Welcome to our series of ‘Real Stories’ where we’re fortunate to have a snapshot into the personal lives of working parents in the hope that their experiences can help others who are interested in taking a similar path. In this particular story we sit down with Brian, a parent of one who works as a lawyer, to chat about his advice for those in the pre-parent stage.
ECC: What are some of the questions for people to consider before starting a family?
Brian: What I think it means, at least what it meant for me and my wife, is that you are ok with new obligations and limitations in your life. Quite simply, this means everything is more expensive (bigger house, child care, nappies, food, etc.), and that everything you do has an added dimension of difficulty, such as going out requires much more preparation, going to friends requires planning, and having a day to yourself means your partner or someone needs to be watching the child. Essentially, are you prepared to have the trade off of some time, money, and experiences, to access other experiences (raising a child and watching it grow and learn, making new friends as a result of a new social circle you are running in, etc.). So the question is, are you ready, have you considered what it would mean for you, and do you accept that? For me, answering this question meant spreadsheets, discussions with friends and family who had a kid, and ultimately a judgment call. It’s important to factor in not just the practical though, but also the expectations and impact it will have on your relationship with your partner. How will you split the new duties, how will you handle potential long working hours, pick-up of the child, etc. I tend to “over prepare” so I was perhaps more cautious than others, but I did feel mostly prepared when my daughter arrived! But, it’s important to keep in mind that no matter how much you prepare, I think it’s impossible to really foresee the difference in your life, in good and bad.
ECC: In your own experience what have been the key challenges?
Brian: I think the key challenge for me have been time – which encompasses just about all of the other challenges I’ve faced. This includes time for my daughter, time for my wife, time for work and time for myself. Put simply, you have far less time that is flexible, babies and children require things where you cannot do it later (they need to eat or not be in a dirty nappy or they wake up in the morning and that’s when you wake up as well!). It’s important that you and your partner have an agreement on how things are split, as mentioned above, this means being realistic with what your life is currently like and how it will change. For me and my wife it was important that we were both ready to go 50/50, i.e., it was not more important to either one of us and we agreed we would share all of the challenges and effort it required (although sometimes one takes more and vice versa).
ECC: How have you managed to overcome these?
Brian: I’m not sure I have “overcome” the challenges, but I have learned to adapt to them. I do not know what I did with all of my time before, or why I ever complained of being tired. Everything is relative. I’ve learned to function on less sleep, to make the most of short / intense periods of time when I want to get work done or if I have one hour to myself decide if I want to give it to a book, exercise or Netflix. I think for me it boils down to being more deliberate and better planning.
ECC: Before having a family what resources or sources of support would you recommend? And what about for parents without any family nearby?
Brian: Both my wife and I live outside of our home countries (I’m American and she is French), and therefore we don’t have family nearby. This means we can’t drop our daughter off at the Grandparents for some down time, and we have to be very deliberate about creating a relationship between our daughter and our families as it doesn’t happen naturally. The resources and sources of support for us came from friends and others who have experienced it previously. Picking their brains, sussing out what would work for us. Before having a baby I never knew what a childminder was, I knew of nanny’s (too expensive for us) and nursery (too inflexible for us). But talking to others we learned about childminders, the perfect balance between the two (for us!). The best resources available are your community (family, friends, books, interest). The key to accessing this community / those resources, is to admit that you don’t have something figured out, that you are learning on the spot. It’s also important to bear in mind that even if you figure out something at one stage or point in time, another stage comes along rapidly and the sand shift beneath your feet. This means that you will be constantly “figuring things out”, and this is normal! As an aside, there was an incredibly useful Ted talk that my wife and I discovered which described how parenting creates higher “highs” and lower “lows” in ones emotional life, compared to an adult without children who has a much steadier emotional state. This really helped to frame things for us.
ECC: What conversations have you had that you think have been key to making starting your family a success? In addition to this, what would you suggest to those anticipating fatherhood in the future, do now to prepare themselves?
Brian: The most important conversation was with my wife, as mentioned above, agreeing your expectations, your roles, and your philosophy on raising a child. These conversations are critical, and we had them in-depth – I think this avoids future confrontation and misunderstanding. When you are exhausted with a two month old, anything you’ve already sorted before hand is hugely helpful! Conversations with my parents about what they thought they did that worked or didn’t (then compared to what I thought worked or didn’t), conversation with my friends about their philosophy or approach, and reading books / listening to podcasts (a rather one-sided conversation, but I think it’s an important one to mention here). Basically, similar to my answer in the previous question, broadening my base of knowledge and understanding so I can have as many tools as possible. I don’t think there was any one definitive conversation for me.
Keep an eye out for the rest of the ‘Real Stories’ series across the other stages of the parental transition!