One thing that always seems to come up when discussing about programming outside of work is the question of what to do when you have a family? Don’t you have responsibilities towards your spouse and children? Don’t they deserve your time? Can you simply lock the door to your home office room and ignore everything that is going on? This question assumed more significance for me when my son was born in the beginning of last year. And so here are some of my observations.
First is that other people’s experiences are rarely useful to deal with the new family situation. They have different circumstances, for example, health-wise, help of other family members, family, etc. They don’t usually tell you everything mostly because they only remember the big events during that time. Also, some of these things have to be experienced before you understand what they actually mean.
For example, when I used to hear about “morning sickness”, I never understood how difficult it is for a pregnant woman. “Morning” sickness lasts the whole day for 6-7 weeks and during that time, a woman cannot even bear the smell of regular food. It is essentially the most difficult part of pregnancy other than the last month or so. But I never knew this, nor would have been able to understand until I saw it for myself. Similarly, I used to laugh at the “sleeps like a baby” jokes. Now, I know it can be one of the most intense times of parenthood.
The thing with pregnancy and parenthood is that while there are several dramatic changes in your personal life, at work, everything else remains the same. You still have deadlines. You still need to deliver to customers. On the personal improvement front, you still have to keep learning, improving your career and keep yourself employed and employable. So increase in pressure and tension on one front is not compensated by any reductions on other ends.
For first-time parents, there is the added pressure of pretty-much complete ignorance of the process which leads to scares every time something is out of the ordinary. The first high fever or dripping nose can be a very scary experience. Also, there is the total lack of empathy by almost everyone else. The parents who already had one or more child a few years back have forgotten everything and wonder what the big deal is. Those who haven’t don’t know any better.
So, my second observation is that having a child actually is a big deal, a huge deal. Everything about your life is going to change upside down. Most of the control that you had over your time, your activities and hobbies, your house arrangements and even your health will be shot. Your life will never be the same again and you will have to rebuild from scratch. If you don’t recognize this, you will try to fit in your old way of working with your new circumstances and it won’t happen. For example, any activity that requires concentration will be extremely difficult when your child is awake and requires your attention.
What is also important to realize that if you are a father, your child needs you as much as he/she needs your mother. You need to spend enough time to help out in looking at the child’s needs (like food, nap time, cloth changes, etc.) as well as spending time giving them a start in learning through reading or participating in their activities. I believe that the more both parents get involved with their children’s activities, the better those children grow mentally. So if you try to fit your old schedule in the new setup, you are not only setting up to fail with those older activities, but also creating a big gap in your current responsibilities.
Third, not spending time on new responsibilities creates added pressure on your spouse to take care of whatever she was doing before as well as the child stuff. Not only is it unfair, it is unsustainable in the long run. Setting up a division of work (with some shuffling), allowing for some free time for each person and sometimes doing more than what you are asked is much better in the long run, and creates a much better environment.
Four, you are going to be extremely tired. Part of it is actual physical work. Taking care of a child means feeding them, moving around with them so that they don’t get into trouble and other activities where you have to walk, stretch, sit down, stand up and so on. But it can also be mental tension when something wrong happens, or just the constant worry that something could happen like your child climbing and falling down. At the end of the day, you will feel more tired than you have ever felt in the days before you had your child. Knowing why can help you deal with it.
Five, what all this means is that you have to work out what you can do with these time and activity constraints. You need to be more efficient at using your available time. You have to get rid of time-consuming activities (watching TV, web surfing, etc.) and do things to improve your strength (more sleep, more exercise, better diet). Try to avoid things that create additional pressure. Your best friends during this time are friends who have children of similar age as yours, because they are going through the same things and you will get better advice, or at least, know some things are normal.
Last, acknowledging the pressures and tension is not a knock on a great parenting experience. I sometimes think a lot of people feel that saying parenting is tough means that they are dissing their children. Not at all. Some things can be both extremely rewarding, but also tiring and stressful. You already know this from launching your application. The deadlines can be hectic, but the design and programming can be rewarding and once you see customers use it in production, everything is worth it. Part of what makes parenting so wonderful after the fact is the large time investment you have put in and the output (children who make you happy).