Husband & Wife Articles


 

7 Lessons My Toddler Has Taught Me

A family therapist gets a dose of his own medicine – and loves it

By Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D.

Peter Kleponis

Peter Kleponis has a degree in psychology but experience has been the best teacher.

As a marriage and family therapist, I have spent many years studying child development and effective parenting skills. I have read the works of many of the top experts, from Jean Piaget to Fred Rogers. While this has been extremely helpful in my personal and professional life, nothing can replace what can be learned through the actual experience of parenting. God can use these experiences to make us better parents. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let me share with you what I’ve learned from my 2-year-old son, Jack.

Like many parents of toddlers, I have learned to be more patient. I realized it will be a while before Jack learns that dropping Daddy’s car keys down the garbage disposal is not a good thing. I have also learned that with a toddler, it can take twice as long to complete a simple task. For example, weeding a garden takes longer because, in his attempt to help, Jack ends up pulling out the flowers. A simple shopping trip can take longer because a diaper bag needs to be packed with diapers, snacks, certain toys and a sippy cup.

I have learned to be more tolerant. I have come to realize that with an active toddler, the house will never be tidy. There will always be toys left out in every room and poop messes are a common occurrence. I no longer question why all my shoes end up in the dining room or why my wife’s hair dryer is in the garage. According to the logic of a 2-year old, these things are exactly where they should be.

I have learned to be a good sport and “take a dose of my own medicine.” Before I became a dad, I had six nieces and nephews. For birthdays and Christmas, I would often buy them gifts that: a) made a lot of noise, b) had hundreds of pieces, or c) required assembling. Any parent knows that these types of gifts can be a nightmare. As payback, my siblings are now buying these kinds of gifts for Jack. They feel it’s my turn to deal with the nightmare. Three words that strike terror in the hearts of all fathers are “some assembly required!”

I have learned to be more forgiving. With a toddler in the house, the list of things that are broken and need to be fixed or replaced gets longer every day. I realize that he often doesn’t know when he’s broken something. The world is a big new place for Jack to explore. I am also coming to grips with the fact that I am slowly turning into my parents each time I find myself muttering, “we can’t have anything nice around here.” I try to laugh at my self when I find myself saying or even thinking this.

I have learned better time management skills. For example, since I sometimes work at home, I know that in the afternoon Jack will take two-hour nap. This gives me a two-hour window to get as much done around the house as possible. I am now amazed at how much I can get done in such a short period of time. I will also occasionally take Jack out for a couple of hours in the morning to give my wife some time alone to get things done around the house, or just to give her a few moments of peace and quiet.

I find myself able to empathize with other parents of small children. Whenever I see parents at church or in a store who is struggling with a toddler, I let them know that I understand their frustration and that there is no need to be embarrassed.

Most of all, I have learned to be less selfish and more aware of the needs of others. My family’s needs now come before my needs. I now plan my weekends around family activities. I have found the true joy of giving my self to others. While there are days when I long for my bachelor days, like when my son is crying at 2:00 a.m., I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. Every day I thank God for the wonderful privilege of being a dad. God can even use our shortcomings to make us better parents.

While parenting can be very challenging, my advice for all dads is to look at how parenting has changed you for the better. What have you learned from being a dad? Learn to laugh at yourself, your kids and your mistakes. Thank God every day that he had entrusted you with children to raise. While books can be helpful, there is no substitute for experience and God’s grace. Even the most challenging situations can be opportunities to become a better dad!

Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, Pa. His website is maritalhealing.com.