No Do-Overs: 10 Ways to Avoid Regret Later and Be a Better Mom Now

04/18/2015 12:03 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2015

Years ago, my self-proclaimed theme song was "Who Let the Dogs Out" by Baha Men. I wasn't a dog owner but I did have three young sons very close in age. And sometimes it felt like I was managing a pack of canines rather than raising children.

Once, when shopping at Marshalls, the boys got hold of a shopping cart and went on a little joyride. When I caught up with them, I said to a woman who had witnessed the near-melee, "They're so wild sometimes!" -- expecting her to laugh or commiserate. Her snippy response? "You better get control of them now or you'll have big problems with them later."

Ouch. Her comment was a direct kick to my motherhood gut.

We moms generally like to feel we're doing a good job. But in the blur that is raising young kids, there's rarely time to reflect on your parenting performance. Then, justlikethat, it's over. Your kids are launched and, for the first time in decades, you find yourself reviewing your performance in your life's most important role: motherhood. And, deep down, you know the answer isn't measured by the college they attend or the career they pursue.

I did a lot of things right with my kids. I know that. But there were many things I could've done better. So, here's my self-assessed parenting report card in the hopes you'll end up with better grades.

1. Yelling. Grade: D-

We joke today about how much I yelled but I do get a twinge of regret every time. What was my younger mom-self thinking? That screaming like a banshee was going to fix whatever was happening in that moment? Wrong.

2. Discipline. Grade: D

I was a pushover. Maybe the woman in Marshalls was right, but disciplining kids is exhausting. And sometimes it means sacrificing your own small pleasures to teach your kids a lesson. I was too heavy on the threats and too light on the follow through. And that technique sends an unfortunate mixed message.

3. Playing. Grade: C-

I was more fixated on their custodial care -- healthy meals, clean clothes -- than I was on playing in the snow or building Legos with them. Now I regret that trade-off. Another night of chicken fingers wouldn't have killed them. And that was time together I can't get back.

4. Smelling the roses. Grade: D+

When one son expressed an interest in cooking, I reacted with more exasperation than pleasure. I was overwhelmed just trying to get three squares on the table every day -- and the thought of bringing someone else into that mix was too much. My priorities were messed up and I didn't even know it. That time in the kitchen together would have created precious memories which we both missed out on.

5. Environment. Grade: C+

My boys were raised in a safe town with an excellent school system. But it was also a place of mind-numbing wealth and privilege. Growing up exposed to all that just may have skewed their expectations. Parents only have so much influence -- less than they'd like to believe -- and now I realize where you raise your kids may be just as important as how.

6. Thoughtful conversation. Grade: C

Instead of lecturing on the perils of talking with their mouths full, I wish I had brought deeper discourse to our mealtimes. I would think about bringing an enlightening or controversial topic to the table but, in all of the chaos, it rarely happened. Now I know teaching your kids to think critically about important issues is not only a gift, it's a responsibility.

7. Respecting boundaries. Grade: D

I wasn't a helicopter parent but I didn't relegate myself to the sidelines either. They had missteps and, in my desire to protect them, I overstepped -- preventing them from experiencing the full repercussions of their actions. Helping and supporting are markedly different from fixing -- and sometimes a soft place to land is the most a parent should offer.

8. Pushing. Grade: C

It's a dang shame, but we often have an unwavering vision of what it means to be a successful person and we tend to push that vision onto our kids. I'm sure I did the same unwittingly, rather than allowing them to fully explore their own paths.

9. Openness. Grade: F

I wanted to be a parent, not a friend -- and for them to see me as a strong adult. But, in that desire, I didn't share important details about what was going on in our family. And that simply wasn't fair to them. There's a delicate balance between sharing with your kids and oversharing -- but not keeping them in the loop isn't the answer either.

10. Spirituality. Grade: C-

My kids were raised with organized religion and that's what I thought was most important at the time. But now, I wish I had urged them to focus more on their relationship with God, rather than on religious rules and rites of passage. I still pray they'll find and maintain a strong relationship with a Higher Power -- in whatever way brings comfort and meaning to them.