My son is 16 months old now, and as I look back and evaluate myself, I realize that I made several mistakes as a dad. As I observe what other dads do, I realize the mistakes we make are not all that different from each other.
Here are 21 things I did wrong and I hope that my experience can help you avoid the same mistakes.
Playing computer games in front of my son
I love playing computer games. I know that it can be violent and not suitable for children, so I tend to avoid playing violent games in front of him. But most games are violent to them. Most games contain some form of shooting or hacking with blades, to adults it may be very mild or even nothing, but to them that are exploring this world, it’s bad.
My wife recorded a video of me playing the PS4 when my son was around, and he was hooked to the TV. At first, I thought it was cute, but later it got me thinking, is this really what I want to expose my son to? The possible addiction to computer games or even television?
Lesson learned. I forced myself to stop playing whenever he’s around, no matter how intense it is in the game, I switch it off when my son is around. It was difficult at first, but with persistence, it becomes easier and easier.
Being too busy for my son
Because of financial needs, I had to look for other sources of income. For more than a year, I’ve not been spending enough time or giving him the attention he needs. Mom takes care of that, and it will have to be enough, for now, but once we have enough money, I can spend more time with him.
I got a wake-up call one day when I realized that he is already nearing a year and a half years old. I’m nearer to my financial goals, but there’s still a long way to go. If I continue like this, he will be two years old, three, and then five. I may or may not be nearer to my financial goals, but I will have lost all the early days of his life.
There’s no surprise that my boy is not close to me. In fact, he shuns away from me. I began to take certain steps to get more involved in his life, and his attitude towards me has improved.
I will continue to put time aside for him because it is worth it. If you feel that your child dislikes you, read this article I wrote about why my baby hates me, and what I did to win his affection, maybe it can give you the answers you seek.
Thinking that reading time is enough
My mentor gave my wife and me a task to finish reading the bible to our boy before he turns a year old. To achieve this goal, we need to read at least four chapters a day for him, and that can take up to 30 minutes. Seeing that I’ve spent 30 minutes with him, I considered my job done and I’m free from my dad duties.
I learned that while reading is good, it won’t satisfy his bonding needs because there’s no eye contact, no interaction. Reading time cannot replace playtime and other activities, and it shows in the gradual decline of affection he has for me.
Reading is good and it should continue as often as possible, but it cannot be a substitute for actual playtime or activities that have direct bonding power, such as giving him your full attention during the interaction.
Not providing quality time
In my attempt to spend more time with my boy, I made an effort to play with him. It was difficult as I can hardly focus; my mind was wondering about the things I like or work or getting distracted by my phone. Even when I take him to the park for a walk, my mind will wander off. It’s just difficult to give my son my full attention.
Our children know that we are not paying attention to them, that we are distracted. He will do things to gain my attention, but mostly he will want his mom since she gives him better quality time than me.
At one point, I had a paradigm shift as I realize that my boy is going to grow up very fast, and soon, he is going to be independent. If I don’t give him my attention now I will forever miss the chance. I began to value him over the things that competed for my attention and spending time with him no longer felt like a chore. My paradigm has shifted from “my son can wait” to “the other things can wait”.
It’s heartwarming to see how our children reciprocate our feelings. I’m much closer to him than before. Now, he looks for me to play with him, and my wife says that when he plays with me, he does things that he doesn’t do when playing with her.
Letting my wife do it all
My wife has been taking care of many babies since she was a teenager. She has so much experience in what to do, and she does it so well that I overly depended on her. She is also a full-time mom, so it made me feel that she can and should be doing more.
The problem with this was as time goes by, my contributions were so few that she started complaining to me that I’m letting her do all the work, she can’t even have a break because I can’t help out. I must admit, I wasn’t irresponsible by letting my wife do most of the work that I’m perfectly capable of if I tried.
Another way to look at it is this. When someone does the work, that person is also bonding with the child. Because my wife was doing everything for him, it’s no wonder my son prefers his mother. I’ve since become more proactive and do my part, and the family atmosphere has not only become better, but I’m more confident now as a dad as I become more competent.
Letting my wife single-handedly take the night shift
In the early days after my boy was born, we split night duties equally. I’m not exactly sure when but eventually, night duty became her job as I needed to work in the day.
Sure, that sounds fair and logical, you may even say teamwork. But there are weekends too, or holidays where I can give my wife a break to take care of him. Again it is all about the bonding and memories. When he grows up and has his family, I want to tell him what I’ve done for him at night too.
Not bathing my son when he was younger
I didn’t bathe my boy until he was able to sit. I have reasons such as, I don’t want to injure him accidentally, so since my wife is an expert it’s better she bathes him.
When he could sit, I had no more excuse and started to bathe him, and I realize that my boy enjoys his bathing time! While now I have some memories of bathing him, I don’t have any memories to remember when he was younger. I wasn’t involved in that part of his life.
Bonds and trust can be built between my baby and me during that time, and I missed it. Not only that, my wife had to shoulder the responsibility by herself. I’m glad that at least now I will have some memories, and can lessen the burden of my wife too.
Being too lazy for a walk or a swim
My toddler loves two things very much, going for a walk in the park and swimming. It can be an hour session every time we do one of these two things. Since my wife is a teacher, she understands the benefits of these activities and will proactively bring my son to go, at times she will call me along too, but I will reject to go along with excuses.
I was just lazy. At one point, I realized that I’m missing a big part of him growing up, what a shame! When I realized this, I begin to motivate myself to bring him for a walk or a swim, and it went from “man, I hope this ends soon” to genuinely enjoying seeing him having fun.
Perspective is everything! If you’re having difficulties in this area, try to identify the reason and the right motivation of why you should bring him out. I found mine by wanting to be a part of his growing up and building good memories, and I want to be remembered as a good dad.
Not getting familiar with his clothes
My wife makes the clothing arrangements at home, and unfortunately, until today, I still don’t know how she arranges them. I can’t differentiate between his clothes at home, clothes to wear while going out and sleeping clothes. And this makes changing him challenging. More often than not, I end up changing him up in the wrong clothes.
My wife knows which clothes are which, which I find amazing. I guess I can compartmentalize them and put labels, but my wife changes the organization as we buy more clothes. I still don’t have a proper solution for this though and try as I may, I cannot remember which clothes are for which occasion!
Not taking enough initiative
By now you could see what an awesome wife I have, and what a lousy husband she had. I identified the problem as not taking enough initiative or not being proactive. What I did not take the initiative to do, my wife supplemented it by doing it herself and this unnecessarily put a strain on her.
I saw some immediate benefits as I begin to take the initiative to do things. First, my wife was happier, and having a happier wife is awesome. Second, I feel more involved in the family. Instead of being a useless person or worse, a burden when I’m at home, I now contribute quite a lot to the family. Overall the family mood and atmosphere have improved.
Highlighting what my wife didn’t do
My wife does a lot, and I do not see most of the things. Even though I appreciate the things she does, I’m probably still unaware of her full contributions. As time goes by, I began to take the things she does for granted. It’s her job anyway.
That type of attitude made me highlight the things she does wrong or didn’t do, instead of appreciating her for the things she did. This attitude added stress to our marriage and affected the way she takes care of our son. It’s my fault really.
After realizing this, I took more notice of what she does instead of what she didn’t do. I actively find ways to thank her, and instead of pointing out the things she didn’t do, I try to do it instead. This new attitude reduced the stress of our marriage and improved the family atmosphere, and my son benefits from it.
Quarreling with wife in front of my son
It’s normal for husband and wife to quarrel, but I believe we have the power to hold in our anger and not quarrel in front of our toddler. We had an agreement that we will not do so, but I broke it.
At one of the arguments, I got so fired up, so angry that I could not hold back any longer and lashed out at my wife. My wife, in turn, couldn’t hold it any longer as well and screamed at me. Our toddler was in the same room, he was oblivious to what was happening until that moment, and he started crying very loudly, he was clearly scared at what was going on.
That was an awful and needless experience for my boy, and it could have broken something inside him that we will never know. If I could just restrain myself or walk out of the argument, this wouldn’t have happened. The power to constrain me is with myself, and there will be no more quarreling in front of him.
Showing my temper to him
Once when my wife went out, I took up the challenge to care for him for a few hours. I didn’t expect it to be so difficult. He was so cranky that his mom is not around, and I didn’t know what he wanted. He just cries and cries and cries, and nothing I did could calm him.
Helplessness turned into frustration and then to anger. I slapped his bum and warned him sternly. Needless to say, this made him even more upset, and he cried even louder. It went to the point where I started to ignore him.
Looking back, I was teaching him that it’s OK to show temper, I was even setting an example for him. That was bad. I found that by reigning in my emotions and reminding myself that I’m setting examples for him by my actions, I’m able to calm myself and separate temper from discipline. I do discipline my son, but I make sure there’s no temper in it.
Disciplining the dog in front of him
We have a dog at home, and it can be extremely frustrating at times as she sometimes pees in the house and barks a lot when someone comes. What’s even more frustrating is that she doesn’t like our son. If he goes near her, she will get territorial and try to bite him.
I remember when he was younger, he would be fascinated by the dog. He would want to get near her and touch her. One day we noticed that he began to scold the dog and even hit it. Where did he learn how to react like this? From us, of course! He saw how we treat her and emulated our behavior.
This new behavior reminded me that our children observe what we do and will copy us. We need to be careful about how we behave if we want our children to acquire the correct values.
Not setting up family values
In the business world, companies and managers would set up corporate values. This gives them a compass in how they get things done and a clear direction to head towards. I understand the importance of core values, but I never thought to apply it at home.
Having family values can help us identify what is important for our family, what we stand for and how we react to situations. Any time we decide to do something or respond to something, we can ask the question. Does this violate our core values? It unites us by giving us the same sense of direction, a moral compass, makes us feel fulfilled and connected to one another. [source]
Values do not change over time; it is constant and ingrained in us. When we go against our values, we normally feel guilty about it and want to change. It doesn’t need supervision, and we practice it even when no one is watching.
Not setting up house rules
In the beginning, we didn’t have house rules, and so sometimes we do things that irritate the other person because we don’t have a common understanding. Things were also less orderly in the house because there were no house rules about it; we do as we see fit. For example, we would play with our phones during meals, and our baby doesn’t have a set time he must sleep.
Over time, we learned to establish house rules, and we find that there are more harmony and order at home. For instance, one of our house rules is we have dinner at the dining table together, and no phones are allowed. Now that everyone has the same understanding, we can consciously do what is right in the family, and we can also remind each other. The nice thing is that instead of feeling annoyed when reminded, we take it quite well.
Unlike values, rules can change. When the rule no longer serves a purpose, it can go away. An example, we have a house rule that bedtime is 9 PM. As our child grows up, this rule will eventually be obsolete and can be changed or removed.
The house rules we have established are:
- Have dinner together, at the dining table.
- No phones allowed at dinner.
- Bedtime is 9 PM.
Not bringing the family to peer groups sooner
Now that I have a peer group of new parents, I realize how much we have been missing. Before we joined this group, we were alone because none of our church friends are parents. No one could relate to us and the challenges we were facing, and so in a sense, we were isolated in facing this new life. Our pastors, friends, and family were great, but it’s just different because no one really understood.
Eventually, a group of ex-church mates formed a new parent group and invited us to join, and we did. I must say that by joining this group, we were edified. We found a sense of belonging, and now we had a group of people that understood the challenges we were facing and share the joy we have. Because all of us share the same faith and the values we hold dear are similar, we no longer walk the parenting route alone.
As a bonus, because all of us in the group are new parents, our boy gets to socialize with his peers! He now has friends at his age that meets regularly, and we can see improvements in him. He takes less time to warm up to people and starts to play with other children instead of hiding behind us.
Not bringing him out to socialize sooner
My son cries a lot, more than other toddlers at his age. When visitors come, he will shy away. When other toddlers come to play, he will shy away from them too. The active boy we know suddenly closes up when there are other people around.
My wife and I recognize this, it is the lack of social skills. He is not used to having other people around his space. Joining the peer group helped him open up, but we didn’t meet a lot, so the exposure wasn’t enough for him. As we invited more guests to our home more frequently, we can see the time he takes to warm up shortens.
The best method we realized though, is to bring him out more often. Bring him to more family gatherings, to the mall, to the park, for a swim. We see great results, and he will now approach other kids to play. That’s a major win. We hope that as we continue to do this, he will feel more comfortable to go to school when the time comes.
Not recognizing his cries sooner
Because I did not spend enough time with him, I couldn’t recognize his cries, and this made taking care of him difficult. When my boy cries, my wife knows what he wants and can soothe him pretty fast. I, on the other hand, would throw up my hands because I can’t seem to get what he wants!
When our child can’t talk, crying is one of the ways he uses to communicate with us. How did my wife know how to differentiate his cries? It wasn’t magic; she knew it from spending a lot of time with him. When I decided to spend more time with him, I realize that I could know what he wants when he cries too!
Crying is his way to communicate. He is telling me that he is hungry, thirsty, bored, that he needs his diapers changed, and so much more. I don’t have a way to teach you how to decode your baby’s cries, and I’m not sure if that exists. But I can tell you this. If you spend enough time or take care of him alone enough times, you will begin to understand what he wants when he cries.
There is always a reason why a baby cries, they don’t do it for fun. As you get better and better at understanding his cries and give him what he needs sooner, he will cry less. I’m glad my effort paid off, I understand my boy a lot more now.
Not taking enough pictures
I’m not someone who likes to take pictures, and so I never took out the phone for some snaps. I realize the errors of my ways when I was browsing through my wife’s phone. She has so many pictures of us at different times and events, and it brought back many memories that were lost.
Once again, my wife taught me a valuable lesson. If we want to have something to remember by in the future, we need to take steps to make it happen; it won’t just come. In this case, taking more pictures!
Doubting the Gynecologist
I may have come close to losing my son before he was even born. My wife and I wanted very much for a natural birth, and we prepared for it. But at labor day, our gynecologist informed us that my baby’s heartbeat dropped every time my wife has a contraction. She doesn’t know why but advised us to go for C-section.
I was thinking in my mind, the gynecologist never once gave any indication that we may not have a natural birth, she knows we wanted it. Is she mistaken, or does she want to earn an extra buck because C-section is more expensive? We both waited for another 30 minutes before the gynecologist couldn’t wait any longer and advised us to consider C-section seriously.
I’m grateful I made the right choice to agree to the C-section. It turned out that my baby’s umbilical cord was 15 centimeters shorter than a normal baby, so when he gets pushed out during contraction, the umbilical cord will pull him back in, and this causes strain to his heart. Natural birth wasn’t possible for us here.
Sometimes we can want something so much that we begin to doubt the professionals, thinking we’re more knowledgeable or that they have an ulterior motive. Lesson learned, and I’m grateful for my gynecologist and thankful to God that everything turned out well.