A Dad’s Guide: Surviving a 5-year Old

Hello.  I’m Matt and I’m a dad.

I love so many things about what I get to do every day as a dad to my 3 girls. The best moments for me are when they feel the freedom to be their gloriously weird selves and say things off-the-cuff to me and my wife.  Of my 3 daughters, the one that undoubtedly feels that freedom the most is our 5-year old.  While I love watching her weirdness, I would also be totally fine if she didn’t make things such a struggle sometimes.

If you have a 5-year old you know the struggle.  They are in a phase where they are completely adorable, they make you laugh, make you cry…all the good stuff.  But then, on a dime, they can turn on you.  I mean brutally, savagely turn on you.  Sometimes it’s all we can do to just survive the moment!

If you’re like me (just out here surviving), then I want to share some things I’ve learned about how to navigate those savage moments with the greatest and most terrifying human you know:

Never say “no”

Now, to clarify, I’m not saying you should give your kid everything they want. I’m not saying you should give them ice cream for breakfast (but I’ve done that), bribe them with candy (again…guilty), or ignore the problem until it goes away.

What I AM saying is embrace your opportunities.  I grew up when improv comedy was on the rise, and we had a guest teacher come into one of our high school classes to do some “group building” with us.  She taught us one of the first rules of improv is “never say no”.  So, in other words, if an improv actor hands an imaginary pink elephant to another improv actor, the second can’t say “this isn’t a pink elephant”.  (Sound like parenting?)

There are moments, like in improv, when we as parents are just handed things.  We are handed temper tantrums, emotional outbursts, fits of rage.  We are also handed the good stuff though too – hugs around the neck, random “I love you”s, and so much more.  And what I want to challenge you to do as a parent is to “never say no”.   Embrace everything that comes your way, because in every situation they are learning something from you.  Which leads me to tip #2…

Remember that they are learning something from you.

Look – I know that feels like a loaded statement, but it’s true!  Give yourself some grace to know that you’re never going to make every right decision or handle every situation the way you hope they would.  Every time you don’t handle it correctly – you lose your temper, find yourself not listening to their 8 minute rambling that ends is some semblance of a story, or just outright ignoring them – go back and correct it.

I don’t want my kids to grow up to be angry old men like me.  I don’t want them to learn how to argue from me, or how NOT to have patience from me.  But if that’s all I’m giving them, then that’s all they’ll learn.  Hopefully, in those moments when I am self-aware enough and can humble myself enough…hopefully what they DO learn from me is that it’s okay to not be perfect.  That it’s okay when you have to apologize a bunch because what matters most is not the mistakes, but the efforts to make those mistakes right.

I’m not a great dad when it comes to teaching my kids to do things I know how to do like fix a tire or whatever, but that doesn’t mean my kids aren’t learning lessons from me.  I have to remind myself daily of the fact that I’m teaching them something whether I realize it or not.  I have to step up…I have to make sure I’m teaching them the right lessons in those mundane moments, because that’s the stuff that sticks.  So…parents…you’re teachers.

Own it.  Step up.  Which leads me to my last point.

Step up!

Has this ever happened to you?: You get home after a long day (or week) of work and realize that your significant other has some activity, get together, meeting, or otherwise that you totally forgot about?  So now you have this realization that “Oh…I’ve got the kids tonight!”

So you start going through the different levels of grief.  You already went through denial since you forgot this night was coming, you get upset because you won’t have the relaxation time you feel you need, and then you begin bargaining.  You tell your significant other that they can “just do that some other time”, or question “do you have to do that TODAY?”  All of that until you finally just accept that it’s your night.  No escape.

Maybe you can relate, or maybe it’s just me (and I hope it’s not), but what I have learned is it’s better to just skip the stages & accept it.  This goes back to point #1 (“never say no”).

Kids are a challenge, and a night as the only responsible adult in the house is a challenge too.  But here’s an important reminder: the thing your kids WANT more than anything is YOU!

Does my 5-year-old daughter WANT ice cream for breakfast every morning?  Yes!  Does she WANT to be on her iPad all day every day?  Yes!  Does she want me to take her to the candy store?  Yes!  These are all frequent discussions in my household every day!  But you know what she would trade all that for quality time with me.

It doesn’t even matter what you do, parents.  YOU are your 5-year old’s greatest asset!  You’re your own best weapon in your arsenal, so use it!

Embrace the moments you get with them because next year they’re 6.  And then (what I hear anyways) “the next thing you know they’re 16”.

This is especially true for you, dads. Tell your wives to take the night to do something for her like take a run to Target, read at Starbucks, meet up with some friends.  She’ll appreciate you for that.  Then you have the opportunity to wow your 5-year old by digging for worms in the backyard, looking at pictures of kittens online, or teaching them how to change a tire.

Regardless, lean INTO those moments and not away from them.  The moments you embrace are the ones you enjoy the most, and your kids love when you enjoy spending time with them!

Remember that you are not alone.

Being a parent of young kids is isolating.  Sometimes I think my best friend in the world is my Saturday afternoon nap because I just don’t get to talk to people that much anymore.

That was an attempt at a joke, but seriously…remember you are surrounded by people in this world that CAN relate to you.  Not only because you have parents out there experiencing what you’re experiencing, but also because you are deeply known, deeply seen, and deeply loved by the God who created all things.

1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of confusion but peace.” Remember that next time you feel like you don’t know what to do, or how to survive, and let Him breathe that peace into the moments you need Him most.

God bless.