My son Hunter was born when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2001. I came home to a red-headed little baby boy, and it was one of the best moments of my life, and also the scariest. What to do? I had no clue.

I remember how my wife was afraid to go to the store because I didn’t know how to take care of an infant! She, like most exhausted and caffeine-starved moms, got over that real fast and I learned as I went, as all parents do.

Then my daughter. She showed up fast! My wife woke up one morning and said that she was on her way. Since this was the first time I was home for an actual birth I had no idea what this meant. I said, “Ok, I’ll get ready,” and started making coffee in the kitchen. Bad idea. “WTF are you doing!” she said. “Get the car ready.” We almost had Olivia in the Volvo.

As soon as we got into the birth center she was out within minutes! We were back home in an hour with her and our family. Proof that natural childbirth can be very rewarding. I should also mention that my kids’ mom had all three births naturally. She also naturally had two more beautiful little girls with her new husband. I’m still impressed by this.

Our third kid was born at Balboa naval hospital. Grayson came out swinging and at that point the car was full, no room left! I was done.

What lessons have I learned as a dad of over 18 years, a former Navy SEAL sniper, and an entrepreneur? Lots but let’s focus on what I think are the top three that helped me.

1. Put the kids first

My wife and I would go on to get a divorce like many parents (I’ll write more on this later). We got along through the process but it was still extremely rough. But, the one thing we did right was put ourselves and our emotions aside for the betterment of the kids. This is lesson one.

It was tough to go from little league coach and drop off the kids at school daily dad, to divorced part-time dad. After all, I left the Navy SEALs early to spend more time with my kids. But I would go on to adapt. We all did. Getting along with their mom post-divorce was challenging (for both of us) but when we always defaulted to putting “us” aside for “them,” we sorted our issues out and our kids started to thrive.

Regardless of what happens to you in life, if you stay married or end up apart, take this approach and your kids will be ok. Trust me. Mine are old enough now that I feel comfortable saying this. Work with your co-parent to put the kids first over your differences as a couple. Default to this and things will go well. Both parents have to do this. The rewards will be immediate, and it will be something you’ll both build off. It will ultimately strengthen your bond as co-parents when you see how well your kids are doing.

2. Love them

The best you can hope for is to raise happy and independent kids that pursue their own dreams (not yours).

Love. It’s that simple.

Your kids don’t need fancy toys or trips to Hawaii. They want to be loved and they want you to spend time with them.

Also, let them jump in mud puddles.

I remember during Christmas my youngest son Grayson was about to leap into this huge ice-filled mud puddle in Portland Oregon and I started to object, then something hit me. I thought to myself, “Why the Hell not?!” Maybe it was because I’d lost so many friends to the war before the age of 30 that I value these small moments more. So I encouraged him to do it. Seeing his joy and hearing his laughter while he splashed around in the muddy water was worth the dirty clothes.

Embrace your kids’ individuality. Hold them close and love them. If there’s one thing you do, DO THIS! They’ll remember it for the rest of their lives.

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3. Consequences

Kids need boundaries and they are counting on you to set some. You can be as liberal or hardcore as you want but there have to be consequences for bad behavior. But don’t forget to reward good behavior. It’s like training a young pup: reward for the good and correct for the bad, and you end up with a well-behaved adult dog. We’ve all seen what happens when dogs are out of control. Translate this into parenting and it’s very similar.

My wife and I decided on push-ups as punishment: one push up for one year of age. The kids were more embarrassed about this punishment (especially in public) but it was very effective along with taking away privileges (friends’ sleepover, etc.). Set boundaries, and hold your ground. The kids will respect you for it and understand that their parents aren’t messing around. It’s one of the reasons I could take three 12 and under kids to a nice restaurant and enjoy myself.

Oh, and as a former Special Ops athlete, feed your kids well to keep them healthy.

Where are the kids now?

Hunter is in his first year at St. Andrews in Scotland pursuing a degree in Psychology and Computer Science. My 16-year-old daughter Olivia is pursuing her art career (as I write this, she’s a resident artist at a paid onsite retail event in New York). She wants to go to Parsons after school. Grayson is 14. He’s on the travel basketball team and studying business classes through Harvard’s online entrepreneurship portal. He’s homeschooled now because it’s a better fit for him. He mentioned serving but I’m hoping he’ll go straight into business, that would make his father happy. But above all else, it’s about what he wants, and it’s his journey to take. I’m just an adviser at this point.

One thing I told all three of them is this: The only thing they owe their mom and me is to reach for the stars, pursue their dreams on their own terms, and know we’ll be there to catch them if they fall down a few times. Other than that, they should go for it.

Having kids was one of the best things I’ve done in my life but it comes with a big responsibility. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all make mistakes. Just follow these three simple guidelines and you’ll be ok.

Hope this helped. If you thought so, please share it with someone who could use a parenting lift.

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