Many families have multiple children, and most parents (often unintentionally) raise their children somewhat differently, depending on their birth order. My wife and I both came from families with four children, and we are now parents of four kids ourselves. Our older children have commented on some of the differences in how we raised them compared to how we’re parenting our youngest child.
“You were so much harder on us,” they say. “I never got to do that.” “We never would have gotten away with that.” Why? Because things change, including us, as parents. In my years as a dad, I’ve observed some specific pitfalls—places where parents, including myself, tend to drop the ball when raising the youngest. Here are 5 common mistakes for dads to avoid with the youngest child.
1. Never Saying No
One of the complaints our older children have is that I say yes to our youngest child more than I ever did to them. While I do believe I’ve grown in this area, and I want to be a “yes parent” whenever possible, it’s also important to strike the right balance of parental correction versus personal attention. Never saying no is not a balanced strategy because not only does it deprive your child of needed boundaries, it almost always ends up feeding an attitude of entitlement.
2. Having an “Anything Goes” Mentality
A common temptation for dads is to operate out of apathy by having a lax attitude, which is when we get comfortable coasting—because sometimes the easiest thing to do is nothing at all. We tend to loosen up over time and get permissive, and not always in a good way. Many fathers are simply tired at this stage of parenting, and so convenience wins the day. The danger here is that ignored children often become resentful adults. Our children desire and deserve our intentionality.
3. Lacking in the Area of DisciplineWithout loving and balanced discipline, any child’s present and future character will suffer.
In many families, we are soft with the youngest child where we were strict with the older kids, especially in discipline. A new dad, who once took the role very seriously, becomes the old dad who sometimes acts more like a grandpa than a parent and discipline gradually goes out the window. This isn’t a healthy recipe for success for parent or child. Without loving and balanced discipline, any child’s present and future character will suffer.
4. Making Fewer Intentional Investments
Sometimes the youngest gets the short end of the stick of dad’s time and attention. Remember how, with your first child, you wanted to be there every step of the way, so as not to miss anything? With the youngest child, many of the thrills of parenting no longer thrill us—and unfortunately, the child notices. The youngest child can be left to his or her own imagination without as much intentional investment from dad. Sometimes, this results in more “paid” attention (toys and gadgets) at the expense of dad’s personal time and attention. As a result, we inadvertently may be miscommunicating what real love is supposed to look like.
5. Missing His or Her Heart
Sadly, many youngest children have struggled with anger and other issues due to their parents’ lack of personal involvement in their childhood. Your youngest child has dreams that need to be believed in, thoughts that need to be heard, and a heart that needs to be understood. As we learn to be better parents, we may change some things along the way. I know I have. But let’s be just as intentional with our last as with our first.
Sound off: In what ways can you become more intentional with your youngest child?