The featured image for the seventh "Forty Days to Father's Day" piece for Casey Palmer, Canadian Dad, featuring Casey Palmer and his eldest son, 2014

13 Things Dads Need to Know When Having Kids

Forty Days to Father's Day #7

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Last updated on February 21st, 2024 at 08:05 pm

Though I know that I’m one of the few dads publicly sharing his fatherhood story up here in the Great White North, my story isn’t the only Canadian fatherhood story out there, and I’ll continue reminding the world that it’s only one of the 4.5 million in Canada.

4.5 million dads live up here in Canada—and probably even more who aren’t parenting children full-time—and each of their stories is just as valid as the next to tell the full story of what fatherhood’s all about. And with my fatherhood story only being seven-and-a-half years in its making, there’s a whole heap of fatherhood I haven’t even experienced yet.

What’s it like to raise a teenager? What’s it like to have an empty nest? How do you give the sex talk? How do you handle it when they want to learn how to drive?

With all the communities I’ve joined in my time as a dad, there are so many other men whose experiences I rely on every day to show me what I should expect in the years to come. And so a week into Forty Days to Father’s Day, I want to share some gems with you from all the wisdom they’ve given to me.

13 Things Dads Wish They Knew When They First Had Kids

1) That they weren’t really ready to have kids.

While I didn’t have a plan for when I wanted kids, doing it alongside my wife after plenty of discussion made it much easier. Other dads shared stories of the importance of using proper contraceptives, having kids with partners they loved and trusted, and making sure their names were on the birth certificates so they could retain their rights.

Raising kids is already hard, but doing it when you don’t even feel ready to do it? That’s starting from a hole that’s that much harder to climb out of.

2) Don’t sweat the SMALL stuff, because parenting will bring you MUCH bigger problems to worry about!

When we start thinking about fatherhood, we think about whether we have enough money to raise a baby. Do we have enough space? Do we have the right job, enough time, or got enough off of our bucket lists so that we don’t resent our little ones for so drastically changing our lives.

But contrary to what I literally just said in the first tip, you can only be so ready for fatherhood and all the curveballs it’s going to throw at you.

The doctor, dentist and optometrist appointments. How smartphones and social media will rock their worlds way sooner than you’d like. And—though this will be a tip you’ll only appreciate more the older you get—the longer you wait to have kids, the less energy you’ll have to keep up with them as you grow older.

All those bucket list items you worry about prior to having kids? Yeah… they’re usually not as important as you think.

3) Changes are gonna come, and they’re gonna come QUICK.

It’s said a woman becomes a mom when she first gets pregnant and that a man becomes a dad when their baby is born. If you ask me, there’s some truth behind that. Despite everything we did to get ready for our first, the Dad Life caught me completely off-guard, feeling like my life turned upside-down almost overnight.

The lifelong friends you just don’t see anymore, since your lifestyle and priorities just don’t line up anymore. The things that annoyed you about kids before becoming acceptable because they’re just part of the job. It’s a whirlwind of emotions and plenty of struggle you can’t even remember—you won’t know what it feels like till you hold your child for the first time.

It changes things forever.

4) Sleep — get as much as you CAN, because you’ll never get it AGAIN.

So many parents warn parents-to-be about getting as much sleep as they possibly can because they’ll never truly sleep soundly again. Whether it’s the earliest days where sleep is unpredictable, their years spent growing up when they start seeing sleep as optional, and the adult years where you stay up worrying over them, that feeling of real, genuine rest will be long behind you.

Here are some thoughts on sleep and things to keep in mind when you’re grappling with it through your parenting journey:

  • Seriously, get that sleep. Or if you really want to understand what sleeping is like for parents, try sleeping for three hours a night the year before your baby’s born to get a feel for it.
  • Or those rare times where you have a day off from things, consider taking a nap when the kids are napping. It might be tempting to be as productive as possible without your little munchkins underfoot, but trust me—you’ll be able to parent a whole lot better with some rest in your system!

5) Advice only goes so far—you need to understand how much of it actually WORKS for you.

It’s said that opinions are like assholes (everybody’s got one)—as a parent, you get opinions on parenting from literally everyone. Even people who aren’t parents. Apparently, having a childhood is the only prerequisite to understanding what it’s like to raise a child.

That said, the advice can be helpful—at first. While no two children are completely alike, there are enough similarities in most baby-raising experiences that you’ll find at least someone who went through what you’re going through.

But all that goes out the window when you introduce the wider world to your child because there’s absolutely no telling how those experiences will shape them when they have to think on their own feet.

The pandemic has helped me see my kids for who they are, and let me tell you—I’ve had to figure out two very different approaches to dealing with them because despite growing up in the same house, they’re very different children.

There’s a lot you’ll have to figure out for yourself.

6) Children are expensive, which is why you want to get your money matters sorted out as SOON as you possibly can!

Though so many of my parenting peers mistakenly believe that our kids will cost less once they’ve aged out of daycare, but you know what they say—bigger kids, bigger problems. We’re talking extracurricular programs. Camps. Higher sticker prices on holiday wishlists and the dreaded phone bill. The sooner you start saving for everything that’s coming your way, the easier the very bitter pills will be to swallow down the road.

Here are some saving suggestions from your friendly father community:

  • Start simple. You can always squirrel away $20 a paycheque into bank accounts in their names, making sure they don’t touch the money well into adulthood.
  • Play the long game—if you can commit to storing the money away till adulthood, then it’s worth considering investing that money instead of just letting it sit around in a savings account to collect some meagre interest. While I don’t suggest gambling your children’s futures in highly uncharted financial waters, the return on bonds and most mutual funds are very likely going to offer more than a savings account would.

7) Stuff? It’s OVERRATED.

What you soon learn after having a baby is that more than half the gifts you got at your baby shower are things you’ll use once, if at all—you really don’t need so much stuff. Diapers, blankets and wipes—trust me. They’ll go a long way.

But it doesn’t stop there. While just about every parent wants more for their children than they ever had, it’s definitely possible to have too much of a good thing, and all the video games, treats and toys we’ve lavished our kids with over the years started proving more of a problem than just a privilege.

What I’m starting to pit in place for my kids is much like what I’m doing for myself—focusing on using up the stuff I already have instead of always trying to get the next thing. It’s obviously not an easy mentality for a kid to develop, but I’m hoping they eventually learn that you don’t need a lot of stuff to make the most of your life—just time. Quality time to bring people—and ideas—together.

Also, there’s plenty of quality secondhand stuff out there on the market. I’m just saying.

8) You need to employ as MUCH patience and grace as HUMANLY possible when you’re raising your kids.

I used to be so patient before this pandemic ever started!

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what does being around your kids every waking moment for the better part of fifteen months do?

I’ll admit it—it doesn’t take much to get under my skin these days, and my children aren’t wholly to blame. Let’s remember that I work a full-time job, spend my nights writing up a storm, and try to spend every moment in between being as good a husband and father I possibly can. There are likely other stressors in my life.

The pandemic’s been hard on all of us, and we do our best to maintain an environment where we can try to get along.

But I find it really hard to employ patience and grace when I’m interrupted by a new problem every five minutes. Or when so many of those problems come from kids doing the exact opposite thing from the advice that I give them. While we need to come to terms with the fact that their behaviour—both good and bad—comes partially from us, it’s ridiculous to expect that we’ll always respond to it in a constructive and positive way.

But we definitely need to try.

9) Make sure your relationship’s SOLID, because kids will test it like you can’t even IMAGINE.

This one goes back to #1 and making sure that you’re ready to have a child because it’s not only the child you’ll need to worry about but whoever you’re raising it with.

Something worth remembering is that when you enter into a romantic relationship with someone, that relationship isn’t just with them but also with everyone who matters to them, too. I remember that when I started dating Sarah, her family, her friends and even her church congregation had plenty of questions for me to answer before they were sure I was the right fit. But with the divorce rate as high as it is and so many relationships just plain falling apart before they even get there, it’s clear to me that there’s not enough time spent developing relationship foundations that not even children could break.

Sarah and I are rounding on ten years of marriage and more than thirteen years of being together, and we’re very different people than who we were when this relationship first started. But we’ve managed to overcome plenty in that time—issues with each other, issues with our families when things didn’t turn out as expected, or even the feelings that we couldn’t be who we wanted to be in the context of our relationship—and still here we stand knowing that there’s still much more to come.

While family and friends will be invested in you and making sure you’re alright, all you really have to raise your kids are yourselves, so hopefully, you can find a way for everyone to stay involved, no matter what the relationship and situation need to look like.

10) Children are VERY manipulative and can get just about ANYTHING out of you if you’re not careful.

Kids aren’t dumb, guys. They pick up on how their parents operate very quickly, and while they might not consistently use that information to their advantage, they know how to do it when it really counts.

Take the Palmers, for example. While I’m a father hardened by a firm Jamaican upbringing in an era that didn’t allow men to show any signs of “weakness”, Sarah wants to do everything she can to make sure her boys feel loved and safe in an environment that gives them everything they need. Which works well enough… until they really start taking things for granted.

Where things get problematic is when Sarah feels like she’s been taken advantage of, and things break down pretty quickly in a clash of wills and emotions between the children too powered by their desires to have the empathy to think about anyone else, and my wife, who wants the kids to value everything she does to give them as amazing lives as possibleespecially in a time with so many constraints.

And then you have me who doesn’t make room for that mess in the first place.

You don’t have to like me, but you WILL respect me.

What I’ve realised about my upbringing through parenting my own kids is that respect is paramount for me, and if I can’t get that, no amount of manipulation is going to do you any good.

Where the kids might think they can get away with things with one parent can be a trigger for the other, so it’s important to have open communication between everyone responsible for raising them so that they know what the boundaries are.

The lesson here? Don’t try me when it comes to respect—I come from a long line of parents more than willing to stash toys away for months on end.

11) The unconditional love you get from your kids might be the greatest thing in the world.

Everyone wants to be loved and looks for it in different places. Relationships. Our parents. Pets and the friends around us.

But little measures up to the love we get from our kids.

Kids are resilient and though we can often feel like complete screwups as parents, they come back to us time and time again to get our affection to fill their buckets. It’s something we often take for granted… until it’s not there anymore.

Promises broken one too many times. Failing to support them in ways that take more than just money. Just because your child’s love is unconditional, it doesn’t mean it’s unlimited—make sure to be a father deserving of that love so you can continue nurturing it for many years to come!

12) The days are long, but the YEARS go by QUICKLY.

Seven-and-a-half years into my parenting journey, I’m realising that time goes by quicker than I ever imagined, with the day I brought my eldest home from the hospital feeling like it was only a few moments ago.

But there are two sayings that come to mind when it comes to parenting:

“The days are long, but the years go by quickly.”


“You don’t know when the last time’s the last time.”

If I hadn’t spent all this time sharing my thoughts and documenting my experiences as a dad, I promise you that there’s very little I’d remember of my parenting journey. With every passing year, I understand more of how my parents can see my childhood so differently than I do. We remember certain moments. We remember feelings. The things from our shared histories that resonate most will differ from person to person, and the longer you love, the more you have to choose from, but without the extra mental room to remember it all.

And so you pick and choose. You hold on to the moments that matter to you most. You want to make the most of every moment that comes your way, but life won’t make it easy—all you can do is try your best.

So do what you can and enjoy each day as best you can—they’ll be gone before you know it!

13) And finally, remember that your kids will be their own people, and you can’t live their lives FOR them, for better or worse.

Now that my eldest is old enough that I can clearly remember what I was like at his age, I can’t help but make comparisons. How I was doing in school versus how he’s doing. Our personality traits and the things we do for fun. As a parent, you usually figure that your kids should be a chip off the old block, but the older you get, the more you understand that they’ll do things in their own time.

You can’t make your kid be you.

They’ll hurt themselves, they’ll make mistakes, they’ll do the complete opposite of the things you ask. You’ve gotta let your kids be who they are and let them be their best selves possible because they’re always going to need your help!

Read these things. Learn these things. Help us help you.

So there you go—13 things dads from various steps in their fatherhood journeys wish they knew when they first had kids because it might’ve made their lives a heckuva lot easier now. While there are things we won’t benefit from because those moments are already behind us, but with any hope, all you dads out there still figuring things out can find all of this a little useful!

With that said, there are still many things to share this season, so I’d best get back to it!

We’ll see you there.

Until the next, I remain,

The second logo for Casey Palmer, Canadian Dad


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