Parenting on FIRE

Financial independence and parenting

My daughter’s third birthday is looming. I assure her that yes, of course there will be chocolate cake because nobody in their right mind would ever consider a birthday without cake, and I find myself watching her in wonder.

It seems like just yesterday that she was a mewling babe in arms. Now I watch as she becomes a person in her own right. And upon the shoulders of us, her parents, falls the terrifying, humbling, exciting responsibility of nurturing and teaching this newly minted person.

Being a parent is scary as fuck. You love this tiny human with the fiery passion of a thousand suns and you want more than anything to do right by them. Unfortunately, they don’t come with instructions and you receive no training before you embark on this giant adventure. What is one to do? One looks to the example of one’s parents, and all the other parents, both good and bad, that surround one. One tries to pick the best examples and emulate them.

But there is one thing that sets us apart from everyone we know in real life. We are striving to be financially independent and to retire early. According to our plan, we will get there in a few short years. At that time Toddler BITA will be no longer be a toddler, but she will still be a child much influenced, for better or for worse, by her parents.

 

What impact is our financial independence and early retirement going to have on our parenting and thus eventually on our daughter? What are the advantages? What, if any, are the pitfalls that we will need to watch out for, and, with any luck avoid?

 

More Time = A Better Parent?

A couple of weekends ago we were in our car driving to Berkeley to spend the day there. Toddler BITA and I had a conversation that went like this:

Me: Do you like running?
TB: Yes.
Me: Do you like skipping?
TB: Yes.
Me: Do you like hopping?
TB: Yes.
(my daughter is clearly a girl of few words)
Me: Well, what do you like best of all?
TB: I like going places with you.

 

Financial independence and early retirement buys us time. Once we are freed from the shackles of our jobs we will have reclaimed eight to ten hours a day. A goodly portion of that time could now be spent with our child. We could explore the world together, and take our time discussing the probable secret lives of a banana slug that we stumble upon as we adventure together.

A slug we chanced upon while walking in Tilden Park, Berkeley

 

On the other hand there are plenty of stay-at-home parents out there. These are single income families where either by choice or by circumstance one parent does not go to work, but instead stays home and raises the kids. If it was as simple as more time spent parenting equals being a better parent, all children who grow up around one stay at home parent should be coming out ahead. The research doesn’t support this. We aren’t automatically going to become better parents because we’re spending more hours together.

We need to dig deeper.

 

Less Stress = A Better Parent?

 

Financial independence and early retirement doesn’t just buy us time though. It makes us financially secure, and ensures that we don’t need a paying job. This means that we will not be subject to the stresses of a job, nor are we likely to be subject to financial stresses.

If what stress does to our health isn’t bad enough, it can also transform us from Bruce Banner into the Hulk. Under stress we are less patient with each other and with our child. We tend to listen less and snap more. We are generally unpleasant to be around.

It seems self-evident that less stress means that we spend more time being our better selves, working on being our best selves. A better me makes for a better parent.

Contentment, Creativity and Happiness = A Better Parent?

I imagine that once we have achieved the holy grail of FIRE, Mr. BITA and I will be living the lives we’ve dreamed of, working on things that make us feel happy and fulfilled. I hope that creativity levels in the BITA household will rise once again to the heights we last achieved only in carefree childhood. When we bring back the unfettered curiosity and creativity of childhood, I imagine that we will ooze contentment.

Maybe the truth is that we will stream Netflix all day and slowly transform into unsightly blobs covered in pimples from all the junk food that we eat all day. Maybe we will become the embodiment of Sloth. But just for a minute here, let us instead assume the best. Let us imagine that our retirements make us more creative, content and happy than we are now.

I think Toddler BITA would benefit greatly from such an environment. She would grow up with a front row view of all the benefits of a creative life. With creativity all around her, she would probably end up being pretty creative herself. We would imbue her with a love and thirst for creation, and possibly even teach her lessons in entrepreneurship. She will definitely learn lessons in personal finance that will stand her in good stead all her life.

But…..

What of Perseverance, Grit and Duty?

This is the flip side of the stress-free, creative, life-less-ordinary that I hope will soon be a reality for my family. How will Toddler BITA learn of perseverance? What will teach her that grit is to be admired? How will she learn that though one must never be a slave to duty, that there are seasons of life where duty comes first?

I watched my parents work hard their whole lives. Mr. BITA’s parents come from similarly hardy stock. My parents both had white collar jobs. My father is a doctor. My mother was a nurse, and then a teacher. She is now retired. Both my parents were fortunate enough to have jobs that they enjoyed, and were good at. But they didn’t always enjoy these jobs. They had to wake up early, wade through paperwork, deal with bureaucracy, be transferred from place to place (my father was in the army), pack, unpack, get us admissions into new schools, placate cranky parents, demanding patients and bosses who were mean. Money was always tight (a doctor in the army in India does not make what a doctor in the U.S. makes. Not even close. Not by a long shot). My mother worked even though she had to care for two aging parents and two children and she had a temporary colostomy! I watched my parents live this life, and do it with dignity and good humour. They did what needed to be done, and without complaint. I like to think that my background has made me hardy. I feel self-conscious about all the privilege I now enjoy. I try really hard not to sweat the small stuff. To never be a complainy pants, or heaven forbid, a special snowflake. I know that if push comes to shove I can work ten hours a day to provide for my family.

Gazing out into the endless future

I worry that Toddler BITA will, for the most part, only ever witness her financially independent parents doing what they want to do. If she never watches us struggle, how is she going to learn to shoulder burdens with grace? How will we teach her that we don’t always just get to do what is fun and rewarding? That sometimes we have to do shit jobs, and hunker down and power through them with bonus points for remembering to laugh at ourselves and our temporary perceived misery? If her life is a bed of roses, what makes her strong? Doesn’t she need fire to temper her steel?

 

And…

 

What of all the Glass Ceilings I am Leaving Intact?

I am a person of colour, an immigrant and a woman. I work in tech, and I have been climbing the technical rungs in my career. As I ascend the ladder, the field becomes denser with men. My company has one woman in a technical position at a level higher than the one I am at. One. This is a Fortune 500 company.

So I have to ask myself: What of all the glass ceilings I am leaving intact?

Am I failing my daughter by quitting the fight? How different would her worldview and values be if she grew up with a working mother and she watched that mother play successfully at the highest levels of a male-dominated field?

Being her mother is about more than making sure she eats her vegetables and brushes her teeth every day. My job includes making her believe that she can aspire to anything irrespective of her colour, her race or her gender. I can say the words. I can give her books to read. She will, I hope, be surrounded by many excellent examples of women doing amazing things at work. Are any of these things a good enough substitute for the example of her own mother? If she had me as an example wouldn’t that ingrain deep within her somewhere the unshakeable belief that all those words and stories are true? I do understand that I am not the determining factor of her success, or lack thereof. I do want to give her the best possible leg up that I possibly can though.

 

If I hated my job, if my job offered me no creative outlet at all, this would be an easy decision. A happy mother is far better than the alternative. But I don’t hate my job. I work with some really smart people. Parts of my job are more painful than popping a zit, but other parts are creative and fun. I could stick it out. I just don’t want to.

 

And that brings me to the final questions.

 

Am I choosing selfishness over being the best possible parent? Can I be certain that from the perspective of what is best for my child that the benefits of a financially independent, early retired lifestyle will clearly outweigh any disadvantages?
I’d love to hear what you think.

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27 thoughts on “Parenting on FIRE”

  1. I don’t think your decision to reach FIRE is selfish whatsoever. You can still champion for hard work and challenge the patriarchy without a mandatory day job. Hell, it means you have more time to challenge these things because of all the F-you money you have.

  2. One, telling the stories of the past is a powerful thing. Explaining your past struggles and showing how you overcame them are powerful lessons. Two, don’t give up working hard, being creative, struggling, etc. Just look for better ways to do it. Maybe you volunteer to give a speech about women in the tech industry. Your daughter will see you preparing, practicing, etc. You just have the ability to know pick what your struggle will be. Three, life even for the FI/RE crowd, always has curve balls. How you mange those will be a powerful lesson.

    FI/RE is not selfish. It is just you taking the opportunity to more control your time and activities instead of having others “force” you down certain paths.

    1. Ah I love this idea. I love telling stories, and I loved it when my grandparents or parents sat us down and told us stories. You are right. The power of stories is not to be underestimated.

      You are also right that there will be difficulties ahead because that is life. I only hope that I will remember who is watching and handle those times with grace.

  3. What a post…These are many of the same ponderings I’ve entertained about FIRE and parenting. I’m currently home full-time with my kids after being a working parent for three years. I always sort of assumed I’d be a better parent if I were present 24/7, but it has not been the case. I find I’m much shorter on patience with the kids because I am always with them and rarely have the break that work provided. It was painful to leave them in daycare all day, but now I find myself thinking wistfully of those days at times. For me, I’m finding that some kind of part-time work would probably be ideal for striking a good balance of parenting and “other” activities. The simple blessing of variety is what I miss. I don’t miss teaching; I miss being a part of an organization and connecting with colleagues and students.

    Back to your questions. I don’t think you need to worry about not setting a good example for Toddler BITA. You are a great mom whether you are working or retired. Wouldn’t it be worse to continue working solely for the purpose of showing her a minority woman can shatter glass ceilings? By retiring early, on your terms, you’ll show her the power of planning ahead, dreaming big, and being smart with your money. You’ll show her the potential of designing your own life, rather than being subject to the whims of a boss or corporation. I’m sure you’ll continue to find ways to demonstrate perseverance through new challenges. Perhaps you’ll publish a book (please do)! Perhaps you’ll run a marathon in every state. Obviously I don’t know all of the big dreams that might appeal to you, but you get the idea.

    Sorry for the long response; you prompted a lot of thoughts I apparently needed to voice😉.

    1. Please don’t be sorry. I am grateful you wrote such an honest response and took the time to share what is on your mind.

      “I find I’m much shorter on patience with the kids because I am always with them and rarely have the break that work provided.” I empathize. I suspect this would be me if I was in your situation. I’m grateful that by the time I retire Toddler BITA will have started school, and my mothering of her will not have to be 24/7.

      Everything that you say in your comment are things that I am banking on holding true in my early retirement. I hope that all of those advantages will outweigh any disadvantages of the path ahead. “You’ll show her the potential of designing your own life”. You are spot on about this. I love the idea of empowering her in this way.

  4. This is a really interesting discussion. We often deal in numbers and calculations and right and wrong answers, but you are far beyond that space here. I think the key here is mindfulness, attention, and intention. You can be a good parent with a job and you can be a good parent without a job. I would guess that your approach and your care and interactions with your child are more important than that one particular aspect of the situation.

    As to the glass ceiling aspects, I don’t want to make the classic straight, white, male mistake of thinking that I understand your experience or your daughter’s experience. One thing to consider, though, would be whether spending some of that newly freed-up time on activism would help. Seeing the children at some of the protests over here in DC has been really cool and inspiring. It helps instill values and shows that you need to fight for what you believe in and that if you do, there will be plenty of others around to support you and work with you to reach those same ends.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    1. “I would guess that your approach and your care and interactions with your child are more important than that one particular aspect of the situation”. This is a nice way of thinking about this, and you are, of course, right. What we (I’m using the royal we here) tend to forget is how endlessly adaptable children are. If she is cared for, provided for, made to laugh, taught and made to think, everything else is probably just details and it would behoove us not to forget that.

      And thank you for the making the point about activism. If we can stand up for a cause we believe in together, mother and daughter, that would be all kinds of awesome.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  5. We think about that a lot. Are we going to be “bad role models” as parents that aren’t working? Maybe we will still be working in some fashion, but who knows. I think we can still instill a work ethic in them and be there for the kids more so than we could have if we were working. My mom was a stay at home mom most of my life, but that doesn’t mean she’s automatically my best friend, or a perfect mom, or a great role model. Actually, i haven’t talked to her in 2 years by choice and plan to keep it that way. It’s not about how much time we spend with the kids or away from the kids. I think it’s more in who you are as a person that your child sees and wants to be with and emulate or “not be like” in a bad case.

    In my house I have the unfortunate nickame Angry Dad because I can be a lot more short with the kids than Mrs. SSC. I work at it, and am trying to be more tolerant, patient, take a breath before I speak or correct them. We all have fun together, but still the nickname came about for a reason. So I’m working on it.

    I still think it goes back to who you are as a person, that your child wants to emulate, not what you do outside of the house or what title you hold or glass ceiling you break. I think they’d rather have us around than say “my mom is CEO of her company” and not see you nearly as much.

    Just my thoughts.

    1. I’m sorry your relationship with your mother isn’t good. You reiterate an important point: being a stay at home parent has no direct correlation with being a good parent.

      Angry Dad eh? I would never have guessed – you come across as so laid back in your blog posts. I think the fact that you are aware of it and trying actively to change it makes you an excellent parent and is half the battle won.

      I like that as a parenting goal to shoot for: will my child want to emulate the person that I am, and if they did, would I like that person? Ask that question often enough, answer it honestly, and I bet we won’t go far wrong.

      1. I think it’s more like Homer Simpson, mostly I’m laid back easy going and fun with the kids but when they hit that nerve or have been bouncing on the same nerve for the last hr after I’ve asked them to stop 3 times I get to that “Why you little!” Homer sort of stage.

        Not proud of it, but I also just found out about that nickname a few weeks ago. So definitely being more mindful and trying to get away from them thinking of me like that. It’s trying though, but yeah keeping that thought in the front of my head of “would they want to emulate me?” helps a lot.

  6. Honestly I don’t think fire will have any impact on the kids. My wife became a stay at home mom last year. Initially it was mommy guilt of not being home with the kids, but since she’s been home she’s realized something. The kids are the kids whether home with her or at daycare. The difference is how she feels about the time with the kids. What you teach your kids and how you raise them isn’t a function of how many hours they are with you. Not in a good way as a stay at home mom, and not in a bad way as them not seeing you work. It’s all about how you treat them when your there. The rest is about you enjoying the time you have with your kids, nothing wrong with that either as they are only young once.

    1. I absolutely agree that a count of hours spent with your child as a measure of the quality of your parenting is a useless metric. It is what you do with those hours that really matters.

      That was an astute observation by your wife: the difference is how she feels about the time with the kids.

  7. I don’t yet have children, but I would imagine that it’s possible to teach your child about hard work regardless of your own career position. I think there are plenty of ways to do so through things such as chores, summer jobs when she’s old enough, financial education, etc. As a woman who’s previously worked in tech, I completely understand your glass ceiling observation. That’s a tough one but I agree with the idea of telling stories. The stories my family members shared with me had a great impact on my upbringing and my work ethic. Just some food for thought; great post!

    1. You are right, I’m just going to have to get creative. There is certainly more than one way to skin this cat.

      Thank you for stopping by and contributing to the discussion.

  8. Great post. There are many ways to teach her grit; through sports, academics, charity work…etc. You will teach her to be creative and maybe one day, she will be an entrepreneur and badass CEO of her own company. The she can sell it at 40 and FIRE with her own family. Really enjoying your writing.

    1. Thank you.

      Sports! Oh this is a most excellent observation. All sorts of wonderful lessons to be taught there.

      I hope she FIREs. I would love to think that I was the matriarch of generations of FIRE-ers. That would be a legacy worth having.

  9. I agree with the overarching sentiment in the comments above. Just because you don’t have a career in the commonly accepted sense of the word doesn’t mean you will impart a less than optimal work ethic or grit to your child(ren). In thinking back to my childhood, and assuming mine was not all that uncommon, the lessons from my parents (good or bad) didn’t come from the fact they did or did not go to a job everyday. The defining and lasting moments had nothing to do with their career or lack thereof. I get it, and struggle with it on my own path to FIRE as well, you want to give your kids a great sense of self worth and work ethic and in our society a lot of that is thought to come from struggling through the typical career path. I’m learning more and more, especially now with two young children, that it doesn’t necessarily come from sitting behind a desk for 10 to 12 hours a day – it comes in the shared experiences when you choose to make a seemingly random or otherwise ordinary moment extraordinary. The more of those moments that I can have – all the better.

    Thanks for bringing up the topic, this is something I’ve tried to grapple with since setting off on this FIRE journey…

    1. “it comes in the shared experiences when you choose to make a seemingly random or otherwise ordinary moment extraordinary.” This is a great comment. This was my father’s strength as a parent, so I know what you mean and can attest to how valuable it is. If I can be half as good at this as he was, I’ll turn out to be a pretty decent parent.

  10. Have to admit I’ve not thought about it in as much depth as you have, I really only thought about the financial impacts so far (rather selfishly!)
    There is a lot of food for thought here though!

    As other commentators have mentioned maybe a balance with some part time work is actually best as surely time spent doing anything, even with your own kids, has diminishing returns?

    This is the course of action we’re taking regardless as we’re no where near FI yet although are frugal enough to work part time and still pay all the bills and still have enough left over to save for FI. So I’m hoping that my hypothesis on that is correct 🙂

    1. That is a pretty fantastic way to live – to be able to work part time and still be saving for FI. Nicely done.

      And you are right about that being another thing to watch out for w.r.t parenting and FIRE – with more time on our hands we’d have to make sure we don’t turn into helicopter parents or tiger moms.

  11. Spending time with your kids is great. It creates a strong bond. Ever since I am more intentional and present when I am out/around the kids, I do feel that our relation intensifies. They are the most important to me. They are my everything.

    And I have plans and dreams for myself as well. That means I will not stop my own personal life for them. That is why I call it FI and not FIRE. Why? I plan to keep working on things that excite me, that I want to achieve. I wonder how far I can go.

    The balance is hard.

    Some examples:
    When works needs me to be there early, stay late and that 2 days in a row with almost no kids time, than that will happen. IT means that a few days later, I will be less at work and make sure I surprise them by picking them up at school earlier and playing extra games together. I explain them I work on a job, to make money and to achieve things…
    This weekend, I had some personal activities planned. The oldest gave signals she wanted more papa-time. Without blinking an eye, I cancelled half of my activities and we had a great unplanned afternoon.

    In my opinion, I am a good parent when my kids
    1- have a good value system in place: be honest, be loyal, know what you want, express yourself, respect others, no cheating
    2- are social
    3- become independent
    4- know that great results usually require hard work
    5- know that difficult is also possible

    The number of hours I am with them, is a minor stake in that. What and how I teach them these lessons os more valuable.

    My short term solution: one month off.

    1. “The oldest gave signals she wanted more papa-time. Without blinking an eye, I cancelled half of my activities and we had a great unplanned afternoon.” I loved this. It really is the little things with kids isn’t it? Sometimes I’ll be working on my laptop and Toddler BITA will start a game where she is making tea and snacks for all her dolls (including animals and monsters), and of course, for me. I’ll be absent-mindedly sipping the cup she brings to me. Yet, if I unexpectedly close my laptop and turn my full attention to the game, slurping with gusto and chatting with the monsters, the way her face lights up is a most excellent reward.

      Your checklist for a good parent cannot be faulted. And I envy your ability to take one month off right now. I would give an arm and a leg for that (well, not really, maybe half a pinky. Maybe).

  12. I have had all of these thoughts as I consider our future and the possibility of FIRE and our child. There are too many examples of sloths in my culture that I’ve seen, for one reason or another, to want to show that example to JuggerBaby as a parent. Because let’s be honest, I have days where working on the computer with Netflix going for several hours is a good day. But that’s not something I’d do staying at home with JuggerBaby. Alas.

    In the end, I think some portion of it is just entirely out of our control. My sibling and I grew up with the same parents, hearing the same stories of grandparents and great grandparents who were full up to the brim with grit, perseverance, and in far more challenging circumstances that we have or could ever face (jungle cats? building your own house by hand, as a single parent? uh yeah.) but yet my sibling turned out terribly. Meanwhile I took it all to heart to become the ever so gritty person that I am today.

    It underlines the fact that we can only do what we can do – tell her the stories. Ask your parents to tell her the stories. Tell her your stories, tell her their stories, encourage her to develop the grit that she will need for her life by accepting that sometimes you’ll have to try and fail and try and fail and try yet again. I’m sure that as she grows, she’ll absorb the lessons. With any luck, she’ll want to take what you’ve earned for her and build on it. Or grow in a new direction that’s made possible by your good choices. I can’t feel SURE of this because again, I’ve seen too much go wrong, but I *am* sure that we’ll do our best as parents and then we’ll see the results of those efforts in oh 30 years or so. 🙂

    1. You are so right about how little of it is actually in our control. As parents I think that is easy to lose sight of, as we try so hard to do everything right.

      And….jungle cats? I hope you tell that story in its entirety.

      The power of stores is not to be underestimated. They bury under our skin, and sleep long, and emerge unexpected in ways we could never imagine.

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