There are real, long-term benefits that a child will receive from spending their formative years being cared for exclusively by their parents and close family members instead of being put into daycare as soon as possible. I know that it’s a very difficult choice to make, giving up the increased income and putting your financial goals on hold for a couple of years. But it is worth it.
The time spent at home with your child is great for them, but there’s also a huge payoff for you, the parent. My time with Max has been the most challenging period in my life, in the best sense of the word. Moving at his pace, I’ve had ample time to really contemplate how I see myself and the world. It’s a level of introspection that I’ve never encountered before, and I’m grateful to have been given the chance. Being a full-time caregiver has taught me lessons in patience, communication, forgiveness, and above everything else, compassion. I understand now how challenging life is for all of us, as we try to discover and fulfill our potential despite the obstacles in our way. I can see how tenuous our emotional composure really is, but I can also see how determined we are to keep moving forward, even through an emotional meltdown. And as I begin to understand these aspects of humanity, I’m learning how to live with, and embrace, my own peculiarities.
Our societal standard now is that mom and dad are both back at work within 6 months to a year of their child being born, and its hard to swim upstream against the trend. And, unfortunately, there are too many parents who don’t even have the luxury of considering a decrease in income, people who are barely managing to survive at their current income levels. I wish that every parent could have the opportunity to experience the joy and the monumental challenge of being the primary caregiver during their child’s first few years.
I’m not one to blithely encourage people to do anything that could have serious, life-changing consequences. If I were to take up mountain climbing, I would not tell casual acquaintances “it’s totally worth it. Just go do it!”. I’d give long, complicated instructions and warnings before recommending any serious endeavor. So, before you dash off and have kids because of the awesome way I’ve described the experience, take a little time and think about all of ramifications. If it is at all possible, spend a couple of years before you have a child to build up a parental war chest that will cover the income change when the little one arrives. And dads, you need that time at home too. There is a universe of emotional learning that you will experience when you nurture your tiny wonderful child, and it will make you a better person.