Looking Back

The Parenting Worry I Wish I Cast Aside A Lot Sooner, According To 12 Dads

It's normal to worry as a parent. But it can also be a distraction. Here, a dozen dads reflect on those they wish they stopped fretting about sooner.

Originally Published: 
Young boy riding on dad's shoulders in the sunlight

Parenting is a nerve-wracking journey for most dads. Expecting the unexpected and trying to be prepared for every possible scenario is a noble pursuit, but not entirely realistic. Or healthy. It’s completely natural to fret too much about everything from benchmarks to baby proofing. But too much worry can eat up a lot of time and energy, both of which would be better spent being present as a parent. And while they understand their motivations — trying to become the best providers and protectors possible — the dozen dads we spoke to admit that they worried too much about the wrong things. They learned from their misguided experiences, though, and are graciously sharing why what they fretted over was such a grand waste of their capabilities as fathers. Here are some of the worries they wish they’d let go much, much sooner.

1. Hitting Benchmarks

“Our group of friends all have kids, and they are all within the same age. When you're in conversations with other parents, you so badly want to benchmark your kids, but that is unfair to the kids, and to you. I would scan the internet for the best development toys so my kid would learn quicker. I watched countless videos on sleep training on YouTube. I look back on those beginning months with my daughter and they were rough because I was trying to get her to reach milestones before she was ready. It was a waste of time, and energy. What I learned is that, no matter who you are, your kid will figure it out at their own pace. Your baby will fall asleep when they fall asleep. They will sit up when they are ready to sit up. They will smile, laugh, crawl, and even poop in the toilet when they are ready. Be patient. Give it time. You’ll miss the days after they're gone if you spend them worrying.” - Nick, 36, Texas

2. Being in the Way

“My wife is the strongest person I know, and that was true throughout the birth of our first child. It was amazing seeing her deal with everything life threw at us through that process. She was graceful, she was positive, and she was such an inspiration. But, if I’m being honest, that left me feeling like I wasn’t doing my job as a husband or a father. I felt like I wasn’t needed. Like she’d be fine, or even better off, if I wasn’t there. I felt like I was taking up space. It ate at me for a while, until I finally talked to her about it and she assured me that I was helping her in ways I didn’t even realize. I’d worried about my contributions for so long that I started thinking of myself sort of like an employee waiting for a performance review. The thoughts were a waste of time and energy that was all in my head, and the sooner I was able to get past them, the more present I became as a father and a husband.” - Michael, 39, Arizona

“I’d worried about my contributions for so long that I started thinking of myself sort of like an employee waiting for a performance review.”

3. Posting on Social Media

“Like many new parents, I was eager to share my son with the world. And whenever I posted a picture of him, the likes, comments, and messages would pour in. And so would the pressure to post again, to look good, and to maintain appearances for people online who had nothing to do with my child’s long-term success or development. Don’t get me wrong, the instant gratification felt amazing. But it took me two years to realize that the more time and energy I spent viewing moments with my son through the lens of my camera, the less present I was in the moments themselves. I needed to stop worrying about how things looked, and start focusing on being present for my child. I’d recommend that advice to all dads out there.” - Spencer, 33, Texas

4. Setting My Kids up for Success

"When my kids were very young, I worried a lot about their future and what I could do to set them up for success. While this is a lifelong journey, I've learned that it's my job to help guide them and give them the tools they need for success. My job as a dad is to be there to give a gentle nudge when needed, and to talk and listen when they need a shoulder to lean on. But it's also my job to let them be themselves and to flourish on their own. Sometimes they'll fall down and that's okay. The bumps and bruises along the way help to define the people we’ll become, and I'll always be there to protect my children. We each have a wonderful and unique personality and it can be easy as a parent to ‘helicopter’ and try to take control. I needed to spend more time being confident in my children, and giving them some runway to take off. I was consistently surprised at how resilient, strong, creative, and capable they showed me they could be.” - Chef William Dissen, 44, North Carolina

“My job as a dad is to be there to give a gentle nudge when needed, and to talk and listen when they need a shoulder to lean on.”

5. Choosing the Perfect Toys

“I couldn’t begin to count how many hours I spent researching the most ‘appropriate’ toys for my son when he was little. I read everything I could to find out whether or not they would help him develop, be good for his senses, encourage his growth, and so on and so on. I was neurotic, and all I ended up doing was buying a bunch of toys that he enjoyed for a few months, then got bored with. I think my heart was in the right place, but what I didn’t realize was that the energy I was spending on trying to find the perfect toys for my son to play with could’ve been spent just…playing with my son. Being present, encouraging his creativity, and letting him use his imagination without worrying about what the experts recommended would’ve been time better spent for both of us.” - Ken, 45, Florida

6. ‘Properly’ Baby-Proofing the House

“We really went overboard when we tried to baby-proof the house after our first child was born. We definitely had good intentions but, looking back, it’s something I wish I’d stopped worrying about much, much sooner. I was in a panic in my early days of parenthood, probably like most dads. I saw everything around the house as something the baby could get into, or get hurt from. And while I wouldn’t suggest completely ignoring all of those potential hazards, obviously, I don’t think all of the concern was necessary. I’m a smart guy. My wife is very capable. We would’ve been fine trusting ourselves to figure it out, without overdoing it and worrying about every single table corner or slippery surface in the house.” - Eric, 43, South Carolina

“The energy I was spending on trying to find the perfect toys for my son to play with could’ve been spent just…playing with my son.”

7. Listening to Other Parents

“I’ve learned a lot from other parents, most of whom are more experienced than me. But I think I was so nervous when I became a dad that I treated everything they would tell me as gospel, which really messed up my self-confidence and my ability to make my own choices. As new dads, I think we look for reasons to question our own instincts. We’ve never done this before, so how can we possibly be good at it? And we forget that we can ask for help when we need it, but don’t always have to listen to what we’re told. All of the suggestions I got from other parents were well-meaning, but listening to them for so long and stressing about whether or not I was making good choices based on what I was being told did nothing but keep me from naturally growing as a parent, which I wish I would’ve spent more time doing.” - Anthony, 44, California

8. Dealing With Germs

“As a dad, I was a bit of a germaphobe. I was always worrying about my kids picking up something nasty, especially when we were outdoors. But then something interesting happened. One day, knee-deep in the great outdoors, trowel in hand, and dirt under my fingernails, it dawned on me — I was surrounded by the very germs I'd been so afraid of, and not only was I okay, but I was thriving. I'm not saying I went from germaphobe to letting my kids eat mud pies, but the realization that exposure to the normal microbes of life, particularly those found outdoors, could actually help bolster my kids' immune systems and help them grow was a game-changer. It’s funny because the world I was so eager to protect my kids from was the same world that would ultimately toughen them up. Nature works in weird ways.” - Matt, 48, Pennsylvania

9. Lingering Over My Parents’ Mistakes

“I am the father of six adult sons, two of whom are now my law partners and all of whom I see weekly, along with my 13 grandchildren and one great grandson. My parents were both Marines, deeply patriotic, and alcoholics. I grew up hating alcohol and everything that went along with it. Not only did I never drink, but I would preach to my sons against using alcohol or committing any kind of wrongdoing frequently. Every night at dinner, actually. I didn’t do this because I had a problem with any of them, but because I’d seen how others went down the wrong path. I didn’t want my kids to make those mistakes, and I thought overemphasizing the dangers was the way to ensure that. If I had to do it all over again, I would focus on how much I care about my kids, and how confident I am in their abilities to make good choices, rather than worrying so much about driving my own point home.” - Joseph, 67, Texas

“If I had to do it all over again, I would focus on how much I care about my kids, and how confident I am in their abilities to make good choices, rather than worrying so much about driving my own point home.”

10. Dwelling On Money

“As a new father, I spent too much time worrying about my financial situation. This concern consumed me and overshadowed my early parenting days. What I realized over time, however, was that these worries were a waste of mental energy. Of course, it's crucial to provide for your family. But my worries about money were out of proportion compared with what was truly important. I spent countless nights fretting over how I would afford things and secure my daughter’s future. I lost a lot of sleep pondering the 'what ifs', while worrying about financial stability and being a good role model for her. As she grew older, it dawned on me that material things are great, but what my family and I enjoy the most are those things that money can't buy. Money should not have been my ultimate goal. Instead, I needed to view it as a tool to help us reach a level of comfort and freedom that would allow us to cherish each other.” - Matt, 42, Dubai

11. Staying Strong

“As a new father, I was obsessed with the notion of being the ‘rock’ in our household. My wife had been through so much giving birth to our daughter and I developed this mindset that probably bordered on martyrdom. I worried about whether or not I was contributing, and giving my wife and daughter everything I had. That’s what I thought a new dad was supposed to do. What I didn’t realize was that all the energy I spent trying to do everything was energy I didn’t spend bonding with my wife or my daughter during that crucial time. I was so focused on providing and keeping things together that my mental health really took a toll. And that ended up being extremely counterproductive. If I could go back, I would’ve put all of my effort into building a team with my family, rather than trying to do it all myself.” - Aaron, 42, Illinois

12. Being Perfect

“In my early days of parenthood, I spent an enormous amount of mental energy worrying about being the perfect father. I was constantly concerned about making the right decisions, and I would fret over every little mistake, thinking that it would somehow ruin my kids’ futures. As my children grew older, I realized that striving for perfection was an unnecessary burden to bear. My children needed someone who could embrace his own flaws and demonstrate the importance of resilience. My perfectionism was causing unnecessary stress and tension in our family dynamics, so I had to consciously shift my focus from trying to be flawless to simply being the best father I could be. Learning from my mistakes was a natural part of that journey. Looking back, I realize that the worry about being the perfect father was a waste of time and energy that could have been better spent on building memories and nurturing relationships.” - Jakob, 58, Staten Island

This article was originally published on