If you can't make it better you can laugh at it. ~Erma Bombeck


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Regret vs. Guilt – Caution: Rant Storm Ahead

I received several emails about my admission of having emotional problems – most supportive, some questioning, some borderline rude. One in particular, however, was a very, mmmm... pointed note from someone whose mother was mentally ill (“a wacked out bi###”) and, therefore, entirely to blame for this now 40+-year-old woman’s life of drug addiction and criminal activity. She said that she is now in recovery but will never forgive her mother for not being emotionally there for her when she was a teenager. If she can’t overcome her “illness” and become a “whole person” it will be all her mother’s fault.

She also stated that I should be ashamed for not taking responsibility for my children’s problems because they were most likely my fault just like her problems are her mother’s fault. She said that her mother’s traumatic childhood, abusive marriage, and ensuing emotional problems were not her kid’s problem and that she should have just sucked it up and done what was “right by us kids.” I admit, I don't know the whole story, but I'm betting it's long and involved one.

My first thought was to delete the email, dismissing it as the rantings of a woman who desperately needs to grow up and quit blaming the world for her own refusal to take responsibility for her life and her future. Then the thought crossed my mind that if she was brave (brazen?) enough to actually put it in writing, how many others are there who are thinking it but are too polite to speak the “truth” as they see it?

So, this post is a public service to all the other imperfect parents of kids who are using them as an excuse to screw up their lives.

First, I never said Hubby and I were to be idolized as perfect parents. I said that we did the best we could at the time with the tools we had. Before Cheryl, unfortunately, my tool belt was woefully empty. I’d done fine until they became pre-teens – little ones are pretty easy to manage with love and diligence alone. But once their pre-pubescent attitudes started working overtime, without knowing it, I was seriously in over my head. I didn’t understand how to discipline without anger. I didn’t understand how to set limits without smothering. I didn’t understand the importance of listening more than, or at least as much as, you talk. And worst of all, my emotional problems probably contributed to my son’s drug addiction. All of this I REGRET. However, I never intentionally set out to mess him up, so I don’t feel GUILTY.

I know it’s hard to understand the subtle difference. Let me try to help some:

The Free Dictionary defines them as follows:

1. To feel sorry, disappointed, or distressed about.
2. To remember with a feeling of loss or sorrow; mourn.
1. A sense of loss and longing for someone or something gone.
2. A feeling of disappointment or distress about something that one wishes could be different.

guilt n.
1. The fact of being responsible for the commission of an offense.
2. Law Culpability for a crime or lesser breach of regulations that carries a legal penalty.
3. a. Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong.
b. Self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.
4. Guilty conduct; sin.

Some examples of regret vs. guilt are:

- Doctors who, today, can save countless lives that would have been routinely lost 10 years ago. They regret that the cures weren’t found sooner, but they do not feel guilt over not having had the tools back then.
- Firemen who respond to homes with burglar bars blocking quick access, preventing them from saving the residents trapped inside, feel regret that they could not save the people, but they are not guilty of having killed anyone.
- Parents who were not parented themselves, or have mental/emotional problems, or physical disabilities, or financial troubles, or, or, or… but who still love their children and try, to the very best of their ability, to keep them safe and provide for their physical needs; to teach them right from wrong; to instill in them a sense of self-worth and self-pride; to hold them accountable for their actions. Parents who expect their children to go to school and get reasonably good grades, and to abide by the laws of civility and the courts. Parents who stay involved and continue to try, and care, and be there when their children falter in any of these – even when the child is pushing them away with every ounce of their being. Parents who recognize their shortcomings and acknowledge them and apologize for them and try to improve them. These parents have every right to regret some of the things they did not do because they were either unable to do them or didn’t know they should have done it differently. These parents are not, however, guilty of any sin or deliberate omission or malicious misconduct toward their children. They were just doing the best they could with what they had to work with at the time!

Understand, I am not defending myself here. I have done nothing to be defended for. What I am doing is telling all the whiney babies out there who want to keep blaming your parents, teachers, preachers, doctors, friends, neighbors, siblings, etc., etc., etc., for your problems, to GROW THE HECK UP, FIND A COUNSELOR, LEARN SOME NEW SKILLS, AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR LIFE AND YOUR FUTURE.

And I am telling all the parents out there who are paralyzed by guilt and fear to CUT IT OUT, GET A GRIP, FIND A COUNSELOR AND GET HELP! You only have something to feel guilty about if you don’t continually try to find new tools to use in the building of your child’s future. As long as you keep trying, loving, teaching, and supporting the little miscreants, it’s THEIR fault if they choose not to take the gifts you offer.

OK – stepping off my soap box now. Thanks for listening and I will miss those of you who now refuse to ever visit here again…. But I’ll sleep really well tonight.

Peace, Blessings, and Sweet Dreams to you, too!


  1. A couple of thoughts...
    1st - there are "perfect" parents out there who raised crappy kids as well as good kids. there are "crappy" parents out there who raised great kids, as well as crappy kids. point being it doesnt matter how well you raise a child, each child has their own path they have to follow. My mother raised me and two brothers. Me and my oldest brother did fine. The middle brother was in and out of rehab from a young age until he was about 18/20ish? I was to young, so I dont remember how old he was when he finally got his stuff together. But it wasnt anything my mother did, or didn't do. It was just the path he had to follow.

    2nd - even if her mom was a crappy mom, at some point this woman became an age where she was able to make decisions on her own. Where she was able to say hey - I know what I am doing is wrong. Yet she continued to do her own thing, and make the wrong choices. She has to take responsibilty for herself, and her choices. That is part of being an adult. An age doesn't make you an adult. There are many 30, 40, 50 yr olds who are still children, and many 15, 16, 17 yr olds who are adults. Not quite the same thing, but my father was an extremely racist person. When I was young I heard tons and tons of hate filled crap. I could have followed along with his crap, and become a different person. Yet even at a young age I knew enough to say that isn't right. I looked at people for who they are, not what they look like. Because of that (and because my son is bi-racial) for the last 10 years of my fathers life, my father no longer spoke with me. I could have become bitter, or blamed his absense for everything that happened to me, but everything that happened to me was for a reason. I chose to suck it up and deal with it.

    Don't let other people tell you how you should feel (I know you dont, but I also know that sometimes comments bother you when you dont want them to).

    Ok, I have written way to much, so I will stop writing now.

  2. Jennifer - are you related to my Cheryl?? Sure sounds like it. You are spot on with your insights!

    And thanks for point out that I still have issues with people's comments bugging me... looks like I need to add yet another tool to the old belt! Big Hugs!

  3. you know in your post you said most of what I said - but when I wrote my comments, I had only read up to the part where she is saying you are to fault for how your kids act. After I hit send and finished reading what you wrote I felt kind of silly repeating what you already wrote, LOL.

    I am the same way - as far as I usually try not to let comments and such bother me, but sometimes they really hit home - and sometimes its on things I never thought would bother me, you know. It always amazes me when somethign bothers me, becuase it seems to show me something about myself that I didn't know before.

    Thank you for the hugs, I really needed them today.


  4. We said basically the same things, but in different ways. Did you know that people typically have to see things presented at least 3 different ways at 3 different times for it to start soaking in? You just helped get the message home. I'm praying that some of those parents out there who keep beating themselves up will hear what we are saying and start to heal.

    More big hugz and mushy smoochies blowing your way!! xoxoxo

  5. Hey there, I just first want to let you know that I absoutley love your blog, and for what it's worth, although I don't know you well, I think you are an amazing person. You are so kind and caring, (not to mention hilarious), and it really shows.

    I don't think any of us will ever be a "perfect" parent. Whatever that means anyways.....

    But there are some wacked out people out there, and unfortunatley they lurk on the internet. One of the first comments you left on my blog was that I was going to touch many people. It really hit a warm spot in my heart as I had just been through a very stressful situation, and had many comments left on my blog, that I was disturbed, and that I was screwing up my children's lives.

    My whole point of Rhett's blog is to vent my joys, as well as my frustrations of raising a child with medical needs and disabilites.

    My oldest son has just had a new diagnosis, and he only is functioning socially at a 5 year old level although he is 12. When I posted about a situation that happened, and asked if anyone had been through anything similiar, you would think that I had just shoved all of my kids out the door and told them good riddance. All hell broke loose.

    Through this situation I learned that things happen to make us stronger, and people can say what they want, all that matters is that you know that you have tried, or are trying your very best. Nothing more nothing less.

    I started out young at having kids, only 16, and some people could say that I ruined my oldest becuase he is having problems, but I honestly belive that he came to me for a reason. God wanted him to be the way he is. It is my job to love him and try to help him succeed, and if it ends up being that he lives with me for the rest of his life, well then so be it.

    My husband has dealt with severe depression, and post traumatic stress disorder since Rhett was overdosed and we almost lost him. That doesn't make him a bad father, it makes all of us stronger.

    And for what it's worth, my MIL was a crappy mom. My husband raised his little brother from the time my husband was 5 years old. He was cooking and making food for him and his little brother and everything. At 6 they were left alone while his mother worked and played after work. (Single mom)

    But guess what, both my husband and his litte brother turned out great becuase when they got older they made their own descisions.

    We are all responsible for our own actions, our choices lie on nobody else but ourselves.

    Anyways, Rhett's oxygen monitor is beeping, he is telling himself "NO" which means he is probably getting into the tree again, and the laundry is calling, but I just wanted to give you a big hug, and tell you that you are great.

    ((HUGS!!)) Pam and Rhett!


    You hit it on the head. Exactly. I have been trying to teach my mother the difference between guilt and regret for a few years now. My parents raised 4 kids and 3 of us turned out okay, while the oldest still blames her parents for all her problems, failures, screw ups etc, although she is the one the have helped the most, financially and with time and attention. She has said some horrible things to them, which for some reason my mom chooses to believe and take to heart. I have been explaining to her that she is not responsible for how her kids live their lives - I messed up royally at 17, but that was all my fault and I don't blame them for it. I think mom is finally starting to get it.

    It was really nice to hear someone else say the exact same things I have been saying - were we twins seperated at birth???

    Annette in BC

  7. One thing I've learned during life is that we all have some sort of baggage, be it from our raising, relationships with loved ones, children, whatever. But for the most part, you are about as happy as you make up your mind to be. Dwelling on the past will not change it. Learn from it and go on. Worrying about it won't change it, correct what can be and go on. Just learn to let some things go. Try to continue to do the best you can with what you have. Oh, well, don't want to ramble here.

  8. Way to go! I agree wholeheartedly. I can't believe this woman wanted to blame her life on her parents and take no responsibility! Anyway, thank you for the comment and keep up the good work.


  9. Thanks so much for your distinction between guilt and regret. It helped me see that I have regrets for some of the mistakes I made while parenting my girls.

    I also have guilt for some of the bad choices I made, knowing they were bad choices at the time. For example, I had some smoking friends for a while and started smoking cigarettes, and hid it from my girls. They caught me sneaking a cigarette a couple of times, and I lied about it, but eventually I quit.

    I was young and silly and I apologized for my mistakes. That helps me let go of some guilt. But the regrets, though...they still haunt me. I have a lot of work and prayer to do about all of that.

  10. Pam - Thank you! (the check is in the mail - just a few more great comments and you'll be able to buy a cup of coffee!)

    I personally totally admire the fact that you are so open and honest in your Rhett blog. There are thousands of families out there still suffering and laboring in silence because too many people just don't understand! You are helping break the stigma! Don't you dare let anybody make you stop! And if anybody else picks on you, just let me know and I'll go all kinds of cranky on their backside!!

    And MEGA KUDOS to your husband! What a legacy he is leaving for his children!

    Annette! You look really cute in that cheer outfit! And where did you find those matching pom-poms!! LOL!! ;o)

    Please feel free to give your mom the link to my blog and my email address. I'm sure she and I have lots in common and if she doesn't cut it out, I'll go all cranky on her heiny too! LOL!! ;o)

    And yes, we were separated at birth - in heaven just before the angels kissed us and sent us down separate chutes!
    Margie - you never fail to make me feel good. Thanks again! XOXO... now go smooch up on that grandbaby for me!
    Kathy, thank you for the support.

    I'm glad I didn't just delete her email... I haven't heard from her again yet, but I'm really curious to see what she says, if anything.
    Angela - I have trouble sometimes wallowing in the regrets, too. That's where the positive self talk comes in: I did the best I could at the time with what the tools I had in my belt. Say it over and over and over and eventually it will be easier to believe. I'm proud of you for apologizing for your mistakes. That's a hard step to take, but what an example we set for our children when we do it!
    XOXO, my sweet friend!

  11. Grrrrr, My original post I wrote didn't go thru!

    AMEN to what you said sister! I agree with you 100%! I am tired of the "victims" of the world claiming no responsibility for their actions.

    I did not grow up in a normal home - who did? But the things I went through made me stronger and more determined vs. wearing me down. If I was a complete product of my environment I'd be in a really really bad place right now.

    You do what you can but you also can't expect things to just happen - you need to make them happen.

    Dad had a wonderful saying - DON'T LET THEM RENT SPACE IN YOUR BRAIN!

    SO for the negative posters - that is what I want you to do. Let them have the problem with what you said but you shouldn't have a problem with it.

    You can only control you - not other people.

    Hugs and good night dear friend,


  12. To borrow from a very old line, I LOVE LUCILLE! I love what your dad says, DON'T LET THEM RENT SPACE IN YOUR BRAIN! I think I'm gonna have to start using that one myself!

    Thanks for the support, sweets. Luvs and hugz to ya!

  13. Nothing I can say that hasn't already been said. All I can do is shout YESYESYESYESYES!!!!!
    Oh, it does me so much good to visit here!

  14. Dragonstar - Hubby and I were in the car running errands today when your comment popped into my email. It is the first time he's actually understood that this "blog thing" is important to me.

    I got your note and was grinning ear to ear causing him to ask what's up and giving me the opportunity to explain more about what we do here -- that the support you and the others provide is awesome.

    Bottom line is, It does ME great good for you to come here! Thank you!


WELL HOWDY!! Thanks so much for popping in to leave a note. PLEASE be sure to check the box by "E-mail follow-up comments to..." so that you'll get my response to your comment. I almost always respond personally And sorry for making you do the Word jumble mambo. I wish there weren't A***ole spammers running rampant in the blogverse!


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