3 Dad Mistakes to Stop Making

Almost 16 years ago, my wife decided to tell me she was pregnant while I was cooking. I won’t forget quickly going from standing at the oven to sitting at the table. Two feelings rushed through me: joy and fear—joy over the blessing of starting a family and fear of the unknown. I’d never been a dad before. Over the next few months, my mind stayed fixed on the gravity of being a father.

My fears centered on ways I might mess up my kid for life. Kids are a huge, expensive responsibility. In my years of raising a 15-, 12-, and 5-year-old, all the things I worried about haven’t come true. But there have been more sneaky dad mistakes—things you might not think about. Here are 3 dad mistakes to stop making.

1. Overreacting When the Kids Break Rules

My son once dropped a bowl of yogurt in my bed. I then shouted in disgust, “My bedroom isn’t the dining room. You know to eat at the kitchen table, never in my bed.” Reading this, you may think, “That doesn’t sound so bad.” But the dad mistake was treating my son like he wasn’t still a toddler. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I accidentally made a mess or two at his age.

As a dad, it’s great to have boundaries in your house. But a dad’s overreaction to a breached boundary can do more damage to a kid than a spilled snack does to your bedroom. Don’t see a broken rule as more than it is—a simple broken rule. Your attitude is more important than the kid’s behavior. In your discipline, learn to choose calm and collected over going off on your kids.

2. Being a Friend Instead of a Dad

I was around age 15 the first time somebody offered me a beer at a party. If you think that’s bad, the sadder part is that it was a friend’s dad who offered it. I’ll never forget the feeling. It felt cool to be part of the “family.” And it felt wrong on many levels, but mostly because I knew my dad would never do this. I didn’t have to be a dad at the time to know the guy holding the cold bottle out for me was being less of a dad and more of a friend. 

As your kids get older, it’s common to want to be their friend. You want them to know they’re loved. But resist the urge to place being friends with your kids over the priority of being their dad.

Kids don’t always do what you say. They’re more likely to do what you do.

3. Ignoring How Influential You Are

In fifth grade, I stayed overnight on a friend’s sofa while his parents puffed cigarette smoke into the air all night long. The smoke filled the house. “Don’t smoke,” they told me. “It’s bad for you.” Sure, it’s good to instruct a kid not to do a bad thing. But newsflash! Kids don’t always do what you say. They’re more likely to do what you do.

Your kids are watching everything, from how you handle friendships to how you talk about others. One of the biggest dad mistakes is saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Sound off: Which one of these three ways of messing up do you need to make right? 

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s one way you think I’ve messed up as a dad lately?”