You might remember me mentioning last week how I’m going to become a grandfather, which led me to much pondering of my own place in life. What I’ve learned is that my place in life is to talk a lot. I do it on my full time job, I do it here, and I do it while driving in heavy traffic.
So I’m going to talk to my daughter now, and dispense advice which is suspect, in that it’s free. Most of you have, or will, face the arduous task of being a parent someday, so you might find in this something to take with you. But probably not.
Charis, you’re taking on the single most important job ever. It’s a lifelong career; if you think you can retire after eighteen years, you’ve got another think coming. When you’re doddering around on your walker at the age of 80, you’ll be worried about whether your 55 year old kid is taking care of himself. There’s zero material reward, unless your kid happens to be the one in a million who makes enough money to support you in your old age.
Nobody in our family makes that kind of money. Your Uncle Lavonne won a hundred bucks in the lottery back in 1953, but he blew it all on RC Cola stock. That’s pretty much it for family riches.
Yet it’s the job that should pay more than an oil company executive, because the future of our world may be in your hands. Will little Hunter H. Hunter be the first to step foot on Mars? Will he make a living hijacking cars in Cleveland? Will he be the Secret Service Agent who saves President Chelsea Clinton? Will he become a researcher and discover the cure for reality television?
There are all sorts of outside influences, and more come along every day; but you’ll be the biggest influence in that child’s life, with your teaching, attitudes, moral compass, and even your choice of breakfast cereal. Never underestimate your power to guide Hunter in his formative years. Yes, sooner or later he’ll leave the nest and be battered by the winds of advertising and peer pressure, and at a certain point he has to take responsibility for his own actions – but until then, you’re the most powerful force in his life.
The life you knew is over. That’s not to say you can’t pursue your own dreams, but everything you do from now on must be done with your child in mind. When that big law firm calls you to work in Nashville, you must consider whether to uproot Hunter and his little sister, Huntress, from their home, school, and friends. Is the opportunity worth that stress? Are the long hours you’ll work worth not seeing them?
Many people manage a career outside of parenting, and still raise decent, well adjusted kids; but many don’t. Parenting is a career, the most important one of all, and it’s really hard to work two jobs at once. If it’s humanly possibly, one of you – mom or dad – should do the stay at home thing, at least until the kids hit their school years.
Staying at home isn’t easy for many people. You can only do so much diaper changing, dish washing, dusting, and preschool video watching before you get the feeling you’re just a glorified janitor. My suggestion for the modern couple is for one to have a part time job – that’s almost a financial necessity, these days – and for the other to put some time in at home, so everybody gets a break and the kids get their parents.
Life won’t always make that possible. Do what you can, but remember kids and family come first. You want your tombstone to say “loving parent”, not “worked long hours at a faceless corporation”. After all, those tombstone people charge by the letter.
Now, some practical matters: Figure out how much money you’ll need to raise a family. Triple it. You need at least that amount.
You’ll get offers of help, in various forms. Take them. Two of the five most stressful events to hit a relationship are having a child and having money troubles, and they very much go together. Take advantage of hand-me-down clothes or babysitting offers, then go out to be away from the kids now and then. I know that seems to contradict what I said earlier, but it’s for their sake: Families who spend too much time together can’t afford the therapy bills.
Many people will also offer advice, and you’ll find that advice is often contradictory. There’s a good reason for this:
They’re all wrong.
People try to pigeonhole babies, but the moment little Hunter is born he’ll be an individual. Some things work on all babies: the burping, for instance. There’s not much variation with burping.
After that you’ll start encountering questions, ranging from cloth vs. disposable to which preschool is best for your one week old. Decide based on what’s best for your baby. The older he gets, the more individual those decisions must become, so if someone disapproves of how you handle discipline, or illness, or anything else – smile, nod, and go on doing what
you feel is right.
How will you know if it is right? You won’t. To your dying day, you’ll never know if your child came out right because of, or despite of how you raised him. He may do time in the Big House because you punished him too much, or not enough. He may begin his Superbowl speech by thanking his eighth grade English teacher. Sooner or later, you just have to let him go.
Letting him go. There’s the hardest part, I guess. Still, both before that point and after, be there. Be there with love and support … and it probably wouldn’t hurt to keep your fingers crossed.