I was once an expectant father. Like most modern dads, I read the books, took the classes, and participated in everything I could (as long as I was welcome). I was eager and involved, but I’m also not afraid to admit I learned a lot on the fly.
I remember the little nuggets of wisdom from friends, family, and even random strangers; wise words and silly sentiments about what I was getting myself into. As I slide past 10 years being a dad, I look back fondly on the naive anticipation of being a new dad, and now I have some of my own wisdom to share.
Here are 8 things I wish someone told me before I became a dad.
1. Other parents aren’t destined to be any better at this than you are.
You know those parents that seem to have it all together—a glorious life of clean cars, perfect report cards and fashion sense? Well, they don’t have it all together. Their shit hits the fan at the same speed yours does, they just have a different way of dealing with it. Maybe they throw more money at the problem, drink themselves into a blur to ignore the problem, or simply take a moment to learn more from experience. But they received the same instruction manual with their child as you will with yours.
Parenting isn’t a competition. Do your best—that’s all anyone else is doing.
2. Time. You no longer have any.
Parents are busy. Not just the ultra-involved kind who shuffle the little ones from soccer to piano to volunteering at the shelter to homework buddies (all in the same evening after a full day at the office), but every parent. There is no such thing as ‘nothing-to-do’; only choices about what is important and what can wait until tomorrow, or next week, or never.
And just to add insult to injury, there will always be someone telling you what you should be doing instead of what you are doing. You don’t have to listen to them.
3. Barney isn’t real.
I know he’s not a real dinosaur. What you should know is that a lot of popular, modern TV shows and children’s books aimed at young kids put up a very twisted version of reality. And not in a fresh child-like-creativity way, but in a creepy-social-experiment kind of way. Stories for little kids feature children or characters who don’t react to situations the way regular little humans react, and they portray a world where everyone lives in harmony within a single idea of a shared common good. Right is well understood; wrong is obvious. There is no diversity in their diversity; there is no conflict in the conflict. That’s not how the world works, even for kids. There are plenty of reasons to limit the screen time for your child, and an unrealistic dinosaur life is an important one.
Plenty of people with good intentions and official sounding titles will share this fantasy world with you. It’s okay to think they are crazy.
4. You’re going back to school.
The school your kids will go to isn’t the same school you went to. Somewhere in the generation gap, the people who run education evolved. School went from being a place of learning to advocates of serious social engineering. Schools today rely heavily on parent volunteers—some of those volunteers have some pretty strange ideas about what a school should and should not be doing. People are more than happy to push their agenda, and in my experience, some of those squeaky wheels are wobbly. Very, very wobbly. Getting involved is the only way you’ll know what is really going on.
When your kids are young, they love having you at the school. You’re a friend to their friends, and you get to know the other important adults in their life. I believe it will be helpful in the teen years, when being involved is still important, and a whole lot harder if it isn’t the norm in your family. (Feel free to ask me how that turns out in another 10 years.)
5. The village does, indeed, raise your child.
The old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” gives you the impression that you need the village to raise the child. In reality, there is little you can do to prevent the village from having a significant impact on your child’s life. Shutting out all the negative influences is near impossible, and in reality, not really what you want to do. Your child will have friends you don’t really like, hear stories you don’t agree with, and be constantly exposed to people who have good intentions but poor judgement.
Only by being clear on your own values—and modeling them every day—will your child have any chance of developing a strong moral character.
6. Grandparents are not parents. And they aren’t always grand.
I foolishly believed that when I sent my son over for the day, our parents would apply most of the same rules we lived under. I didn’t realize that a bowl of whipped cream and chocolate sauce could be called breakfast, a horror movie at 11pm was “just fine”, or bike helmets are silly because we invented them after 1983 (and we survived). There’s a detox period applied following grandparent time, where we review and strictly enforce rules about bedtime, nutrition, screen time and safety.
I don’t know if it’s revenge, a geriatric prank, or senility creeping in, but grandparents lose the parents part of their mind and they don’t seem to care.
7. You only have three resources as a parent; money, wisdom and time.
Money isn’t as important as you think. There will be financial good times and stressful times; neither impacts your capacity to be a good parent as much as you think. At the end of the day, good parenting is all about your attitude, which is heavily influenced by the wisdom you are open to capturing and the time you commit to your family. Money, regardless of how much we talk about it, merely amplifies your approach.
Few parents would say they have enough money, and I am pretty sure that there isn’t a parent alive who honestly thinks they have enough wisdom or time. Like many things in life, parenting is not about a destination—it’s the journey you share with your family.
And finally, …
8. Childbirth has nothing to do with you.
Be there, be supportive and loving, share as much of it as you can and be involved. There is plenty a dad can do and you’d better be willing to help. But don’t ever kid yourself that you are somehow involved or have any real impact in the outcome. Yes, it’s your child, too, but the “experience” you have is of little concern to anyone else in the room. You’re on your own. At this point, you are an accessory.
Recently, the question of home birth options was posed for dads—do we support it? My answer is pretty clear. It doesn’t really matter what I wanted. Whether my wife wanted the clinical security of a highly qualified medical team in a surgery theatre, or the peaceful security of home, a doula, friends and family, or any combination in between, it is her choice and I support her. She was the one pushing 9lbs of baby out of her vagina.
What about you?
If you’re already a dad, what do you wish someone had shared with you? If you’re expecting or thinking about it, what is on your mind?