Everyone’s journey through life is unique, especially the journey through parenthood, but we can also learn by understanding the journey of others.  My unique perspective includes becoming a parent at 23, raising that child in split custody and doing most of my parenting in those windows solo.  In recent years, I met my now wife and we now have 2 young children (both under 3, 18 months apart).  This has given me some perspective on raising children as a younger person, married vs unmarried and the differences between the challenges of raising infants/toddlers versus teenagers.

1. You’ll Stay Tired: The early years will test the fabric of your very soul with sleep deprivation, helicoptering to keep them from launching themselves down stairs and a research level outpacing all of your college efforts around every new illness they encounter.  My oldest sleeps and for the most part can get himself down the stairs, but he also plays travel baseball, games online with friends and has math problems ChatGPT can’t explain.  It’s a different level of exhaustion, but the logistics, finances and effort required to help at this level is draining.

2. What Do You Want: My ear hurts, I’m thirsty, I miss Mommy… this is an awesome moment for parents (especially Dads) because they are giving you easier wins by telling you what they need.  There is a beautiful window here where they get older and more observant, but share observations from a pure unobstructed perspective.  At some point, as adolescence creeps in, they start building a wall and keeping things behind it.  It will start so small that you won’t notice, but it will end in full day descriptions like good, fine and I don’t know.

3. Fear Me: As soon as they can walk (or sooner in the case of my daughter) they start to get in trouble.  Discipline for little ones is a hard balance between firmness and guidance.  That never changes.  As my oldest has grown, he has lost what little fear of me he had earned and now I have to reason with him on his transgressions.

4. Love Me: We spend hours worried about the paint colors, outfits, music, foods and other things that will show our children we brought them into a loving and supportive environment.  In contrast, they profuse their love for us in almost every interaction.  As my oldest has grown, I’ve continued to offer hugs, end every call with I love you and jump through hoops to show him the depth of my love.  He is an awesome kid and very accommodating, but even with that he’s just accommodating most of the time.  We talk every morning and every night.  That started when he was younger and wanted to stay connected to whichever parent he wasn’t with, but it has evolved into a soothing ritual that is more for me than him.

5. Let Go of the Wheel You Aren’t Holding: It is 100% natural to spend the first few years of parenting focusing on how you can create better outcomes for your children.  I am not here to suggest that you should never start or ever stop doing that.  I will say that if we are honest with ourselves, we are shaped by millions (probably more) interactions throughout our lives and more than half of those interactions are away from our parents.  For some this will be disconcerting, but it is vitally important to understanding the road ahead.  Whoever they become, it is (in my opinion) not fully in your control.  Whether it is ADHD or Autism at a young age or gender fluidity or drug use on the older end, it will be something you contributed to, but did not cause.

As I sit astride this interesting gap, if I could wish something for those reading this it would be to sit back and enjoy it.  I think this may be something akin to people who said you should enjoy college as the best years of your life.  It may be like a foreign language that cannot be truly absorbed until it is too late.  You are making mistakes.  You are also a hero doing incredible feats.  Over time, your kids will absorb, understand and appreciate both.  Love them.  Forgive yourself.  Enjoy the ride.  It’ll be over too soon.