Mothers' Biggest Regrets

25/01/2015 20:13 | Updated 20 May 2015

Angry mother scolding a disobedient child

Ever heard your mum talk regretfully about some of the decisions she made when she was bringing you up? Parents generally have at least one thing they regret doing, or not doing, during their child's upbringing and many admit they would do some things differently if they could relive their time again.

So we asked mothers, whose children are now all grown-up, to tell us what those things are.

Here are the top 12:

1. Reading too many baby advice books

With a few exceptions, most new parents know nothing about parenting. No wonder so many of them devour baby books, particularly those written by the 'expert' of the moment, be it Dr Spock or Gina Ford.

"I remember reading such books again and again. But it just made me feel like a failure when my babies didn't conform to the prescribed nap times or react well to the controlled crying, and I could have wept when they didn't sleep or eat in the way it said they should in the book," says one mother.

"Looking back, I realise I was looking for a set of instructions, but babies don't work like that. We know our babies better than any author," says another.

2. Failing to set strong enough boundaries early on

"'No' often didn't actually mean 'no' in our house, with my kids learning early on that I was often open to negotiation if the appeal sounded reasonable," says one mother.

"But boy, did I pay for it in the teen years. I look back and realise that both parents and kids need boundaries so we all know where we stand."

Common themes that parents told us they wished they'd created firm ground rules around from the start include bedtimes, how often and when children can sleep in their bed and not giving money out so freely.

"I wish I'd said, 'Here's your pocket money and you need to buy everything you want out of this,' because my son now seems to think money grows on trees,'" reports one mum.

3. Not taking enough photos

"I've got just three photo albums and a Woolworths plastic carrier bag of loose pictures," says one regretful mum and she's not the only one.

"I let my husband get away with taking endless photos on our holidays of countryside and beaches. There are hardly any of the kids!" says a particularly saddened mum.

Another says:"I know we took pictures, but we moved a lot over the years and now, I have no idea where they are." There's no excuse these days because cameras are smaller and cheaper and you can often take pictures on your phone. Most importantly, photos can be stored digitally.

"So keep snapping and keep backing the pictures up," is the general consensus.

4. Not playing with my children enough

"When my grandchildren come round, I can't wait to kneel down on the floor with them and get stuck into some valuable play," says one mum. "Yet I don't remember doing that much with my own kids. There always seemed so many other things to do."

Indeed, while most parents are good at watching their children play – with siblings, friends or their grandparents - many fail to actually sit down and play with them themselves.

"I watch my daughter running round the garden with her children and building endless sandcastles with them on the beach and I find myself wondering why I didn't do more of that when she was young," says another mother. "I'd make the time if I had my turn again."

5. Not going with my gut instinct when it came to my kids' health

There's a lot to be said for gut instinct when it comes to parents realising there's something wrong with their child. We know our children better than anyone does, so when something isn't right, we feel it.

But lack of confidence, especially among first time mums, means they are often willing to accept what the doctors say, even when they their diagnosis (or lack of it) doesn't sound right.

Indeed, many mothers told us that whether it was reflux or ADHD, they wish they hadn't taken no for an answer. "I wish I'd had the guts to push to see a specialist sooner," is a common regret among parents, who feel they could have saved themselves and their children weeks or even months of needless suffering.

6. Taking too many baby classes

Whether it's because they're desperate for adult company or to bring some structure to chaotic days, women have long spent a bomb on infant classes such as baby gym, baby massage and endless music groups.

"At the time, you convince yourself it's for your baby's own good, but let's face it, they spend a lot of the time at these things crying," says one mum. "Looking back, I wonder if my kids would have enjoyed a walk to the park just as much. I could still have done it with friends and I'd have saved myself a fortune."

7. Being over-protective

One mother-of-five told us that it was only by the time number four came along that she realised that wrapping your kids in cotton wool doesn't actually do them any favours.

"It's natural to want to protect your children from anything that upsets them, but in reality they need a few knocks to become more confident and resilient, which are valuable traits," she says. "I don't think it's any coincidence that my older children are more sensitive than the younger ones and the younger ones are better at finding solutions to challenges too."

8. Always waiting for the next milestone instead of enjoying the current one

"How I wish I'd just stopped to enjoy the moment a bit more," says one mum, echoing the view of many we talked to.

"I was always waiting for the next milestone, whether that was my son being potty trained or my daughter going from crawling to walking. Later, I'd look forward to my son getting to the next level at football or my daughter being able to walk home from school by herself. Now I feel the opposite and wish I could go back in time and press pause. It's a cliché but it all goes too fast."

9. Buying too much baby gear

Ever seen the lists of things you 'need' to buy for your new baby that appear on websites and in baby books? Many mums told us they bought them all, and more.

"I can remember splashing out hundreds of pounds on the latest stroller, which I then couldn't wait to throw on the tip because it was so huge and heavy," says one mother.

"I actually bought a nappy stacker," says another, laughing.

Other baby items that were deemed the biggest waste of money include a door baby bouncer, manual breast pump, baby swaddling blanket, nappy stacker and special nappy bin.

10. Worrying about housework

Many mums told us they constantly fretted about the state of the house. "But actually, homes with young children in should be messy," says one mum. "I look back and wonder why on earth I spent so much time tidying up through the day."

"It was like painting the Forth Bridge," says another. "I tell my kids, who are now grown up with their own children, to focus on the fun and not worry so much about the housework," she adds.

11. Working too hard or not working at all

It's telling that the same number of mums told us they regretted taking on too much paid work and being away from their kids too much as those who wished more than anything that they'd had a paid job outside the home to keep them sane and to have a career to focus on once the kids had flown the nest. Just goes to show that guilt comes with the territory of motherhood.

12. Putting off sex education

It's a subject many parents put off, but then look back and wish they'd talked about when their kids were as young as preschoolers. "Like it or not, sex is all around us and our children, what with headlines, films, magazines and other children's conversations," points out one mum.

"So why did I duck my four-year-old son's questions about where babies come from? Why did I wait for him to bring the subject up throughout his childhood, giving him the message that sex is different from other subjects and that we don't think there's a need to talk about it."

"There are plenty of books out there to help parents do more straight-talking around it in an age appropriate way and I wish I'd used them," says another, whilst one mother reports, "As it was, my daughter went through hell trying to make sense of the battery of sexual messages coming at her from the media and friends. I could have helped by taking a bolder approach at a much younger age."

What do you wish you'd done differently?