We had kids when we were pretty young. My wife was 24 and I was 23 when our son was born. Each of our subsequent children (we have four) were born when we were in our 20s. In many ways, this was wonderful. We had energy and passion, sleep was almost a luxury we could do without, we were full of optimism about all life had in store.
On the other hand, I lacked some wisdom. Like most young men in their 20s, I was full of ego and ambition, which often meant my focus was elsewhere, outside my role as “Dad.” While I believe I did the best I knew to do, I wish I had known then what I know now. Here are 5 things I wish I knew when my kids were young.
1. No one needs me as much as I think they do (except my kids).
When you’re young, there are lots of people putting expectations on you. Your boss, your parents, your friends all expect you to play certain roles in their lives. They want you to be available, working long hours, helping them with projects, hanging out like the “old days.” It feels good to be needed, and this can often lead to spending lots of time meeting others’ needs at the expense of your family’s. None of this is inherently bad, but it all comes at a cost.
In the end, one of the things I wish I knew when my kids were young is that no one really needs me as much as I think they do. It’s good to show up for others, and of course sometimes you need to put in some extra work. But the word “no” is a gift to young parents. And I wish I’d learned to say it more to others.
2. Bedtime is the best time.
Bedtime with young kids can often be chaotic. Kids don’t want to go to bed, so they’re crying. You are exhausted from work. Brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, and last minute requests for a drink can drive you nuts. You know every precious moment that ticks by is one less moment you get to finish that project from work, unwind, watch the game, or connect with your wife. Often, I found myself rushing through the bedtime routine to get on with the night.
However, as I look back on that time, one of the things I wish I knew when my kids were young was how important those moments were. Those times when we read stories, prayed prayers, and had impromptu conversations were priceless. I wish I had seen them that way then.
3. Love covers a multitude of sins.You can’t be perfect, but you can love your kids well.
Parenting is hard. There is no handbook. And ironically, the job that requires you to be most well rested and healthy (parenting) is also the one that drains you of your sleep and health most effectively. All this is to say that you’ll inevitably make mistakes. You will yell at your kids over something stupid, punish them harder than they deserve, and miss out on things you shouldn’t. I’m not saying any of this is OK; I’m just saying it’s going to happen.
But love covers a multitude of sins. You can’t be perfect, but you can love your kids well. One of the things I wish I knew when my kids were young is that I should spend less time regretting mistakes and more time loving them well.
4. Quality over quantity—but quantity matters.
In my early years of parenting, I was away a lot. My job had me leading meetings in the evenings and occasionally traveling. This made it common for me to miss out on bedtime routines, dinner, and various other family rhythms. Often, my wife and I would talk about the importance of quality time—making key events, being present when I’m home. On the one hand, there is truth in that. You can be around all the time but not present. And no one needs a dad who’s there but still absent.
However, one of the things I wish I knew when my kids were young is that quantity does still matter. There is something about just being there so your kids can really get to know you and you can really get to know them. It also doesn’t hurt your marriage if you’re there to help with dishes, bedtime, and poopy diapers.
5. Marriage can’t come second.
Speaking of marriage, early on in our parenting, my wife and I always focused on the kids in a way that relegated our relationship to second place. We rarely took date nights and never took nights together away. We had no shortage of babysitters, but time together just wasn’t a priority. After all, the kids grow up so fast, right?
One of the things I wish I knew when my kids were young is that there is great value in teaching your kids that your needs and your relationship matter. It’s also critical to invest in your marriage when your kids are young so it can continue to be strong long after they are grown.
Sound off: What is something you wish you knew when your kids were young?
Huddle up with your kids and share what you wish you’d have known when you were young.