Children - The Best Thing in the World
edited: Monday, April 02, 2007
By ** Oli Hille **
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, April 02, 2007
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This is one of the chapters of my Lifestyle book - "Creating the Perfect Lifestyle".
Chapter 15 - Children
On the face of it, having children might look like the worst lifestyle choice you can make. They take up a huge amount of your most precious asset (time), they cost a lot of money, you will need a bigger house and you may even need a totally uncool people-mover! But the reality is different. Unless you simply can’t stand kids, having children is the best lifestyle choice you can make.
Children are without any doubt the best thing in the world.
Critical Principle 9: Children are the best thing in the world
I have never experienced anywhere near the joy, the laughter, the fun, the love and the natural high that my children give me. Before I had children I really loved life but looking back it was nowhere near as rich and full and wonderful as it is now with our three beautiful children. This is not just my opinion. It is a sentiment shared by all of my friends who have kids.
It is impossible to convey what it means to be a parent to someone who has never had children, but this chapter will help you plan your future if you intend to have children, or already have them.
I sometimes wonder why no-one told me how great it was to have kids. I think that one reason is that in previous generations the father was not encouraged to be involved like fathers are today. Often they were the breadwinner and the disciplinarian and they were expected to be somewhat distant from their children. This distance from the start did not allow fathers to bond deeply with their children, and the distance was then harder to bridge. Today’s Dads are totally different. We get to bond immediately with a new baby at the same time as Mum does. We are encouraged to touch and cuddle and play with our babies. That bond is easy to maintain and a positive cycle begins.
Mothers of course have always had that close bond with their children. However, in previous generations much of motherhood was hard physical work, often with not much money coming in and with the father helping very little. Imagine keeping a busy household going without automatic washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, a second car etc. Consequently mothers of previous generations were worked ragged and often didn’t have the time and energy we can enjoy today (providing we plan for it).
Further, the Victorian attitude to parenting was to encourage distance from children, emotional detachment, and it emphasised discipline and respect. That attitude can still be found to some extent today. I’m sure you have heard:
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
“Keep a stiff upper lip.”
“Big boys don’t cry.”
“Nice ladies are quiet and gentle.”
But the good news is that we can ignore those negative Victorian standards. We can smother our kids with hugs, kisses, love, fun, laughter and positive words. We can bath with them, snuggle up in bed with them, play-fight with them, tickle them, role-play with them, sing to them, do magic tricks with them, roly-poly with them, stare at the stars with them – whatever. We have a wonderful freedom to re-live our childhood by acting as a kid with them – something the Edwardians and Victorians could never do.
Warning – I don’t want to give you the impression that being a parent is easy and simple. In fact, being a parent is hard work and sometimes exhausting. It can’t be fun all of the time. There are parts that are mundane and frustrating and scary. Also, it is no place for selfishness. You learn to be selfless and you put the needs (and wants!) of your kids ahead of yourself. Newspapers don’t get read, cups of coffee don’t get finished and sleeping through the night becomes a happy memory of times past. The point is, the highs far outweigh the lows and the hard work is forgotten with one smile or cuddle or “I love you daddy.”
For children to really enhance your lifestyle, there are a number of things to get right. If you don’t get them right, you will suffer and your kids will suffer:
1. Plan First
If you are yet to have children but you expect to, it is critical that you plan for their arrival. There are two things you need to plan for: time and money.
Because kids are so great you want to spend lots and lots of time with them. I never realised this and nor did my peers. Believe me when I say that once you have a new baby, the idea of working long hours or travelling with work loses its appeal in a hurry. Similarly, if you think that you and your partner will want to work full time after the maternity/paternity period, then be prepared for a surprise. Most new parents I know really want one parent to be home with the children either full time or part time. Unfortunately, financial necessity often requires both parents to work full time.
It is also great to be able to take time for your kids during the week e.g. baby’s first plunket check-up, first day of kindy, sports day, swimming sports, school concerts etc.
One of my favourite summer lunch times is when it is a sunny day, I will surprise my six year old daughter by turning up to her at school at lunch time. We sit and have lunch together and then we walk around the playground together hand in hand – we both love it. Also my four year old likes me to take him to kindy sometimes. I couldn’t do either of these things if I worked in an office in town. I generally leave home at ten to nine in the morning and get home at ten past five. This gives me a lot of time at both ends of the day to play and interact with my kids.
Sadly, statistics tell us that most kiwi fathers spend around ten minutes per week, one on one interacting with their kids. In this scenario everyone misses wonderful hours of golden moments. Some parents try to cover up this lack by talking about “quality time”. They argue that spending half an hour of scheduled quality time is nearly as good as spending a lot of unstructured time with children. This is just conscience-salvaging rubbish. Time and lots of it is what kids need. And clearly, being in the same room as kids when they are watching television is not spending time with them.
So given that you will want to and you will need to spend a lot of time with your kids, you need to plan for that before they arrive. Aim to have a job or a business that is flexible enough to allow you to take the time to be with your kids.
There is no question that kids cost money. Firstly, there are the obvious costs such as baby formula, nappies, clothes, toys etc. And then the hidden costs like bigger houses and cars. Also of course time is money and if one parent quits a job or goes down to part time, there will be a huge decrease in income. Even if both parents work full time, the childcare costs are huge (until they start school). If you have not planned for these costs they will really hit you.
For example, when we lived in Wellington we had friends who lived it up before their kids arrived. They had two nice incomes and they rented a cheap flat. Every fortnightly pay-day the woman would buy a new outfit. The man bought all sorts of toys. They spent money like water. They lived like kings until their first baby arrived. Then suddenly they lost her income, had to move house, and had baby expenses. Within a couple of months they were on the bones of their arse, totally broke, living from one pay packet to the next. This put huge strain on the family and on their marriage and made their day to day life very difficult. The flash outfits were now worthless and the woman had nowhere to wear them. The guy’s toys had devalued and he had less time to play with them. If only they had planned ahead, their family life would have been so much more fulfilling and enjoyable and stress free.
My advice is save hard two to three years before you have kids and don’t make commitments (e.g. a huge mortgage) that make you broke when you have children.
Bonding with your kids starts the moment they are born and even before in utero. For Dad’s if you possibly can, take two weeks off as soon as your baby is born. This is a critical time in the bonding process. After that take every opportunity to hug, kiss, bath and play with your kids. It is my experience that hands-on parents get the most out of being a parent.
3. Be a kid
I know that this is easier for some people than others. Luckily for me, acting like a kid is fun. Role plays and games and rolling around on the floor is as much fun for me as it is for my kids. But if you can find some activities that you like as much as they do, concentrate on those. For example, I don’t like sitting at a table doing finger-painting or paper mache – but some parents love it. Find those things both you and your kids love, get on their level and go crazy doing it. It can be just like having a second childhood. I especially enjoy buying all the toys that I never had as a kid and always wanted – like radio controlled cars. I recently sneaked off with a friend I went to primary school with and we played with the radio controlled cars – we laughed like ten year olds!
Kids love to be told how great they are and how much you love them. So tell them all the time! Encourage them, praise them and tell them all the great things that make them special.
From my experience if you follow these guidelines, you will start and maintain great relationships with your kids. This in turn will help to make the best lifestyle choice you can make (having kids), all the more enjoyable.