On my son’s 10th birthday, here are ten things that are completely different to how I imagined

Martin Rupf
Translation: Megan Cornish

My son recently turned ten years old. I’m taking the milestone birthday as an opportunity to take stock. Here are ten things that turned out quite differently to how I imagined a decade ago.

Whenever it’s one of my children’s birthdays, I think back to the day they were born with a mixture of nostalgia and gratitude. It was no different the other day when my son celebrated getting into double digits.

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So, I’m looking back on the past ten years, focusing on ideas and expectations that haven’t been fulfilled or, if so, only marginally. I’m sure you know what I mean. Before your first child is born, you’re already imagining every facet of parenthood and family life. We’re talking fragments of memories, stories and wishful thinking.

You’ll probably agree with me that reality doesn’t necessarily correspond to these ideas, or it at least differs. To mark my son’s tenth birthday, here are my ten misconceptions and aha moments.

1. Time really does fly!

Before the birth, other parents were constantly telling me: «Enjoy every moment with your children. They’ll have grown up before you know it.» I really took that to heart and tried to enjoy every second. But the older the children got – our daughter was born almost two years after our son – the more difficult it became to enjoy things. Once both children had started school and picked up hobbies, and one cog had to fit with the other, time went faster and faster. Even though the saying «time flies» may seem cliché, I couldn’t have imagined that it would rush past so drastically.

2. Biological roots are more important than I thought

I’m adopted and was lucky enough to have been adopted by very loving, good parents – I never called them stepparents or adoptive parents. Maybe that’s because I didn’t really ask myself «where I’m from» for a long time. Even when I learned that my birth mother had sadly passed away while I was looking for her and my father was nowhere to be found, it was relatively easy for me to accept it. Maybe the fact that I had found my biological half-brother (article in German) helped too. But, above all, I had a solid family with my parents and my sister, who was also adopted. And so, the question of my roots somehow never came to the surface – until my son was born. Holding your own flesh and blood in your hands for the first time is one of the most beautiful and decisive experiences for all parents. In my case, it was probably a bit more special. For the first time, I had a relationship with someone who was biologically completely related to me. It’s only since I’ve had this relationship with my two children that I’ve realised how important biological roots are.

3. My son doesn’t like ball sports – so what?

Whether floorball, handball, table tennis or football, I’m a ball sportsman through and through. If I see a ball, I want to play with it immediately. I pictured myself playing baseball or football with my son, just like in cheesy American films. But obviously the ball sports gene didn’t get passed down. Because to this day, my son is about as adept with a ball at his feet as a sumo wrestler is on a tightrope. He’s interested in dancing or acting instead. But it wasn’t just his preferences that I hadn’t expected. I’m also pleasantly surprised with myself because I’ve never tried to make my son into a ball player. Every now and then I try something to coax him into playing floorball, for example. Unsuccessfully so far, but that doesn’t bother me.

4. Why can’t my son do what Lars can?!

I’m not as relaxed when it comes to comparisons with other children. I thought I’d be unmoved by comparisons with other children and I simply wouldn’t care if the same-aged boy next door could do things that my son wouldn’t even dare to dream of. But the reality is different. Example number one: my brother recently told me that his son got all sixes in his school report. «Why doesn’t my son have a single six?» I thought to myself. Example number two: the girl next door is much braver and could ride a bike better than my son. I pretended to share her father’s pride, when in fact I was a bit jealous. Example number three: my son skis rather hesitantly down the slopes and is happy being overtaken by significantly younger children who crouch. «What did I do wrong when I was teaching him to ski?» I think to myself. In all of these situations, I feel ashamed that I project my competitiveness onto my son.

5. The burden of the (constant) role model role

You too have probably imagined how you, as a parent, would like to be a role model for your children. And from reading numerous how-to books, we also know that being a role model isn’t defined by heroic deeds – it’s defined by everyday actions and setting an example.

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But I quickly had to realise that being a role model isn’t that easy. On the contrary: if I’m completely honest, I’m probably a bad role model more often than a good one. I swear far too often and I like it, I’m extremely impulsive and I can sometimes get loud and lower the tone. I’m also stressed and impatient far too often. And in a few years’ time, I won’t be allowed to complain to my children if they’re on their phones all the time, because they copied that from their father.

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34.10was 39.20

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Of course, you should never give up on being a role model. And you probably also tend to see the negatives and don’t consciously notice what’s going well. One way or another, the following mantra always helps me in the end: «The very fact that I can’t always be a role model – I’m not perfect – is what makes me a role model for my children.»

6. «If you don’t tidy up your room right now, there’ll be no TV»

As an expectant parent, you too may have read specialist literature before the birth of your first child to get some advice and tips on how to raise them properly.

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Education becomes relationship

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The secret of serene education (Holger Schlageter, German)

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One of the principles that then became one of my resolutions was that you shouldn’t use threats when raising your children or incentivise them to do or not to do anything. I don’t know how many times I’ve broken that resolution. In the heat of the moment, how quickly do you come out with things like «If you don’t tidy up your room right now, there’ll be no more TV today»? The stupid thing is that in the short term, threats like this – smart guys like to call them consequences – do have the desired effect. But in the long term, this kind of parenting is unlikely to bear much fruit. Because children shouldn’t learn to do or not do things just because they fear the consequences.

7. When the hero suddenly turns into the embarrassing daddy

Ahh, I like to think back to when I was my children’s absolute hero. Of course, I always knew there would come a time when the shine would wear off and I’d no longer be able to maintain my superhero image. But I didn’t expect my son to call me «embarrassing» so soon. Now there aren’t that many situations in which my son doesn’t find me embarrassing. The worst thing for him is when I get the embarrassing idea of picking him up from school. I can still convince myself I’m a cool, young-at-heart father. My son obviously sees things differently.

8. Children hold up a mirror to you. Why don’t I like what I see?!

Having kids is like a journey where you never know what’s going to happen next. Above all, it’s a journey that gives you the unique opportunity to change – ideally for the better. Because children mercilessly hold up a mirror to their parents. They can do this because they’re sure of their parents’ unconditional love and therefore have nothing to fear. I expect this with my children, but I never imagined that it could be so annoying and painful at times. Why can’t my son just follow the rules?! Hmm, could it be because I’m not that keen on rules? Why does my daughter always have to fly off the handle when something doesn’t suit her? Deeeeefinitely not because of me, who’s always so relaxed and balanced. Is it too much to ask for my son to just eat well?! Yes, maybe it’s because his dad wolfs down his food like he’s in an eating contest.

And I really can’t complain that my son hates putting on his bike helmet.

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9. Where’s my composure when it comes to school issues?

A golden rule when raising children is that you should never – really, never – speak badly of teachers, school administrators or the content of homework in their presence. Because if we parents have no respect for schools and their employees, how can we expect that from our children? I have to be very frank and brutally honest here. I’ve broken this rule so many times that it’s almost a miracle that my children still enjoy going to school and don’t give certain teachers the finger. I admit that I’ve dared to write to a teacher about how pointless the homework was and what kind of tasks would make sense instead.

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I’ve also made disparaging remarks about a teacher more than once. The fact that they deserved it doesn’t make it any better. Last but not least, we went to the school administration last summer because we didn’t agree with our son’s class allocation. It didn’t actually make any sense. But can’t I exercise restraint when it comes to school just once?

10. Love as far as the eye can see

Warning: it gets really cheesy at the end. Of course, I suspected that having children would redefine my concept of love. But I couldn’t have imagined that love can be so all-encompassing that sometimes it almost hurts a bit. Best of all, it’s mutual. I have so much love for my children that I could fill a hot air balloon with it. And, whether I’m embarrassing or not, they have more unconditional love for me than I could’ve imagined in my wildest dreams.

What surprises await me in the next ten years?

So now you know the ten things I was wrong about and how the last few years with my children have taught me better. I’m already excited to see what things will be like in ten years’ time when my son celebrates his 20th birthday. I only know two things for sure: while there’ll be as much love as ever, I probably can’t get even more embarrassing for my son. But I’m happy to pay the price for the most valuable thing of all – my children.

Header image: Martin Rupf

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Half-Danish dad of two and third child of the family, mushroom picker, angler, dedicated public viewer and world champion of putting my foot in it.

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