As I get older, the lessons and the emotions that come along with being a parent keep getting more powerful.
Friday night was emotional.
I found myself in a crowd of 1000 people at a high school football game. At halftime, while everyone was looking at my daughter standing in a homecoming princess dress out on the 50 yard line, I was somewhere else in my mind.
Exactly sixteen years before at 3am, my wife Amanda’s water broke signaling we were about to have our first child. The doctors told us to wait until 6am since “we had time.”
By 6am, Amanda was in full blown labor and like a scene out of a movie, I drove full speed in a panic and pulled up in front of the hospital screaming for help. They wheeled my wife in and a few hours later the doctor told us “you are about to have a baby.”
Then, right on cue, Sofia was born.
She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I had never seen something so perfect. I had never felt so protective of someone else. I had never felt so sure I was looking at someone who was destined for greatness.
When I was alone with her minutes after her birth as the nurses had finished checking her, I had my first moments as a dad. Right there and then, I made her a silent promise I have kept these last 16 years: I promise I will always love you, I will always provide for you and I will always be your dad.
The first two parts of that promise have been easy. The last one, however, has been more challenging. After all, when we left the hospital with her a few days later, just like her car seat I couldn’t figure out, being a dad didn’t come with an instruction manual either.
Sofia was our “first.”
As a result, there have been a number of “firsts” she has either allowed me or forced me to be a part of as a dad. Those firsts have led to a lot of lessons. Over time, those lessons helped me to form a little “Rooney Dad Manual” of sorts.
As I drifted back to the football field and watched her be announced as her class’ Homecoming Princess on her 16th birthday, I reflected on what I have learned over my 16 years as a dad. Before you go thinking I am a great dad after reading the list, remember that I learned every one of the following lessons by getting them wrong first.
16 Lessons To Raise A Happy, Healthy Kid
1. Set High Expectations.
Somebody has to be great. Might as well be your child. Make sure to remind them, but also to never let them forget it is all about the process of getting there.
2. Love Your Spouse.
Few things stress a kid out like his or her parents fighting. If you are going to argue, do it when they aren’t around. Model a loving family and you will have a better chance for loving kids.
3. Keep Your Door Open.
If they are going to learn about something, good or bad, make sure they learn it from you too. At 13 or 14 kids start to “close the door.” Don’t be afraid to walk in always remembering communication is important.
4. Look Out For Signs.
Find your child’s passion by looking for what captures his or her interest. I knew early on I had a speedster. Once you find your child’s calling, your job is to support that gift.
5. Give Them Choices (But Not Too Many).
Let them explore different sports, activities and interest. But remember you are the conductor of this show. You will be wiser in your ability to direct them toward success, so when it is time to focus, do it.
6. Be Unconditional.
When they were babies you didn’t miss an opportunity to show your love with a hug or kiss. Make sure that doesn’t go away just because they got older. Never let them forget that your love is there no matter how they act or make the occasional mistake.
7. Give Them Some History.
Let them know where they came from and what the name on the back of their jersey means. With that history, you don’t just give them an identity; you also give them something to live up to.
8. Teach Something To Believe In.
Your children will get a lot of things from you over their first 18 years like shoes and clothes and maybe a car. Before you worry about those, make sure they get good values too. Great ones to start with? Honesty and work ethic never fail.
9. Spend Family Time Together.
Getting together for a movie, game night or dinner is as important as ever today. Don’t just reserve family time for the occasional vacation or holiday. Make sure to make the smaller moments together count too. Turning off the technology helps.
10. Give The Best Gifts.
Although a pony or computer sound like you are doing your best to provide for your children, there are better gifts a parent can provide: Your attention. Your hugs. Your time. Your advice. Your belief. Make sure you are giving those away as freely as an allowance they didn’t earn.
11. Focus On Health.
A child can’t be entrusted to pick the right foods, exercise or get enough sleep. Make sure you are educating about a healthy lifestyle and provide the food and activities to achieve it. And as for body image, make sure you teach them they are in control.
12. Be A Good Model.
Your kids are going to talk like you talk, work like you work and act like you act. Take a good look in the mirror and make sure you like what is going to be reflected back at you someday. Live today like what you want to see in them someday.
13. Have Family Rituals.
Sunday dinners at home. A weekly taco place to eat out. These are great opportunities to catch up and create memories. Of all of them, tucking your kids in at night with a book could be the most valuable. Whatever you choose, get one and repeat.
14. Go On An Adventure.
Each year I take each of my daughters on a trip. Looking forward to and planning them keeps both me and them excited and positive. It doesn’t have to be to a castle to make them feel like a princess. Plan something fun and go.
15. Stay Consistent.
Your kids will push your buttons. As a parent, it is tough to stick to what you said it terms of limits and consequences. Next time you think about “letting them off the hook” remember you are the parent and if you give an inch they will eventually take a mile.
16. Play One On One.
If you have more than one child like me, carving out some individual time for each of them is critical. Now with 4 daughters, I realize each one of them needs attention and to feel important. Be sure you carve out some time for each of your kids and make them feel special.
How are you doing according to the list? I know I have a long way to go as a parent, but I believe those parental lessons will never fail you. If you aren’t getting them all right that’s ok. That’s why parenting is like a unique test where you only get the answers after the pop quiz. And if you have some great lessons to share to add to the list, please do.
Today I took my daughter for her driver’s license. It’s hard for my daughter’s father to believe she is 16 and growing older. I guess I want life to slow down sometimes. But since it can’t at least you and I have those 16 lessons to live by to make sure to do the best job we can.
Yours in Strength,
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