My eldest daughter Siena is turning Six in a few days time. It is a big deal for our household because she’s been counting down to this day ever since her last birthday.
I remember one of the most stressful periods of my life had been the months leading up to the birth of Siena. With my wife being a Type One Diabetic, I was extremely anxious about the chances of complications to both the mother and child’s health. And then, I worried about how I would ever be able to afford to usher in this insurmountable financial burden into our family. Would I ever be good enough a father? What would happen to all the freedom that I once enjoyed?
So, when I was told that young people are reluctant to get married and have kids, I could totally understand where they are coming from.
After all, why would anyone want to have kids when they cost $250,000 a piece to raise – by the time they graduate from universities? With all the sacrifices that you have to give up on for their wellbeing and happiness, where is the ROI (return on investment)?
As Siena turns Six along with Alannah turning Three in July, if you were to ask me today whether or not I would trade anything for this experience of being a parent, I will tell you in a heartbeat, No.
I know that it would be impossible for you to relate to, until you’ve walked through this journey yourself.
But I will try to give you a glimpse of the joy and reality of parenthood by: Sharing with you the very practical challenges that you are going to face and also tell you how being a father has made me a better person.
Will I lose my freedom when I have kids?
The short answer is, Yes! But what you will gain in return would be immensely more valuable than any freedom you could ever enjoy; it is a new sense of purpose called parenting. Parenting means all of a sudden, you are now directly responsible for someone else’s life. It is scary, but it is also the best motivation guru you will ever need to drive you to work harder and strive to become a better person.
Will I lose all my drinking mates when I have kids?
Truth is, you would already have lost most of them the minute you got married. Having a kid will just put the final nail to the coffin. However, what you are about to gain is a profound sense of connection with an entire new tribe of people from all ages, sex, race and religion that you never knew existed; called parents. The bond you will form with these people stems from a common understanding and empathy for the sleepless nights that you will go through, worried about the time when the fever of your baby hits above 39c; the time it breaks your heart into a million little pieces, when your daughter accidentally knocks off her front tooth while throwing tantrum on the floor. That, along with countless of stories that you will learn to appreciate which had meant absolutely nothing to you before becoming a parent.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have used my “daughters” card to strike a really meaningful conversation and forge a deep relationship with friends who were once stranger.
This connection is not limited to only the people outside your circles, in fact, you will begin to appreciate and relate to your parents on a level that you never knew existed.
Will my work performance decline because of all the distractions that come with having a child?
No doubt, you’re going to have less time for work if you are like most parents. Unless you have a different priority, or that you are able to find a replacement to cook, feed, change, bath, do schools runs and______fill in the blanks. No matter how great a help you may get, there will never be a replacement for doing it yourself.
Back to my work, what I also learned was how much more focused I have become since being a dad. My productivity essentially doubled because of the need to achieve more with the less amount of time spent in the office.
It is incredible how when you need to double your salary for your family, you would figure out a way to make it happen. Human beings are some of the most adaptive and resilient creatures on earth, when push comes to shove, we’d find a solution.
How has being a parent made me a better person?
Parenthood has shifted me from being a self-centered individual to being a more compassionate and inclusive person. I have grown to draw joy from someone else’s happiness other than my own. It has taught me the beauty of giving as opposed to taking. And it has caused me to take the need of the community and the surrounding environment more seriously because it is now in my interest to build a better world that my children and their children can grow up and excel in.
Being a parent has made me a better leader. For nothing else, my kids have trained me to empathize more and be more patient with the people I lead by looking at things from a different point of view. I have a theory for the real test of your leadership skill; if you can successfully get your children to listen to you 80% of the time, you are set as a leader. Sometimes (infact, most of the time) you staff listen to you because they have to. Your kids are not paid to do so (at least they thought).
Above all, being a parent has made me a better husband. Looking into the eyes of my children reminds me to love and cherish my wife more everyday, because of the sacrifices and commitments that she has made to the family and to my precious children.
Granted, with all that our parents have done for us, I often to wondered how I would ever be able to repay them back? I was convinced that it’s impossible until one day I stumbled upon the answer when I witnessed the pure joy on mum and dad’s faces from playing with their grand children.
Just as you are seated on the other side of the fence having difficulties imagining a life tied down with the weight and enormity of parenthood, Deon and I often wondered how it was even possible for us to have lived through our entire youth before our two daughters came along.
This article is adapted from my speech delivered to a group of young people contemplating on the possibility of starting a family in their foreseeable future.