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Melissa Rycroft Opens Up About the 'Frustration and Heartbreak' of Her Biggest Regret as a Mom

“Every child is different” is a lesson Melissa Rycroft learned the hard way.

The former Bachelorette admitted in a recent interview for PEOPLE’s Celeb Parents Get Real that she wishes she had understood earlier on that the distinct personalities of her three children — sons Cayson Jack, 2, and Beckett Thomas, 4, plus daughter Ava Grace, 7½ — meant she would need to tailor her strategies accordingly.

“I took too long realizing that they all need to be parented differently,” says Rycroft, 35. “I think if I had just taken a moment to be like, ‘Beckett needs something different and Cayson needs something different,’ then I could’ve saved myself a lot of frustration and heartbreak.”

She adds, “I think I would’ve been a better parent.”

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Since becoming a mom in February 2011 — just over a year after she tied the knot with Tye Strickland — Rycroft has her proud moments, too.

“My single proudest moment was seeing my daughter [be] the one student out of her entire school to be nominated to represent her elementary school in this citywide district,” she praises. “When she got picked, she was so proud — I could see it.”

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that makes me so proud,’ ” says the mom of three, joking, “This is one of those moments where I’m like, ‘Maybe I’m doing it right. Maybe I’m not screwing it up, like I feel.’ ”

RELATED VIDEO: Melissa Rycroft Reveals What Her Crazy Life at Home Is Like With Three Children

In her household, Rycroft confesses she is “the rule enforcer” — because someone has to be!

“I have to be a strict parent because my husband is not,” she tells PEOPLE. “He comes home and he just wants to play with the kids all day!”

“So yes, I have to be the rule enforcer and it drives me nuts,” Rycroft explains with a laugh, “because I want to be the one to play with the kids all day but you have to have structure and unfortunately I’m the one that has to do it!”

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