Looking Back

What I Wish I Said To My Kids More Often When They Were Young, According to 14 Men

There’s always more to say.

Originally Published: 
father and daughter laughing and talking at diner booth
Getty Images/The Good Brigade

Parenting is a long game, and mistakes are a big part of it. This is hardly shocking. You know you won’t ace everything, but, in the end, you hope that you did far more right than wrong. As you grow — and watch your kids grow — it’s natural to reflect on the things you could’ve said or done differently along the way. Maybe you missed opportunities to bolster your child’s confidence or failed to make sure your messages were clear. It happens.

When your kids are older, one of the best ways to move on is to interrogate the mistakes, promise to — and plan to — do better, and share your wisdom with others so that they’re better prepared. When you’re a new parent, it’s good to hear from those who’ve been there before. That’s why we spoke to 14 dads about what they wish they told their kids more often when they were younger. Unsurprisingly, they all wished they were clearer and more consistent with certain messages, and hoped their learnings help others. Here’s what they said.

1. “I value your opinion.”

“I wish I would have asked my son what he thought about different things. Far too often, I simply overlooked his input. I think if he had known I was willing to listen to his thoughts, he would have talked to me more, and been more open in the future. He’s a brilliant kid too and was always full of ideas when he was younger. So yeah, just a simple ‘Hey what do you think? I want to hear your ideas…’ would’ve gone a long way. Doesn’t seem like much, but I feel as though it would have made a huge difference in our day-to-day relationship.” – David, 36, UK

2. “Go ahead. Just be careful.”

“We were a bit too overprotective with our first child. While we’d let him explore, we’d keep on saying ‘no’ as a reflex response to things that were not dangerous for him. Kids enjoy exploring and are naturally curious. We learned that not restricting them too much and allowing them to do their own thing helps them become mature and independent. Your role as a parent is to stay nearby to give support and reassurance.” – Ian, 38, California

3. “Screw ’em.”

“I remember my kids as teenagers being so concerned with popularity and fitting in. I wish I would’ve told them to do their own thing. Specifically, I wish I would’ve expressed my opinion about the company they kept a little more. They had so much to offer in the way of just being themselves, but there was a lot of peer pressure to fit in, not to stand out. I wish I would’ve been more vocal about how much they’d realize what a gift not fitting in can be. I guess I was just as worried about being an uncool parent as they were about being uncool kids.” – Chris, 48, California

4. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”

“I wish I’d told my kids that they already have everything they need to be successful and that they were always very capable. I think we get obsessed with the notion that everything we do has to be a success, and that affects our kids. They start to think the same thing. I wish I’d been more diligent about telling them that they don’t need to sweat the small stuff and that most of the stuff is small stuff. A bad grade or an incomplete project is meaningless in the long term, which is a lesson I think everyone could use early in life.” – Scott, 48, New York

5. Your worries are almost always wrong.”

“I’m a worrier by nature, and so is my wife. While we try to avoid doing it as much as we can, it’s a challenge. But, the silver lining is that we can say with relative certainty that almost none of our worries have come true. At least not the big ones, and definitely not in the ways we’d imagined them. Our kids became worriers too, and it was like looking into a mirror. I wish I’d helped them find a better balance between being cautious and overreacting so that they could learn from my mistakes and not waste so much energy on worrying.” – Bryan, 40, Texas

6. “Regret goes both ways.”

“I think people are pretty one-sided in their views of regret. It’s either: you’ll regret doing it, or you’ll regret not doing it. I was definitely the former when my kids were growing up, but now I see the value in a more balanced perspective. You don’t have to take every risk for fear of missing out, just like you don’t have to avoid taking risks because you’re afraid you’ll get hurt. The older I got, the more I realized it comes down to trusting your instincts, which is why I wish I’d told my kids to just try and make the smartest decisions they could. Playing it safe and taking big risks can both pay off.” – Nicolas, 42, Toronto

7. “I have no idea.”

“As parents, I think we adopt a ‘Fake it until you make it’ mentality from the moment our kids are born. We know we have no idea what we’re doing, but we can’t let other people know that – including our kids. As my kids got older, they came to me for answers. Everything from schoolwork to relationship stuff. I was so grateful and excited that they wanted my help that I forgot to be completely honest and say, ‘I don’t know’ every once in a while. Hearing a parent admit that they’re clueless is a validating experience. It humanizes us as authority figures, and lets our kids know it’s okay to have to figure things out.” – Jon, 51, New Zealand

8. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m a teacher, and I can professionally attest to the power of apologizing to a student for making a mistake. I’m also a father, and that lesson is one I learned way too late. When my son was growing up, we would argue, then go to our separate corners. We’d acknowledge our disagreement, and try to come to a compromise, but I rarely ever said I was sorry. I feel like, had I done so, our relationship would’ve grown to include less wasted time ruminating over arguments. A genuine apology can clear the air and build a really strong bond between two people. That would’ve been nice to know as a young dad.” – Billy, 43, Connecticut

9. “Invest.”

“Not just in finances, but in everything. Treat everything as an investment. That means making each relationship, experience, and part of your life something that will grow. Even if it turns out badly, I’ve learned that if you invest yourself in something, at the very least you’ll come away with a lesson learned, a story, or a source of empathy down the line. My kids’ generation seems to have a big fear of committing to just about everything. There’s a lot of anxiety when it comes to being vulnerable or making an effort. And I get that. It’s always risky. But, by investing in those types of situations, you’re investing in your personal growth, which is a lesson I learned later than I would’ve hoped. So I think I would tell my kids to give things time before moving onto whatever’s next.” – Aaron, 46, Illinois

10. “Your anger is your responsibility.”

“My daughter used to get angry about almost everything when she was a teenager. It was either school or her friends or boys or her mother and me. Everything was always someone else’s fault. I’m not denying that she had reasons to be angry, but I wish I would’ve impressed upon her the fact that, while anger may be an initial reflex, carrying it with you is a choice. I learned that the hard way many, many times, and I never found a way to make it make sense. Now that I’m older, I see all the time I lost being angry, and I know she’s eventually going to have that same realization.” – Dan, 43, North Carolina

11. “Live for the moment.”

“A very dear friend of mine just passed away. He was 60. It was very unexpected and devastating. And it made me think about exactly what I’ve done with my life, specifically as it relates to my kids. I think back to all the times when we would just sit around and do nothing, and wonder what we could’ve been doing instead. Were we missing out on some fun adventure? Or were we genuinely right where we were supposed to be? Either way, one of the lessons I took from my friend’s passing was to live each moment as you’re in it and savor it. My kids live very fast-paced lives now. I think living for the moment is about slowing down and making sure you’re where you’re supposed to be. I wish I would’ve had the presence to tell them that before the lesson was taught to me in such a crushing way.” – Erik, 57, Rhode Island

12. “We can fix this.”

“Instead of ‘Let me fix this.’ My mother was a ‘fixer’, and I became one too. I saw my children hurt or upset, and immediately started thinking, ‘How can I fix this? How can I fix this?’ It’s not wrong to want to see your kids healthy and happy, but I wish I would’ve tried to fix things with them instead of for them. I just became pushy and overbearing, when I could’ve been teaching them how to deal with problems using my experience and their abilities. Luckily, I don’t think I messed them up too bad, but I often cringe at some of the times I pushed my way into their problems instead of stepping back or stepping aside and offering support instead of solutions.” – Joseph, 61, Indiana

13. “I could use your help.”

“When I was a kid, my mom always had to force me to help my dad. Usually, he would be in the garage fixing something, and I’d be too afraid to go out or distracted playing video games, or something. My mom would say, ‘Go out there and help your father!’ And I would, but it would be really awkward. I felt like I was in the way. We didn’t really talk. It wasn’t bad, I just felt out of place. Looking back, I wish I would’ve invited my son to help me with stuff like that more often so that one, I could’ve taught him some things about whatever I was doing, and two, so he’d know he’d never be ‘bugging me’, even if he just wanted to stand there and watch.” – Daniel, 53, California

14. “The Internet is forever.”

“My kids are all over social media. Nothing too crazy or scandalous — I hope — but they’re out there taking pictures at parties, making silly videos, and all that. And I think it’s my fault they’re so brazen about posting all of this content. I had a boss once who told me that the internet is forever, and that really stuck. Even if you maintain a relatively clean presence online, there might be one tiny slip-up that someone will record, screen grab, or whatever. And it can haunt you forever. Or worse, help people find you. I wish I would’ve drilled that into my kids’ heads so they’d think twice before posting some of the dumb sh*t they do.” – Anthony, 45, Pennsylvania

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