Your Children Need Your Time, not Your Money
When I was young, a friend and I pretended we were knights of a magical kingdom far away from the mortal world, halfway to Narnia, around the corner from Neverland. Through the long Kansas summers, we would run through the thick pine woods behind his house – adventuring in far off realms, fighting dragons, meeting centaurs, and rescuing villages of elves. We traversed streams populated by naiads, enchanted woods with talking beasts, and deadly swamps ruled by will-o’-the-wisps. Our world was boundless, only constrained by the limits of the last book we read.
And through all those adventures we had a loyal blacksmith, a man who crafted our armor and forged our swords – my father. He had a woodshop in our basement, and he indulged the wishes of two kids: making us wooden swords to match our imaginary horses, painted shields to protect us from imaginary dragons. Nurturing our formidable imaginations, he knighted us “Defenders of the Realm”. He made us swear to protect those without power, to aid those in need, and to succor those who faced fear. He challenged us to be better, to be a force for good in our imaginary world. My dad played along with our game. A very simple thing. Only a few moments here and there, a few precious instants of time in a child’s life. But in that dark little workshop that smelled of pine and oak and cherry, a few shafts of sunlight piercing through the shadows, illuminating flecks of sawdust and the faces of two little boys, he helped forge us into something beautiful.
We have such little time in this world with our children. A few years before they head to school, a couple decades before they venture out on their own. My wife and I only have 857 more weekends with our daughter before she leaves for college. There will be precious few moments like those days in my dad’s woodshop. Our opportunities to play with her and indulge her imagination are numbered. Such a short amount of time to teach her to be the same fearless knight my dad taught me to be. Such a short amount of time to teach her how to fight dragons.
In the US we are told that it takes huge sums of money to raise a child: $245k according to the USDA. And yes, children do cost money. I won’t challenge the official figure, that is a topic for another time. But I want to acknowledge the amount. Money is very important, you need it to buy clothes, food, healthcare, soccer practice, and all of the other minutiae of day to day life.
But I want to challenge the assumption that pouring more and more money, more and more stuff onto your children is the correct way to raise them. Grizzly Mom works with a more senior attorney at her firm. She has poured her life into her job, she has FAR more money than we do. But due to a messy divorce, she is now enrolling her kids in ‘horse therapy’ at a cost of around $30k for each. I knew a senior partner at my old consulting firm who joked about how for the first three years of their lives his kids called the telephone ‘dada’ because he was constantly traveling. But he assured us that they were in the ‘best’ private school and so would perfectly fine. I can rattle off twenty other examples just like this. People we know in our jobs and from school who work insane hours and spend ungodly sums of money on their children to make up for it.
Your children do not need horse therapy, they do not need private school, they do not need new cars for their 16th birthday, they do not need violin lessons from age 4 on, they do not need $50 an outfit baby clothes. They need you, they need you to teach them, to play with them, to spend time with them.
With a little more time, think of all the things you can do with your children. With a LOT more time. What is more valuable? The money? The Stuff? Or that time.
You are the ideal teacher and tutor. I cannot wait to teach my daughter science, physics, math, and programming languages. To make integrals, for loops, and coefficients of friction as fun as possible. We will build potato cannons, control robots, and devise intricate games. Mrs. Grizzly will cover history and writing and foreign languages. Weaving French lessons into tales of Joan of Arc and Charlemagne and helping to craft stories about magical unicorns and brave princesses. We plan to send her to public school, but all of those lessons will be supplemented by her parents. Her tutoring sessions will be around the dinner table.
You are the ideal confidant. When they are scared, upset, ashamed, nervous, you are the two people most capable of comforting them. The two people most capable of convincing them that everything will be okay. We plan to be there for our daughter. To listen to her if she is scared after her first day of school, to hold her if she is afraid of the dark, and to talk to her after the other kids are mean.
But most of all you are the ideal guide through this world. Children need someone to teach them bravery, to teach them to fight for what they believe in. They need you to teach them how to be the knights of their own magical world. They will trudge off through fields bearing wooden swords and painted shields, and you are the blacksmith that will forge the armor they need to begin their adventure.
It’s 6:30 am in CT. I discovered your blog yesterday and have been up since 3am reading all your posts, chronologically, curious about your progress and excited about the adventiure you embarked yourselves on. My husband and I have very similar profiles to yours and are right now also rethinking our lives, we haven’t just been courageous enough to make the decision to leave this career rat.
This last post made me cry.
Thanks door sharing your dreams and inspiring us!
Maria – I’m so happy to hear that this one hit home. There’s nothing I can think of that’s more important. I wish you luck in your own journey, and keep us updated!
Beautiful post. I haven’t worked since my first child was born, nearly 17 years ago; I had another a few years later. They’ve had countless hours of my time and it’s been amazing. They’ve never been in weepingly-long, over-structured holiday daycare camps when all they want to do is hang with each other and their neighborhood friends, and decompress. I’ve been there every single morning to send them off to school with a kiss and an encouraging wave, and welcomed them home each afternoon with drinks, snacks and however long they want of my attention. My high school junior STILL comes in every single day and wants to spend an hour running through his day lesson by lesson, asking my opinion on homework essays, discussing everything from medieval Europe to parallel universes to what Donald Trump did today to bizarrely torch his campaign.
We were achingly poor for the early years; my son’s first vacation that wasn’t ‘let’s go visit Grandma!’ was when he was almost 8. But then we discovered a great secret – in a world where almost everyone is doing the equivalent of two full-time jobs, working and parenting, and doing neither very well, someone who has an at-home spouse starts effortlessly KILLING it at work. Large pay hikes and interesting promotions follow apace. And once work is done for the day, that person doesn’t have to do a daycare pick up, shop for groceries, cook, clean, do laundry, fit in some DIY, pay bills, etc etc etc. They come home to an oasis of leisure, and their evening parenting is a joy rather than a constant struggle with exhausted kids over dining, homework, chores, prepping clothes for the next day. (Note – oasis exceptions for pre-school aged kids. But even they mostly have good days when they’re well-rested, well-nourished, and able to follow their own internal schedules and activity desires.)
It’s a great point. Mrs. Grizzly and I have basically come to the conclusion that if you want to be successful in the corporate world you need a stay at home spouse. The problem that we ran into is the neither one of us wants to be the person that goes to work! 🙂
Hence our current plan.
I’ve been following your blog from the first post, and I am so excited for your family. My husband and I are in very similar circumstances. He’s a doctor and I’m an attorney, we went to incredible schools, we both have/had lucrative careers, we used to waste a lot of money, and we now have three very young kids. We have significant educational debt (mostly his – law school was free for me), and he is finishing his fellowship this year.
Several years ago, when our first child was born, we restructured our lives so that we wouldn’t miss her childhood. The husband gave up his original specialty – neurosurgery – and switched to a different specialty that will allow him to have a life and work part-time. He is finishing his medical training, so he has to work right now. (We want to do medical relief trips abroad once our kids are a few years older, so he has to be fully trained.) Therefore, even though I could be making a lot of money (at least 5-6 times what he makes right now during his training), I am staying home full-time and homeschooling our first-grader. We gave up the expensive vacations, Lancome face creams, expensive restaurants, and stupid, mindless stuff that we used to buy. We drive old cars that family members discard. AND WE LOVE IT. It doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice…just a few days ago, while we were eating dinner, my husband turned to me and said, “I feel so rich right now. I have every single thing I want. My life is so good.”
Trust me, you will never regret this, and we are cheering you on from Nashville.
That’s a pretty awesome quote from your husband, and echoes exactly how we feel. Thank you for sharing!
This post really hits home. When our children were young, Mrs. CD didn’t work at all. She has done a daycare in our home for a number of years so that she could be home when needed. Now that 4 are basically out of the house, and our youngest are now in high school she has been working some evenings and on weekends. We are working on paying the debt down so that won’t be a need, but an option.
I have always had a flexible schedule which has enabled me to coach sports, direct plays, and be home at lunch and at dinner. Still they don’t ever get younger and at times busy schedules have gotten in the say. Time is something you can never get back.
That’s probably one of the things were most looking forward too – being involved with teams, plays, all the little activities. Thank you for sharing!
I completely agree with your post and your financial goals. My only deviation is that I personally think it is important to be able to fund my child(ren)’s education. I went to public schools and that was great, but my parents were able to pay for my undergrad and law school degree, and I very much want to be able to do that for my child. I’m pretty close to hitting my savings target for my 5-year-old, but if we are lucky enough to have another, I won’t retire before that child also has adequate college/grad school savings. I’m willing to do this because I can leave by 4 pm every day from my current job and work from home at least one day a week. I’ve also had a good experience with day care/preschool and occasional babysitters.
We don’t differ there completely. We plan on paying for everything through undergrad. Grad school is a bit of different since we actually view both of our grad school degrees as wastes of money. We’d both be much better off financially and I would be much better off in my career at this point if we had never gone. As a result, we view grad school more as a personal choice, one that we wouldn’t really encourage. And if they wanted to go to grad school we’d counsel them to avoid crazy expensive private schools.
So much of what we “do” seems to come from the people we surround ourselves with. Some of it, of course, comes from how we are raised. But a large portion of it comes from “everyone else”. Why is that?
I think people often drift into this, unknowingly. You are a dual-income couple with high salaries in a high COL area. You are shaped by the people around you. It can often be very hard to break out of the mold. You have to be strong. And it doesn’t happen overnight. For some families, it works to simply make a clean break (the family from Nashville, and the one above that). Be TOTALLY different. One parent at home homeschooling when nobody else does that, for example.
For others, it’s making baby steps and picking and choosing. From an example above – the stay at home parent allows the other parent to KILL IT at work. That’s great if it works! Man, I *DO NOT* want that. I am NOT willing to be the stay at home parent, and give up decades of hard work and a career that I enjoy. And neither does my husband. Having children means that our careers are either equal *or* one takes a bit of priority. He gets raises and promotions. My company has been hurting *and* I sadly found that high-tech female glass ceiling. So for sure, my career has taken a back seat. He does well but doesn’t “kill it” because honestly he prefers more time with the kids. (This also gives us flexibility – we can weather a job loss pretty easily.)
I’ve got friends who live in similar high COL areas that are extremely type-A. The overall area competitiveness means that they prefer to do things like – have their kids in lots of extracurriculars, hire high priced nannies to ferry them around. They have some work flexibility, but would never, for example, make the decision to let one kid play basketball and have one kid in mid-week swim lessons – and actually take kids their themselves.
We have made the decision to do that. “How do you do that?” Well, on a regular day, we offset our schedules. One works early and leaves early. One goes in late and works late. We don’t punch a clock, and that’s okay. (It also means that if I came in at 7:30 am, I cannot stay for a 5 pm meeting. Sorry can’t do it.) It means that we are THERE. I can tell you about pretty amazing conversations with my 10 year old about Greek gods while driving to and from sports practice.
But…even though it’s more accepted here in sunny So Cal, it’s still not quite “normal” for our crowd. See, at my husband’s office, most of the other dads have wives who either don’t work, or only work PT. He’s probably the oldest dad there who routinely leaves for kid stuff (he was ahead of his time! A trend setter!) I’m the only mom at my entire company, so I guess I’m a trend setter too.
What has helped, really, is finding my tribe outside of work. There are plenty of dual-income parents who put their kids in all sorts of expensive programs and work long hours. There are plenty of wealthy families with a parent at home all of the time. The trick, for me, is to find people who share my values. Is my kid going to be a failure because I chose not to enroll him in the magnet GATE program, didn’t have him in soccer at age 4, and don’t pay for private piano lessons? No.
Agree 100%. We believe that one of the only reasons we were actually able to see this path for ourselves is simply that we had one foot in the other world outside of San Francisco and our friends from expensive schools. I spent 4 years in the army so we got a taste of a more normal life. We also have the window back into the lives of our friends from high school when we had much more normal surroundings. It’s this exposure to the fact that there is another way that enabled us to see the light.
Thank you for sharing!
I love how the poster Marcia has arranged it, with both having interesting but time- flexible careers. In an ideal world, I might have wanted to do it that way – I mostly fell into the at-home gig by accident.My pre-child work was in a very city-based occupation, whereas my husband is a mechanical engineer and tends to be employed in more industrial places where heavy industry is located (this was in the UK).
When we started our family, we’d already spent an unsatisfying year living halfway between our jobs, with a grim commute for both. It wasn’t how we wanted to live as a family, and we decided it made more sense to focus on his career as the potentially more lucrative and high demand one. I stopped work, and we moved near his job so he could spend as little pointless time commuting as possible when our son was tiny. Some years passed, he got headhunted to a new area which was a fun moving project for me, another kid arrived, she approached school age and I started thinking about a return to work – when bam! He got offered a new job, in Switzerland. After some years, another move, this time to the US. None of this would have been possible if we’d tried to juggle two careers and daycare.
It’s been awesome, and mentally challenging, and I’ve had to constantly reinvent our family life from the ground up with my presence being the one true constant the kids have had. They’re fantastically grounded given their unrootedness. It’s been absolutely the right thing for them, having me at home full-time. But there are definitely a couple of challenges to being out of the working world which will also apply to being early retired. There are very few at-home people around my age (mid-40s). We’ve recently moved again, and I’m finding it hard to build a new social network in the desert between moms of small kids and their easy playdates, and seniors with a ready-made, extensive activities program provided by the city at their gleaming Senior Center (I can’t WAIT to be 55!).
And another is actively forcing self-sufficiency on your kids. It’s like with money, where when they ask for something it’s easier to say ‘nope, sorry’ if you straightforwardly can’t afford it; ‘we can afford it, but aren’t going to choose to spend our money that way’ is a much more complicated conversation sometimes likely to lead to sulking or tantrums. I have the same issue, but with time. I have lots of it, they have much less. This sometimes leads to them wondering why I can’t (won’t!) pick up their room for them or clean their bathroom, since they have school and homework and extracurriculars, and I ‘do nothing’. Or why I won’t drive them to school (10 min walk) because they’re ‘tired’ or late. They’re pretty good kids and mostly clear on which things are their responsibilities, but they’re teens and have their moments. These conversations would never even happen if I was out of the house all day working.
Lou – thank you for sharing. One of the best parts of starting this little blog is hearing awesome stories like this. I love your philosophy around raising your kids. Basically the same way my parents were with me, and how we plan on raising our daughter.