Looking Back

What I Wish I’d Known When My Kids Were Still Little

We often see clearest looking back. Here, 11 dads share the advice they would've given their younger selves.

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When you become a dad, you work hard to do your best. You read the books. You take the classes. You talk to your friends and family members. You take it day by day. Inevitably, years later, there will be a number of things you wish you knew about raising little kids that would have made it a lot easier. What were at the time big issues become small; topics ignored become important moments of bonding missed. None of this is surprising: in the moment, no one knows what they’ll regret; we often see clearest when looking back.

But through the wisdom of fathers who’ve been there can parents of young children learn important lessons in the moment and avoid the stress and regret that might otherwise appear. That’s why we asked a handful of experienced dads what they wish they knew when they’re kids were still young. Each dad offered insight both large and small about everything from self-control to viewings of Sesame Street Live. We hope it helps.

I Wish I Knew To Be Less Stressed About My Son’s Interests

“I used to be so worried about my son not having any interests or activities. My oldest was always so quiet and introverted. I was always trying to get him to do one thing or another, and stressing about it. Then, all on his own, he started getting into music and photography. Next thing I know, he’s been accepted to seven colleges and playing drums at our church. I really wish I’d just relaxed more and realized that he’d find his own path without me having to pave it for him.” – Jeremy, 44, New York

I Wish I Knew To Discuss Money More Often

“I wish I knew how much talking about money in front of my kids would’ve influenced them. We were never poor or anything, but I was always so frugal. And, looking back, the way I phrased things – saying, ‘We can’t afford that’, instead of ‘That’s pretty expensive.’ – planted seeds. Now, they both stress out about money all the time. You always hear to be careful about what you say around your kids, but you never consider subtle things like that. It’s fine, just something I would’ve done differently.” – Keith, 43, Ohio

I Wish I Knew How Tough Kids Actually Are

“Kids are resilient. They can take a lot, especially when they’re at that age when it’s just starting to be cool to be tough. My son broke his arm doing karate, and I lost it. I probably cried more than he did. I had to watch my son, my baby — even though he was, like, eight — get put in an ambulance, go to the hospital, go into surgery, and all that. Even through his tears, he was like, ‘Dad, I’ll be fine.’ I don’t regret the way I reacted – well, maybe a little – but I definitely should’ve reminded myself that those things happen, and that he was a tough kid.” – Brian, 38, Ohio

I Wish I Knew That I Didn’t Have To Act Like My Parents

“I would’ve listened way less to my own parents. They’re good parents, and they mean well, but they definitely screwed some things up. And they were very heavy-handed when it came to telling us how to raise our kids. My wife took exception to it, and I was torn. Ultimately, we made a lot of our own decisions and ended up with some wonderful, wonderful kids. When they’re young, kids are like a project for everyone. I appreciated the input, but I needed to lean the right way when I was trying to balance.” – Jordan, 35, Florida

I Wish I Knew To Take A More Active Interest In My Kid’s Obsessions

“My son was super into Pokémon when he was about 10. He was just obsessed with it. And he was so excited to share it with anyone who would listen. I was very ‘meh’ about it. Like, ‘Oh, that’s cool!’ Or, ‘Neat!’ I really missed a chance there. I didn’t need to become a Pokémon expert – they’re called ‘Masters’, FYI – but sometimes I think of the way my son’s face would’ve lit up if I asked him to teach me how to play, or explain the different characters. Or if I surprised him with a special card or something. It was his thing, but there were parts of it that could’ve been our thing, too, if I’d been a little more proactive.” – Al, 44, Pennsylvania

I Wish I Knew To Wait A Little Bit Before Going To Shows

“Don’t waste money on live entertainment. That is, until they can watch it without being terrified. When my son was three, we took him to Sesame Street Live. He bawled so hard and was so scared we had to leave. Then we took him to the circus. A little better this time, but it turned out he was allergic to elephants. Elephants!. Like, obviously. I wish I would’ve waited on that stuff. Sometimes you want your kid to have such an epic good time that you forget clowns are fucking terrifying.” – Bill, 65, Ohio

I Wish I Knew To Spend More One-on-One Time With My Daughter

“My wife and I made such an effort to hang out with our daughter ‘as a family’. I think I — and we — could’ve benefitted from more alone, one-on-one time here and there. You know, just like a trip to the grocery store, or even a walk down the street. Just Dad and daughter. Or Mom and daughter. Everything turned out fine, but those memories would’ve been special, I think.” – Darrell, 40, Colorado

I Wish I Knew To Capture More Memories

“I would take more photos. I would take photos of everything. I’m a photo nut as it is. I have memory cards and jump drives full of pics from when our family was growing. I’ve had to upgrade Cloud storage. All that. But, the reason I’m doing it is because who knows what memory I’ll suddenly wish I could relive 40 years from now? Maybe there’s one, very specific moment that I’ll want to see a picture of. So, yeah, I would probably nudge myself to keep clicking away.” – Rudy, 41, Ohio

I Wish I Knew To Tell Him Stories About My Childhood

“I would withhold stories about my troublemaking days until I was sure my kid wasn’t going to be an asshole. When I was little, my friends and I used to ride our bikes toward giant snow drifts in parking lots. We’d crash, then flip over the handlebars. Classic young boy stuff. I told my son this, in a sort of braggy way, and he goes out and does it with his friends, one of who separated his shoulder. My point is, sharing stories about the trouble I caused growing up has been a huge source of bonding between me and my son. Now that he’s older, and mature, and a good person, that is. Be patient, make sure your kid isn’t an idiot, then tell him about the way you used to mess with your RAs.” – John, 36, North Carolina

I Wish I’d Knew To Go A Bit Easier on Myself

“Instead of questioning every decision I made, I might only question, like, every third or fourth decision. When my kids were young, I would constantly question myself. ‘Did they brush their teeth for long enough?’ ‘Is this laundry detergent safe for baby skin?’ It was just endless self-doubt. Instead of doing that, I would pick my battles, for sure. ‘Is this school system worth moving for?’ Definitely a necessary question to answer. ‘Will my kid get salmonella from licking a Lego?’ I’d let that one go.” – Aaron, 37, Illinois

I Wish I Knew To Be More Accepting Of My Child’s Phases

“Everything is a phase. Being a whiny toddler is a phase. Thinking about nothing but girls is a long, long phase. But the thing is, after all these phases end — or at least become less intense — if you’ve done your job, and you’ve guided your kid, he’ll come out of them with the best lessons learned, and leave the bullshit behind. Your kid will go in and out of things when he’s ready, and you just have to be accepting. Sometimes, that’s brutally hard. But, even if the phase outlasts you, the discomfort won’t if you don’t let it.” – John, 62, Ohio

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