When somebody young is about to become a parent, there are certain things that they’re told repeatedly: “It’s going to be so hard. Are you sure you want to go through with this? You’re going to have to give up your dreams, you know.”
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I became a father nearly two and a half years ago, at the age of twenty. I now have two children, and people are still telling me some of these things.
While certain dreams of mine have fallen down my list of priorities, I absolutely reject the notion that I must abandon them all together just because I have children. In fact, I have found that their existence has given me what I need to succeed. Life has a way of giving us exactly what we need, even when we don’t realize it.
I’ve picked up a few things along the infinite journey through parenthood, and I’d like to share some of this knowledge.
1) It’s all a matter of perspective
It’s easy to turn young parenthood into an excuse in life, into a reason not to fight. But being a young father is the reason I fight. I want a better life for my children so they can have the things I never did. I want to lead by example and show that no matter what, we should never stop trying.
2) Always have a safety net
When my first son was ten months old, I got hired full time at a local factory that offered a decent wage and full benefits. I thought for sure that for once in my life I didn’t have to worry about money. But I planned ahead and stashed some of each paycheck into savings, just in case. I was laid off three months later, just in time to find out our second son was on the way. Babies need things, and bills don’t stop coming. My savings saved us.
3) Prepare to accept a certain degree of mess
Babies have a lot of stuff, and it’s not easy to contain it to one room. I don’t like mess, but it’s easier to accept it and move on. It gets better. Be thankful your children have enough stuff to make a mess with in the first place.
4) It helps me connect with my own parents
My parents were the same age as I was when I became a father. As my kids get older and I experience more of parenthood, I understand more of my parents’ past actions. Parenting is very hard, especially when you’re young. This helps me to appreciate and connect with them on a deeper, more meaningful level.
5) Appreciate the little things
Whether it’s ten minutes of silence, some alone time with my girlfriend, or a hot bath/shower to relax, small things mean so much more when you don’t always get them. But the other seemingly small things, like little baby smiles and cuddling, make life that much more precious. And as kids grow, their little milestones like first steps or first words put everything into perspective. Life is good.
6) Don’t sweat the small stuff
Raising a baby dominates most of your life. Sometimes laundry or dishes fall behind on the schedule, and that’s okay. It’s important to pick your battles, otherwise life begins to become overwhelming. It’s not fun growing up in a negative environment. By letting things like chores slip every so often, you can focus on the better things in your day, like playing with your child or cuddling with your partner. Life is short so enjoy the ride.
6) Being a kid is awesome
Everything has magic and wonder, but when we get older it’s harder to see. But not for children. I admire the imagination and creativity that kids have, and I use my son’s daily playtime to retrain myself to remember the way I used to be. Life was about having fun and being happy. There was no worry of bills or fulfilling my purpose. I miss being a kid, but raising one helps me feel that way again.
7) Being a dad makes you tougher
If your family needs something, you make it happen. Your resolve strengthens and you are not afraid to do what you have to. Your family’s needs come first, and everybody else second.
8) Being a dad also makes you more sensitive
I now have more of a weakness for the wellbeing of all children, not just my own. I’m more compassionate towards the needs of children, and for other struggling parents. Looking at the news is always a mistake.
9) Relationships will require more work
Parenting becomes top priority and is very time consuming, so it’s easy to forget that there’s a relationship with your partner to nurture. Somewhere between the diaper changing, feeding, and sleepless nights, it’s easy to forget that you’re not just a parent-machine, but an adult with complex thoughts and emotions. Take some time each day to just be a couple, even if it’s a slow kiss, a hug, or an eye-locking “I love you”. Your partner is a top priority too. Don’t lose yourself in the ebb and flow of the daily grind.
10) Family is everything
Life is so much better when we have loved ones to share it with.
These are just ten things I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been a parent, and the great thing about this is that the list will grow indefinitely. As our children grow and learn, so do we. One will find that children can do a great deal of teaching if only we pay attention.