12/09/2013 06:43 am ET | Updated Feb 08, 2014

Parenting: What I'd Do Differently If I Could Do It All Again

If I could do it all again -- raise a family -- I would, in an instant.

But I'd do it a little differently, because hindsight, it turns out, really is 20/20.

I realized this not long after my kids left for college, when I had the chance to focus on myself -- to reflect upon the ways parenting had changed me, and the things I learned. I think you can only really accomplish this properly when you've achieved some distance from the role. I'd raise my family differently, not because of the mistakes I made -- though I certainly made my share -- but because time means so much more to me now. I understand it better, and its importance. . . and the way parents use it, lose track of it, and wish it away or wish for more. It's all about the time we spend together as a family, the time parents spend making decisions and avoiding decisions; doing the right thing and the wrong thing; and consoling, teaching, reading, talking, dancing, playing, working, dreaming, laughing. It all comes down to time.

If I had the time to do it all again, I'd:

  1. Give myself permission to not be on call 24/7. By permission, I don't mean disappearing without a trace, or for long, drawn-out periods. But I do mean handing over the reins of parenting more often, so I keep in touch with who I am in addition to being a parent.

  • Enjoy a regular date night with my husband, at least twice a month. Away from home if possible, but if we can't, at least pretend we are.
  • Let the laundry pile up. Because, let's be honest, nobody is going to fire me.
  • Swing on the swings with the kids. Fun is more fun when your mother is having it too.
  • Make fewer to-do lists. They only beget more to-do lists, and though I might feel as if I'm accomplishing something, I'm only writing down what I already know.
  • Have more "backwards days," where dinner is for breakfast and breakfast is for dinner.
  • Sleep more, better, longer.
  • Worry less, better, shorter.
  • Take time for tea. The entire process of making and drinking it -- slowly -- is an art. Zen. Brilliant.
  • Be less grumpy about the state of my kids' rooms. They'll be empty far too soon.
  • Dance. Regardless of how dumb or goofy I look doing it. Knees don't stay young forever.
  • Write down the bedtime stories I make up for my kids. And even better, the ones they make up for me. We don't think so at the moment, but memory fades. The written word lives on.
  • Step out of my comfort zone more often. I'm a role model, after all, for making dreams come true.
  • Be less polite to people who are unpleasant. I'm not going to change them.
  • Drink more milk. Strong bones mean I can lift my kids, and run with them -- and one day, with their kids.
  • Knit. Somebody always needs a sweater, blanket, scarf, hat, mittens, and socks. Plus, it's strangely soothing.
  • Travel more. Regardless of the obstacles. It's an education in itself.
  • Repeat number 8.
  • Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.

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