It’s impossible to be a great parent and a great employee or entrepreneur at the same time. Something has to give don’t you think? I’m sure some of you are disagreeing since you’ve done a wonderful job doing both. But unless you believe being a great parent includes being away from home for 12 hours a day while your little one gets ignored at a daycare facility, we’ve got different definitions.
And if you’re rich, hiring a nanny to take care of your kids while you pursue making even more money you don’t need doesn’t count as great parenting either. At least if you’re not rich, you’ve got an excuse to go to work!
Before every parent reading this post gets too pissed off, let me acknowledge we don’t need to be great at both parenting and work. Being good is generally good enough. But if you want to try to be great at either your career or at parenting, then it’s often beneficial to go ALL-IN.
Time As The One Constant For Parenting
This is not a post about how to be a great parent because unlike work, parenting is very subjective. There are no titles or pay increases, only endless care you must provide in hopes that your child enjoys their youth, learns new things, and grows up to be a good person.
I have zero credibility with regards to teaching others how to be good parents given my < 1 year of experience. So I won’t try. All I can hypothesize is that the more time we spend with our children, the higher likelihood that we may become better parents, all else being equal.
Spending more time with your child makes you keenly aware of your child’s unique needs. As a full-time parent, you end up morphing into a pediatrician, physical therapist, visual therapist, and occupational therapist all-in-one to ensure your baby is getting everything he or she needs.
Therefore, we can set up a loose parental ranking system based on time:
1) Both partners stay at home to raise their child, while both partners have activities to demonstrate work ethic.
2) One partner stays at home and has help from a relative, nanny, fellow parent, or friend.
3) Both partners go to work, leaving their child with a close relative like a grandparent.
4) Both partners go to work, leaving the child with a daycare provider.
5) Both partners have incredibly busy jobs that require constant travel for days or weeks at a time.
6) A single parent who has to work, and therefore leaves the child with a relative or daycare (bless y’all for being able to juggle everything)
7) A single parent who is never home and is strung out on drugs.
You can be a good parent in any of the above scenarios except for the last one. But even if you find yourself in scenario 1 or 2, you won’t necessarily become a great parent. At the end of the day, you can only try your best and make the most of your current situation.
The 2 – 5 Year Timeframe For Parenting
Before I became a father, I already suspected I couldn’t become a great dad if I continued to work 60+ hours a week in banking. I had spoken to plenty of 60+ hours week colleagues who lamented to never having seen their kids grow up. Many parents, especially working mothers, also told me they felt a tremendous amount of guilt being at the office all day.
When I asked why wouldn’t they just take a break from work, they always said they couldn’t quit the money. It wasn’t just the people from banking who said this. The same refrain was echoed by the people from private equity, venture capital, management consulting, and technology. Despite the good pay, there are plenty of miserable folks.
Because I recognized my inability to simultaneously give my best to both work and fatherhood, in 2010, when I was 33 years old, I started to seriously plan for a career transition. It was one year after I had started Financial Samurai and already I could see its potential to one day free me from corporate bondage.
The whole idea was to have something to do at home while taking care of our little one together with my wife, who would ultimately join me in early retirement. Since time spent with your baby/toddler is a key variable for being a good parent, having two stay at home parents seemed better than having just one.
Dilemma: For years, I thought the best solution was to forsake my career and focus on being a good father. This is one of the reasons why I waited so long before deciding to have kids. I felt I needed to save way more money than I realized because I was never going back to work. I regret having waited so long.
Solution: What I now realize is that if you want to be a great parent, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Instead, all you really have to do is give up at most five years of your career to make things happen.
Why Five Years?
Age five is when most kids start going to kindergarten. Once they’re in kindergarten, you no longer have to spend all day with them. Given you now only have to drop them off and pick them up, you’re welcome to go back to the salt mines.
If you feel five years is too long of a period to be out of the workforce, you only have to give up your career for two years because age two is usually the earliest kids can attend pre-school. A pre-school day lasts between 3-9 hours, but it’s usually recommended not to leave your kid in pre-school for longer than six hours or else they’ll be too tired, too cranky, or too homesick. The only hitch is that pre-school is usually only two or three days a week.
If you don’t have kids, you probably won’t be thinking about these timelines because you’ve got so many other things to think about. We were thinking about things like buying the right home, remodeling, getting a safer family car, life insurance, taking pre-natal vitamins, proper feeding, right size diapers, doctor visits, and more.
But if you know you’ll only have to be out of the workforce for 2-5 years maximum, you won’t have to save and invest as much. You’ll also be able to be more confident having kids earlier, which may make it easier on the mother’s body and safer for the well-being of both mother and baby.
If you exit the workforce for 2-5 years at a younger age, you’ll correspondingly be that much younger when you restart your career. After all, many people who stop work and go to graduate school for 1-2 years seem to have no problem finding work again.
Balance For Everything
I know some of you are thinking I overanalyze things. Millions of people just wing it all the time and are fine. Well maybe not, since there are so many messed up kids and divorces. But this article isn’t for me since I’m already a father who doesn’t plan to go back to work ever again. Let’s check back in 17 years to see whether I’m still as enthusiastic about being a permanent stay at home dad.
This article is for those of you who are considering when is the right time to have a kid, how will having kids disrupt your career, how much you need to work, save, and invest to ensure your family is taken care of, and for those who want to be the best parent possible.
I wish someone clearly explained to me the 2-5 year timeframe during my most gungho career days. I would have been much more serious about trying to start a family when I was 32, instead of trying at age 36-37.
Being a full-time parent rivals the toughest jobs in the world. You need a tremendous amount of patience, endurance, and calmness about you because there is no reasoning with a baby/toddler. At any moment, she could injure herself or die. I would say in comparison, most jobs are a walk in the park compared to taking care of a baby/toddler. No wonder why so many parents can’t wait to get back to work after their parental leave is over!
Now that I’ve spent over six months being a stay at home dad, I can unequivocally tell you that it was the best time spent. I wouldn’t trade any amount of money to not have that time with him. They grow up so fast. Once that time is over, you can never get it back.
Wealth Planning Recommendation
College tuition is now prohibitively expensive if your child doesn’t get any grants or scholarships. Therefore, it’s important to save and plan for your child’s future. Check out Personal Capital’s new Planning feature, a free financial tool that allows you to run various financial scenarios to make sure your retirement and child’s college savings is on track. They use your real income and expenses to help ensure the scenarios are as realistic as possible.
Once you’re done inputting your planned saving and timeline, Personal Capital with run thousands of algorithms to suggest what’s the best financial path for you. You can then compare two financial scenarios (old one vs. new one) to get a clearer picture. Just link up your accounts.
There’s no rewind button in life. Therefore, it’s best to plan for your financial future as meticulously as possible and end up with a little too much, than too little! I’ve been using their free tools since 2012 to analyze my investments and I’ve seen my net worth skyrocket since.
Readers, how do you balance career and family? Why don’t more people give up 2-5 years of their working life to spend more time with their babies? Is money too hard to quit? What is the best parenting advice you got or can give?
For those of you who want two or more kids, you can continuously take a 2-5 year break while keeping your job skills fresh, or trade off. Eventually, you’ll have to make a decision about when its time to completely quit the money.