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6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Fatherhood When My Kids Were Still Young

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, January 13, 2021

6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Fatherhood
When My Kids Were Still Young

Some advice from a dad who's been there.

By Claude Knobler Apr 25 2018, 4:03 PM for Fatherly


Here’s the shocking thing about being a dad: One day, just when you’ve started to get good at the job, your kids leave. When the youngest of our three kids headed off to college, I remember feeling like I’d just been term-limited out of the best job I’d ever had. I’d spent so much time learning how to raise my kids, that I was completely blindsided by the fact that one day they’d actually be adults. Well, sort of adults. I’m pretty sure one of them eats pizza for breakfast. On the other hand, he’s a straight-A college student with a better resume than mine, so who am I to judge?


But there were things I realized over time that really stuck with me. Things that, in the slog of every day, I let go of. Or kept fixated on. Or messed up with. And here I am now, with three adult children, thinking about all of the things I could have and should have done.


1. Everything You’re Worried About
Today Will Seem Silly In Two Years.

When my kids were toddlers, I worried about that pacifier stuck in their mouth. Two years later, my kid had moved on, and so had I. They turned five and I can’t believe I ever worried about their binky. At that point, I wondered why they were the only kindergartener who hasn’t mastered Dr. Seuss. And then, two years later, they’d moved on and so had I. Whether it’s sleep schedules, bad play dates, or the fairy tale princess I hired for my kid’s fifth birthday party showing up drunk, whatever it is I worried about then seems so silly now. I wish I had saved myself the misery, and laughed about it then.



2. Write Everything Down.
You Won’t Believe What You Won’t Remember.

One day I was stuck in the single worst traffic jam that the world has ever seen, probably. As I sat there fuming, trying my best not to mutter four-letter words I’d have to explain to my then 3-year-old son Clay, who was sitting in the back, he suddenly said, “Daddy, are you thinking about what I’m thinking about?” I figured I wasn’t but asked anyway.

“I don’t know Clay. What are you thinking about?” He stared out the window for a moment at the car in the lane next to us, and then said, “butterfly wings.” (To which I immediately replied, “why yes, that is exactly what I was thinking about.”) It’s a cute story, right? Here’s the thing, my 3-year-olds said and did cute things all the time. If I didn’t write them down, I wouldn’t remember a single one. I put a reminder into my calendar and spent literally five minutes a week, every week, jotting down little cute stories in The Book of Clay, The Book of Grace, and The Book of Nati, one notebook for each kid. A friend of mine just kept a list on her phone. Whatever. When the kids were still living at home, I could entertain them at a drop of a hat by pulling those books out and reading with them. Worked when they were in grade school, worked when they were in high school. Now that they’re all away, I take the books out to entertain myself. Don’t judge. One day, you will do the same.


3. Beware The Long-Term Yeses.

My daughter wanted a cat. I’m allergic to cats. My daughter now goes to UPenn and I’m still sneezing. It’s great to say yes. You want breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast? Sure thing! They want to try bangs or baseball? Great! But some yeses are easy in the moment and awful for much longer than that and yes, I am still thinking about that cat but the principle is true for other things too. Telling your child it’s okay to flake on a commitment they’ve made can be the right thing at times, but often it’s not the best lesson. Say yes often, but think first. (Also, if anyone wants an aging cat, please DM me).


4. The Years Fly
(but Some of the Days Really Drag).

My kids live in North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia these days. I miss them more than I can say. I’m 53 years old and every time I see a dad holding his kid on his shoulders I sigh far too loudly and then wonder if my 22-year-old son would let me try to carry him just one more time. But I also remember how bored I was when I had to push him on the swings. I miss getting to kiss my daughter good morning, but I really don’t miss the way she’d complain that her socks “felt funny” every day for eight months. Being a dad is the most important thing you’ll ever do and it’s also, at times, the most boring and exasperating thing you can imagine. Yes, you have to cherish the good stuff but don’t forget to give yourself a break for being bored. Peeking at your phone sometimes on the playground won’t emotionally cripple your kid.


5. Your Kids Won’t Remember Everything
(but You Never Know What They Won’t Forget).

First, the good news: You don’t have to take your kids to Paris, museums, or sign them up for Space Camp. You can if you want to, of course. I loved taking my children to art galleries and we did travel with them, but honestly, most of that culture was for me, since my kids don’t remember much of it. But the bad news: Kids remember weird stuff and by weird, yes, I do mean that one time you yelled at the cat.



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All Parents Offer Empty Promises and Hollow Threats. But Do They Do Harm?

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, January 13, 2021

All Parents Offer Empty Promises and
Hollow Threats. But Do They Do Harm?

When a child acts out, it is all too easy to make a promise or threat a parent has no intention or ability to keep. But that could hurt your relationship in the long run.

By Jillian Mock for Fatherly Dec 26 2019, 10:50 AM




The hollow threat or empty promise is a near-unavoidable tool of parents. It’s not a good tool — most parents understand this — but it’s one that sometimes feels necessary. Say you’re in a restaurant trying to get to the end of the meal, or you’re late and simply have to get out the door. It might seem like the only way to move forward is to incentivize (or dis-incentivize) your kids: “If you don’t stop acting up, I’m going to take away your Pokemon cards.” Conversely, “If you are good for just 15 more minutes, you’ll get a prize at home.” So you’re not going to take away their precious Pokemon cards, and that “prize”, if not forgotten, will end up being some piece of candy you find lying around. No harm, right?


Not so. Research shows these statements have consequences, eroding the trust between parent and child. “Once you open your mouth, you need to follow through,” says Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. “Because kids are very smart and they have radar detectors and they will find out if it’s a false promise.”


Research shows that young children keep their promises and they expect others to do the same. They also take cues from adult behavior. A 2012 update of the classic marshmallow test conducted at Rochester University showed that having reliable interactions with adults influenced what children did later. Kids who interacted with adults who followed through on what they said they would do waited far longer on average before nibbling a marshmallow than children who interacted with adults who didn’t do what they said. The children seemed to be making a decision about how likely that promised future reward actually was, wrote the researchers in a post about the experiment.

When parents break their promises, it can also teach a child that this kind of behavior is acceptable, says Borba. “If you want your child to be trustworthy, then you’ve got to be trustworthy.”


Hollow threats, on the other hand, can have even deeper consequences. When parent use empty threats all the time, they undermine a kid’s understanding of rules and consequences by suggesting that “rules” are actually can be obeyed or not obeyed depending on the context of the situation. Furthermore, on the surface they stress a child out, making it even more difficult for them to have the self-control required for good behavior.


Instead of leaning on empty promises and hollow threats, there are many other strategies parents can deploy to deal with misbehaving kids, especially if you’re worried about an outburst at the family holiday party.


The first strategy is to take steps to minimize outbursts from the get-go. Kids misbehave four times predictably, says Borba, when they are hungry, bored, tired, or in need of attention. Taking steps to anticipate those needs can help avoid an outburst altogether, she says. It also helps to reduce your own stress around the holidays, because children will mirror what they see in their parents, which could also cause them to act out.


Also, if you have a specific way you want your child to act in a given situation, like acting excited to get a sweater from grandma, for example, Borba recommends practicing that action with them ahead of time. This will allow the child to meet your expectations and head off a potentially negative interaction.


If your child’s behavior does start to escalate, it can be challenging for a parent to slow down and think about their response. But it’s important. “Trust is really easy to snap and really hard to reconstruct,” says Robert Zietlin, a positive psychologist and author of the book Laugh More, Yell Less: A Guide to Raising Kick-Ass Kids. In these moments, he says it can help to “zoom in” to empathize with how your child is feeling in this moment, or to “zoom out” to focus on the big picture rather than how angry you feel right then and there.


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About DFFC

The Delaware Fatherhood & Family Coalition is an extension of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program and the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative created specifically to give a voice to fathers and the importance of their involvement for the well-being of their children.


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