Once a year I poll my email list asking them how they’re doing, what they’re struggling with, and if there’s anything I can do to help them on their health and fitness journey. But this year I needed to add one more poll.
I had not told my email list that I would become a father later this year. So I dropped that news on them and asked 7,000+ people from all over the world two questions about parenthood.
So far I have heard a ton of the typical stuff like:
- “Oh, get your sleep now because you won’t when the baby comes.”
- “You’re gonna be tired all the time.”
- “Don’t buy new clothes for awhile because they’ll be covered in vomit instantly.”
- “Kids are great…until they become teenagers.”
- “Wait till he pees on you, that one’s fun.”
That’s not the advice I want to hear. I realize I won’t sleep. I know I’ll get pissed on. I know that my life is going to change. I also know that I’m going to fail a lot, or at least feel like a failure (a lot), through this whole thing. Fine. Bring it on.
But I’m also aware that I’ll learn things that no one ever mentions in the stereotypical responses around having a baby. And that’s what I wanted to hear from my readers.
So I asked them two questions:
- Ignoring all outside advice (books, friends, family), what’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a parent?
- How has a child made you better?
I received way more responses than I expected. In fact, it was the most replied to email I have ever sent to my list. So I scooped up the best advice and decided to turn it into a blog post.
What’s the Greatest Lesson You’ve Learned as a Parent?
“Your child is not you. Their childhood is not your childhood. They will not always love what you love (or loved) and that is fine. Even if it does hurt when they tell you Quake is the ugliest game they have ever seen. They are their own person. Respect that.”
“Enjoy those grizzly 3am wake ups, that little baby wants to hang out with you, he’s not trying to sleep deprive you, he loves you.. be honoured… if he sleeps all the time up your game, and be more fun.”
“Prepare your child for the road, not the road for your child.”
“Let them be kids, there is already so much in the world designed to hold them back or make them grow up too fast, so let kids be kids while they can, let them play, let them mess, childhood is only a short time so make it last as long as possible, keep their life full of joy and wonder.”
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a parent is kids feel the exact same emotions at the exact same level as adults do. Sometimes they go a little crazy because their brain and body don’t know how to handle those emotions right away. So give grace when they seem to go nuts, they’re learning.”
“Teach your kid how to fail. Teaching them not to be afraid to fail is more important that pushing them to succeed. Fear of failing is a strong fear that we can instill in kids early and once they have that fear it really can hold them back. I don’t know why I thought this required a second email but it’s just something that jumped out to me. I just see that we push kids to do well to the point where we make them afraid of failing and that fear keeps them from taking risks.”
“I’ve learned that there is no rule book, you will fall down and mess up, but it’s ok. You need to parent for what is right for your family and I’ve learned sometimes that is going against what is “the right way in society” that’s ok! but you will also experience love and fierce protection instincts you wouldn’t have thought possible.”
“You get to experience all the geeky stuff you love from a different perspective when you introduce your boy when he’s a bit older and you can enjoy it together.”
“Here’s few bigger lessons:
- The days drag on but the years fly by. Soak in the good moments and remember the bad ones don’t last very long.
- Forgiveness and grace are the two most important things to bring to any relationship.
- Your world changes. Be prepared to let go of some of your previous life.
- It’s the best thing I’ve ever done that I never want to do again. It’s hard.
- No matter how hard it gets, if they know you always love them and are their biggest advocate and fan, you’ve done the most important thing.”
“Your wife is literally a super hero. That’s what you learn right away. It hits you like a Kung fu kick to the chest. You’re gonna cry. And that’s just the first 5 minutes of being an actual parent.”
“Take the time to enjoy small shit. NOT the small shits, because that’s a different thing. My kids, now 14, 12, 4, and 2 have all just wanted to sit and read or sit and snuggle. Often, my mind is in 5 other places: what will I cook for dinner, did I switch the laundry over, etc etc. It might be overused, as phrases go, but I don’t care. They will not always want to snuggle or read with you; the other shit will ALWAYS be there, the TIME you get will go away. Take the time.”
“Find healthy ways to cope and manage stress, because I have to show up for these little people each and every day. Yes you will get breaks via divide and conquer and babysitters and family, but in general, you have to do the dad thing everyday. So filling your cup in a healthy and productive way will make you show up as the best version of yourself.”
“Probably the realisation that kids can pick up our energy / moods and that no matter how tired or pissed of I am, I need to be energised when in their presence.”
“After 30 years raising 4 humans? Trust your gut instincts. Laugh a ton.”
“Kids are resilient. Practice self compassion. Meet your own basic needs and you will be a better parent.”
“The greatest lesson I’ve learned is I have a LOT to learn about being a parent. While I’m in the position of power, I try to never sit easily upon that power. It’s a constant questioning of, ‘Is that the right thing to do? Why did I do that??’ followed by, ‘I’m sorry I yelled at you because of X, in the future lets prevent this by doing Y’.”
“The greatest thing my son has shown me is what it really means to be present and enjoy the moment. I’m an intense guy, my son has given me a chance to experience the world in an entirely different way.”
“You can’t control who they will become. You can guide. You can model. You can suggest. But ultimately they will become who they are meant to be. No changing that. My kids are completely different. Except for being smart asses. I proudly raised two smart asses.”
“Make time for your relationship and for yourself. Don’t feel guilty leaving the child at parents or extended family for a few hours. You need you time away to regroup and readjust, have a small break and go again.”
“Everything is a phase – good, bad and otherwise. Each phase will have good parts and less good parts. As soon as you get comfortable with said phase, you’ll move onto a new one and have to get comfy there. It’s kinda like progressive overload.”
“Realize that the more crutches and tools you use, the more you’ll need to remove (i.e. pacifiers, co-sleeping, swaddling). We swaddled Jada until she was almost 6 months, and it was a bitch to get her to sleep without being wrapped up like a burrito at night.”
“Start on the road you intend to travel. Meaning, if you want your son to sleep in his own bed, you may want to reconsider co-sleeping. If you want him to eat veggies, present them at every meal when he starts with solids. If you want your kid to read as they grow, read to him every day. From the point the girls were BRAND new, we did ‘book, bottle, bed’ for every nap and bedtime. They grew up loving books because they were such a huge part of their life. We’d go to the library every week and fill a bag enough to cause a hernia. That love of books really created the smart, curious girls we’ve got (I’m certain of that) – not even mentioning the good vocabulary, good student part of it too.”
“Communication is still key. You are the parent and he will be joining you and your wife’s life together, not you to his. Although we want to be the perfect parent, you will always second guess yourself but have faith knowing you made the best decision based upon what you knew at that time. And, if you screw up, they respect you more when you actually admit it and apologize. That’s the hard part- but so worth it. You got this!”
How has a child made you better?
Okay, so the second question was the one I looked forward to the most. I like deeper questions that really dig deep and ask us to examine more of ourselves. But hands down, the most common thread here amongst readers about how their kid made them better was they became more patient.
More than 70% of the responses I received said they had learned to become more patient. Not to sound too full of myself here, but I think I got a leg up on this one.