30 lessons learned from six years of parenting

My daughter celebrated her sixth birthday on Sunday. When she turned two years-old, I posted a list of lessons learned from two years of parenting.

I updated that list when she turned four.

In truth, I raised a step-daughter for ten years as well, so I’ve been a parent a lot longer than just six years, but for the purposes of these posts, I have only listed lessons learned since having children of my own.

Here is the latest update to the list.

1. The parent who assumes the tougher position in regards to expectations and discipline is almost always correct.

2. Writing to your child on a daily basis helps you better appreciate the moments with your little one and prevents you from wondering how and why times flies by so quickly.

3. Training your child to fall sleep on her own and sleep through the night takes about two-four weeks if done with tenacity, an iron will, and an absolute adherence to the advice of experts. There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are few and far between. Parents must also possess the grudging acceptance that thunderstorms, nightmares, and illness will upset the apple cart from time to time.

4. You cannot take too many photographs of your children.

image image

5. Failure to follow through with warnings and consequences even once is the death knell of effective parenting. Everything begins with you sticking to your word every time. Nothing is more important when it comes to discipline. 

6. Libraries are the greatest child-friendly, zero-cost entertainment options on the planet.

7. The right iPhone app can transform an unfortunate dining experience into a delightful one. There is no reason to suffer in a restaurant. If your child is acting like a jerk, fork over the technology and enjoy the rest of the meal. Make him or her suffer later.  

8. Almost all of your child’s annoying behaviors have a short shelf life. They will invariably be replaced by a different annoying behavior, but don’t become consumed with the idea that any one behavior will last forever.

9. Reading to your child every night is one of the best things you can do. Failure to do so is inexcusable.

image image

10. Car seats suck. They may be the worst part of parenting.

11. Parents who are blessed with children who eat almost anything and claim that they are responsible for this behavior should be immediately ostracized by friends and family. Possibly forever.

12. Babysitters who take good care of your children and keep the house clean should be treasured like gold.

13. It’s important to remember that there was a time in human history, not that long ago, when foods like bananas, avocados, and fish were unavailable to vast areas of the world on a daily basis, yet children still grew up healthy and strong. Variety is lovely but not as important as we sometimes think. Don’t sweat it.  

14. Pick up your children as often as possible, particularly when they become too heavy to do so comfortably. The day will come when you can no longer pick them up, and you will regret all the times they asked and you said no.

15. Battles over a child’s choice of clothing are some of the dumbest. As long as your child is adhering to basic codes of decency, stay out of the wardrobe wars. 

16. Changing a diaper is not a big deal and is never something worthy of whines or complaints.

17. Experienced parents always know which toys are best.

18. If your child refuses to wear a hat, coat, or gloves, allow them to experience the cold. Natural consequences oftentimes teach the most valuable lessons.

19. Unsolicited advice from experienced parents should always be received with appreciation. It should not be viewed as a criticism or indictment of your own parenting skills and can be easily ignored if need be.

20. Consignment shops are some of the best places to find children’s clothing and toys unless you are a pretentious snob.

21. The majority of unhappy parents in the world possessed unrealistic or misguided expectations about motherhood or fatherhood before their child was ever born.

22. Don’t become emotionally involved in your child’s poor behavioral choices. He or she owns those choices. Establish expectations, deliver consequences, and offer guidance and love. That is all. You almost never have anything to do with a temper tantrum or your child’s bad decision.     

23. Parents seeking the most fashionable or trendy stroller, diaper bag, and similar accouterments are often saddled with the least practical option.

24. Little boys and little girls are entirely different animals. They have almost nothing in common, and it is a miracle that they might one day marry each other.

25. Parenting is not nearly as difficult as people want you to believe.

26. Telling parents that taking care of your child has been an easy and joyous experience will usually annoy them.

27. A seemingly great majority of the people in the world who are raising children are not happy unless they have attempted to demoralize you with their assurances that parenting will not be easy.

28. Experienced parents who are positive, optimistic, and encouraging to the parents of newborns are difficult to come by and should be treasured when found.

29. The ratio of happy times to difficult times in the first two years of your child’s life is about a billion to one.

30. Parents have a tragic tendency to forget the billion and accentuate the one.

image image image image image image image image image image image image

My 3 best pieces of parenting advice

A reader recently asked me for parenting advice. She is pregnant, reads my blog regularly and would like to know what are some of my best parenting tips.

I was honored by such a request, though I know that some might think it crazy to ask for parenting advice from me. I’m certainly not an expert on parenting, and some might even say that I’m the last person to ask this kind of question, but I’m not without experience.

I’m an elementary school teacher who has been teaching children for more than 15 years.

I’m the father of two children and a former stepfather who raised a stepdaughter from the ages of 6-16.

So yeah. I have some experience with kids.

I wasn’t exactly sure what my best parenting advice would be, so I scoured my blog for posts on parenting and found three that I think are my best:

Raising my daughter is a piece of cake, and there’s a good reason why I say this as often as possible.

It’s fine to be a slightly insane parent. Just don’t pretend that you’re not.

How to sleep train your child.

All are slightly controversial to one degree or another, but I stand behind all three posts just as much today as when I wrote them years ago, and I’m fairly confident that my wife would do the same, but with less bravado and certainty.

And if the proof is in the pudding, just look what I have to show for it?


We did not need science to tell us that sleep training your child is the right thing to do.

A new study has shown that allowing your infant to “cry it out” as part of sleep training does not lead to any long term emotional or psychological harm in children.

I find the study fairly pointless since I suspect that most parents already know this. When a parent is unwilling or unable to sleep train their child, it is often less about a concern over the long-term psychological impact on their child and more about the parent’s inability to prioritize long-term health over short-term discomfort.

My wife and I sleep trained our daughter when she was four months old. It took about three nights, and they were not easy. We would sit at the kitchen table and listen to our baby cry in her crib for an hour or more each night. There were moments when each of us would begin to crack, only to be strengthened by the other. After three nights, most of the crying was over and my daughter went to bed with little protestation.

Even since then, she has been an excellent sleeper. She sleeps 10-12 hours each night and has never slept in our bed. In fact, the one night when we wanted her to sleep in our bed, after a nasty fall and fear of concussion, she refused, preferring the comfort of her own bed.

We will do the same for our three month old son soon, though he is already sleeping 7-8 hours a night in a cradle beside our bed. It will not be easy. We will experience great a deal of parental discomfort, and Charlie will not enjoy it either. But we will choose long term health over short term discomfort, and Charlie will be the better for it.

I realize that there are babies for whom sleep does not come as easily, but I also believe that these babies are few and far between. When a child is not sleeping through the night or spending parts of the night sleeping in the parents’ bedroom, it is far more common, at least in my experience, for the parents to be the cause. These are the parents who respond to their child’s every cry, choose to keep their child in their bedroom with them for extended periods of time, allow their child to climb into bed with them on a routine basis, and lose hundreds, if not thousands of hours of sleep because they are unwilling to let their babies cry it out.

Though I am sure they exist, I have never met a parent who attempted to sleep train their child by allowing that child to cry it out who failed to produce a child who sleeps through the night in his or her own bed.

And as a teacher with fifteen years in the classroom and the husband of a woman who seems to know everyone on the planet, I know a lot of parents

A friend of mine recently complained about how her nine month old daughter was still not sleeping through the night. I explained to her how to sleep train her child, including white noise and blackout curtains in addition to allowing her daughter to cry it out, but I also warned her that it would not be easy.

But I also told her that by sleep training her child, as difficult as it may be, she would be helping her daughter beyond measure. In return for short term suffering, her daughter would be a well rested child, and all of the crucial development that takes place when a child is asleep could proceed without interruption. Her child would also be less moody and far better prepared to handle the challenges of the day.

In addition, she and her husband would be more well rested. This would result in a more productive day for both of them and would likely have a positive impact on their marriage.

Two months later I asked her how her baby was sleeping. She said that she took my advice, and after five nights of crying it out, her baby was sleeping through the night, 8-10 hours at a time.

I have a friend who is fond of the expression “You pay now or you pay later,” and I think it is perfect when it comes to sleep training. I cannot tell you the number of parents who I have known who have their children sleeping in their beds or in beds set up in their parents bedroom for years.

I’ve also known fathers who sleep in their child’s bed so the child can sleep with mom and parents who routinely sleep on the floor in their child’s bedroom.   

For many, it is a tragic source of shame or embarrassment.

Others they devise complex and illogical rationales to defend the addition of a second bed in their bedroom (this happens more often than you might think) or the the presence of their child in their bed for the majority of the night.

Either way, these are “pay it later” parents.

I am convinced, not by this recent study but by simply common sense, that the only long-term psychological impact of sleep training your child is contentment, for both the child and the parents.

I can teach you how to sleep

TIME magazine reports that “the business of helping people get a good night’s rest is likely to remain what it is: A fast-growing sector in an otherwise slow-moving economy.”

In a piece published earlier this week, writer Gary Belsky outlines some of the products and services being offered to a sleep-deprived population, including The Benjamin Hotel’s “sleep concierge,” which is “just one aspect of a smartly differentiated approach to business travel; specifically, a focus on the part of business travel that involves sleeping.”

If you are one of these sleep-deprived people, I’d like to point out that I am an unlicensed sleep expert, and unless you have an honest-to-goodness medical condition that interferes with your sleep, I can probably improve the quality of your sleep and reduce the number of hours of sleep that you require rather simply.

I offer you three simple steps to improve your sleep, and I offer them to you free of charge, unless of course you are inclined to send me some money, which would be perfectly fine.

In addition, I can probably improve the sleep habits of your infants and toddlers as well by presenting to you these four simple steps, also free of charge, though donations are accepted if not encouraged.

If “the business of helping people get a good night’s rest is a fast-growing sector in an otherwise slow-moving economy,” I want a piece of that pie, damn it. 

How to sleep train your child

This post is being written by request. I say this because every time I write a post that implies that I know something about parenting, I receive a mixed bag in terms of response, include a few angry people who believe that if my assertions regarding parenting run counter to their own beliefs, I must be attacking them.

I am not. I just think that I am right.

So today I write this post at the bequest of several readers who are curious about the methods my wife and I use to teach our children to sleep well.

It’s true that both of my children are outstanding sleepers. My three-year old daughter has been sleeping through the night ever since she was three months old and now routinely sleeps ten hours or more a night. My infant son began sleeping through the night (at least six hours at a time) at less than two months old and has topped out at eight hours several times, including last night.


It’s also true that we may simply be lucky. Perhaps our children, unlike their father, are genetically predisposed to sleep.

Genetics may play a role, but I don’t think they tell the whole story. When asked by parents how we managed to train our children to sleep through the night so effectively, I often list strategies that the parent has never heard of before or could never support. This leads me to believe that effective sleep training involves employing the correct strategies, and too many parents are either unaware of the strategies or are unwilling to use them.

These strategies are not our own. My wife read two books, The Happiest Baby on the Block and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby, and the following strategies (except for one) were pulled directly from these texts.

It’s not rocket science. It’s simply following the advice of experts.

Does this mean that these strategies will work for every child? Of course not. But I think they will work on 95% of children, and I think they will help all kids sleep better, if not well. If you have not yet tried to use these strategies on a consistent basis,  then you really can’t discount them or complain when your child is not sleeping well.

The following are the four most important strategies that we use. There are others, of course, like a consistent bedtime routine and insisting that our children sleep in a darkened room (our son has blackout shades), but these seem obvious and not nearly as important as the following:

White noise: Both of our kids sleep with white noise. Clara is three years old and still uses it. In the beginning, white noise mimics the sound of the womb for infants and makes them feel at ease. As children get older, it serves as a signal that it’s time for sleep as well as a means by which outside noises (a barking dog, a car horn, thunder) are eliminated. If you are not using white noise with your infant or toddler, you are making a huge mistake. Even Elysha and I sleep with white noise now.

Swaddling: Both of our children were swaddled from day one. This means wrapping them up tighter than a burrito before putting them to bed. There are specially designed swaddle blankets with Velcro straps for people like me who have difficulty achieving an effective swaddle, but my wife can swaddle with just about any blanket. I have spoken to parents who think that swaddling is “mean” and “scary” for kids, but babies like to be swaddled. It mimics the confines of the womb and prevents them from waking themselves up with flailing arms and kicking feet. In fact, the only night that Charlie has slept less than six hours in the last month was the night his swaddle came undone.


Never ever let your children sleep in your bed: This is the rule most often violated by parents, and it is the most important. Children sleep best when they sleep alone in their own bed, and when they are old enough, in their own room. It is critical that children be taught to do this. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children to be effective sleepers, and when we place our own emotional needs ahead of this important job, we are hurting our kids. We made the mistake of allowing Clara to sleep in our bed once when she was feeling ill, and it was the worst night of sleep that all three of us have had in a long time.

Never again.

Both of our children slept in a cradle beside our bed when they were infants. Charlie is two months old so he is still there, though for the first night, he actually slept on the floor because the cradle was not ready. Anything but our bed.

  • When Clara was about four months old, she was moved into her own room. It was not easy. We liked having her in a cradle beside us. It was easier and made us happy to have her near us, but we knew that in order to teach her to be an effective sleeper, she needed to be moved. The longer we waited, the harder it would be. Listening to Clara cry for the first three nights that she was in her own bedroom was incredibly difficult, but by the fourth night, she was sleeping in her room, in her crib, without complaint. It must be done. She is a more rested and happier child because of it.

The self-rocking bassinet: This was not included in either of the books that Elysha read, but after three nights spent rocking Clara to sleep as an infant, I thought that there must be a machine to do this for me. There was. When I bought the self-rocking bassinet three years ago, it was the only one on the market and it was not exactly stylish (the mattress appears to have been imported from a Guantanamo Bay prison camp), but it did the job. Clara spent the first three months in a self rocking bassinet and Charlie is there now. Turn a knob and the bassinet rocks itself, allowing Elysha and I to sleep while the bassinet gently rocks the baby to sleep, switching off after 30 minutes. And when the baby begins to stir around 5:00 AM with the rising of the sun, it’s the self-rocking bassinet that puts him or her back to sleep for another hour or two. It’s indispensable.

image image

It’s also true that Elysha and I are blessed with two children who have been easy to manage thus far. Perhaps they are both waiting for their teenage years to raise hell, but for now, both kids are more than we could have hoped for in terms of their behavior.

Are they genetically predisposed to these easy-going natures, and has this made sleep training much easier? Possibly.

But I also know that they are both well rested children, sleeping through the night and napping on regular schedules every day. If your child is challenging in terms of behavior, ask yourself:

Is your child getting enough uninterrupted sleep every day and night?

As teacher, I can assure you that a tired student is one who is more likely to misbehave during the day.

As a parent, I can tell you that a missed nap almost guarantees a deterioration in behavior later in the day.

Children who don’t sleep enough or spend portions of their night sleep beside parents and drop out of REM sleep every time someone tosses or turns in the bed have a more difficult time regulating their behavior.

I’d love to think that my wife and I produce well behaved, easy-going, naturally precocious children, but in truth, our kids might just be getting enough sleep every night.

I might be that simple.