The Life Lesson I Wish I Taught My Kids A Lot Sooner, According To 12 Dads

There are always lessons to share. Here’s what these men would’ve prioritized if they could turn back the clock.

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Father and toddler sit and talk on a couch

Regret is a part of parenting. In hindsight, many parents acknowledge that, while they did their best, there are plenty of things they would’ve done differently based on what they know now. Regret isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, it’s a reminder that growth is an ongoing process and full of new lessons for those who remain willing to learn. For these 12 dads, those lessons include truths, skills, and bits of knowledge they wish they would’ve shared with their kids sooner. Whether teaching them the value of asking for help, the importance of saving money, or the joy of learning, they’ve all shared the wisdom they wish they’d imparted when their kids were little. It’s worth remembering.

1. Experiences Are Priceless

“I was always quick to shower my kids with gifts and toys and material things that they enjoyed. And they did enjoy them, until they forgot about them, which was usually pretty quickly. Then when they got older, and could start saving for and buying whatever they wanted, it was a similar situation. They’d get a new video game or device, obsess over it for a few months, and then forget about it. I wish I would’ve made a stronger case for spending that money on experiences like trips, or ways to spend time together. I say that with a little selfishness, but I think that teaching them the lesson about how time spent with the people you love, or doing something you love, is more special than stuff.” - Danny, 52, Georgia

2. Practice Makes Progress

“I never really let my kids know how important small steps are when you’re trying to reach a goal. It wasn’t that I didn’t encourage them, it was just that I waited until the goal had been reached to really celebrate. It was a ‘practice makes perfect’ mentality that focused on the end results. I think they would’ve been better off learning that any sort of progress is a victory, no matter how small. And even if that progress comes in the form of learning from a mistake, it’s still something to be proud of. Reaching a goal is great, but the lessons learned through the process are more important.” - Austin, 46, New Jersey

“I think they would’ve been better off learning that any sort of progress is a victory, no matter how small.”

3. Money Has Meaning

“I have two boys, who are almost teenagers. I wish I would’ve given them more financial education. Specifically, instead of outright stating that you cannot afford something, it is more constructive to explain the concept of value for money. By emphasizing the importance of evaluating whether a purchase is worth its cost, you can instill in them a valuable lesson about responsible spending. Encourage them to understand that their financial situation can improve through hard work and diligent effort. Rather than limiting their aspirations by focusing on what they cannot afford, emphasize the potential for growth and the ability to attain their desired possessions through dedicated work and smart financial choices. It’s a concept I wish I would have been more open and transparent about.” - Kim, 45, Hong Kong SAR

4. Asking For Help Is Okay

“Growing up, my life was very nurtured. My parents sacrificed a lot to make sure that my siblings and I were comfortable, and always felt safe. We relied on each other quite a bit. I’m very grateful, but I also realize that such a mindset unintentionally made us a little hesitant to ask for help. Specifically, seeking help from anyone outside our immediate family was kind of seen as a weakness. We were taught to be self-reliant, which is something I’m proud of. When I passed those lessons on to my kids, though, I wish I would have balanced them with the notion that asking for support isn’t something that should make you feel judged. They’re fiercely independent now and, as someone who grew up the same way, I know that can take an unspoken mental toll. Life isn’t meant to be handled exclusively on your own, which is something I wish I would’ve been taught earlier in life, and been quicker to teach my kids.” - Nicolas, 50, Arizona

5. You Won’t Remember It In A Year

“I think back to high school and college, and remember so many times when I felt embarrassed or anxious about fitting in. What I can’t remember is exactly why I felt that way. I don’t remember any of the things I said or did that, at the time, probably seemed like the point of no return for the rest of my life. As life goes on, and as you find yourself on a more genuine level, those seemingly significant moments just evaporate from your memory. I’ve taught myself that lesson, and it serves me today — even if today is about 30 years too late. The point is, I wish I would’ve taught my kids that most people, especially people their age, have so much going on that they’re not even paying attention. They’ll forget it by tomorrow, so you can forget it for today.” - Cal, 53, California

“Life isn’t meant to be handled exclusively on your own, which is something I wish I would’ve been taught earlier in life and been quicker to teach my kids.”

6. The Joy of Learning

“I was always ready to help my kids with their schoolwork so that they did the best they could. They definitely got the grades, and I believe they did learn a lot. But I don’t think I ever impressed upon them the true high of learning for the sake of learning, or gaining knowledge. It’s not something I appreciated until I was well into adulthood, and I think that’s because I was also always busy working for grades. The technicalities of school, like homework and finals, can be a real drag on the concept of what it means to actually learn. And by the time we realize that, we’re so exhausted from trying to do good work that we forget how important it is to stay curious. I wish I would’ve helped my kids savor the feelings they had when they finally understood a concept or learned something cool, rather than just posting the grades on the fridge like trophies.” - Eric, 46, Minnesota

7. Anyone Can Be A Soul Mate

“I didn’t realize until later in life that I have, like, a dozen soul mates. One is my wife, which I think is the relationship most people assume qualifies a soul mate. But I also have friends who are soul mates. I have family members who are soul mates. I’ve even had pets who I believe are soul mates. The point is that there is no one single soul mate for every person. I thought that for a long time, and it’s just not true. On one hand, my kids are more mature now, so a conversation about this hits differently. But on the other hand, I wish I would’ve been able to share this thought with them while they were younger, and beginning to form their first meaningful relationships. Who knows what amazing things their hearts may have been able to see in people along the way?” - Keith, 51, North Carolina

8. Your Teeth Are Important.

“Last year, I spent almost $21,000 on dental repair work. I never took the best care of my teeth, and I ended up paying for it — literally. This lesson is really just a simple, practical one that I think is just as important as the life lessons about love, patience, time, and all that stuff. I learned it the hard way, and I’ve been quick to tell anyone who will listen. That includes my kids. Sometimes the best lessons we teach them are the ones in which we’re the examples. In this case, all I’ve had to do was shove the bill in their faces to make my point. I suppose it’s part of a greater lesson about taking care of yourself on the whole, and it’s one I wish I would’ve started preaching much, much sooner.” - Jack, 60, Nevada

“I spent a lot of time with my kids trying to help them make sense of their shortcomings, when what I should’ve been doing was telling them that sometimes things just don’t make sense.”

9. Sometimes, You Just Fail

“It’s as simple as that. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, or how much you want something to happen, you just fail. You get beat. You screw up. You make mistakes. And whatever it is just doesn’t work out. I spent a lot of time with my kids trying to help them make sense of their shortcomings, when what I should’ve been doing was telling them that sometimes things just don’t make sense. It’s a very liberating realization, and it frees your mind from wondering about all the ‘what ifs?’ I wouldn’t encourage them to give up on something important to them, but I would tell them that it’s okay if the way they try to pursue it just doesn’t work. That’s life.” - David, 49, Illinois

10. Not Everyone Is Going To Like You.

“Some people might even hate you. For no good reason! When I was a kid, I struggled big time with self-esteem. I was a people pleaser, and I wanted everyone to like me. I had the advantage, though, of only having to deal with those people when I saw them. Or maybe when I chatted with them online. I have two daughters, both close to graduating high school, and I wish, wish, wish that I would’ve let them know that it’s okay not to be adored by everyone. It’s not a license to be a jerk, but it’s permission to be yourself and just do the best you can. Be polite. Be kind. Be inclusive. But don’t dwell on the people you haven’t won over. You’ll regret how much time and energy you’ve wasted when you realize there’s nothing you could’ve done differently.” - Cam, 44, Florida

11. Accept Help, But Don’t Count On It

“The lesson I wish I would’ve taught my kids sooner is really about the balance between asking for help and being self-sufficient. My parents and grandparents were very self-sufficient. And it wasn’t until I became a dad that I realized their way wasn’t the only way, or even the right way. I never, ever would’ve survived the early stages of fatherhood if it weren’t for the help I received from my wife, my friends, and even them — my family. But, there were also times when I did have to fend for myself, and just figure things out. Did I always make the right decisions? I have no idea. But I learned how to be confident enough to make a decision, and move onto the next challenge. It’s important to know that life requires asking for help and independence, and you can only get good at both by practicing. Having people to lean on and being able to stand on your own are both blessings. That’s a sentiment I know I could’ve spent more time teaching my kids.” - Kurt, 63, Ohio

12. Learn Everyone’s Name

“One of the nicest, easiest gifts you can give someone is simply remembering their name. Obviously, I’m not talking about people you’ve known for years, or people you’re already close to. I’m talking about people you see infrequently, or people who seem like supporting characters in your everyday life. Co-workers on different floors. Security guards. Friends of friends. Remembering their names shows that you care about their existence in the world, and that’s a very uplifting feeling for a lot of people in such a fast-paced, impersonal world. I wish I would’ve been a better example of this for my kids when they were little, so they could see how something so incredibly simple can make someone’s day.” - Will, 37, New York

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