A woman I work with just announced she is expecting her first child. I work for a large, international company, so that tends to happen pretty often. And because it's no secret that I write about my experiences as a dad on the Internet, she—like many others before her—said to me, "I'm sure I'll be knocking on your door for advice!" I nodded and smiled, knowingly. I understand that it probably seems like a father of three would be the perfect source of wisdom for somebody just coming out of the gate. But my tone changes when a certain complimentary term is brought into the conversation.
That's what they call me sometimes. And immediately after they do, I will discreetly lean in (just as I'm doing with you right now) and whisper a rebuttal.
"I know nothing."
A far more suitable term would be "experienced." Actively raising three children has provided, at the very least, experience. And I'll certainly agree to that. But expert? Please, you flatter me. You see, I still make mistakes—plenty of them, in fact. And, if I'm being honest, most of them are mistakes I've made with every...single...child. I've refined my approach over time, mind you, but I still fall into certain traps every now and then, such as:
1. Making a tantrum exponentially worse
While I certainly don't think we should appease a bratty child who hurls himself on the floor of Toys 'R' Us for not getting the action figure he wants, it also isn't an effective strategy to poke the bear. But I still do it. Even though I've learned that nothing good ever comes out of arguing with a toddler, I find myself doing it anyway. And it inevitably elevates the tantrum to Christian Bale-like levels.
2. Feeding them sugar close to bedtime
Every time this happens, I realize I have done it halfway through the snack. My son is sitting at the table with ice cream caked all over his face; sprinkles are stuck to his cheeks; a hot fudge mustache fully intact. It's at that point when I remember that sugar = energy = problems putting him to bed = even bigger problems getting him up for school the next morning. I know it'll come back to bite me, but what can I say? I like to make people happy.
3. Disrespecting the nap
If I could offer just one piece of advice for new parents, it would be to never wake your kid up from a nap. And furthermore, don't expect your kid to be functional at a time when he/she is normally asleep. I know this to be true, but I still break my own rule, like scheduling a photo shoot right in the middle of my baby daughter's afternoon nap. What could possibly go wrong?! Anytime you're considering taking your child outside when they'd normally be asleep, imagine someone pulling you out of bed at 3 a.m. and expecting you to be happy about it.
4. Consulting the Internet to diagnose a sickness
In general, the Internet tends to be a bit dramatic when it comes to our health. But for our children's health, it can get scary pretty quickly. That doesn't stop me, though. After a bout of sniffles and a light cough, I'll diagnose my son with at least three different diseases, and my wife and I will be huddled around an iPhone, waiting for the pharmacist to pick up.
5. Completely disregarding my own needs
If there's one misdeed that I find the most universal, it's this. When my first son was born, I remember hitting a breaking point about three months in. I found myself snapping at people over the silliest things. I needed to be social and get out of the house. So I did. But naturally, when Baby No. 2 hit the scene, the same pattern developed. Ditto for Baby No. 3, who was born this past February. And frankly, I'll never learn. Few of us do. I'm so busy with helping with homework, giving baths and driving to soccer practice (and oh yes, my career), that my personal needs wind up falling by the wayside. It's unhealthy and dangerous. But so often, it's inevitable.
Every single item on this list is a mistake I'll make again, maybe even at least two of them within the next month. But I think the lesson here is that, mistakes are going to happen—often, in fact. We just have to be mature enough to recognize them as they're happening and make a mental note, and we'll find that the bad decisions we make as parents will start to spread out more over time.
Here's hoping that our missteps as moms and dads are completely eliminated by the time we're all grandparents.
What are your most significant recurring mistakes? Add them in the comments section below or tweet me @JoeDeProspero.