Parents Regret Doing or Not Doing These 10 Things

Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to look back and think about what, if given the chance, we parents would have done differently. That is generally true of life but never is it more true than in parenting, the most impactful and consequential job any of us will ever have.

Regrets…I have a few. (Twenty 20 @kiwitanya)

Biggest regrets parents have and what they might have done differently

1. Take Care of Yourself

I definitely would have practiced more self-care when my kids were younger. I poured everything into the family and put myself last. As much as I enjoy getting back to myself now that they are growing and flying, it would be an easier journey if I had not been quite so selfless! -Maureen

According to my adult daughter I should’ve been more focused on me…like they say in a plane crash, put the oxygen on you first because you can’t save anyone if you’re dead. -Jennifer

2. Use Your Words Carefully

I wish I had been more intentional in my constructive/instructive criticism when they were in grade school and middle school. “That’s okay! You tried your best” doesn’t teach them how to approach things from a different angle, or examine critically what went wrong. I regret using platitudes, instead of loving, reshaping guidance. One newly flown child in particular has trouble with feedback, and I wonder if there had been more joint problem solving when they were younger, they’d be more receptive to it now. -Cameron

Understand how vulnerable to your comments your children are and how much damage you can create while thinking that you’re just helping. -Bess

3. Record It All 

I wish I had  taken more videos of my daughters. I have tons of pictures, but not so many videos. I miss those beautiful little voices. -Chandra

I regret not taking more photos of my daughter as a baby. She had a cleft lip birth defect and I was so forward focused and tried hiding it behind stuffed animals and blankets. I wish I didn’t do that. I have very few good photos of her cleft to show how far we have all come. But I didn’t know there would be such a huge difference at the time. -Michele

I wish I had taken more pictures WITH my kids, rather than just of the kids…I was heavy and always hiding behind the camera rather than in front of it. My kids will be left with lots of pictures of themselves or with their dad, but I look like an absent mom. -Beth

I was unmarried and 21 while pregnant with my one and only child. My parents weren’t exactly happy with the situation. I wish I had been able to embrace my pregnancy like most and taken photos but I have ZERO of me while pregnant with her. -Emily

4. Let Go Earlier-Build Their Resilience

I would not protect my kids the way I did. And I am not talking about danger here. I am talking about disappointment, I would let them deal with adversity and let them get in arguments and teach them tools to deal with it I stead of Protect them from it. -Maria

I would have let them fly on their own more in Middle School. Middle School is a great transition of responsibility because it requires hard work and organization BUT at the end it disappears from their permanent record. Let them learn to fail and recover more. In the end it doesn’t count like High School. -Michelle

I wish I had not tried to protect my kids from feeling negative emotions by omitting information. Emotional pain is a part of life and it just made it worse when things came out. -Karin

I would have let our girls see us struggle with our finances and how we budgeted to be able to have and do the things we did. -Maribeth

5. Leave Unhappy Relationships Sooner 

Leave a toxic marriage much earlier so my son would know what a healthy relationship looks like OR see what a healthy, strong single mom can do on her own to provide for him. -Julie

Cut out toxic in-law family members, not let my husband push me into family events with them where I would be bullied for 30 years. -Sheryl

6. Worry Less

Would not have stressed so much about grades or college applications or anything for that matter! I feel I should have been relaxed and that way my son also would have been stress free!! -Suganthi

Mostly, relax. Just relax. You don’t have to do all the things and everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. -Tara

Worried less. I tried so hard to be the perfect mom for my kids but really they needed a less than perfect mom who was less stressed and much happier. I’ve been able to get here in recent years but man I let anxiety steal my joy at times when they were younger. Also, I wish we had set better boundaries when they were younger. Now we’re all learning together how to set healthy boundaries. -Cortney

In the early years of parenthood, I would not have been so caught up in worrying what ‘they’ thought. -Sylvia

I wish I wouldn’t have worried about every little thing or occurrence and I wish I’d have been able to laugh things off better. I wish I would have appreciated my kids’ uniqueness more and worried less about them fitting in with others. All hindsight stuff. But maybe that’s what grandkids are for. -Amy

Enjoy the moment more. -Deborah

7. Yell Less

I wish I had yelled less and been less concerned about being on time. I wish I had been more aware of my child’s anxiety and how it affected them when they were younger. -Heidi

I wish I would have been more patient. -Lauren Ann

I wish I’d been more patient, punished less, and cared less what others thought. -Heather

I  wish I had been calmer and had not yelled so much when my child was 13 to 15. They were terrible years…peak teen terror years. But i could have handled it much better, could have been kinder. Now i am trying to be that. Meaning learn from my mistakes and move on. I feel like I lost that 3 to 4 years though. -Shanil

8. Travel More 

Traveled more before my kids were born. Hopefully I’ll be financially and physically healthy enough to do it in a few years when they’re really flown but if not, it will be a big regret! -Lori

Stop living for a mortgage. Travel & be footloose and fancy-free! We don’t own homes, they own us. -Ginny

9. Push Less

I wish I had let my kid just be a kid instead of fixating on what we’re told they have to be in order to succeed at the next level (re: getting into college — the “right” college). I wish we could have lived more in our now moments instead of always focusing on what’s next and never enjoying where he is now. -Megan

But with being focused on racing from one thing to another to get it all done, not sure exactly how much “fun” was really had. My advice- Be in the moment, relax and enjoy the time as it is happening. -Gina

I would probably have put more emphasis on being a good person (volunteering, helping others) than pushing for good grades. -Cathy

10. Recognize when your child is in distress and advocate for them 

My biggest regret was not recognizing signs of depression in my teen until it was so acute that we nearly lost her. I have learned so much about depression since those dark days, and especially how it can manifest itself in different ways for different kinds of people and different ages. Fortunately we fought really hard to find her a great team that saved her life. -Barb

I would have recognized my son’s HS wasn’t the best fit socially and didn’t need to be all about baseball (which he was growing less enthused about) and suggested he transfer schools for his junior year. -Pamela

Both of my sons have disabilities and were mainstreamed so we had IEPs and then 504 plans and I should have included them in those meetings and discussions about what they needed so they had a better understanding of their disability(ies), how to ask for and receive their accommodations and be better self-advocates. Now, with FB and other social media, I see younger parents doing that and I really wish I had. -Courtney

I wish I hadn’t sent my oldest off to a 4 year university straight out of hs. He was not ready, community college at home would have been so much better for him, but the push for 4 year college is really strong around here. Instead he floundered off on his own and dropped out altogether, feeling completely defeated. -Theresa

I wish I had realized the signs of depression and knew how it was impacting my role as wife and mother. I was mean, angry, isolating, impatient, and hurtful with my words. -Lynette

I would have requested early intervention for my youngest. He could’ve used additional academic support which would have made middle school and then high school easier. He is really struggling in college. He is a really nice, good kid and I think he got passed along from grade to grade because of that. I think he only made it through middle and the first few years of high school because I spent hours each week helping him study. Every time we looked things over and talked about homework it was as if he had never heard or seen the concepts before. Junior and senior year he picked it up and did pretty well. -Niki

We didn’t find out that my daughter had ADHD & Dyslexia until the middle of 11th grade. We knew when she was in 3rd grade that she took much longer to finish papers & projects. We just thought she procrastinated. I wish we had asked about other possible causes of taking forever. -Lori

Some of our parents wished they had fewer kids and some wanted more. Some thought they might have waited longer to have kids and some said they would have started their families earlier. Most agreed that they would have tried to savor the moment more and worried less. And I think we can all get onboard with Aimee’s advice 

“Give myself more grace while on this parenting journey. Specifically the teen years.”

More to Read:

Parents of Teens: You Need Self-Care as Much as Parents of Young Ones

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

Read more posts by Helene

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.