(This is #2 of 30 raw essays in 30 days. The topic was submitted by D.)
How do you feel about the intersection of parenthood and work?
Let’s start zoomed-out. Despite the differences in where and how we were raised, our lives from birth almost invariably go down the same path, perhaps with one or two steps skipped:
- intensive learning and socialising
- graduation and contributing to society through work
- having children
- retirement and contributing to society through mentorship
What’s interesting is how much of it is involuntary and shoved upon us. We don’t ask to be born. Most places in the world have mandatory schooling up to a certain age. Every place in the world requires us to work to earn our living. One day our ageing body or mind will hint to us that it may be time to release the accelerator on our work, start helping people in our vicinity, and ease gracefully towards death.
Having children? It’s the notable exception. We don’t have to have children. Most of us who end up becoming parents do so voluntarily, albeit with absolutely no idea what is to come despite what everyone tells us.
Choosing to have children is the most significant decision we make in our lives!
Once we become parents, our lives start revolving around our children’s needs rather than our own. This is the biggest distinction between life before and after kids. And this, I think, is the main source of the tension that exists between parenthood and work.
Tensions in life before kids:
- managing a relationship with a partner and families
- learning who we are, what we care about
- self-loathing from comparing ourselves with others
- deciding between impactful versus lucrative work
- building social standing
Tensions in life after kids are all of the above, plus extras that come with considering our kids’ needs against ours:
- self-loathing from comparing our kids with others
- career growth versus time with kids
- guiding our kids when we don’t even know everything about who we are
The lists aren’t meant to be exhaustive but illustrative - the point is that parenthood brings challenges, and for those of us who have made the choice, we must recognise that new tensions exist and continue our lives marching to the new beat.
When we forget and try to live our lives like before, we will be miserable.
Interestingly, these days when I’m at work or pursuing a serious hobby, I still get just as engrossed as before our daughter came into our lives. The difference is that I have to remind myself that my priority currently is her, not anything else. These are her formative years. I don’t know when her formative years will end, but these first few years are definitely part of it. I need to be there to guide her.
But I think having this rearranged hierarchy of needs locked in my mind that has made me actually become more productive (at work and with hobbies)! I’ve become much more selective on what to take on and focused when doing the work. I’m doing 30-day “passion trials” like this to explore alternative careers while holding an existing full-time job. I sleep an hour earlier so I can wake an hour earlier to write. When the hour is up, I shut down the work and go tend to the kid (with a few minutes extra sometimes when I’m really engrossed).
A tip to my fellow parents: whenever I’m struggling with balancing parenthood and work, I don’t try to remember what the hierarchy of needs ought to be. I simply walk into the room where my toddler is and let my heart remind me.