“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.
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 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.
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.