Since becoming a stay-at-home dad over a decade ago, I have learned many surprising new things. How to boil nipples is one small example. But the years have brought bigger picture takeaways, too. Read and learn, fellow SAHDs. Read and learn.
1.There will be injuries, but you'll recover.
If you ask them, most veteran parents will sheepishly admit they've been injured while parenting. I once suffered a toilet wound while potty training my toddler at a "Mommy and Me" gym class. As I bent over in the tiny restroom to button my daughter's pants, somehow she slammed the lid on my head. Blood trickled down my receding hairline as I braced for all those "moms and me" to gather around the parachute circle. Other injuries include a chipped front tooth suffered by ramming my head into a monkey bar while trying to protect my other toddler, which provides lifelong humor at dental check-ups.
2. Speaking of potty training...don't sweat the wet stuff.
There are lots of near misses in parenting, and sometimes you have to forgive yourself for failure. Take potty training. I always felt I deserved some partial credit for all the effort I put into training our firstborn to make it all the way to the toilet, pull down her training pants, and then pee just a few inches from the toilet. Hey, at least she was in the room! Alas, my failure to achieve perfect potty training led to mysterious "water" damage in my basement office, but that's another story. Coincidentally, many years later our indoor-trained Yorkie often pees just next to his pee pads. It seems I can't escape the need to wipe urine from my floors. (Note to self: No more babies or puppies.)
3. The sooner you memorize the layout of your local grocery store, the better.
I was never able to implement the oft-quoted advice to offer a child a new food ten times before accepting that she doesn't like it. In my house, it was more like, "Here are ten different foods. Please eat one so I can avoid a third trip to the grocery store today." And when you do haunt that store (and its bathroom changing stations—if you're lucky), pinpoint the check-out line with the fewest magazine covers. Most are dripping with sex-obsessed coverlines that are harmless during the baby years but maddening during the look-dad-I-can-read-what-does-sex-trick-mean years.
4. There is one family but many historians.
I recently traveled with my older brother to visit my niece's college campus. After being mistaken for her two dads, my brother and I experienced another funny moment in the dining hall. When a classmate mentioned a trip to Big Sur in California, my niece chimed in about how much she loved her family trip there in the past. In reality, my brother has railed for years about how his daughter hated most of that trip. In a moment of searing eye contact, he and I shared an interior laugh and wondered at the magic of revision.
5. You won't be able to protect your children from every threat.
I have managed to redefine what I provide my children, from financial to physical security. When my firstborn was just five days old, I was resourceful (and crazed) enough to gather bicycle helmets and a turkey pan during a tornado warning just in case they were needed for protection. (My wife nearly pulled a muscle due to her eye rolls, but that didn't deter me.)
Since then, however, my fatherly instinct to protect my kids from external threats has been stymied by an unlikely source: internal threats. I have learned that even a 24-7 committed at-home parent can't protect a child from emotional injuries and feelings of sadness that inevitably impact all of us at times. A broken spirit can be much harder to prevent and treat than a broken bone. All you can provide is a hug, an ear, a shoulder to cry on, and maybe later a relevant story from your own childhood disappointments. If all that fails, consider seeking professional help.
6. Sports cliches come in handy.
Given all these lessons of parenting, a final takeaway comes to mind from the world of sports: All a parent can do is try his or her hardest and leave it all on the field—or the kitchen table, in this case.