The Lives We’ll Never Have: Coping With Regret and Disappointment

The Lives We'll Never Have: Coping With Regret and Disappointment
We only live one life. In this, we make choices that – because that is the consequence of choices – exclude other choices. The paths not taken and our lives not lived also need attention. Otherwise, they’ll just be collecting dust in the warehouse of our psyche and will manifest themselves in huge fits of fear and all the accompanying symptoms.

This truth became clear to me several years ago. I left my son’s pottery class and struck up a conversation with a mother of two daughters who were taking the same class as my son. I inquired about their ages and where they lived while the girls packed their coats. There was something about the way the girls joked with each other, something that evoked a small, almost imperceptible feeling of longing in me. I could have easily pushed it aside, but I didn’t. As soon as the icy air outside reached my lungs and my boots cracked the snow, it occurred to me, “I will not raise any daughters.”

The longing for what you’ll never have

The Lives We'll Never Have: Coping With Regret and Disappointment

I had had this desire before. When we were told that our second child would also be a boy, I celebrated and mourned at the same time. I always told myself that I would have a daughter. After the birth of our oldest son, I continued to hope that our second child would be a girl. He wasn’t.

The day after I was told the gender of the unborn baby, I lay in bed, fully aware that I would never raise a daughter. I don’t remember if I had to cry. Well, the phrase ‘I am a mother of sons’ was floating around in my head and I was trying to get used to it. However, since I know that I can only accept it by mourning it, I have cried about it.

Since I had to pay attention to my son after the pottery class, I put desire at the V in the Rolodex of my soul, trusting that it would rise if I had a moment of delay. Then I could at least give it the attention it deserved.

‘Suppose’: trying to change the past

That moment came later that evening. I felt it rise and my ego-brain briefly tripped over a brief and fruitless litany of “what if” thoughts in its attempt to avoid the rawness of desire. What if I might have made a different choice here (or there)? This obviously futile attempt by my narrow mind to influence the past was nothing but an attempt to avoid feeling vulnerable and unpredictable.

Thus it tried to hold me in a tightly woven thought pattern that ended at a closed gate. I didn’t stand there for a second when I opened that gate and walked into the field of my feelings, immersed myself in it, got out of my head and let my heart breathe.

Surrender to pure sorrow

Then the mourning set in. I knew right away that it wasn’t just mourning because I would never know what it would be like to raise one or more daughters, but that I was also grieving because I wouldn’t have a third child. We had consciously decided to keep it with two children. That choice was very loving for our current family, but every now and then a pin poked in my heart about the lack of a third child. And there it was, working its way up the waterways of the sweet sorrow that circle our hearts, souls and eyes.

Surrendering to pure sadness is without exception a wonderful sensation. The ingrained habits from another time or from a previous phase want us to fight against them in order to try to resist the pain. But as soon as the resistance breaks, there is always a smile attached to the tears that flow. Wonderful redemption, wonderfully open inside while the wonderful tears take the pain and transform the longing into gratitude.

Do you have to take action for every desire that arises?

The Lives We'll Never Have: Coping With Regret and Disappointment

It’s easy to fall for the belief that desire calls for action: “If I occasionally long for a third child, it means I must have a third child .” Or if I want a daughter, I must have a daughter. Being able to have a feeling without taking immediate action is part of your growth processLearn to develop the confidence that you don’t need to take any action other than being aware of feelings and giving them the attention they deserve.

In addition to this focus on action, we make another mistake: we mistakenly assume that every feeling we are aware of is completely true and completely established. We don’t understand that we can feel a certain desire without it actually being what we desire. In other words, I may occasionally feel the desire to have a daughter, but the deeper truth is that with two children ( these two boys) our family is complete.

Make room for sadness

The work you have to do is always the same: make room for your sadness, welcome it, learn to love it, and focus on the beauty and gratitude it brings. I wrote this daughter story in my head years ago as I lay next to my incredibly sweet son who was then five years old.

He is the one who makes my heart almost explode with love every day, the one who makes my soul sing and who gives me so much pleasure every day. My clients often say things like: “But if I allow myself to desire (something/someone else) does that mean I am not satisfied with my current (partner/child/parent)?” No, it doesn’t mean that. An experienced brain can handle such contradictions just fine.

Making room for contradictions

The Lives We'll Never Have: Coping With Regret and Disappointment

In fact, it’s a feature of adulthood if you can apply this both/and approach and thus it’s a vaccine against fear. The world is not black and white. However, our ego thinks that we can control the world better if we divide all our experiences into categories. A spice rack or a wardrobe can still be classified, but the domain where heart and mind overlap is a messy whole that is not suitable for categorizing.

We can make enough space to allow such contradictions to coexist, truths that may be opposite but do not affect each other’s validity. I can for a moment longer for a daughter, while in the meantime I am infinitely grateful for my two sons. Just as I can allow myself to yearn for raising two sisters, while fully enjoying the stratification my sons develop in their relationship (and you bet they’re going to be granddaughters later). I mourn and celebrate, lose and love, long for something that is not there, and at the same time, I am grateful for what is. There is room enough for everything.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here