“I wish someone had told me.”

This statement could be made about so much in life—from college to marriage to retirement—but I’ve said it repeatedly about being a dad. I grew up an only child, and now I’m a father of five kids ranging in age from a newborn to a soon-to-be thirteen-year-old. There was so much I did not know about life in a large family. I’ve bumbled my way through over a decade now—learning as much from my failures as my successes about what it means to parent through various seasons of life.

Your Kids Are Changing

Parents are often stunned by the drastic differences from one child to the next. It doesn’t stop at the labor and delivery—siblings just a few years apart can look, think, and act completely differently. Some of these hard-wired differences remain throughout life, whereas other characteristics emerge or diminish over time.

Then there are the natural developmental changes. The needs, opportunities, and challenges your child faces at two are radically different than at twelve. Intuitively, we all know this to be true, yet when these changes actually happen, it’s disorienting.

You Are Changing

Not only are your kids changing, but you are changing as well. Take a 25-year-old first-time dad. That father often has the unlimited physical energy needed to keep up with a toddler. What they have in energy, they often lack in maturity as a parent. Everything is new, so even the most minor challenges can rattle this new dad. Fast-forward a dozen years, and this dad doesn’t have the same surplus energy, but he’s likely a bit more self-aware, financially stable, and in control of his emotions.

Dads change alongside their kids, and this can make the whole process of fatherhood feel chaotic and unpredictable.

Such changes should come as no surprise to followers of Jesus. We know that we are bound in physical bodies that are marred by sin and that we live in a world broken by sin’s effects. We will never perfect the art of life until our bodies are perfectly glorified in heaven. These frail jars of clay, both our bodies and our children’s, will be ever-changing and imperfect (2 Corinthians 4:7). Fatherhood, for better and worse, will be the act of navigating these changes with faith-fueled grace.

Minor Adjustments

Healthy fathers live expecting change, and they prepare to adjust accordingly. People often say that most of the frustrations in marriage come from unmet or faulty expectations, but that’s true of fatherhood as well. Many of our challenges are rooted in our expectations.

Since we know change is sure to come, we should not be surprised or caught off-guard when it comes. Of course, the nature of these changes will surprise us. We will never know the exact contours that our lives and our kids’ lives will take, but we can prepare ourselves for the need for constant adjustments.

These adjustments are akin to the process of learning to drive a car. As a new driver, I remember thinking that you simply set the steering wheel in the direction you wanted the car to go and then relaxed until a turn altered your path. I soon learned that the act of driving is filled with constant adjustments. Even on a straight stretch of highway that continues as far as the eye can see, you simply can’t take your hand off of the wheel. Minor adjustments are required throughout the journey, as the car continuously veers one way or the other.

That’s what it’s like to be a dad. The daily grind of life requires endless minor alterations. The attentive dad is watching his family and himself and making these changes consistently. Those who fail to make these changes are creating the conditions for a crash. As a pastor, I encounter the tragic stories of cars in the ditch during the teenage years due, at least in part, to their parents’ failure to monitor and adjust at an early stage.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself

The attentive dad is asking questions like these in order to assess the needed minor adjustments:

  • What gospel truth does this specific child need at this specific time?
  • What can I do to uniquely show this child love and support?
  • What area of discipline is specifically difficult for this child? How can I help him or her submit and change?
  • How can I help make God real to this child this week?
  • What’s coming up next for this child? How can I get ahead of these coming changes and instill the character that will be needed then?
  • What prayer is most important for me to pray for this child at this time?
  • How am I better equipped to love and lead this child at this stage in my life, and what about this time might make it difficult for me to father him or her well?

These are far from the only questions that could be asked, but they reveal the posture of a father seeking to lead well through changing seasons. Notice the specificity of these questions. They are not asked about fatherhood or children in general. Rather they are asking about specific children at specific times with specific needs. The more we attune our attention to these needs or opportunities, the better prepared we will be to expect changes and respond by making the minor changes that will, by God’s grace, produce major rewards.