To Mothers Stuck in Regret

It’s a familiar feeling as the day ends. I kiss my kids goodnight, pray for them, sing them a song, and then walk out of their rooms. I replay the day: the frustrated response to their behavior, the time spent on my phone instead of in conversation, the way I brushed them aside instead of engaging in a game with them, the outburst of anger. It all weighs on me, and I can feel undone. The lost moments of the day seem to drown out any moments of faithfulness that occurred. Will they remember these failures? Have I scarred them? Is God unhappy with me?

Moms are often plagued with guilt and regret. Sometimes the guilt is legitimate because we have sinned against our kids. Sometimes it’s projected on us by our own unbiblical expectations. Either way, where can we go with our mom-guilt and regret?

The Psalms are a faithful guide in our struggle. They are filled with a myriad of emotions, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. The Psalms provide insight into how biblical characters experienced specific events. In doing so, they give us a window into the human soul, showing us that God cares about every part of our life experience. He cares about the details of the narrative, and he gives us language for responding to the story we find ourselves in, including our moments of deep regret.

Deal with Regret Like David

Life in a broken world means moms will experience regret. In Psalm 51, David is filled with regret over the murder of Uriah and his sexual sin with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. In other words, his regret is legitimate, not projected. He has sinned against God and others.

The most important step David takes when he feels regret is his first step toward God. We have a tendency to pull away from God when we sin. We can feel too shameful to come before a holy God. But this holy God is also merciful and gracious (Psalm 145:8). He delights to save his wayward children, if only they would come to him. Running away from him when we feel regret only leads to more regret. Running to him when we feel regret leads to life.

After coming before our Lord, we have to get honest. We’ve sinned, and we need help. David also acknowledges his sin. He doesn’t shy away from saying he has sinned, as he makes a passionate plea for God to cleanse him and make him new (Psalm 51:7–12). Without this request for forgiveness and cleansing, our sin will continue to weigh us down (Psalm 32:3–4).

And so, we come, with sorrow in our hearts, asking a holy God to forgive our sins. Because of Christ, he does so freely and liberally. We don’t have to stay in our sin and regret. We can come boldly to the throne of God’s grace and find help for our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). We can acknowledge our sin, look to the Savior who paid for that sin, and move on.

Two Types of Guilt

When we sin, we have an advocate in Jesus and a model for confession in David. But what do moms do with the regret that may not be owing to sin? What about feeling like we just didn’t measure up, or feeling like we didn’t do enough for our kids?

If we’ve truly sinned, then we can pinpoint that sin in the Bible. The outburst of anger, the unkind word, the selfish response, idolizing our children — these are all sinful choices, and Scripture speaks to them plainly (Ephesians 4:31–32; Philippians 2:3–4). Of course, sometimes we can’t tell if what we did was sinful or just owing to our human limitations. Sometimes what feels selfish is actually us acknowledging we need a nap. Sometimes what feels unkind is really just administering discipline so that our kids understand authority and boundaries.

Even when we can’t tell the difference between true sin and “feeling bad,” however, the answer is still the same: we have an advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Whether we’ve sinned or just feel like we could have done better, our standing before Jesus is immovable.

Psalm 131 helps to remind me of that standing place. There are realities too wonderful for me to grasp (verse 1); when I don’t understand the path to walk as a mom, I can quiet my soul and trust that God is holding all things together (verse 2). Just as a weaned child learns to trust where her next meal comes from, so I can learn to trust that my kids are all right. Any given day won’t ruin them. God ultimately has them, like he has me.

Finished and Free

Many moms have a tendency to want to do everything right. We want to know all the rules so that we can execute the task perfectly. We don’t want to disappoint people. Which means we need to keep something in mind through this entire process: our identity is secure.

If you’re trusting in Christ, he has already finished the work for you. Any amount of striving you do now is from faith, in delightful obedience to him, not out of a need to earn anything. Of course, he calls us to obey and walk according to his word — but we can’t add or take away from what Christ has already done for us. When we sin, it’s paid for by Jesus. When we disappoint people, that does not necessarily mean God is disappointed. When we make a mistake, God doesn’t condemn us. When we have regret, we have a path forward.

Our choices don’t have to shame us. We can walk in freedom before the Lord, knowing that in Christ we have everything — including the Holy Spirit, who gives us increasing wisdom to know what is sin and what is not.

We often say in our home, “Tomorrow there are new mercies and new opportunities to obey.” If you sin today, tomorrow is holding new mercies for you (Lamentations 3:22–23). If you get to the end of the day and wish you had done more, tomorrow is holding new mercies for you.

Regret doesn’t have the final word in your life — the resurrected Christ does. And because he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), you can walk in newness of life today and every day after.