Our reader question today comes from Caitlin, who is getting married this fall. She and her soon-to-be husband would like to start a family soon. To be sure, one cannot completely control the timing on these things, but they intend to begin that project next spring. So, as she said, she has a year and change before she might be pregnant. What would I recommend she do during that year?
Some back story: She is a librarian and has been in the same job for seven years. She likes it. She plans to continue working full-time, and thinks that should be doable. As she puts it, “Librarianship is not investment banking or journalism — I have pretty set hours, and I work one evening a week and one weekend day every four weeks.” She occasionally covers other shifts, but “I am pretty set at 40 hours a week.”
As for what she does outside of work, “I enjoy my uninterrupted sleep, savor my free time and make time for the things that matter to me, and I feel that I have a good balance overall.” She and her fiance “do like to travel when vacation time and money allow, and we have done quite a bit in the last few years and will do more before we have kids.”
Caitlin is a long-time reader of this blog, and so she know that lists of Things To Do Before You Have Kids are one of my least favorite genres of literature. These lists often contain items such as “run a marathon” or “visit Europe” or “write a book,” when you can do all of these things after having kids too. So, as Caitlin puts it, “I do not necessarily see this time before parenthood as ‘do or die,’ but I know things will change and just want to use this time well. I am pretty happy with how I arrange my life but am looking for a reasonable perspective from the other side of anything I might be overlooking.”
I agree that nothing is do or die. I do, however, have a few ideas. One is to build up savings. This can be slightly at odds with the goal of doing more traveling, but I think one can do both by not spending money on things that do not matter to you. If your morning latte makes your day, by all means get it. If it is just a caffeine delivery mechanism, doable with home brew, two people skipping the coffee run for 5 days can translate into another 3 hours of babysitting. Consciously spending a wee bit less on the wedding itself can also have a big impact. It is not that kids themselves are so expensive, it is that some of the rougher aspects of parenthood are less stressful if you have a financial cushion. If you need a break, you can hire a sitter for a few extra hours without worrying that you will not be able to pay your bills. Cooking now when you have the energy means you can rely on prepared foods sometimes when you have young kids and do not have the energy to cook. A year gives Caitlin and her husband time to consciously sock away cash wedding gifts, tax refunds, any overtime pay and so forth.
On the career front, I think it is helpful to recognize that sometimes parenthood requires us to draw upon our career capital. You may want flexibility, or there may be extra sick days, or you may be sleep deprived and not bringing your A game daily. Of course, plenty of non-parents do not bring their A game daily either, but sometimes in the professional sphere people are more quick to blame parenthood for issues than other things. So… I am big into the idea of leverage. What can you do to increase the odds that your work is being discussed when you are not in the room? Producing some example of thought leadership would be good here: a white paper, a curriculum of some sort, a video, etc. Dorie Clark wrote Stand Out about this idea. I am not exactly sure what thought leadership in the librarian category looks like, but the idea is to have your external network (that is, the one outside your own organization) building itself on its own. If you have enough career capital, you can trade it in for the kind of life you want, which many parents choose to do. You can build up your career capital with kids in tow, but if you are thinking of this now, now is also a good time.
Caitlin is smart about filling her free time with things she enjoys, so she should continue to do so. She should pay close attention to what she truly finds most energizing and enjoyable. Some activities fall by the wayside after kids arrive, but it is entirely possible to preserve space for the best stuff. If she knows what that best stuff is, she will be ahead of the game.
Then, per our earlier discussion of planning leisure time, and whether that changes the enjoyment factor, I think she and her soon-to-be-husband should consciously enjoy doing stuff spontaneously. Try that hip new restaurant even if, when you stop by, you find out it has a 90 minute wait, because what do you care? You can just sit at the bar chatting with each other. Decide on Friday night to drive 3 hours and spend the weekend somewhere interesting. You can put a toddler in the car at 6 P.M. and drive 3 hours somewhere without a reservation, but the potential pain factor tends to keep most people from trying it. Before you have kids, the pain factor is more likely to be counter-balanced by the pleasure factor.
Also, I would sleep in whenever possible.