Ask any parent and they’ll tell you: raising children into decent human beings—preferably ones who shower regularly, pay their bills on time, and occasionally come home for holidays—is no easy feat. However, no matter how many parenting books you read or baby yoga classes you attend, even parents who seem like they’re acing things have uncertainties about how skillfully they’re raising the next generation.
“Having regrets is natural and universal for all good parents. When something is important to us, it leaves us vulnerable to doubts, worries, and regrets,” says says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Inna Khazan, Ph.D. “It’s like two sides of the same coin—if being a good parent is important to you, if you love your child, you will end up worrying and regretting the mistakes you’ve made. Every parent makes mistakes, that’s also universal. It just does not mean that making mistakes or having regrets makes you a bad parent.”
From missed school assemblies to those times your temper got the best of you, these regrets are virtually universal for any parent. And when you want to improve your own parenting game, master these 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kid.
They didn’t set aside enough time.
Yes, this is the big one. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or you spend 60 hours a week in an office, virtually every parent out there feels like they could have spent more quality time with their kids. “With so many demands on the parents’ time, there never seems to be enough time. It is, of course, also important to spend time together,” says Khazan.
However, just because you’re short on time doesn’t mean your kids should be shortchanged when it comes to your attention. “Busy parents could find small ways to spend time with their kids on particularly busy days. If there is more than one child in the family, one-on-time with each child would feel really good—go for a walk before bedtime, read a book, tell a story about your day, do a meditation together, play a card game. None of these activities need to take a lot of time, but they will give the parent and the child a way to connect and engage with each other.” And when you want to make the most of your time as a parent, check out these 10 Parenting Secrets from an All-Star Dad.
They compared their kids to other kids too often.
Not every kid is going to be a sports star or excel academically, and that’s okay—adults have their own strengths, and children should be afforded the same courtesy. That said, it’s hard not to compare your children with other kids from time to time, although doing so can lead to some serious regrets later on. If you’re expecting your child to have the exact same skill set as their peers—or, worse yet, push them to live up to another child’s standard—you’re not only putting stress on them, you’re also overlooking their innate strengths and failing to foster them.
They didn’t save enough for college.
The average tuition for a private college in the United States topped $34,000 in 2018, and the average college graduate leaves their alma mater with $37,172 in debt. Unfortunately, these numbers lead to a big regret for many parents: not saving an adequate amount of cash to ensure their child’s educational future. In fact, according to MarketWatch, just 48 percent of parents save for college at all, and one survey suggests that only 32 percent of Americans know what a 529 plan (that’s the college-savings one) is. And when you want to boost your savings, learn these 40 Easy Ways to Stretch Your Paycheck.
They put too much pressure on them—too often.
Having your children engaged in a variety of activities is a great way for them to figure out what they’re passionate about. However, as many parents come to realize—and regret—packing your child’s day to the gills can actually have a detrimental effect. In fact, research conducted at the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that children who enjoy less structured playtime are more capable of meeting their own goals and display higher levels of executive functioning in the long run.
They weren’t consistent.
Parents know how hard it is to maintain consistency when you’re dealing with little ones on a daily basis: one day, your kids are eating vegan, macrobiotic meals, the next, it’s ice cream for breakfast. While it may feel next-to-impossible to maintain the exact same standards for your children on a day-to-day basis, not attempting to do so often leads to major regrets for parents. While not always easy to do, having consistent standards sets a strong foundation for your children and can diminish some of those regrets parents tend to have about their parental flip-flopping later down the line.
They yelled too much (and too loudly).
It happens to the best of us: we get upset or frustrated and find ourselves raising our voices, even when we don’t mean to. Unfortunately, those times parents find themselves shouting at their kids can come back to haunt them in the long run. In addition to being the source of some serious regret, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have linked tough verbal discipline with a greater risk of depression later in life.
They didn’t say “I love you” enough.
Saying “I love you” to your children is an easy way to make them feel safe, loved, and appreciated. However, if you’re skimping on actually communicating how you feel, you’re likely to regret it in the long run. “Parents know they love their children, and sometimes believe that children would just know that they are loved,” says Dr. Khazan. However, just accepting that you feel that way is hardly enough. “It is actually really important to say the words ‘I love you’ to the kids,” she says. And when you want to know why your parents seemed to have it so much easier, discover these 20 Ways Parenting Is Different Than It Was 20 Years Ago.
They offered too much non-constructive criticism.
Parents want to shape their kids into successful, productive humans, but sometimes, even the most conscientious parents offer criticism of their children that is less-than-helpful—and live to regret it. From those times you made a snide remark about your child’s appearance to those critical, but not helpful, comments about their dating habits, parents often feel some serious regret about those comments spoken out of anger or fear rather than an actual desire to help.
They treated them like little adults.
As hard as it is to accept, kids aren’t just tiny adults: they have different needs, different emotions, and different abilities. Unfortunately, for many parents, it’s hard to parent with this in mind, leading many parents regretting the ways in which they pushed their children to behave. While it’s nice to imagine your kids will always be obedient, charming, and willing to learn, this is rarely the case, and many parents regret trying to get their kids to conform to their unreasonable standards in the long run.
They spoiled them rotten.
Nobody wants to look back and say they spoiled their children, leading many parents to regret the choices they made when raising their kids. While there’s no single gift or behavior that will spoil a child, a pattern of consistent overindulgence can definitely predict a future of regret when they’re still asking for an allowance at 30.
They forced values.
Every parent wants their kid to have values, but trying to push your specific values onto your children doesn’t generally work out in the long run. At the end of the day, children will decide what their priorities are and might just resent you for trying to force your own values down their throats.
They were too controlling.
While many parents regret spoiling their children, just as many, if not more, will come to feel remorse for their dictatorial behavior around their kids. Although it’s undeniably important to set boundaries for kids, creating seemingly arbitrary rules about how they dress, who they hang out with, what they eat, or how they should live their lives as adults will ultimately backfire.
They spent too much time staring at screens.
We’re undeniably addicted to our devices: in fact, research suggests that U.S. adults spend upwards of five hours on their phone every single day. Unfortunately, this often leads to some serious parenting regrets—all those hours you’re spending checking social media are inevitably moments you’re missing out on with your children.
They didn’t try new things enough.
As adults, it’s easy to find yourself stuck in a rut when it comes to the places you go, activities you participate in, and people you see. For many parents, this can create significant regrets as the years pass by—not only do those missed opportunities inevitably mean you’re skipping chances to broaden your child’s horizons, you’re also potentially setting them up to get stuck in the same patterns as adults.
They ignored emotional needs.
Kids have different emotional needs than adults, and many parents find themselves regretting all the times they ignored this fundamental truth. Few people look back fondly on the times they told a crying child to “get over it” or instructed a young kid to “stop acting like a baby.” And if you want to raise an emotionally healthy child, make sure you ditch these 40 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kid.
They didn’t take enough personal time.
While many parenting regrets are related to the act of parenting itself, just as many parents wish they had taken more time for themselves. Though parenting offers few breaks, it’s vital to take the ones your schedule allows. “It is important for kids to see their parents engage in meaningful activities, whether it be work or fun,” says Khazan.
They expected perfection.
Most parents don’t consider the times they scolded their child for getting a 95 on a test or forced them to practice piano until their hands cramped as parenting wins in the long run. However, spending too much time thinking about how you should have handled a situation won’t do much better.
“Parents want what’s best for their kids. They want to be the parents they can be. But things often don’t go according to plan, and they don’t always live up to their own expectations,” says Khazan. “When parents don’t give themselves room for error, they spend so much time beating up on themselves for mistakes, that they may miss out on the opportunity to enjoy the positives.”
They didn’t believe their kids.
Of course, some kids cry wolf on practically a daily basis. That said, parents frequently regret the times they didn’t believe when their kids said they were hurt, ignored them when they said they were scared, or doubted their concerns about things like their safety and wellbeing.
They didn’t read to them enough.
Those times you put your kids right to bed instead of reading them Hop on Pop for the thousandth time might just become one of your bigger parenting regrets over time. Not only is reading aloud a means of fostering cognitive development in young children, researchers at UC Santa Cruz have found that reading is an even more effective means of building a child’s vocabulary than having regular conversations with them.
They only had kids because they felt pressure to.
Not all parenting regrets happen after your kids arrive. In fact, more and more parents are regretting the choice to have children to begin with. While societal pressure still plays a major role in convincing people that family life is necessarily for them, if you don’t want to look back on your parenting experience with serious regret, it’s essential that you make the decision to have children based on your own wants and needs, rather than what other people think.
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