When my wife was pregnant with our son, people looked at my busy schedule and told me it would soon all change. At the time, I was working a full-time job and doing film reviews on the side each week.
“Enjoy all those movies now,” they said. “Once that baby arrives, you’re going nowhere.”
It’s the half-in-jest, half-serious warning that comes whenever someone has a kid. Get ready to give up your dreams, they say. It’s all worth it, because you’re going to be blessed with an amazing kid — but those big plans you had? Throw them out the window. It’s your kid’s world now.
It’s this mentality that’s scared off many from being a parent. It’s caused fathers to run from home and mothers to cry in despair. It’s the idea that all of your big dreams are going to vanish because it’s time to get practical. You don’t get to have fun, because there’s a baby coming.
For people like my wife and I, who got married late and had our son when we were both in our thirties (and our daughter in our mid-thirties), it was terrifying. At that point, you’ve been out of college and in the real world long enough to start making a name for yourself. You know what you’re good at. You know what you love. And you start making plans for where you want to go next.
So it’s scary when a kid comes along and threatens not just your status quo but also your dreams. Yes, adjustments often have to be made and, sometimes, there are dreams that need to be put on hold or even let go. But is parenthood really the aspiration-crusher that so many want us to believe? I don’t think so.
Rest assured, this isn’t one of those blog posts that talks about how even if you have to give up your dreams, parenthood is worth it all — even though I think it is. Rather, as I sit here reflecting on being a father of two pushing 40 years old, I’m finding that I can still be a good parent and pursue my dreams. What’s more, I believe pursuing those dreams is part of what makes a good parent. Here are a few things I’m learning.
Our plans are always subject to change
Many say your dreams will die and your plans will change when you have kids. And granted, having a kid has a much more massive impact on your time and responsibilities than many other life changes, such as starting a new career or getting married. But look back at what you want to accomplish — for most of us, hasn’t that always been in a state of flux? Don’t we always have to adapt our dreams to accommodate other life changes, passions and desires?
I often get together with coworkers from my newspaper days, and it often comes up how much fun it was to be a reporter. When I had that job in my mid-twenties, I thought it was a career I’d have forever. But, eventually, I had to make a change. It wasn’t that I didn’t love journalism — it was that I also wanted to move out of my parents’ house and be paid a living wage. I wanted to get married, and learned I didn’t want to be out at city council meetings during the evening or work late hours to meet a deadline. So, the dreamed shifted. I found a job where I could still write but make a good wage and keep good hours.
My career plans have shifted time and again. When I entered college, I wanted to be a novelist. When I left, I wanted to be a screenwriter. When I was a journalist, I could think of nothing I loved doing more.When I left that field, I wanted to find a way to eventually write about film full time. Now, I just want to be able to do what I love in my day job and write about the things I’m passionate about outside of there, using the career as fundraising for the dream, as I’ve heard said.
Your career is not necessarily your dream — it’s just one way of putting your dream to work. I may not have ended up in the careers I always desired, but the thing I’m passionate about — writing — has always been part of it. Whether starting a blog while toiling in a call center, writing full time as a reporter at a weekly paper, or preparing marketing copy by day and writing movie reviews by night, I found a way to keep my dream alive even as I shifted to accommodate life.
It can be done with any career. Are you an artist? You may not be able to paint full time, but you can probably carve out a few hours on a weekend or find a way to paint with your kids. Do you like sports? You may have to put it on hold now, but you can always join a recreational league. Love music? Join choir, do karaoke, start a Youtube page. Having kids — just like getting married or any other life change — makes demands on your time, and new responsibilities cause plans to shift. But you don’t have to give up your dream — just find a way to adapt to a new reality.
Balance, patience and time
Here’s the problem with adapting — it’s a process. And I think part of the problem is that many parents find their plans thrown into flux with the arrival of kids. When they can’t adjust right away, they get discouraged. I find that this was especially true of us as we entered the toddler years with our son (we’re currently in them again with our daughter). Like many new parents, we were extremely naive when we had an infant. We couldn’t wait until the day when Mickey could walk for himself, feed himself and entertain himself because then, we figured, we’d have time.
The truth is, of course, that despite the sleep deprivation, having an infant is fairly easy. I could catch up on movies while he slept or ate without worrying that he was absorbing anything I was watching (that’s how I got through the first five seasons of “Breaking Bad”). I could write blog posts while he took two naps a day or sat in his bouncer. When they get older, TV in the house is strictly PG while they’re awake. There are constant time outs for potty training, feeding, changing diapers when potty training doesn’t work, time for playing together, bedtimes that don’t take, field trips, kids’ parties, sports. Having a toddler makes having an infant look like a vacation (sorry to parents of infants anticipating toddlerhood).That has only gotten a bit crazier with two kids — one of whom is going through the toddler stuff while the other now has T-ball and kindergarten obligations, not to mention friends he wants to hang out with.
If I want to watch a movie, I have to either wait until they go to bed or they’re out for the evening or weekend — and that’s only if everything around the house is done and while still ensuring my wife and I spend time together. As for writing, I have to grab a few hours before bedtime, steal into another room on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, scribble some thoughts down during lunch hour or, in worst-case scenarios, get up at 5 a.m. A blog post I could have cranked out in an hour or two now sometimes takes me several days of starts and stops. Podcast recordings have to be planned out in advanced, mapped out in 2-3 hour increments every other week to record multiple episodes. Grad school work is also squeezed in there somehow.
For my wife and I, this has often frustrated and scared us. Wecame into our marriage as passionate people with talents we loved to pursue and dreams of using them on a broader scale. Having kids has sometimes made us wonder if we should abandon these aspirations altogether. When Mickey first started walking, my writing time took a hit and my wife has had to put her dreams of writing a novel or doing freelance work on the back burner.
But after awhile, things began to change. I found myself settling into a better rhythm. I still had limited time, but I began to use it better, and not get frustrated when I had to step away from the computer or postpone a project. I’ve managed to regularly update this blog, understanding that it might be 9 p.m. or a Sunday afternoon before I can sit to write. I’ve scheduled my podcasts around the kids, trying to record multiple episodes in one sitting once or twice a month. Grad school work happens in the evenings and on Saturday mornings. I’ve come to understand our schedule and work around it; it just means maybe Iwatch much less TV or stay up a bit later so I can be productive instead of just, well, chilling.
We’re not sacrificing time with our kids. We eat dinner together, we play and cuddle. My wife and I alternate putting them to bed. Rather than remain overwhelmed, we’ve simply become acclimated with this new normal. We know what needs to be done, what our responsibilities are, where our passions lie and what things are non-negotiable. And we’ve learned to work with it.
We’ve learned that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. We do what we can and don’t beat ourselves up if we have to take time off a project or let some posts go unwritten because life at home has gotten crazy. We’re learning to be fulfilled with treating our passion as a hobby right now, not expecting it to have a wild payou, and thankful that we get to do these things for fun while we still have good jobs giving us steady paychecks during the week. And we’re taking time to appreciate and enjoy our kids’ childhoods, realizing they won’t last long and that we have all our life to find ways to use our talents.
That’s the hardest thing to remember. For some reason, we always lament that in our twenties, we thought we had all the time in the world. But maybe we should be realizing that we’re really short-sighted if we think that, by our thirties, all of our time is up. Yes, some dreams may be deferred for a season and we might never get to use our talents in an actual career. But I think of all the seniors I used to interview for the newspaper who found a love for sculpture, painting or writing after retirement. I think of all the people who love to act who are completely satisfied taking time to a do a play in community theater without depending on it to pay their bills. I think of people who don’t get paid for their talent but are so joyful to contribute it to the church. And I think of my own parents, who make me proud and give me hope because their greatest career successes came after their three kids had grown. My dad and I received our bachelor’s degrees at about the same time. He received a master’s shortly after and has continued to have career success. My mom, without any college education, went to work at a small trade school doing office work when I was a senior in high school. Nearly 20 years later, she’s become incredibly successful and highly valued in her career field. Both of them still have time to travel, contribute to their church and spend a great deal of time with their grandchildren. They’re a reminder to me that although I may have to put some things on hold now, age isn’t a factor.
It takes hard work
The more I try to keep my passions alive while balancing marriage and parenthood, the more I see that it’s not my kids who pose the biggest threat to me getting anything done. I’m my own worst enemy.
I used to complain that there was no time to get writing done or carve out time for my interests because we had kids. Yet I still found time to watch about six television shows, spend hours puttering away on Facebook, or take a long nap on weekend afternoons. The problem wasn’t my son or daughter. It’s that I was still trying to cling to my right to be lazy.
You can still pursue your passions when you have children. You just have to be willing to work and sacrifice. My wife and I often record our favorite shows and then catch up with them all on one night or the weekend. I’ve learned to pull myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to get to the gym so I have energy to get everything done (I’m still struggling with that). I’ve had to learn to maximize time on the weekends, foregoing rest in order to get things done. Sometimes I have to stay up late. Sometimes I have to spend my Saturday mornings with coffee by my laptop. Basically, I have to force myself to properly use what time I have — and, in the process, I find that I have more than I initially thought. As I accomplish more, I find myself more motivated and energized. That also leaves me more satisfied, more apt to walk away from the computer when I’ve done some writing and go play instead of wondering about all the things I’ve left undone. Laziness feels nice in the moment, but it creates nagging guilt, a feeling of incompleteness and robs you of momentum.
Having kids is exhausting. I can’t imagine it will get easier anytime soon. And it’s tempting to go to bed at 10 p.m. each night — and often, I do. But if you genuinely want to use your passions for something and keep a healthy balance at home, you have to be willing to inconvenience yourself. Get up an hour earlier. Go to bed an hour later. Give up that nap. Forget that TV show. Do the things you love without robbing the people you love of quality time.
Give your children a front-row seat
I want my kids to know that they can do anything they puts their mind to, so long as they work hard at it. For me to give up my passions because it’s too time-consuming and hard would send a horrible example. Rather, I want them to see that creativity and passion are important to me, and that I work hard to do a good job and stay fulfilled. I want them to watch me work. When possible, I want them to join me in my work and, if interested, try their hand at it. Whatever their passions end up being, I want them to know that there is great joy in doing something you love and doing it well, and great fulfillment in following your passions instead of being lazy.
I really enjoyed Jon Favreau’s 2014 comedy, “Chef.” It’s the story of a chef who’s lost his creative drive and finds it in starting a business from his food truck. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the movie is the relationship Favreau’s character has with his son, who comes along to work in the food truck. In the typical version of this story, the chef would have to come to a crisis point where it’s either his family or his job, and give up his work to stay with his kid. Instead, the film lets him bring his son alongside him and learn the value of hard work. In my favorite scene of the movie, his son gets lazy and does a halfhearted job. Favreau’s character doesn’t yell or scream, but takes him outside and very firmly tells him how important cooking is to him, how important it is to be excellent at it and how he wants to share that with him.
That’s what I want with Mickey and Cece. When they watch a movie, I want them to know what makes for a good story and see how I view films. When they brings home writing assignments for school, I want them to see the joy in playing with words and telling stories. Whether or not they enjoys those same passions is beside the point — I want them to see those specifics so they can put them to work in whatever area they find passion in. If they want to play sports, they need to know the importance of practice. If they develop a love for music, I want them to develop an appreciation for excellence. Should they find themselves mechanically inclined (if it’s hereditary, I’m afraid he’s in trouble), I want them to know the importance of detail, dedication and sacrifice. I want to pursue my dreams and do the things I love because I want my kids to do the same. And like Jim Henson once said, kids don’t remember what you try to teach them — they remember what you are.
Even more importantly, I want to pursue my dreams because I want Mickey and Cece to know that, while they are deeply loved and cared for, they are not the center of the world. Kids who grow up thinking they’re the center of their parents’ world grow up to think they’re the center of the actual world. I love my kids, and I would give everything up for them. But I want them to remember they’re part of a bigger world we contribute something to, and that it’s our responsibility and privilege to do that. I want them to remember they are not the star of their own story, but that we are all parts of billions of different subplots. We all have a part to play and something to contribute, and we’re called to do it with excellence. I pursue my passions to remind my kids to pursue theirs.
Kids don’t ruin your dreams — they simply force you to determine whether your dreams are worth the work.