Support" that aims to calm mothers who were about to want to do better is collected here: Support


Problems and solutions (accounts of regrets and improvements):
Knowing Everything
Getting it

How unschooling can improve the parents' lives:
How Unschooling Changes People
Becoming a Better Partner
Abundance