What you can and cannot control as a dad

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What you can and cannot control as a dad

What you can and cannot control as a dad
Corn fly on finger
What you can and cannot control as a dad

As a dad, I like when I am in control. If someone wants to go somewhere I would typically want to be the person who is driving. Even if I don’t feel like driving, I prefer to be in control of the vehicle.

With our kids and our families, there are a lot of things that we can control. But there are even more things it seems we cannot control. When things that are out of control affect our lives it frustrates us. And sometimes it infuriates us. But as dads, we have to lead the way for our family and understand what we can and what we cannot control.

You cannot control your child’s behavior

Some people might argue with me on this one. But hear me out. You can influence your child’s behavior. You can set rules and have structured discipline. But there will always be a time that you cannot control your child’s behavior.

When they are a baby they may cry uncontrollably. It might be colic or they might have a cold. These days are going to happen. And then this leads to sleepless nights. This will wear you down. But hang in there, it will get better. 

As toddlers, they just don’t understand rules. You can do your best to set rules. You can do your best to have age-appropriate discipline. But with a toddler, they will act out and you will have times you just want to walk away.

Even as kids get older they will do things that just make you scratch your head. I would always suggest remembering the decisions (sometimes stupid decisions) that you may have made as a kid. Then it might make sense.

You can control your reaction to your child’s behavior

You can control your reaction to your kids behavior - child in the water
You can control your reaction to your kid’s behavior

With toddlers, you can pay attention to what triggers outbursts. See if you can tell if they are doing this purely out of attention, or are they doing it because there is a deeper problem. It could be they are tired or not feeling well.

With older kids, it could just be hormones kicking in. When young kids move into their preteen years and even into their teens their emotions can fluctuate rapidly. One moment they are the happiest kid in the world, then the next moment they don’t want to be talked to.

Before reacting just take a pause. Stand back and assess the situation. Don’t just jump to yelling or straight to punishment. Are they trying to get your attention or are they actually misbehaving?

You cannot control what other people say about your kids

If you are a parent you may inevitably hear other people say something about your child that will make your blood boil. On rare occasions, these people have good intentions, but they don’t know how to communicate their opinions in a kind way.

You may also have teachers or counselors in your kid’s lives that will give you news that you don’t want to hear. They may tell you that your son is struggling in math. Or they may recommend your kid gets extra tutoring to help them with a certain subject.

When you feel like you are failing just pause.

Think about how well you did in school?

Did you succeed in every subject?

Did you succeed all the time?

Probably not.

My kids have all struggled at different times with something in school. But with hard work and a little extra practice we were able to get past those times.

You can control your words

Even though you can’t control what other people say about your kids you most definitely control what you say about your kids. Don’t speak negativity into their lives. Especially if they are around. It’s one thing to hear a teacher say you are struggling, it is another thing to hear your mom or dad say “He will never get this”

Speak positivity into your kid’s lives. If they mess up while you are teaching them something keep them motivated. Maybe they will say “I am never going to get this”. Keep pushing them. Change it up and give them a few wins. Help them do something a little easier first and then move on to the harder stuff.

Also don’t speak negative words about others around your children. They will pick up on your attitude and those words you say and have the same angst towards that person. In fact, if you ever need that person they may be less likely to be around them. Watch your words and watch them even closer when your kids are around.

You cannot control your kid’s decisions after the age of 18

When your kids turn 18. They are officially adults. They can vote. They should be able to drive on their own (this may vary by state). They can join the military.

And when they hit this age any choice they make is theirs. Yes, you are still their parent. Yes, you can still give guidance. And you should. But that doesn’t mean they won’t go out and make a decision that they will regret.

It will drive you crazy. It will drive you to tears. But it will happen. We hope and pray that they make good decisions. That we taught them well and set the example of how they should live in their life.

You can control your kid’s decisions until they turn 18

Your kids might not like it. Other people might not like your decisions for your kids. But they are your kids. If you have legal custody and a court does not prohibit it. Then you get the final say.

What if your kid wants a phone at 10 years old. All the other kids have phones. He will be the only person in his class that doesn’t have a phone. Well, you are the adult, you make the decision. Is your child mature enough to have a phone at 10? Will they lose the phone within the first two weeks of having it?

These types of decisions happen all the time. And they are hard. Sometimes your kids will hate you for making a decision that goes the opposite way of how they are feeling. But you have to explain to them why you made the decision. And do it in love. Because “I’m the parent and I said so” is not always a great answer to why you made a decision.

No one knows your child better than you. And if you think someone knows more about a situation than you that involves your child, then consult them.  And if you are really on the fence sit down and really have a solid conversation with your child. Ask the questions of why do they feel this strong about this decision.

What other people think about you

I have done this. And I am ashamed of myself for doing this. I will be out in public and see a kid misbehaving and think “Why doesn’t that parent do something about that?” or “Man they don’t take care of those kids”.  But maybe they do. Maybe they have done everything in their power to discipline their kid, and it isn’t working.

Everyone does this. They rush to judgment because of bias. They have their own feelings on how somebody should act or respond in situations based on their own history. But those other people don’t understand. They don’t know what you’re going through as a parent.

I’ve had kids that laugh at punishment. I’ve seen a toddler that would stand in timeout for an hour and laugh because he was in timeout. Then right after he got out of timeout he would do the same thing that got him put in timeout.

My recommendation for these other people. Ignore them. Do they pay your bills? Are they feeding your kids? Do they have to live 24/7 with your children? No. Just brush them off and move on. And if it’s family just say something to them. Ask them if they would like to babysit your kid for the weekend. They may quickly retract any feelings they have for you and your parenting.

You can control the people you allow in your kid’s lives

There may be people in your lives and your kid’s lives that are unsupportive. They may be the ones that are telling you (maybe even to your face) that you are not doing what is right. Sometimes they may be right. If you are going down a dark path, then maybe you should listen.

But if you feel you are doing your best and you are doing everything you can. You can always close that door. Unfriend/unfollow on social media. Block them if you have to. Don’t invite them over to your house. And politely decline if they invite you over for dinner.

Sometimes your strongest bonds may be from friends rather than family. Family dynamics can get messed up. Things happen all the time in a family that just causes a big rift.  I don’t take this lightly giving this advice, but sometimes it is better to just move away and not interact with those people. 

And especially when it comes to your kids. It may be hard to tell them they can’t go play with a cousin. But if it is mentally taxing every time you visit that relative, it may be time to move on. The only other option may be to get some counseling with them. But I would guess the other party would probably decline.

You cannot control how other adults take care of themselves

You might hear about this from time to time or it may have happened to you. Maybe a friend or relative has really gone downhill. Maybe they lost their job and have sunk into depression and this led to alcohol abuse. It’s a sad story. But it’s not your story.

Try as hard as you can to lift these people up. But remember that you cannot control how they live their life. Get them help if you can but don’t overstep your boundaries. Just remember sometimes people can be set in their ways and there is no amount of advice that will change them.

If you or someone needs help with substance abuse click here.

You can control your own self-care 

You can control your self-care
You can control your self-care

What you eat, how much you exercise, whether or not you drink or not. These are decisions you make. I try to make excuses often as to why I am overweight. I might say I just don’t have enough time or am too busy with the kids. But often it’s just because I am too comfortable and don’t want to put in the effort.

Even though we parent our kids until they turn 18 that doesn’t mean they won’t need us beyond that. Your kids are going to want you around to see their kids, your kids are going to want you around to ask you advice about how to do things that you once did with them. We have to take care of ourselves.

Instead of eating a bag of chips at night maybe grab an apple to snack on. Instead of having 3 rolls for dinner have 1 roll and maybe a salad. Just make better eating decisions.

Find time to work out. I am a big procrastinator so I will always wait until the kids are asleep. Then by then, I am too tired to do anything. Just find time to get some exercise. If you have to get your kids involved and exercise with them.

You cannot control when work demands extra hours

We had a situation a year ago where we had to solve an issue for a client. This client demanded that this be resolved quickly and correctly. It was understandable how they felt. But this also meant we were going to be working a ton of overtime.

This situation put a lot of stress on our family. It meant my wife had to pick up the slack for anything related to the kids and around the house. It stressed out our relationship. I was tired of working long hours and I was just burnt out. But eventually, we got through it, and now work is back to normal.

When these things happen you must open the line of communication. Explain to everyone in your family why you are working so many hours and the importance of doing so. 

But don’t let the extra hours consume you. Don’t let working extra hours and six-plus days a week be the norm. If you can tell things are stressing you out then push back on your job. If they won’t back off on the overtime then it may be time to start looking for new employment.

You can control how hard you work

One thing that my father instilled in me was hard work. He didn’t do it by telling me to work hard. He showed me how to work hard.

I can remember when he lost his job. It was no fault of his own, the company was shutting it’s doors and there really wasn’t another job locally that compared to what he did. Instead of sitting around and worrying about what he was going to do, he went to work.

He started to build picnic tables and other things out of wood and sold them. He got a job at a workshop doing something he had never really done before. He worked hard and we never once knew of the struggle. It wasn’t long before he found a job that was close to what he did but it was entry-level. He took the job and worked hard and eventually worked his way back to the position he had before.

Don’t sit back. Take action in everything you do. If you don’t make enough money to pay the bills then maybe you have to do something on the side to help cover. Or maybe you are like my dad and you lost your job, just find something that can fill the gap until you find that perfect job.

But always work hard and do your best. And hopefully, you will either make your situation better, or someone will notice and want you to come work for them.

You cannot control the rate at which your child learns

You cannot control the rate at which your child learns - child petting zebra
You cannot control the rate at which your child learns

With my first son when he was in elementary school he had a year that he struggled. I was scared. I didn’t really know what to do. I could help him so far but I didn’t know what we could do to get him over the hump.

Then a few years after this he started reading like crazy. I’m talking about reading high school-level books in just a day or two. I couldn’t get him books fast enough. He was always asking to buy more books or get more from the library. Then after that, he was all A’s all the way.

But I know all kids are not that way. They will have ups and downs with their education. They will have years they will struggle and they will have years they will do exceedingly well. And unfortunately, some kids will struggle their entire life because of something out of their control.

When these struggles happen, work with their teachers. Ask them what you can do to help them out. Don’t let them struggle but get them the help they need

You can control your child’s education

Even though you cannot control the rate at which your child learns, you can control their education. Perhaps a hard decision might be to hold them back and have them repeat a year. This sounds devastating but for some kids, it is the best thing that could ever happen to them.

Maybe the school they attend isn’t the best option for them. If there are other schools in your county you might be able to get an exception and allow your child to attend a different school. Sometimes it is as simple as filling out a form. And if public schools are not a good fit you can always try private schools.

Maybe school isn’t for them at all. I know a lot of parents that just choose to homeschool their kids. I am not a big fan of this because I believe there is someone a lot more qualified to teach my kids. I have enough going on with work and putting food on the table than trying to remember who the 22nd president of the United States is.

You cannot control people that don’t want to be involved in your family’s life

Other people can be jerks. And sometimes those other people are related to you and/or your kids. I have heard the single parent stories of a spouse that wanted nothing to do with their child. It is heartbreaking. I don’t understand it but there has to be something to it.

But you cannot control it. If a mom or dad doesn’t want to be part of their child’s life. They do have the freedom to just walk away. Would I like to grab them by the ear and scream at them until they change their mind? Yes. But it probably won’t do any good. 

And sometimes it is another family member. Maybe they feel left out because of a misunderstanding. Maybe there was an argument that leaves a lot of family resentment. But you can’t force them to be active in your life or your kid’s lives.

Just try to explain as plainly as you can to your kids why these things happen. Don’t use your child as leverage. Don’t lie to them. Don’t use your child as bait to get close to those people. Just love your child and move on.

You can control how much you love your children

You may be thinking, how can I love my kids any more than I do now? Maybe you are right. Maybe you love your kids so much they would want to pack their bags and leave if you loved them any more. But sometimes we are just distant and even though we live with our kids we are not present in their life.

If you think there is even a chance that you are not loving your kids enough, then make a change. One of my favorite pieces of advice to give to parents is this:

How do I know I am a good parent? If you are a better parent today than you were yesterday then you are doing good. If not then work on that.

The same goes for loving your kids. If you question how much you love your kids then put in a little more effort. Maybe you are separated and when you do see your kids other people try to invade that time. Cancel on them. I am a big proponent of saying no. Just say no, to other people trying to take your time away from your kids.

Not being in control bothers people. I know it bothers me. But the biggest thing we can control is our reactions to the things that happen that are out of our control. You control your attitude.

If it rains suddenly when you had a day at the lake planned and you have to cancel your plans. Pivot, and figure out how to work with it. If there is no lightning maybe you can take the kids out in the rain and play in the puddles. Just don’t let the fact that something is out of your control ruin your day. 

Maybe a babysitter canceled plans on you last minute because they got sick. Don’t just cancel your date night with your wife, pivot, and ask someone else if they can watch the kids. Even if they can only watch the kids long enough for you and your wife to eat a nice dinner. 

And remember if you feel like things are out of control and you cannot get a handle on them seek help. Whether that is reaching out to a family member or maybe even professional help.

Is there anything else you could add to this list of things you can and cannot control? If so drop us a comment or let us know on our Facebook page.


  1. Amazing article! I can’t think of anything to add but the hardest part was when the boys turned 18. You look at your children as kids but technically they are adults. It’s so hard to go from controlling the decisions to offering advice instead. I struggled for sure but as you mentioned; you get through it. You adjust. You learn what you can and can’t control.

  2. Wow! Incredible and so true! So many things that you can control to make life for you and your children better. But also things that you must accept. I pray we have allowed our children the opportunity to make enough mistakes young so that they are able to make better choices older.

  3. Wow, this is a very informative blog post. The biggest mistake that many parents are making is trying to control everything in their child’s life. Sometimes, controlling your child’s life specifically at their teenage age may lead to rebellion.

  4. Great post. It’s important to remember what we can and cannot control as parents. Not to get down on ourselves about the things we can’t. But also a great way to self evaluate with the things we can control.

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