“Say goodbye to sleep.”
“You won’t be able to travel anymore. You’ll definitely have to settle down then.”
“It will stress your marriage to the breaking point.”
For many years, I didn’t understand why parents have this need to complain incessantly to their child-free friends about how hard their lives are. Maybe they were bitter, or sleep-deprived, or jealous of our care-free nomadic lifestyle, but somewhere in between an ex-coworker describing his children as “endless agony” and another friend slipping me the business card of his divorce lawyer “just in case” when the topic of kids came up, FIRECracker and I were scared off of having children for most of our adult lives.
So when we found out FIRECracker was pregnant at the beginning of the year, it was hard not to keep all those fears from re-surfacing. Was this really going to be that bad? Did we just ruin our perfect, awesome lives? Had we just made a huge mistake?
It’s been 3 months since our son was born. And here’s what I discovered.
It’s Impossible To Do This Alone
I have so much more respect for single parents now.
In Asian cultures, it’s common for multiple generations to all live in one household, and while this makes it difficult for anyone to have any privacy, it does come with some advantages, like built-in childcare. When FIRECracker was growing up in rural China, even in the extreme poverty her family endured, there were still Aunties in the village whose job was to help new mothers take care of their kids.
In North American society, by contrast, we’re much more isolated from each other. We don’t automatically have aunts and uncles around us to pick us up when we’re down, and if we want that kind of help, we generally have to pay for it.
This “help gap” reveals itself as a gaping chasm when it comes to taking care of kids. Because no matter how strong, or how hard-working, or how independent you are, when it comes to kids, you simply can’t do everything yourself.
The newborn phase is a great example of this. I didn’t know this going in, but when babies are brand-new, their sleep patterns are all over the place. They sleep, on average, 12 to 16 hours a day, which sounds like a lot, but they can’t differentiate between day and night yet. Plus, their stomachs are so small they constantly need to feed, so when they sleep they do it in short bursts, around 15 minutes to 45 minutes at a time.
Adults, as you may have noticed, need much more time of continuous sleep to function. So this mismatch means that if one person tries to do everything, they quickly become a sleep-deprived zombie, and everything suffers.
We solved this problem by using a strategy in the her article about “How To Maintain Sanity With A Newborn” that Liz from Frugalwoods taught us, which is sleeping in shifts. I would sleep between 10 PM and 3 AM, FIRECracker then sleeps 3 AM to 9 AM, and we’d both be awake from 9 AM to 10 PM. This way, someone is always with the baby and both partners get 6 continuous hours of sleep, but this requires two people.
If you don’t have that option because your partner’s not there, what do you do? You cry is what you do.
We Don’t Support Mothers Enough (Or At All)
Normally, ranting is FIRECracker’s job, but today I’m going to take a crack at it.
When it comes to child-rearing, as a society we ask way too much from the mother.
Oh, and not only do we ask too much from the mother, we don’t help them do the things we ask of them. And when they run into trouble, we blame them and make them feel like shit for not living up to an idealized “Perfect Mother” stereotype that is both unfair and, at times, contradictory.
Breastfeeding is a great example of this.
Everything we’ve read in the lead-up to Little Matchstick’s birth, and all the medical information the hospital gave us, told us that “Breast is best.” I get the sentiment, but the Breast Feeding industry that’s supposed to help women accomplish seems to do the exact opposite. Maybe we just got some bad nurses, but all they did was berate FIRECracker and tell her all the things she couldn’t do while not giving any solutions that might actually fix the problem.
“I don’t have enough supply, what do we do?”
“That shouldn’t be happening. Breastfeeding should be easy and natural. You must be doing something wrong.”
“He seems upset. Can we feed him some formula to supplement?”
“No, then your supply won’t come in.”
“Can we pump to get our supply up?”
“No, then he’ll get nipple confusion from the bottle.”
“So what should we do?”
“This shouldn’t be happening. You must be doing something wrong.”
No matter what we suggested, we were given a detailed list of reasons why that would cause even more problems, and then told to “just try harder.”
If I could sum up the advice of the Breast Feeding Industry to new mothers who are having trouble, it would be “Don’t go forward, don’t go back, don’t turn left, don’t turn right, and definitely, definitely, don’t stand still.” Gee, thanks a bunch.
Oh and when we having this conversation, we had just gotten back from the hospital after 3 days of no sleep, with the baby crying in our lap. Good thing we were too tired to throw the phone across the room, otherwise we’d have to buy a new phone on top of everything.
Eventually, we solved the problem the way we always solve problems: By ignoring the experts and coming up with a solution ourselves. FIRECracker would pump like crazy, pretty much every waking moment in which she wasn’t holding the baby. Whatever breastmilk she produced, we mixed with formula so the baby was always fed.
At first, it was 10% breast milk, 90% formula. But then, as her supply went up, we gradually reduced the proportion of formula and increased the proportion of breast milk, until we hit 100% breast milk, 0% formula. And then finally, we transitioned from pumping-and-bottle feeding to direct breast feeding.
Finally, after months of hard work, we achieved the coveted new-parent designation of “EBF,” or Exclusively Breast Feeding”. No thanks to the Breast Feeding industry.
FIRE Makes Parenting Way Easier!
So you might be wondering, if everyone was telling us how awful having kids was, why did we decide to do it? For this, we have our wonderful colleagues and friends in the FIRE blogging world to thank for talking us off the ledge.
Liz from Frugalwoods taught us the strategy she and her husband Nate used to tag-team the little one during the brutal newborn months, Kirsten and Paul whom we met at the Greece Chautauqua showed us that it’s possible to not have your identity become subsumed by becoming a “parent,” and the Mad Fientiest, who recently had a child of his own, recounted the experience of his first year and how it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone told him it was.
The biggest difference, it seemed, was being Financially Independent.
When we first started writing about FIRE way back in 2016, the media tended to depict the movement as a bunch of frivolous millennials shirking their responsibilities and having fun. And to be honest, the first 9 years of nomadic retirement have been an absolute blast.
But this year, we realized that the rather than shirking our responsibilities as workers, the true value of FIRE is in giving us the ability to 100% fully commit ourselves to our responsibilities as people. When my dad got sick, we were able to move into the house and give our 100% focus on helping take care of him. And now that we have a kid of our own, we can once again give our 100% focus on being the best parents that we can be, without the added pressure of worrying about what our boss thought or having to keep up with rapidly ballooning mortgage payments.
It turns out that not only does FIRE fix your money problems, and your stress problems, it solves a lot of parenting problems too.
While the Mad Fientist and us were swapping breastfeeding tips (a sentence I never thought I’d ever have to type), he said something that really stuck with me.
He said “I am so grateful for the financial decisions I made before this.”
Me too, buddy. Me too.
In other news, we’ve recenly been featured in Vice, talking about what retirement is like 9 years later:
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