What to expect when you’re expecting

baby-twins

So you’re expecting your first baby!

As we all know from the adverts and the Disney films, this is the most wonderful thing in the world, a time of boundless joy and happiness where you bring life into the world, strengthening the bond with your soulmate and everyone living happily ever after.

Or is it?

Yes, its an exciting time…as is taking heroin (so I’m told). But having a baby comes with pitfalls that other people won’t tell you about. So once again it falls to The Escape Artist to cut through the horseshit and tell you what other people won’t.

Warning: parenthood is very personal and therefore subjective. My experience doesn’t applies to everyone else anymore than yours does. On my blog, I say what I think and what happened to me. You do you.

I’ll say upfront that fatherhood has been very rewarding (in a non-financial sense).  But I don’t pretend that its some perfect paradise where nothing bad ever happens. Nothing in life is 100% good or 100% bad.  Every cloud has a silver lining and every silver lining has a cloud. I’ll be honest:  becoming a father was a shock to the system for me, unused as I was aged 30 to responsibility in general and scraping the shit off someone else’s butt in particular.

So let’s tell the story. As a nice middle class couple, we’d been to NCT baby classes, natch, where we’d met other earnest nice people and written something called a “birth plan”. This was all very well meaning but, as it turned out, futile. They say that mortals make plans and The Gods laugh.

Come due date, the baby wasn’t popping out and gradually the atmosphere in the hospital changed.  The tone in the nurses and doctors voices started to rise and their movements became more urgent. My wife was rushed to the operating theatre for an emergency C section. I was now a helpless onlooker, unable to add much as my wife was cut open in front of me. Let me tell you THAT IS SOME BRUTAL SHIT that goes on in there. In an earlier age, my wife would probably have died.

[As a side note: when we had our second child, he tried to kick his way out like a cop kicking down a drug dealer’s door.  As the surgeon opened up my wife for another emergency C section, I saw the baby’s foot sticking out of her ruptured womb. It was an absolute fucking horror show.]

But the fear did not end with the birth. A day or so later we were being hustled out of the hospital, freeing the bed for someone else. I vividly remember the feeling of terror as we left the safety of the hospital. At least with a new TV you get a manual, a warranty and a Quick Start guide…with a baby: absolutely fucking nothing.

We walked to the car park carrying my baby daughter strapped into a brand new (and grossly over-priced) safety car-seat. My wife shuffled alongside me…unsurprisingly struggling from having had a football-sized hole cut in her stomach.

We got home and the baby wouldn’t breast feed.  Somewhat on edge, I started catastrophising and imagining the baby would die of starvation overnight (unlikely, but parenthood has this way of turning you paranoid).

So we cracked open the fake baby milk in the free promo bag of shite baby products that Megacorp Baby Products Inc “kindly” gave to all new parents in our hospital.  To be fair, in the circumstances, it felt like a life saver until the breastfeeding thing got mastered the next day. But I invite you to consider how unlikely it is that some chemical engineer on an industrial estate has replicated all the nutritional value of natural breast milk honed over millions of years of evolution.

Where possible you should be living the most natural life that you can. That means breastfeeding is better for your baby than fake milk. Women told me that breastfeeding gave them an amazing sense of connection with the baby.  And, by the way, did you know that its free?

The Prison Camp hates it that everything a baby needs comes for free (or next to nothing).  So it invents fakes needs to make up for that.  Note how each fake need spawns new ones.  So if you use bottles and fake milk instead of breast feeding then you’ll be also be needing sterilising equipment, spares, holders and other assorted gadgets. There is no end to the shit being sold to new parents. Apparently you can buy robot teddy bears with a fake heart beat, sold to sleep-deprived new parents on the basis that it will magic the baby to sleep.

Babies are big business. Perfect ParenthoodTM  is sold as a Blue Pill fantasy by advertisers and marketeers who play on our emotional weak spots ruthlessly.  The most valuable customer segment for consumer goods companies to capture are new parents.

Why?  Because new parents are stressed, tired and under pressure. They are time poor and prepared to throw money at the problem.  They desperately want the best for their child and so the advertisers and marketing people can stoke feelings of guilt, shame and peer pressure that go along with consumerist aspiration.

In writing this article I spoke to a number of mums to balance my male perspective. Speaking privately (with guaranteed anonymity), they were honest about the downsides as well as the upsides.  Some told me about feeling guilt or shame when they felt they fell short of unattainable perfection in motherhood. There is also a fear of judgement by other mums (or dads). This can add to the self-imposed pressure to insist on premium or at least familiar (translation = heavily advertised) brands

The phrase that sums all this up is:

“I want the best for my child”. 

It sounds so natural to want the best for your child doesn’t it? But its dangerous.  Its dangerous because perfection is an unattainable state. You can bankrupt yourself in the quest for THE BEST FOR YOUR CHILD. And what does that phrase even mean?

Does it mean designer baby clothes? Does it mean multiple buggies / prams / strollers – one for off-road use, one for town?  Does is mean an interior designed nursery? Their own bedrooms? Does it mean nuking the house clean with anti-bacterial chemical weapons?

No, I say THE BEST FOR YOUR CHILD consists mainly of unconditional love. There would be two parents, with time off work for both and ideally with grandparental help.  There would be no money worries. They’d be breast-fed and, once the child is a bit older, there would be plenty of playing in the grass  / mud / sandpit to give their immune system the start in life that it needs.

Is that everyone’s experience of parenthood? No, of course not….like I said, it’s an ideal to aim for.  My point is that the phrase THE BEST FOR MY CHILD has been hijacked by consumerism and taken to mean THE MOST EXPENSIVE SHIT FOR MY CHILD.

You can get everything a baby needs for next to nothing. You can make your own baby food. And because other parents buy too much stuff, eBay etc is awash with never used / barely used baby kit.

The nesting urge can be powerful but don’t fall into the trap of stockpiling loads of stuff ahead of time. Friends / relatives will buy you tonnes of baby stuff so its worth waiting to see what you get before buying it yourself. Don’t be afraid to be pro-active: you can make requests and you could have a baby gift list (like people have wedding gift lists).

Children change everything, including relationships.  There is a power balance in every relationship even if you don’t like to think of things in those terms.  If 2 partners were evenly matched before the baby comes along, children can change that. Studies show that testosterone falls in new dads, making them more agreeable.  In contrast, my wife turned into a bit of a tiger after child birth.  If you know anything about tigers, you don’t stand between a hungry or tired female tiger and her cubs.

death-stare1This is relevant to your personal finances because it can drive spending behaviour.

I remember being in a supermarket with my wife in the baby foods section. She dropped some branded baby food into the basket. I suggested a lower cost alternative and got THE DEATH STARE.

I caved on the baby food…sometimes you have to pick your battles.

My wife took to motherhood like a round peg in a round hole.  I found the transition to parenthood traumatic more challenging. I felt a huge burden on my shoulders from being the sole breadwinner. It felt very uncomfortable and triggered some my childhood fear of poverty.

Not only that but you roll the dice when you have children. They could get sick or die. You become emotionally vulnerable in a way that I couldn’t have imagined before having children.  Becoming a parent softened me…which may or may not have been a good thing but, like I said, it wasn’t a comfortable process.

When you have a child you commit to putting another human being before yourself for a couple of decades. For this, you will get no gratitude (just as I didn’t give my parents any gratitude until I was well into my 20s).  It’s only when you start changing nappies and feeding a baby that it dawns on you that someone did all this shit for you.

The funny thing about parenthood is that, for all its downsides, you rarely meet anyone who admits to regretting it.  We humans have a great capacity to make the best of the circumstances that we’re in and if that takes a few subconscious rationalisations after the event then hey, so be it.  Someone smart once described this as seeing where the arrow lands, then painting the bullseye around it.

And as for those parents that say that parenthood hasn’t restricted them, their angel always sleeps through everything and hasn’t stopped them heli-skiing blah blah blah…well they’re probably full of shit.

Apply own mask first

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t become a parent. But I am saying that its a HUGE life choice with potentially huge financial and emotional implications.

And I AM saying its fucking hard work.  You can’t understand what parenthood will do to your nice, well-ordered life until you’ve lived through the chaos (it gets easier after the first 5 years).

So I wish you all the best. Just don’t forget to look after yourself as well as your new arrival.

Apply own oxygen mask before helping others.


Further reading:

fin-coaching-widget

  1. To Defeat Your Enemy You Must First Know Your Enemy (Part 2)
  2. Raising Babies
  3. Financial Coaching

 

16 comments

  1. Another great article TEA!
    As a new dad myself (my son is six months old) I can agree with much of what you’ve said. I would however like to point out that whilst “breast is best”, it doesn’t work out that way for all and after many months of trying we had to settle with formula plus occasional boob. So please don’t treat it as the enemy.
    Being a late starter in parenthood (I’m 44, although my wife is younger) we found great comfort in being able to clear our mortgage before the baby arrived. Although we are far from FI, reducing our outgoings in this way made going down to one salary much less stressful. I am still able to stash some while paying for the running of the household. Plus as you point out, second hand baby items are generally cheap and easy to obtain via Facebook or other platforms.

  2. Great post, I’m 32 and my mrs is 31 I like the idea of being a dad but my Mrs isnt too keen. For the last few years we’ve spoke about not having kids which I would be ok with but recently the idea of being a dad is quite appealing. I think Dr Jordan Peterson said that meaning to life kind of goes hand in hand or increases with the amount of responsibility you take on which I kind of agree with (He’s a smart dude) Im under no illusions of how hard parenthood would be either which is quite off putting in one way but challenging in others. Plus most of my friends have kids now which adds to the peer pressure. Anyway we’re in NZ now but originally from bolton so would have no grandparents to help us out. Which I imagine could be a god send. Great work TEA

  3. ladyaurora · · Reply

    I’m 53 now FI. Single, no kids. My very wise father who’s sadly passed last year would often say love, I’ll never put you wrong but in this day and age your better off without kids….. I had no choice my life never gave me the option, never found Mr right. Sometimes I wonder when I’m old ,there won’t be a nice loving daughter coming round looking after my needs. But as TEA says, there’s no guarantee had I had kids they would be there for me later on. Really having kids is pandering to nature, all nature wants to do is keep the human race going , it doesn’t care about you.

    1. Fretful Finance · · Reply

      I don’t think I want children and I too worry about not having someone to take care of me (or just keep me company) when I’m old. But as you say, having a child is no guarantee of that and in any event, it would be awful to have a child with the sole purpose of breeding a carer. As for childless people combatting loneliness in old age, I think if you’ve (by which I mean “one” rather than “you” specifically) spent a lot of your life single as your friends marry and have families, you’ve probably gotten used to the extra effort required to maintain a healthy social life (although I appreciate parenthood brings its own challenges in terms of social life!).

  4. Yup, that sounds pretty spot on! Having a kid is hard work. It’s also all made even harder by the fact that you are not getting enough sleep. That’s what trashed me.

    It’s worth reiterating what you say about it getting easier though. Once they start school they switch within a few weeks from big toddlers to young children and I found that MUCH easier.

    I particularly relate to the point you make about wanting the best for your child. The thing that I’ve realised is that in addition to your very good point about unconditional love there are a few other non-pecuniary things I want to give my kids. They include things like not being bothered about material things, self-confidence, the ability to talk to anyone (and say no), manners, kindness, humour etc, etc, etc. if I can do that then I’ll really have done the best for my children. Time will tell how successful I’ll be!

  5. Companies really know how to sell on the “best for your baby” thing to new parents. As a dad to a 2 year old and twins on the way, I am supprised at the marketing smarts and endless products that seem to be available to new parents.

    One of the big news stories in Australia over last few years has been Australian baby formula being bought at local stores to be re-sold for huge profits in China based on the belief that Australian baby formula is some how extremely superior to other brands available in Asia.

  6. Ha! Having children is certainly the best thing in my life but a nightmare for the frugally minded!

    I won a few arguments with Mrs PJ over the (-plastic landfill crap-) presents over the years but as soon as a marketing slogan included the word (-expensive rip off-) safety I was never ever going to be successful. And because it was for “safety” it had to be new too!

    1. Ha! Yes! The SAFETY ploy is very dangerous for FIers!

  7. ex-pat scot · · Reply

    I love your quote:

    “This is relevant to your personal finances because it can drive spending behaviour.

    I remember being in a supermarket with my wife in the baby foods section. She dropped some branded baby food into the basket. I suggested a lower cost alternative and got THE DEATH STARE.”

    This. Times 1^infinity.
    Rational decision making gets dropped when babies come along, and it’s not a temporary thing. It starts with the “John Lewis vests are SOOO much softer and better quality than M&S” and progresses to the relative merits of Boarding School vs Day School.

    I used to scoff reading the headlines “a child costs £250,000” and such like.
    I scoff no more!
    In most areas of your life, it is relatively straightforward to cut back, to moderate your expectations and costs. Not so with children. There is an overwhelming pressure to consume all your resources, focus, energy, time.

    You can make it work. Lots of us do, but don’t for one moment believe the soft filter sunlit cooing image of parenthood. It’s the hardest, thankless and yet most worthwhile thing I will ever do.

    1. Yes, great point…precedents get set at the baby stage. If you’re not careful, precedents can become expensive habits!

  8. What a great read. We are expecting our first child this year, and I try to prepare for the worst (while being ridiculously excited) even though I know it’s impossible. So far the most scary part has been buying insanely expensive baby stuff from Megacorp Baby Inc.

  9. I had 4 sons in 5 years, then left my husband and raised the boys on my own.
    Because money was tight, it took a lot of the ‘peer group pressure’ away. My sons couldn’t do an activity after every school day and do sport on the weekend – it wasn’t doable. So they each had ONE activity a week. (They ended up gravitating to music.) They learned a skill and it kept the costs down.
    They’re now in their 20’s and I’m quite proud of the workmanship of these people I made.
    Raising kids, especially babies and toddlers, is hard work, but I don’t regret it for an instant. Life has never been boring!!

    1. I empathise with this. I separated and quit my career in one go and all the preciousness inherent in modern day parenting just melted away (not that I felt I was precious but I felt the powerful influence of if from peers). Anyway, departing the “middle class aspiration” scene does wonders for your ability to focus on what is important in parenting and to nail down your own style.

  10. Howard Snell · · Reply

    I feel sorry for young parents these days. Our 4 children were born in the 60s decade, at home, with a midwife (on a push bike) or having to be fetched because said bike broke down. The baby industry is determined to screw as much money from young parents who are (naturally) desperate to do the right thing. It leaves Remainers’ Project Fear in the shade. When the midwife departed she uttered the fateful words “Now your troubles are just starting.” We were lucky in having grown up when education was not fake, and when discipline was visited on us youngsters just in case we thought of misbehaving — a kind of down payment in advance. Of course it is a painful experience for the woman, some more than others, and they are in the frontline of The Perpetual War from ‘that moment’ on. After that, Mother Nature regards the rest of your life as very steep earning and learning curves. It never stops! Our best decision after 56 years — put your wife/husband first, before any child.

  11. Fretful Finance · · Reply

    What I find baffling is why anyone buys baby clothes from those ludicrously expensive boutique shops. Seriously, at the rate a baby grows you’re just throwing money down the drain. From what I can tell from my friends that have children, their babies spend all day in cheap but comfortable baby grows.All the expensive novelty clothing that they got given as gifts goes unused.

  12. My baby slept in the same old wood bassinet that my mother, my sister, her children and I all slept in. I think my grandparents probably bought it used and repainted it, back in the 1940s. I made a wooden rocking cradle out of pine boards to supplement it (think American colonies era). Most of his baby clothes were hand me downs too, worn by my sister, me,my cousins and my nephew. These looked hardly used because babies aren’t terribly rough on the things, just lying there and sleeping or squawking for food almost their entire first 6 months. They are now stored for next family baby to reuse. This is not so much to save money as it is to get quality baby clothes – modern clothes are such lower quality. The old ones are wool, linen, and cotton but now they mostly make only polyester or nylon or some other garbage. And the bassinets or cradles now are all junky plastic. The only cost to this method is you need an otherwise useless corner of an attic or cellar to store it all between family babies.

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