I love being a mom—most of the time. There have been times when I can say I have only enjoyed it some of the time.
Today is one of those days. Parenting regrets are normal; you can even use it to become a better parent. I can’t remember the last time I got more than two hours of straight sleep in. I am starting a business that is going to create global change and step on some people’s toes in the process; it is a big job. In this article I share to you the most common parenting regrets we mothers go through.
I seriously feel like I am frickin’ well losing it.
I was so tired, and my daughter Ayla woke up (again) in the middle of the night. It has been happening for years now. After fulfilling my mom duties and having some time with Ben, I had only just drifted off to sleep. She screamed and screamed and screamed, wanting me to lie down with her. So I did. And then she continued some more, and I couldn’t get her settled.
She settled and sobbed herself to sleep finally in my arms, and I got up to go to the toilet. I felt ill and only just made it in time. As soon as Ayla sensed that I had gone to another room, she acted up again.
I tried to comfort her and let her know I was in the toilet and couldn’t come straight away because I was ill. Ben got up to go and settle her. She screamed at him like he was the worst person in the world (they have an amazingly close relationship), but she wanted me, her mom.
After a few minutes of vomiting and calling out to try and settle her, that was it:
I have mom regrets about how I handled last night. I am still a good mom; I am not up to the excellent mom standard that I usually see myself to be. But it is only for the moment. I am not ashamed; I am not concerned. I am just super tired and have recognised that I need to slow the f— down for a bit.
But as moms, we look around at the pictures of happy and perfect moms on the walls of the medical clinic or on magazines. We watch them on TV. We are made to believe that if we don’t have our shit together and aren’t able to fulfil everyone’s physical and emotional needs, including our own, then we are a shit mom and we aren’t up to the job. Or worse, that we hate being a mom.
Everyone tells us we must look the part of a perfect Stepford wife in a crisp peach dress, work 25 hours a day and still get mom duties done, take the kids to soccer and serve nutritious meals on a perfectly spotless table.
I am calling bullshit on this.
I can honestly say that I don’t always enjoy every second of my MOM day. There are times when having kids is so damn hard and not enjoyable. I feel guilty and regret that I don’t enjoy every minute, even though I know this is okay. What more if you had twin kids since there are things that only twin mums understand. Or having a handful with half a dozen shouting for Mom.
There are times when you are at a complete loss as to what to do, where you look back at situations and wish like hell that you had handled it differently, made a different decision, responded better and coped better. The list goes on.
I have had days where I have looked at my kids and regretted being a mom. I didn’t regret having my kids, but I have thought to myself, ‘Imagine how easy my life would be at the moment and how much more I would have achieved if I wasn’t a mom’.
I know you have all had it at least once. Why are we such a bad person if it gets a bit too much sometimes? Why do we keep this thought as a big bloody secret?
Does a parenting regret make me a terrible person?
Nope, people have not-so-good ideas every day. But they don’t act on them.
I once heard about a young mother who was so overwhelmed and exhausted from being a single mom and juggling work and life stressors. One day, she looked at her three-year-old in the bath and thought about leaving the water running for ‘a bit too long while she went to the kitchen’—all because at that point she regretted being a mom.
Does it make her a bad mother? No. She didn’t act on it. She did have the thought. And you know what? I might get slammed for it, but that is okay.
I never regret having kids, but my god it can be hard.
And then there are days when you look back and wish so badly that things were different, that you did something better, that you made a different choice with your parenting. And sometimes you break down and admit you hate being a mom for real.
Two months ago, I was a dishevelled mess—an absolute ball of snot and tears telling my partner that I wasn’t giving my girls what they deserved, that I wish I were more present and spent more time with them.
Now, my partner Ben is an amazing man. A wonderful father and stepfather and knows his way around dating someone with kids. He is present with my kids and his own more than any other man I have seen before, considering he married two more mothers.
He told me that he has never before seen a mother give so much time, energy and honest attention to their children. He said he has always been shocked at my mothering stamina, and he can’t wait to have a baby with me because he has seen what a fantastic mother I am. And
I was shocked.
I thought I was doing terribly, falling short not by inches but fucking miles type of terrible.
Perception is an interesting thing, isn’t it?
My mother-in-law asked me, ‘How easy would it be if we had one child, raised by two parents who didn’t have to work, we didn’t age and when they were 21, we had another child? It seems a simple solution, and then we would all get it right. Not always.
Regret doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If you tune into it correctly, it can help you learn what you have to do next time to make things work better or be more enjoyable. Every mom has regrets and times of despair. Especially when they are single and have to co parent as opposed to parallel parenting with their ex. Think about it: our kids are important to us, and being a mother is a huge responsibility. And when things are important to us or carry pressure, it comes with fear, doubt, and, sometimes, regret.
Not Giving Them Enough Time
I spoke to over 40 moms, and all but one mom shared this particular one! It is such a common worry for all parents. If you tell me it isn’t yours, I will probably call you a liar. The reasons behind not having enough time are vast and various.
Work, commitment, other kids, family—you name it.
“I remember taking my kids to childcare in the morning, going to work, picking them up before tea, getting food into them after cooking, trying to read a book and having a quick play (if I could be bothered) and then putting them to bed so I could get more work done.
I had so much work to do that I even filled my weekends with it. I had convinced myself that I had to perform at work. It meant that I do not even have the time to perform as a mom because I needed money to feed them and set them up for their future. My kids got pushed to the side for a few years. Do you know what makes this funny? My parents worked full time, and I can’t really remember them being around. I never wanted to be that parent, and then I wound up doing just that.”
There are so many pressures and things that we FEEL LIKE we have to fit into our lives now. Seriously, I don’t know how most of us don’t go insane.
Solution: Learn to Say No
We need to get a better grasp of what we have to and don’t have to do. I think when we become a mom, one of the best things that we can do for ourselves and our kids is learning to say NO to things we don’t want to do or can’t do.
But somehow, we manage to fit everything in and say yes to more shit because we are a mum and we have to; we feel like we have to. Or we are scared of what other people will think or say if we do say no. We are nurturers, and we seem to nurture everyone but ourselves.
Saying yes to things I wanted and no to those I don’t was one of the best things I did. No to commitments, no to the 9–5, no to catching up with people that weren’t that nice anyway, no to a business that took too much time away from my kids.
Even if we are short on time, it is vital that our kids don’t suffer as a result of that. Kids NEED our time in order to fulfil their need for safety and self-worth (READ THAT AGAIN).
I Wasn’t Present
This regret is another one mentioned by nearly every mom.
Whether it was due to being too tired, too busy or just have other things on, so many moms are upset that they didn’t or don’t give their kids the attention that they feel they deserve.
We have all been there, haven’t we? We have an afternoon with the kids, and we can’t seem to do much but sit around. Or we are so tired that we don’t look forward to being around them. You try to make up for it by choosing the best child day care for your family.
They ask you to play eye-spy or come and build a castle with them, and you literally can’t be stuffed.
“I am so tired that even when I do have time to be with my kids, I don’t really do anything significant with them. I am just there, but not really present or involved with them.”
Once again, I reckon you are lying if you are shaking your head at the moment.
Kids are smart; they can feel if you are present with them or not, and they get loud, annoyed, or upset when you aren’t. You deserve time for yourself, but your kids need you sometimes too.
Kids measure their safety when you do things with them that they enjoy doing.
Solution: Schedule a Non-Negotiable Activity
Create a daily or weekly non-negotiable activity that is age-appropriate and interests your kids—even if you can’t think of doing anything worse (pretend you like Minecraft for an hour a week!). Organise your schedule to increase your organisation and productivity for your kids and for yourself.
Whether it is a half-hour nightly cuddling and reading a book or a weekend activity of your child’s choice, being present, attentive and active with your child supports the development of their brain and personal needs.
Having Kids Too Young
Some moms felt like they were too young to have kids and they weren’t mature enough to deal with the emotional intricacies of having children. I have heard older women tell me they were grateful to have kids younger because they had the energy to run around and keep up.
Some mums felt like they were young themselves, still navigating their development and weren’t prepared enough to support their child’s development as a result.
Younger mums usually aren’t as set up or financially stable which can make life harder. They may need to rely more on others for support and guidance.
“I was really young and didn’t know how to care for my own emotions yet, let alone that of a small child. I stressed about other people and put more time into arguing with my boyfriend than I did playing with my child. I didn’t realise what was involved. I feel like I missed out on being a kid and my kids missed out too. I was a baby trying to raise a baby.”
Solution: Get Support
There is so much support out there for young moms, and there is NO SHAME in utilising it.
There are a variety of options where you can avail of help with life skills in relationships, finances and stable accommodation.
- Healthy Families America can help new and expectant mothers by providing services to help you learn various personal and parenting skills.
- Young Mothers of America can assist with housing, clothing, everyday essentials, and parenting education.
Being young is complicated. You are still trying to discover who you are and find your place in the world. Sometimes it is great to get a professional perspective.
Your friends can also be fantastic supports, but if they aren’t parents themselves, it is sometimes hard for them to understand.
Having Kids Too Old
On the other end, many moms felt that they were too old and now don’t have enough energy to run around and be present with their kids.
Some didn’t find a partner that they wanted to have children with; some wanted to fulfil their career aspirations. Some had trouble becoming pregnant, and some wanted to be stable in mind, life, and finances first.
“I really wanted to have myself sorted out before having children. I wanted the house, the solid bank account and the ability to not have to worry about finances without too much pressure. But it came at the expense of being able to run around and have more energy for my children.”
Solution: Use your Maturity and Life Experience to your Advantage
Compared to lots of younger moms, you have a wealth of knowledge and may be able to give attention and energy to the things that are important. You may be able to handle stress better and stay clear of things that don’t serve you.
Use this to your advantage. Use it to teach and guide your children. Help them to develop emotional intelligence so that they can achieve and make good decisions for themselves.
I Protected My Kids Too Much
Lots of moms felt like they didn’t set their kids up for the world because they protected them too much. They kept them out of trouble and saved them from the consequences of their actions. We sometimes refer to this as ‘wrapping them in cotton wool’.
“I wish I didn’t save my kids as much. I wish I was able to warn them of the consequences of their actions and let them go through with their decisions. I protected them from the real world instead of supporting them to be stronger and smarter through experience.
I would have supported them through consequences and not saved them when they don’t heed your warning. This is rough though. It is hard to see your kids suffering.”
Solution: Be a Guide
It can be so hard to sit back and watch our kids make mistakes—the big ones and the small ones. Tough love can pull at your heartstrings. Kids learn through experience, and they have to experience consequences to know they exist.
Make it your job to help them take ownership of their action and fix their behaviours or make better decisions next time. It can be hard, but you will have provided your kids with a strong foundation for when they enter the real world.
I Didn’t Protect My Children
The other side of the scale (do you see a pattern appearing here?) is when moms regret that they didn’t save their children enough. As a result, they feel they didn’t listen or believe their children and let them go through bad experiences when they could have saved them from it.
Some moms were scared of stepping in for their child because they didn’t know how to best deal with a situation or they felt it would make it worse.
“I had learnt from my parents to question my kids. The result was that I didn’t believe everything that they told me and I wasn’t always there to protect them when they needed me because I thought they were stretching stories… I thought they were “just being kids”.”
Solution: Be Your Child’s Biggest Supporter
I don’t mean going out to bat for them without enquiry.
Teach them that honesty is the best policy, and if they are honest, they will have your support. You can then help to teach them the skills to deal with tough situations like bullies and broken friendships. You can show them how to lift themselves when they are down.
If you need to, step in for your child. There are some things that adults NEED to do for children because they do not have the emotional or mental maturity to manage it on their own. There are some things that a child does not deserve to experience.
Once again, you will be providing your children with a strong foundation for their future.
I Didn’t Ask For Help
I always find it amusing when I go out with a group of moms, and everyone seems like they are on top of this whole parenting thing. And then you go around to visit for a one-on-one coffee, and you find out that they are drowning in despair or struggling.
We are ashamed to speak up because of the expectations we put on ourselves and those projected by other people.
Have you looked at the newspaper articles from the 1950s that tell you how to be a good mum and wife (eye roll and vomit in my mouth)? They expect us and our children to have a remarkably spotless house, the perfect home-cooked meals, perfectly ironed clothes, and not a hair out of place.
Unfortunately, these often utterly abhorrent and unattainable social expectations get passed down from generation to generation. We watched our mums struggle, and we do the same, often in silence.
“I wish I had spoken out and asked for help instead of pretending that I was nailing being a mom.”
Solution: Speak Up Session
I love this idea. It is where you dedicate the first 15 minutes or a phone call, coffee date or mums’ club to talking about things that are bothering you or you are finding hard.
The reasons you do this in the first 15 minutes are as follows:
- You don’t forget.
- You don’t talk yourself out of it.
- You can arrange for a follow-up conversation with someone if you need.
I Wasn’t Consistent
This common regret often turns into advice in mom conversations. ‘The key is to be consistent’.
I am failing hard at this one, and I am not afraid to say it. I am just not always good at it. I do my best. I think being consistent all the time is impossible for me. I don’t have that type of personality or lifestyle.
I can be consistent in my approach and consequences, but sometimes I am too tired to follow through with things that I know I should. I don’t think I am the only one guilty of this. I have found it easy to ensure that I am consistent and structured with some things instead of all things.
Consistency is key to addressing behaviour, expectations and also making life and consequences predictable for your child.
Children like predictability with some things like discipline, expectations and bedtimes. They thrive from some structure. It helps them to define their limits and make choices based on what they know is going to happen, which makes life easier for them as a result.
Solution: Be Consistent Where It Matters
Being consistent all the time can be next to impossible. But we can make it much easier by having a few things set in stone.
Some examples may be the following:
VALUES: Write down a set of values that you want to teach your children and how you will instill them; for example, if you want to inculcate happiness, then make time for being happy together.
DISCIPLINE: Set ground rules with predictable consequences. It means that kids can self-regulate. They know the boundaries and limits and can predict the repercussion.
BEDTIME: You may have a 45-minute bedtime routine, bath, book, teeth, bottle and bed.
You can have planned exceptions to your non-negotiables when needed. Just explain them to your children; for example, ‘Weekend bedtime is usually at eight, but because we have a party, you will be up later tonight’.
I Did Too Much for my Child
We often go about being a parent on autopilot or robot mode. We do what we need to do to get by and take the easy route.
Let’s face it: we are busy, and adults get things done quicker than kids do.
Some of us also dislike seeing our kids struggle or having to operate outside of their comfort zone. It can be problematic as we don’t allow kids to make mistakes and if they don’t make mistakes, they won’t learn.
We can also deny them the opportunity to formulate skills and the ability to regulate and perform tasks that they will need to be able to do as they move into independence and adulthood.
“I wish I didn’t do so much for my kids when they were younger. Many a time when rushing around it was easier to do it ourselves. However, as they get older, you then realise that although it was easier, it wasn’t the most helpful or opportune way of doing things.”
Solution: Set Tasks and Talk
Again, predictability with expectation and explanation is the key.
1. Set tasks.
Set age-appropriate tasks that your kids are expected to do.
“My four-year-old helps unload the dishes and can do some vacuuming. She also unpacks her bag after school and helps with her lunch preparation.”
Explain why you want them to do something and the possible consequences. Explain to them why you expect them to do something themselves and the positive outcome for them. Let them know they can achieve it. Inform them of the consequences (natural or enforced) if needed.
“Ayla, I have noticed that I have asked you three times to unpack your bag from school. You are great at it, and I think you can do it on your own. You need to take out your lunch so that your bag isn’t smelly. If you don’t do it by the time the big hand is on 6, we will be… (usual consequential action)”
“I understand that saying sorry can be difficult. It is vital that you say sorry as your actions made aunty upset. It may be uncomfortable and hard for a bit, but it will make you a stronger person, and it will make your relationship better. If you don’t say sorry, Aunty may stay upset. I will let you think about this, and if you need my support to talk to her, that is fine.
3. Explain why you choose to let your kids be uncomfortable.
Sometimes our kids have to make mistakes, struggle or be uncomfortable for them to develop, grow and learn. It can be hard, but sometimes we need to stand back.
“I understand that you are feeling frustrated right now because you are learning long division. Think of this is a part of learning a new thing. How will you feel when you do get it right? Let’s look at doing it a different way, and you can try it again.”
“I choose not to give you the money that you need to go on the weekend because we discussed your spending choices at the beginning of the week and you decided to buy the sunglasses. If you want to go, you can do some jobs and help me around the house to earn money.”
I Expected My Child to Grow Up too Early
This common regret was usually told about their firstborn child, a lot of single mommas and moms who felt like they took on most of the parenting duties.
Children deserve to be children; they have years and years to go through the stress and responsibility of being an adult.
It can seem like your first child, who was once the baby, almost has to grow up straight away when another baby comes along. Some of us are in sticky situations where we almost need our children to grow up and be more responsible or help us out to make life more bearable.
Some children undergo a role reversal as they get a little older. They become parents to their parents.
“When my second daughter came along, I practically enlisted my first child for help. They were only toddlers themselves, but I had them fetching nappies and being the example.”
Solution: Set Reminders
Set yourself a reminder somewhere in the morning that your child is just a child and deserves to be a child.
It is okay for them to help you out and develop life skills by doing age-appropriate tasks. It can also help them to feel valuable. But it isn’t fair to demand the same responsibilities that adults carry or have them deal with our emotional baggage.
They need to play and be carefree sometimes.
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves and keep in check of these. You can also set aside time during the day where they are free to do what they want and be a kid. They may do this when the baby goes down for a nap, or you can take the baby to the park where they can play.
Is this appropriate for my child?
Is it beyond their duty as a child?
I Was Always Yelling
Yelling at our kids can make us feel guilty and terrible. It often can become harmful and stressful for you and your child. Yelling sometimes heightens the discomfort of an already uncomfortable situation.
Yelling that carries put-downs, name calling and insults is emotional abuse.
We have all lost it and yelled at least once, but doing it often or in a manner that is nasty can have long-term effects on your children. It can cause anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, fear, low self-esteem and aggression.
When a child feels unsafe, they are not able to carry thoughts of self-worth which in turn doesn’t allow their emotional intelligence to develop and they can’t produce self-love.
Parenting is demanding on our mind, energy levels and physical body. You can feel like you are getting forced in 1000 different directions. Yelling can be an automatic response if our parents also yelled at us or we are just worn out.
Yelling may be instinctive, and it may be needed.
There may be times when you must yell to scare your child away from touching a stove or walking towards a fire.
We are on a constant learning journey as mums. If you have lost your cool and found yourself yelling, don’t feel down about yourself. You are not the only one. Use it to learn and know there are alternate ways of dealing with a situation that benefit you and your child.
“I just found myself yelling. It was like I was at such a loss and couldn’t get my kids to listen. I was tired and frustrated, and yelling made them listen less and left me feeling awful. It was a horrible cycle. I wish I had reached out to find a better way to communicate and facilitate behaviour.”
Solution: Know Yourself.
Understand the triggers that lead you to yell. Once you are aware of your them, you can catch them before yelling and take an alternate approach.
It may be when you are tired, under pressure, or feel undervalued. Be mindful of these times and do what you need to. It may be that the stress of the day makes cooking dinner seem unbearable, and then you get home: the house is in utter chaos, and the kids are unruly. Make easier choices. Cook some steamed veggies and baked beans or have pre-cooked dinner in the freezer so that you don’t have to work too hard.
Maybe bedtime is your peak stressor. You can give kids due warning that bedtime is leading up and they are going to have to start getting ready soon.
Calmly let your kids know when you are reaching your limit. Be honest. ‘Mum is tired, and I am feeling like you are really pushing me. I don’t want to yell to get you to listen. I really need you to listen now’.
Take time out when you need to. You may be so overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted that your fuse is just short. It is okay to ask for help and delegate to your support network.
I Wasn’t Open With Them
Some moms explain this as a generational kind of thing.
“My parents didn’t share their emotions or circumstance with me, and I didn’t do it with my kids.”
The truth is that you are human and you are going to have challenging times. Kids know when you are not okay or things are rough. They are sponges. And you don’t have to tell them; they know.
Kids learn from you. They watch what you do and learn from it. Being open and honest can be a model activity for your children’s learning.
Not talking about your emotions or situation models that it isn’t okay to speak up. Letting them know you are feeling down shows them it is okay to speak to others when they are feeling down. Telling them how you are managing it helps them to have options to survive tough times too.
Being open and honest about how you are feeling and how you are managing will help them develop emotional intelligence. And by you being open and honest, it will support your kids to be comfortable to be open and honest with you also.
“I wish we were more open with them and encouraged them to express their emotions and not feel embarrassed. The upbringing of myself and my husband hasn’t helped with that to occur naturally.”
Solution: Be Your Child’s Best Example
Remember that kids learn from you, and your own experiences can be an excellent opportunity for them to grow as well.
Of course, there are some things that kids don’t need to experience. It can be tough to know how much to tell. You can say to your kids your feelings and the effect, but it is not healthy for kids to see you distraught.
You have so much life experience that your children can utilise in their development and transition through different stages of life. Don’t hide the fact that you experienced or are experiencing bullying. Tell your kids how you are managing it and taking your power back.
Let your kids know when you are stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something that scares you. Show them how to do it too.
I Didn’t Deal With Their Sleep Times
Sleep and bedtime can be hard, especially if you have a child or children that don’t go to sleep on time or when you ask them.
I am seriously in awe (and completely jealous) of kids and families that can do this.
Mom: ‘Time for bed now. Off you go’.
Child: ‘Okay. Goodnight’.
Mom: ‘Goodnight. I love you’.
Child: ‘Love you too’.
WHAT THE F—!?
Moms who manage this, how did you do that? What kind of sorcery did you use?
Both of my kids slept through until they were nine months old, and then it was like they flicked a switch: I have had three solid nights since that day!
Some moms lie in bed with their kids or let them be alone in their beds (and this is perfectly fine; this is me most nights). Other nights I am a ball of blithering mess, pleading with them to go to sleep!
“I regret getting angry at them when they wouldn’t sleep when I should have been patient and helped them through it.”
Solution: Get The Help Of A Sleep Therapist
If your child’s sleep or bed patterns are getting the better of you, it is okay to get some help.
Sleep is a human necessity, and if you aren’t getting enough, you won’t handle any situation well, let alone your kid’s bedtime. Going to bed is a skill and so is going to sleep. We have to help kids to pick it up, and like other skills, some will pick it up sooner or be better at it than others.
Some moms don’t mind sleeping with their little ones, some want a full night’s sleep, and some want a comfortable sleep in their bed or to be able to share night time with their partner. Some moms are so tired that bedtime can make us feel insane.
I am about to start sleep therapy with my children, and I can’t wait!
I Wasn’t Approachable
We all want our kids to be able to feel secure and comfortable to come to us about anything.
We want them to share their worries and their woes so that we can help them through it, especially in the age of the Internet where young people are preyed on by the likes of the Mo-Mo game and bullying has become a 24-hour possibility.
Kids go through hard times, transition, heartache and long periods of confusion and discomfort. They also go through joy, success and achievement. We want them to be able to talk to us, confide and celebrate, whatever the situation.
“Because I was always put into the frame of disciplinarian, the girls were too scared to come and talk to me because they thought I would be angry all the time. When my daughter got bullied at school, they felt like they couldn’t’ tell me. I had to find out from the other parent.”
Solution: Build Trust and Reassurance
Take time out to have a general conversation with your children. Take time to show interest in their interests and what is going on in their life. Let them know that no matter what the situation, their safety and wellbeing are of the utmost importance and you will be there to help.
People, even families, build reassurance and trust over some time. Let your kids know that sometimes there are conversations that you need to talk about where there will be no consequences.
I remember being unable to get home from a party one day because I didn’t organise a designated driver. We were drinking and underage. I was too scared to call one of my parents because they would punish me for being irresponsible and waking them up. I called the other one because we had an understanding that when it came to my safety, they would help me out.
One parent was going to yell and make me feel bad. They other own would use it for me to learn. I always called the latter parent.
Let your kids know that any of their concerns are important to you and they can approach you about anything. As moms, we worry. It comes with the job. We worry about many things, and life would be perfect if we all had the gift of hindsight.
Don’t feel guilty.
Use our mom-ups to learn. Learn from other moms. Take what works for you and discard the rest. Often, these feelings of regret only come about at stressful times.
If you feel regret often or it gets too much, it is OKAY and STRONG of you to reach out for professional support.