If I knew then what I know now

Experienced fathers say they would do things differently if they had to do it again.

One of the things that happens to parents when their children reach adulthood is that hindsight and insight help them see things differently. They realise that they were probably a lot harder on their children than they should have been and it’s then that they start to feel they would do things differently if they could do it again.

Our older two children were 11 and seven when our third child was born. Right from the start, we realised that our third child had different parents from the first two. We were, naturally, a lot more experienced, a lot more relaxed, a lot more understanding and a lot more accommodating with her, sometimes so much so that her two older sisters would reprimand us for being, in their opinion, too soft on her.

Were we too soft? I don’t think so. We were definitely a lot more easy going with her as a child because we had done this before and we knew what was important and what wasn’t, so we didn’t major on the minor stuff.

Did she grow up as a delinquent because we were a lot more relaxed with her? Again, based on her behaviour, personality and performance, I don’t think so. She always took her school work seriously and acquitted herself very well in her school leaving exams. She is now in first year university and her approach to her work is highly responsible. She is emotionally mature and completely independent in terms of her studies.

I realise with hindsight that I was a lot tougher on my older two as they were growing up than I needed to be but accept that I was doing what I thought was best, even though it was probably not really the best.

So what I would I do differently with my older two if I could do it again?

For a start, I would be a lot more accepting of the humanness of my children and not be so disapproving of some of the rather inconsequential things they did. If they did something that I thought was not appropriate, I would give them long lectures on why they shouldn’t have done what they did. A short explanation would have been sufficient.

Another thing I would do is not brand behaviour as “good” or “bad” when it really wasn’t. It’s more about what’s appropriate and inappropriate, what’s helpful and what’s unhelpful, what’s constructive and what’s destructive. Children are not “bad” people. They’re still learning to be people and do what they think is best. Sure, what they think is best may not be appropriate, and that’s what we need to help them see.

One more thing I would do is encourage them to explore more and not put unnecessary boundaries and limits on them. While certain boundaries are very necessary and give children a sense of security, there are definitely unnecessary boundaries which we impose on our children more for own sake than for theirs. All this does is cause a child to become a little more reserved than they need to be and discourages them from being curious and enquiring.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you go to the opposite extreme and let your children run riot. That’s just as bad as wanting to lock them up in their rooms until they’re 21. 

After each visit to the paediatrician with our first baby, he would walk us to the door and say, “Enjoy your baby.” This was at a time when she was, in our opinion, very difficult – crying all the time and not sleeping. It was only much later that I came to understand what he really meant. That’s why I now always encourage parents to, above all, enjoy their children!

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