Given the chance, every parent would likely go back and do at least a few things differently with their kids. The reason is simple: Mistakes are a big part of parenting and, as you grow, it’s natural to reflect on the things you could’ve said or done more often. Yelled less, for instance. Or take more of an interest in their hobbies. Or teach them to better understand their emotions.
We recently asked a group of dads to reflect on what they wish they did more with their kids when they were little. The thoughtful answers we received speak to a simple truth: The thing about time is that once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. So use it wisely.
1. I’d Be Sillier With My Sons
"Something about having small children made me feel like I could wait until they grew up a little before I really needed to make sure that I was always there. I would see our sons playing, flipping around, or watching their favorite tv shows. But, I just watched. I had to work while completing law school, so I thought that my time would come later. In hindsight, I wish that I would have learned to stop and extract the benefits of those immediate interactions. I wish I had allowed myself to be sillier with my sons during those precious moments. When my time for interaction came, they were then focused on homework and individual activities. The silly goofball opportunities where they were just free and unhampered with such cares had been missed." - Tony, 51, Maryland
2. I Would Cherish The Times My Kids Needed Me More
“As a newborn, toddler, and young child, my daughter was challenging. She always possessed a strong sense of self-identity and a strong point of view. Having a newborn to take care of when my daughter was three caused me to worry for most of her toddler years. I was very tense, exhausted, and irritable. Now a young woman, my daughter is stunning, content, and about to start high school. She has intelligence and success. And I truly miss the times when she and my son were still infants, toddlers, and young kids. I regret not taking more time to unwind and enjoy the times when my children needed me, sat on my lap, dozed off on me, or laughed at my jokes. Even though those years were challenging, they were beautiful and, unfortunately, they won’t ever come back.” - Sai, 32, Germany
3. I Would Spend Less Time Worrying
“When I was a parent, I did my best to be present when my kids were young. But I also worried a lot. About the littlest, most trivial things. I had nonstop anxiety. Not just about them, but about everything. And that caused me to miss out on a lot of their most special years. I was in my own head so much that I wasn’t present in ‘real life’. I’ve gotten better at managing my anxiety, but it still fills me with regret to know that I wasted so much time being suffocated by it. The good news is that I still have time to make and cherish memories with them, which is a silver lining to missing so much early on.” - Aaron, 41, Indiana
4. I Would Prioritize My Kids Over My Success
“When my kids were young, I was incredibly busy. Trying to provide for a young family of four with a new business is stressful and time-consuming, to say the least. Sometimes, I think I prioritized the success of my business over my family’s needs. Looking back, I wish I had just spent more quality time with my sons when they were infants. Though it wasn’t as if I was an absentee father, I wish I had taken them to the aquarium, toy store, beach, or petting zoo. The normal, everyday activities can blend into each other, becoming one amalgamated memory. I think it’s important to be present for that sort of stuff, but it’s just as important to make memories that really stand out. It really does all go by so fast.” - Luke, 37, California
5. I Would Travel More
“If I could go back in time, one thing I would make a priority is traveling more often with my son. We did a fair amount of traveling to theme parks and places within the states when he was very young, but I always looked forward to when he would be old enough to go on real adventures with me. Once that time came, so did a global pandemic. Needless to say, that put our travel plans at a standstill for two years. He’s 10 years old now, and we’ve jumped right back into traveling with two international trips to Iceland and Mexico in the last few months. Traveling with your children is one of the most valuable ways to teach them about places, people, and cultures outside of their bubble. Time goes by very fast and kids are only kids for so long — it’s always worth it to set aside time to create experiences together that will last a lifetime.” - Adam, 40, New Jersey
6. I Would Be More Interested in Their Hobbies
“My daughter is a teenager now. We spend a lot of time together, and I’m very grateful for that. But I’m starting to see things that I wish I had done more of when she was younger. Specifically, I wish that I had gotten more involved in her hobbies and actively engaged with them instead of just letting her get on with them. I wish I would have learned more about them, and enjoyed them with her. I think there would have been so much more time to connect with her if I had sat down and colored in with her at the table, or if we played video games together. It would have been so much fun.” - Ross, 47, California
7. I Would Take More Time Off To Be With Them
“Specifically, I would go back and take time off during their vacations from school. When they were young, so much of our time was spent making sure school work was done, or chores were finished. We were always on their backs to ensure that they were responsible with those sorts of things. Looking back, I didn’t get a lot of time with them when there was nothing to enforce. When there was time to relax. I really wish I had the opportunity to revisit those times and be more of a fun dad instead of a warden.” - Jonathan, 54, Georgia
8. I Would’ve Taken More Time to Nurture Their Ideas
“Two of my three children are out of the house and the third is not far behind. I think looking back on the time spent with your children and wondering what you could have done differently is a common trait for most parents. We especially feel this way when our children make mistakes and we blame ourselves for them.
That said, I wish I had spent more time engaging with my kids when they trusted me with an idea they were interested in. My wife and I always encouraged our children to pursue whatever they wanted, but oftentimes I would offer a sentence or two of encouragement and that was it. If they wanted to play a sport or play music, I would support them financially, go to their events, and that sort of thing, but I feel like I missed out on really getting to know my children better by not offering to discuss their ideas and interests.
I remember my youngest being very interested in becoming an astronaut. I bought him books about space and a telescope. I sent him to camps. But I never had conversations with him about that passion. Our children aren't children forever. They grow up, leave home, and become visitors to what used to be their home.” - Richard, 56, Connecticut
9. I Would Do My Best To Not Let Them See Me Angry
“An angry parent is a scary thing for a kid to see. I should know — both of my parents were assholes. If I could go back, I would have tried harder to do the opposite of just about everything they did. I think back to the few times I got really angry, and they make me sad. It wasn’t just anger toward things they did, either. I had some anger and resentment in my heart for a while, thanks to my own baggage. My kids and I have a great relationship, but I think back to those instances and wish they didn’t happen. Even though most of their memories are good (hopefully!) I wouldn’t want my kids to have any memories of me being angry.” - Brian, 45, Kentucky
10. I Would Sit Down To Eat
“Our family was so busy that we rarely, if ever, sat down to eat at the table. I regret that. When our kids started grade school, our lives just seemed to speed up. There was homework and tee-ball. Every weekend seemed like another friend’s birthday party. And in between it all we were stopping for fast food or grabbing snacks on our way out the door. The eating part of my regret is less of a priority than the sitting down part, I think. We needed more time as a family to slow down and be in the moment instead of planning whatever came next. As a father, I’ve always thought I could’ve done better at making that happen.” - Kurt, 49, North Carolina
11. I Would Teach Them to Regulate Their Emotions
“Kids need guidance about what to express and how to express, and to what extent they need to express. Unfortunately, I realized too late that I didn’t fully know how to regulate my emotions, which is why I could never teach this art to my kids. My wife and I always scolded them for the outbursts but forgot to guide them. Now, at this stage of life, we regret not being able to be emotionally in tune with our kids earlier in their lives.” — Harris, New York
12. I Would Teach Them To Find Their Place
“I always wish that I could have told my kids how hard it is to find a place in this world. Not that I never mentioned that concept to them, but I don’t think I emphasized it as much as I could have while they grew up. It’s normal for kids to get disappointed quickly when they lose a race or don’t win a competition at school. They start to think that they're worthless. I wish I embraced the opportunity to explain to them that when you lose, it just means that you have to work harder and strive to get things that you want. Nothing comes easy in this life, which is a lesson I wish I would have spent more time teaching my kids.” - Michael, 37, Indiana
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