Cultivating a Happy Family Life: The Busy Worker’s Guide
I love my work. I truly enjoy the time I spend helping clients, managing my company, and overseeing the seemingly endless stream of projects I’ve got going on. But raising kids will always be my most important job.
Of course, I don’t love any of that a fraction as much as I adore my wife and kids. Moments spent with them, away from the office and those projects I enjoy, are truly the happiest moments of my life and the reason I wake up feeling blessed each morning.
There have been times when it felt like I didn’t have enough hours in the day for both. To make sure I did right by my company, it seemed like I’d have to sacrifice a few of those precious moments with my kids, and that idea doesn’t sit well with me. I’m also aware that I’ve got it good; there are so many parents out there working multiple jobs and constantly battling to find some sort of balance between work and family.
The truth is, it isn’t easy.
No matter who you are or what you do, both work and child-rearing demand an immense amount of time. As more and more families rely on two full-time workers, it becomes even more challenging to find the right equilibrium. At a certain point, sacrifice feels inevitable, and yet finding the sacrificial part of your life seems impossible.
The word sacrifice has a pretty negative ring to it, which is why I prefer to go with “adjustment.” You will drastically adjust your life once you start juggling a job and a family, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself off from something you’re passionate about. In fact, one of the best lessons I’ve learned while raising three children is that you have to keep your own life as a priority. By making sure you’re fulfilled, you bring the best version of yourself home for those meaningful moments with your little ones.
Most every working parent has experienced the highs and lows of blending two schedules that seem to be at constant odds. There’s no foolproof plan for it, but a mindful approach can help you live the full, satisfying life you desire.
Supporting Your Spouse
When you first bring home a baby, nothing else in the world matters. Of course, that’s not true, but it certainly feels that way, doesn’t it? Especially with that first child, you can’t concentrate on anything else and you spend hours on end just watching your baby breathe.
Before too much time passes, you really need to remember to pay some attention to the loved one who will be your companion in this new journey. While our children bring us together, they unwittingly put a little wedge between parents as well. So many hours spent tending to the baby, then it’s off to work and, if you’re lucky, a little sleep at the end of the day. That leaves moms and dads very little time for being husbands and wives.
If you don’t put forth the effort to make time, things can get pretty strained and that’s bad for everyone, especially your children. Here are a few thoughts for the how, what, and when of continuing to spend time with your betrothed.
1. Date Night
Right after our first born arrived, a friend of mine with three kids all but demanded that we let her babysit so Meg and I could sneak off for a date night. I politely declined, feeling like a night away from the baby was impossible. Now, with three kids of my own, I pass the advice I eventually heeded on to you.
It doesn’t make you a bad parent if you sneak off to spend a couple of hours away from your children. Honestly, you’ll probably spend the entire dinner talking about them. If there’s a grandparent, other relative, or trusted friend in the area who can spell you for an early dinner, take that time to act like the people you were before the family grew. When you head back home, you’ll feel a little recharged and eager to be back with the wee ones. Don’t wait until the kids can babysit themselves, because by then you might not remember what your spouse looks like. You could say that this is one of Meg and I’s “golden marriage rules” because we make sure to set date night as a priority.
Remember, date night doesn’t have to be a fancy 7 course meal at a restaurant that leaves you asking the wait staff if you can wash some dishes in the back to be able to afford the ticket. No, date night is whatever you make it. You and your spouse, spending quality time together. Cook dinner for each other, snuggle up on the couch for a movie, play a game, just be together.
2. Morning Chats
Having kids means you’ll be tired more often than not. It might feel like you’re always one blink away from passing out where you stand. That said, most of us are still at our perkiest during that first cup of coffee. While you want to get every minute of sleep you can, it’s important to find half an hour in the morning to talk about plans for the day and whatever else you’ve got on your mind.
If you get stuck in the pattern of sleeping as much as you can and then diving straight into a long day of work and childcare, you only see your partner in the evening when you’re totally fried. Work, sleep, and exercise schedules might make it tough, but the morning meeting offers an opportunity for togetherness before the day starts to pull you apart.
3. Family Walks
Understandably, most parents take a divide-and-conquer approach. It’s often the only way anyone can get a shower or shovel down a meal.
As helpful and efficient as this technique can be, it can be detrimental when overused. Whenever possible, get everyone together for a little stroll around the neighborhood. A little exercise and some added time together make you feel more like a unit and less like two people working opposite shifts at the mines. Plus, it’s so important for children to see parents relaxing and enjoying time together. So leash up the dog, load up the stroller, and take a spin around the block.
Raising kids will have a profound effect on your life, but it shouldn’t consume you entirely. By keeping your relationship prioritized amidst the hectic parenting schedule, you’ll be the best version of yourself around your spouse and your children.
Enjoying Your Time
Bringing up a child is the quintessential labor of love. You change your sleeping schedule, eat cold meals, and you might never keep a clean house again. Then you’re off to work to earn a paycheck that will go toward dance classes and Disneyland.
Because caring for children can feel like work, you need to keep yourself in check. Make sure you don’t push yourself too hard and miss out on the things that make parenting so incredible.
1. Manage Expectations
Whether on TV or Instagram, we’ve all seen those helicopter moms and dads that make parenting look like a boot camp. It’s so easy to be influenced by what we see other parents doing, and that causes a lot of people to question their efforts. Have I done something wrong? Is it my fault my baby isn’t crawling or toddler isn’t talking? Across the board, parents experience these anxieties, and 99% of the time they’re unnecessary.
Your child will grow at his or her pace. Make sure to support and encourage, but don’t worry so much about achieving milestones that you can’t relax with your kid. If you’re losing sleep over what college your four-year-old will eventually attend, you definitely aren’t enjoying parenthood the way you should be.
These expectations, what you expect from your child as well as what you expect from yourself, put undue pressure on everyone. You already have so much duress coming from work and trying to be a provider, you shouldn’t come home to the same level of concern. Raising kids isn’t about hitting quotas or edging out the competition. You get to help a new human live a happy, fulfilling life. The accomplishments will come in due time, you just need to enjoy the process.
2. Finding Your Routine
While expectations often get in the way, a little bit of structure can help ensure you have those moments that are free of distractions and worry. Your calendar probably looks overloaded, but you can find a few minutes to play peek-a-boo, kick a soccer ball, or watch some cartoons.
If you’re overwhelmed just thinking of when you can regularly make time for fun activities, start with a time of day when you feel most inclined to play with your children. Maybe you’ve got the most energy in the morning before work, or maybe clocking out at the end of the day gives you a little pep in your step. Your kids could help you get dressed for work, or you can share a pre-dinner snack right when you get home. The point is just to find something you can all depend on and enjoy.
Since children love mimicking their parents, it’s important they see us doing more than working or looking at our phones. Playing games, telling jokes, and sharing meals can mean a lot for the strength of the family.
Conquering the Financial
Money is the biggest stress of all and the reason it takes so much planning and effort to bring up little ones in a modern worker’s world. The basic cost of living can be really expensive, unbelievably so in some cities, and bringing an additional person into your home magnifies that problem.
Not only do you have to figure out how to cover a new set of expenses, you also have to think about raising a child who will be financially aware and who won’t grow up in a house full of debt with two parents constantly freaking out about money. The allowances we give, bills we stress over, and overspending we overlook don’t go unnoticed by our children.
Money matters will take up a lot of your brain space, but you can’t let that change how you parent. Instead, do more to regulate your spending and make use of those teachable financial moments when they arise.
1. Tracking Your Cash
Fortunately, a lot of the wasteful spending you did before the kids arrived goes out the window immediately. Gone are the impromptu vacations and dinners out. You’ll probably spend less on clothing as well since you know 90% of what you wear will end up covered in… something.
Budgeting is important for everyone, and just like everything else in your life that intensifies once your family starts growing, the need to save and plan your spending becomes more consequential with kids in the picture. This holds true for your weekly spending plan and your future goals, as the cost of preschool, after-school activities, and entertainment really starts to mount as children get older.
When you set money aside for parental needs, it’s not just about having enough to cover all the expenses. You also want to make sure you aren’t throwing money at the things you perceive as challenges. A new video game or jungle gym can’t be the solution to every tantrum, as that sets a pretty brutal standard going forward. Know how much you spend on each child, but also what that money goes toward. If the ratio of school supplies to Christmas gifts is too skewed, you should think about slowly adjusting those spending categories.
You’ll constantly be faced with the question of saving or spending. Do you put money away for college or send your kid to a summer camp where they can make friends and learn important skills? I can’t really give an answer to that question because it depends on so many personal things. Fortunately, as long as you budget wisely, you’ll have an easier time making those decisions and doing right by your kids in both the long and short term.
2. Teaching Your Kids
Whether you make a million dollars a month or get paid minimum wage, you still have all the power in the world to teach your children about money. Every one of us has a unique relationship with money, with lessons learned and wisdom gained. Whatever debt you have or bills you’re struggling to cover, you can teach your kids about responsibility, the value of the dollar, and, most importantly, about all the things in life that matter more than money.
In general, I feel like we learn about fiscal responsibility too late in life. I know I did, and while the lessons I took away from getting out of debt lead me to the career I have today, I certainly wouldn’t have minded a little more financial education in my younger years. There’s no need to teach a 10-year-old about Roth vs. traditional IRAs or the perils of hard money loans, but you can certainly talk about things like earning interest and looking for bargains. The next time you’re at the grocery store, point out the items that are on sale. It’s a simple, effortless gesture that will help make the concept of saving more concrete.
Whatever lessons you choose to teach, be sure you don’t make it seem like a big bank account is the secret to happiness.
Financial freedom creates time for some of the greatest joys life has to offer, but money itself doesn’t make us happy. For parents who already spend a lot of time away from home because of work, it’s especially important to place family, faith, and friendship above earnings. Encourage your kids to be smart about money, but not to think that the point of life is to work tirelessly in pursuit of infinite wealth.
With so many young parents struggling to raise kids while still paying off their own student loans, the idea of lecturing children about financial responsibility might feel hypocritical. The “do as I say, not as I do” speech only works once or twice before falling on deaf ears. However, even as you try to crack the code of wealth, you can use your own experiences to teach your children. Make your debt part of the lesson as you set your offspring up to avoid the mistakes you might have made.
It’s a funny thing, being a parent.
So much of it comes instinctually, and our kids are always so much more resilient than we at first expect. At the same time, we doubt our every move and worry we’re not doing enough to help our children grow into the adults we hope they’ll become. And, on top of that, you still have to work and earn and provide. It’s a lot to handle, almost too much, and yet we find a way.
As you raise your babies in this modern world and ever-changing economy, try to keep some perspective. Your best effort is good enough, and there are so many things you should be allowing yourself to enjoy. Work and money might seem like hurdles that stand in the way of being the perfect parent, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. It’s all part of an exciting, fulfilling, crazy life that you’ll look back on fondly when your kids have kids and the cycle continues.
Raising a family is the best thing I’ve done with my life, and I’m confident most parents feel the same. As you question whether your career leaves room in your life for starting a family, know that you’re better prepared than you think. Learn from those who have parented before you believe in your spouse and yourself, and you can have the family you’ve always wanted.
Taylor & Megan Kovar
The Money Couple