I’m a father of three children. Two girls and one boy, ranging from newborn to age 7. Parenting is hands-down the most challenging and yet most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I always feel like I’m doing it wrong, and I want my children when they become parents one day to understand that it’s okay to feel that way. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder what kind of parents they will make, and what kind of advice I will give them about raising kids once they do become parents. Here are a few things I think they should know about parenting:
You will always feel like you’re doing it wrong: There is no manual for parenting, and once you feel like you’ve figured it out, the game changes. Everything changes when it comes to children: their personalities, interests, and challenges are rarely the same. Every day I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Every day I wonder if my kids are going to grow up to become criminals, or something, because of some absent-minded mistake or bad parenting policy I’ve fallen into. But you know what, those feelings are normal. The funny thing about parenting is that although you are in control of the lessons, your kids are teaching you as much as you are teaching them. They are helping you learn how to grow into a responsible parent, while you are helping them grow into a responsible person. It’s an amazing interdependent relationship.
Parenting means cleaning up crap, both physical and metaphorical: When your kids are young, they are going to make huge messes. Sometimes those messes are in your car, sometimes they are in the living room, and sometimes they are in their pants. Messes are stressful. They feel like physical evidence of your parenting shortcomings. These feelings are normal. Stay calm, and teach your children responsibility as best you can. Don’t buy nice furniture for a few years because they will probably ruin it. And if you have a partner in your life, share the cleaning responsibilities equally.
Sometimes your kids will hate you, and that’s okay: A huge part of parenting is not giving in. You have to stick to your guns about lots of ridiculous things, like making a child wipe their own butt, or why it is important to wear clothes in public. Sometimes you will not be popular. Sometimes your kids are going to call you a mean this or that, or a fart face, or say things like, “I’m never talking to you again.” And as silly as these statements sound, they actually can hurt really badly. They can make you want to run to your sweet little son or daughter and tell them how sorry you are. To give in and grant them whatever silly little thing they wanted. But you know what, it’s okay for your kids to get mad at you. And it’s okay for your heart to hurt a little when you have to enforce the rules. Stick to your guns and don’t be mean or abusive; just be consistent. It will all work out.
Your kids will throw fits in public, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent: Fits in public mean that you are teaching your kids how to act.
Parenting is easier with a partner: My father left when I was 9. My mother was single. She raised three kids that way, and it was a struggle. I watched her try to be a mother and a father. I watched her work a full-time job at the power company, and then clean houses in the evening. On the weekends she cleaned our house in an attempt to keep up with our neighbors’ homes. Honestly, I didn’t know her very well. Sometimes I still don’t think I know her. Being a single parent is a struggle, I learned that early, and if you can do it with a partner, realize what you have. Value that person’s contribution. And ask that they value yours, because doing it alone is not an easy road.
You will be tired, but in the most satisfying way: 8 PM will suddenly feel like midnight. You will put your kids down for a nap, and they will fight you, and your thought will be, “What is your problem. I would kill for a nap right now.” You will long for sleep and rest, but instead find yourself coaching your child’s soccer team, or sitting in a dance recital struggling to stay awake because you were up in the night changing peed-on bed sheets. Then something funny will happen. You will lie down at the end of the day and start laughing because of something your child did or said. You will stay up smiling because of some small parenting victory: your child scored their first goal in a game using a skill you showed them, or they read their first sentence without help. You will feel a rush of pride, and you will stay up for hours feeling exhausted and exhilarated and satisfied. It’s the best feeling in the world. Trust me.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley