What I’ve Learned From: Raising a Daughter (so far)

About halfway through my hedge fund job, I lost my Xiaomi phone with the first six months of my daughter’s life in photos.

Six months old is a time when you can leave your child in the morning, and come back in the evening to perceive that she’s changed in all sorts of subtle ways – mannerisms, appearance, skills.

Like a fool, I hadn’t backed up any of the pictures, and it literally felt like I had no accounting of the last six months of my life – and hers.  This was still when I was working two jobs, so admittedly, I hadn’t been spending much time with her besides in the evenings.  I felt deprived and hollow.

This wasn’t the only reason, but it was a catalyst in a series of events that led me, a few months later, to quit my budding finance career.  I became a work-at-home-stay-at-home dad, at least in the afternoons.

And for the last three and a half years, I’ve taken care of her every day, for at least half of every day.  Playgrounds, playrooms, parks, bike rides, reading stories, swimming, etc.

Looking through my journals over the past three years, I’ve been astounded at how little I seem to have “accomplished”.

Because compared to my earlier years, I don’t have many notches.  And it was only after a momentary bit of confusion that I realized all the time had gone into raising a certain little rascal.

In many ways, you feel the presence of time when you have a child.  You hear that children bring you into the present, but you have no idea what that means until you have one.

They have no sense of past or future, everything is in the present.  Everything that is in front of them, including you, is their entire world, their here and now.  They emote with their whole bodies.  Their joy cannot be contained, they cannot help but to jump and shout.  When they’re sad, they curl up into balls.  They grow rigid and tense when fearful.  They droop and wilt, almost like flowers.  They cannot mean one thing and emote or say another.

They’re sheer expressions of energy and emotion, and if you forgot what things like joy, curiosity, excitement, and grateful mean, they’ll remind you.

In order to engage with them, you will bring yourself into the present too.  You can’t console a crying child with your mind on something else.  There is no meditation quite like holding a sleeping baby and peering into her face.  And negotiating meals, baths, and screen time against little machines designed to look for loopholes and the slightest contradiction, is no task for a distracted mind.  So yes, they bring you into the present.

And when you look back at that time spent raising them, you have to use an alternate measuring stick to keep track of your “accomplishments”.  I’m not sure I “accomplished” very much.  But every day, week, month, and year was full of drama, excitement, small terrors, triumphs, and wonderment.  It passed in a flash.  She’s so big, she’s a little miracle.  She’s our joy.  I didn’t accomplish anything, I just – lived.

*******

Parenting is immensely hard.  I know all the cliches about this, but let me explain why parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world.

I see my peers dread the weekends and look forward to Mondays, the direct opposite of when you’re single.  Why?

The things that comprise job satisfaction in the workplace are well-documented.  It’s not necessarily money.  They’re jobs that give you a sense of autonomy, mastery, flow.  These things give you a sense of progress and growth, and boost morale.  And if you’re far enough into a career, then you have at least one or a combination of them.

In parenting you have none of the above.

Autonomy?  Not when you have a tiny being dependent on you for food and shelter 24 hours every day.  Having even 15 minutes alone is a relief, parents take long showers for this reason.  Parenting is a marathon energy drain by a million cuts.  It’s maintaining a simmering tension and attention on them, 24/7.  When they’re really little, it’s hard to even go to the bathroom by yourself, let alone “go home” at the end of the day.  You can’t sleep to “turn off”, because they’re waking you up every two hours.  And at 5am, they’ll do a wind sprint into your room and ask to play, as energized as you would be after downing a caffeinated pitcher of something.

Mastery?  Ask any parent if they feel like they’ve “mastered” being a parent to get a full-throated laugh in your face.  Raising kids is like playing ten games of whack-a-mole simultaneously – you think you’ve gotten the hang of feeding them, they get fussy with their sleep.  You toilet train them, but now they throw tantrums for no reason.  You think they’ve started getting articulate, then they start throwing you attitude and using bad phrases they somehow picked up from hearing one time randomly on the radio.  They get picky with their food, they ask for inordinate amounts of screen time.  They regress, they have no sense of reason or logic, they cannot explain things to you, and their brains are literally exploding with neuron growth every second of every day.  And…there’s no  measuring stick.  No one to tell you or give you feedback about how good of a job you’re doing.  Your boss is the baby, and she doesn’t do evaluations.

Flow?  When you’re interrupted every minute because their sense of time is such that one hour to them is like one week to you?  No.  Your only uninterrupted time will be at 4am before they get up, or near midnight after they’re deep in their REM cycles.  Or after they’re in school.  School = daycare.

The reality is that I’m not sure everyone will think it’s worth it.  For me it is, because what else am I going to do, ha.

In all seriousness, being a parent is a choice.  I’m convinced there’s no right amount of time you need to spend with your kids, nor one right way to do it.

*******

Naval Ravikant says about happiness and diets, that there is no single truth to them, otherwise there wouldn’t be millions of books continuously published on them.  It’s the same thing when it comes to modern parenting.

When you’re a parent, you’re bombarded with hundreds of different ways to, well, do anything: feed them, put them to sleep, talk to and educate them.  These books and methods seem to be written mostly by people whose sole qualification is the fact that they’ve had kids, sometime in the distant past, and have idealized memories of the experience.  There is no barrier to entry in this literature, and anyone can feed on the anxious mind of a first-time parent.

Of all the things that are “supposed” to work but that didn’t work for us, of which there are many, was the genius idea that you’re supposed to lock away an infant in a dark room by herself, let her cry for you, until she learns that you won’t come back.  Only then, are we told, will she learn to sleep through the night.  The same for naps.  And if you don’t do this, supposedly it impacts their ability to become an independently functioning human being later on in life.

This is the “cry-it-out” method, or in languages other than English, “child abuse”.  If it sounds ludicrous to non-parents, it’s because it is, and if you’re a parent you know that this germ of an idea is prevalent in the literature.

We tried it.  For years.  The first clue that it didn’t work, should have been the fact that she didn’t stop crying after 30 to 45 minutes.  Sometimes she would cry for over an hour before falling asleep from pure exhaustion.  She wasn’t tired, you say?  Well, the experts also say that you have to put them to sleep at the same time every night, so there’s that..

It should also have been a clue that as an 18-month old, she developed the ability to climb the steep poles of her crib and fling herself over 3 feet of railing and land on hard tile, unscathed.  Or that at the same age, she learned to climb over the crib, stand atop an air filter, and open a closed door to peer out at us while precariously perched on a level above her standing height.  It could also have been a clue that no matter how hard we tried to “walk her back to her room”, as you’re supposed to do, she would end up asleep in the living room or next to the office, to be as close to us as possible.  And that no matter how many times we walked her back, trying cajolery and punishments, she would wake up terrified and call for us.

It is my embarrassment that we tried this horrifyingly inane “method” for as long as we did, indoctrinated as we were by “experts”: i.e., parents who did this with their own children and are trying to self-justify and absolve themselves by cloaking it in pseudo-psychological nonsense.  I’m sure it works for many people.  But not all people are the same, nor are their kids.

Looking back, this is one of my only regrets about her upbringing.

One economic principle of life is to be aware and cautious of, is the misalignment of incentives.  The modern parenting-industrial complex is one rife with them.

Kids are the ones “consuming” the product of daycare and educational programs, but parents are the ones paying for them.  Self-professed “experts” and psychologists are the ones peddling half-baked ideas about parenting and child psychology, and other families bear the costs to implement them.

There are all sorts of self-promoters out there.  You would think that in the field of parents and children, there would be governmental protections against these kinds of charlatans.  But there aren’t.

In this, as in all aspects of life, the only way forward is to think.  And treat experts as those with just another opinion.  Take their opinions into account, but do what works best for you and your child.

*******

Parenting is a choice, but you could also argue it’s a biological imperative.  I guess.  Something like patriotism, but at the homo sapiens level.

Though if you take this to the next level, in biology there’s also the concept of extinctions – meaning, why would there be any particular reason our species has to keep going?

Anyway, all this is to say, when you get the readings for your second daughter, and you see that she has chromosomal abnormalities, meaning that she’ll be developmentally disabled  – you make the choice to keep her.

It’s hard, but she’ll be our joy, and that’s once again, our choice 🙂

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