15 things I wish I knew before becoming a dad

Author not pictured.

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Author not pictured.
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When it comes to children, the only certain things about them is that they’ll cry, they’ll poop and repeat.

Handling that is the easy part. Everything else is a minefield waiting to be stepped on.

It doesn’t matter how many books you read, videos you watch, classes you take or parents you talk to, raising your own child and the affects it will have on you will only become known once you’re in the trenches.

While it may sometimes sound like war, having a kid is truly incredible. There are a few things, however, I wish I knew before my son arrived.


You’re on your own

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The baby’s born. Family comes to visit you at the hospital, friends send you text messages and your social media blows up with good wishes from the kid you sat next to in third grade. Then after 48 hours, at which point your insurance company strong-arms the hospital to discharge you, you’re figuring out how to install a car seat.

No matter how many books you read, other babies you hold, or advice you half-listen to from your in-laws, when you have your first child, it’s the first time you’re a parent and you’re going to have to figure everything our for yourself.

We wanted to breast feed, but my wife couldn’t. Our son wasn’t eating. We didn’t wait for the first-week checkup. We were at the pediatrician’s office on day 3 to find out what kind of bombshell news we were going to be hit with. It’s scary. You and your partner need to hang on tight like Thelma & Louise because if you’re not in this together, you will drive each other off a cliff.


They really, really, really like sleeping in your bed

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Me, my wife and my newborn son all lived in the same bedroom for the first year of his life. It wasn’t always ideal, but it was easy to roll over and pick him up from his crib and bring him into our bed. He’d call for us, and we’d go get him.

Eventually when he was in a toddler bed, he could simply get out of bed on his own and climb into ours, parting my wife and I like the Red Sea, sometimes not even feeling he was in between us. Well, I would, because he’d kick mercilessly, which may explain my lower back issues and my affinity for sleeping on couches.


It’s incredibly hard to break habits

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Once you start letting your child do something it becomes a pattern. Some people may object to welcoming their child into their bed, for example, like we did. Sure, doing so sometimes put a damper on personal time with my wife, but all my son ever wanted when climbing into bed with us was to snuggle and feel comfortable.

Sharing our bed with my son really allowed my wife and I to build our relationship with him, but to this day he still likes to fall asleep in our bed every night before I pick him up and transfer him to his own bedroom. Although it’s not necessarily a bad habit, my wife and I are looking forward to upgrading to a king sized mattress.


No matter how cold it is, they’re not cold

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My wife and I took a pre-birthing class at the local hospital where we were taught to always dress our newborn in one layer of clothing more than what we were wearing. Once our son was old enough to have a say in what he wore, however, we discovered that he seemed to run warm.

On his third birthday (mid-January, mind you) we took him to the bike shop to buy his first bike. It was cold. Cold enough where he should be wearing a thick, puffy coat. (We were.) He insisted he’d be okay in just a t-shirt and sweatshirt – and he was! Maybe it was the adrenaline of hopping on that new bike, but my son was comfortable and we let him decide what type of jacket he wore from that day forward barring extreme weather situations.


They’ll eat when they’re hungry

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If I had a nickel for every “one more bite” I was forced to take as a child, I’d have enough nickels to buy a nickel making machine. Parents always think, actually demand, they know more about their children then the children themselves.

Kids, however, tell you when they’re hungry. You know how they’ll do it? Communicating! Whether they cry, use sign language, open the refrigerator door and take out a tub of cream cheese on their own or simply use their words. They know what and when they want to eat – you just have to listen.


Sharing sucks

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Unlike some other parents and caregivers, my wife and I don’t like to force our son to share. When he wants to bring anything of value with him to the playground, we remind him other kids may want to ask him to take a turn. Our motto is it’s okay to say no and if you don’t want to deal with the requests, leave the toy at home.


Potty training is overrated

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One mother in our neighborhood has a son about a year younger than ours. Every time we’d see her, she’d inquire about ours son’s ability to use a toilet. She’s be aghast when we told her we weren’t potty training.

In my opinion, a child knows when they’re ready. Ours simply told us: When I turn four, I’ll wear underwear and pee in a potty. Until then, my wife and I encouraged him to try, rewarded him on his sticker chart if he did, read a book about how toilets work – but we never forced him to ‘potty train’ before he was ready.

And nearly to the day of his fourth birthday, our son decided to pull up a pair of superhero underwear and set forth on his new path to peeing freedom. Sure, there were accidents, but a lot less than you might expect.


Chrismukka is hard

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I’m Jewish, my wife’s Catholic. We always celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas pre-child, and since our son has been born we incorporate customs from both holidays. We light the menorah. We decorate the house. We make cookies.

It’s the presents that tripped us up. Not for him – he gets presents for both holidays. But every year the holidays pit us against one another, trying to replicate our youth by giving him the same amount we received as children – eight nights of gifts followed by piles of presents under a tree. My wife and I argue that he’s spoiled and worry that he’ll only correlate the holidays with giving and receiving. But for now, we’re still trying to figure it all out.


You’ll always be spending money

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My sister has two older kids, so right off the bat we relished in hand-me-downs, car seats, strollers and even a crib. When we needed to make our own purchases, we went with quality and always ended up spending a ton of money. Kids grow so fast, and my son in particular, is like a Marine in boot camp at the park – jumping, crawling, hanging, swinging, and destroying his clothes.

Because of the quality of a lot of the products we bought – especially changing tables, highchairs, and portable cribs – and the reputation the brands had, we were thankfully able to resell them and use that money to start shopping for replacement pants all over again.


Choose the right babysitter

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This one may seem like a no-brainer, but when you want to have a night out with your partner, you’re going to want someone you can trust and won’t have to worry about while you’re out. We have a consistent babysitter who came highly recommended and can get our son in his pajamas, read books, give snacks, and tuck him happily into bed.

Even with an amazing babysitter, my wife and I still end up doing most of these things before she comes over. Being away from our child is a big adjustment, but even when he cries and tugs at our legs as we leave our home, as long as we have the right babysitter, we know he is fine before we even step out the door.


Your patience gets tested

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I come from a family of short-tempered people. I have a son who’s very strong-willed and intense. Ali-Frazier was nothing to the potential confrontations I could have had with my son. My wife, on the other hand, has the patience of a saint. Plus, she is a strong believer in the path of least resistance, enforcing right and wrong through compassion. (I learned a lot from her and credit her as the reason I’m the father I am today.)

But sometimes we just can’t stay calm and accept certain behaviors (drawing on walls, throwing toys ect.), even if it’s perfectly normal. I always want the behavior to stop, but we remind ourselves that the behavior is normal and try to stay as patient as possible.


Kids play favorites

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My son genuinely prefers his mother over me. My wife was in graduate school while pregnant and gave birth during winter break. (The timing was impeccable.) She returned to school a week after he was born, taking night classes and graduating four months later. I’d come home from work and she’d go to class. He’d cry the moment she left. He wasn’t hungry or wet. He just wanted his mama.

I tried everything to reassure him mama would return, but nothing ever seemed to work. Over the years, he’d still prefer his mother to me but I realized it’s okay. I cannot take it personally, though my ego has taken a hit. She works three nights a week, so now I use those times to bond with my son and have special adventures just the two of us.


Safety is more important than fun

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Getting your child to play sports is great. It teaches them to be competitive, deal with losing, employs social skills and possibly enjoy playing the sport. Soccer is also considered to be safe among parents. However in my opinion, learning to play soccer – or any sport – isn’t as important as learning how to swim.

Anyone can run out onto a field and figure out how to kick a ball. But swimming is a life skill. You can’t do it if you don’t learn it. That means no cannonballs into a pool, no jumping over waves in the ocean and ultimately more hazardous situations for your kid.


Personal space ceases to exist

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In addition to having your side of the bed usurped, the rest of your home becomes a glass house when you have kids. You can’t escape. As your kids grow, so do their piles of stuff. I’m afraid to walk barefoot in my apartment fearing I’ll step on an action figure. Our farm table in our kitchen has been turned into a Lego construction site. Our coffee table is a display for those finished Lego projects. The window sills are mini libraries. I hesitate to even vacuum because who knows what will get sucked up and be sorely missed.

Maybe one day my son will learn to put his toys away, but for now I just need to proceed with caution.


Saying ‘no’ doesn’t work

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Children hear the word ‘no’ all the time, to the point that it can become debilitating and can cause them to be shy and timid. I know I heard it from my parents all the time and I don’t want to be like them.

Anytime my son asks to do something I try to say no by saying yes. This gives him a little affirmation of what he can do instead of just what he cannot. For example, when my son says: “Papa, can we go to the ice cream store now?” instead of saying no, I try to respond “Son, yes, right after dinner.” This takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth saying yes to.