What would it be like, I wondered, to hold my own child, to hear “Daddy” for the first time, to watch him or her swing on the playground with friends? It was so foreign to me, but now seems so natural.
If I could go back to that night in February 2008, I’d tell myself a few things. Some of the items on this list I learned by experience, while others I practiced nearly from the get-go. Here is what I would tell myself:
1. Parenting is far greater than you can imagine. Nothing on this earth compares to it, and you will regret waiting so long to become a parent. It’s better than all those things you think are fun: football, naps, eating pizza. You’ll soon discover you’d rather be a parent for one year than do all that other stuff for 100 years.
2. Don’t get too busy in life. You’re living in the days you’ll forever treasure, and this time will fly by faster than you can imagine. Limit your hobbies, your take-home work, and even how you are involved at church. Spend lots of time with your kids.
3. Applaud your children when they are successful at something. Praise them for their efforts, even when they fail. Make them love being around you so much that when you discipline them, it means something. Young children can do lots of wrong throughout the day. Make it a point to tell them when they’re right.
4. Make your toddler hold a hand in parking lots and stores, even if they would be safe not doing so. If you give them too much freedom for too long, they won’t ever want to hold a hand again. If you make them hold a hand at all times, it will become second-nature to them.
5. Practice first-time obedience, or, as Barney Fife would say, “nip it in the bud.” That is, don’t let your child get away with disobedience just because it’s cute or you’re too tired to practice discipline. Timeouts work with toddlers. Don’t be lazy.
6. Start a foundation of healthy eating early — and don’t introduce sweets until they’re eating good food, regularly. There’s a reason children who have had cake don’t want to eat green beans. It’s because one does taste better than the other – and they don’t understand the consequences of eating only cake. Adults prefer cake and they do know the consequences.
7. Teach the alphabet, numbers and colors early. Don’t wait until they’re 4 or 5. Children can learn faster and earlier than we often realize. Keep the TV off and place board books in their play area – even in their crib after they wake up. Soon, they’ll see books as toys and as something “fun” (which they are).
8. Laugh at the supposedly stressful moments – like the time your young son poops in the bathtub or the moment your toddler daughter is screaming because you won’t let her drink canola oil. You’ll laugh at those moments someday, anyhow. Those times indeed are funny.
9. Take advantage of the fact your child will copy everything you do. This means if you pray regularly, your child will, too, and if you tell your wife she’s beautiful, your child will do the same to his mommy. Build good habits in your kids by being a good example.
10. Share the Gospel with your child from the start – all of it. Tell them the wonderful story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection before they even can talk. It’s the right thing to do, and it allows them to learn the Gospel naturally.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public).
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