I’ve noticed a strange change in myself since Leela was born eighteen months ago. My risk appetite has grown tremendously. This is completely opposite to what people said would happen. “Wait until you have kids, “ everyone would say when Kerry and I took a sabbatical or started to learn meditation, “you won’t do any of this. Everything will change”. And everything did change. Just not in the way we expected. Kerry quit her job to launch her business, I took time off to write The Yoga of Max’s Discontent. I’m not a hippie. I’m a conventional engineer-MBA. Why then does my stomach knot with a sense of futility when I hear people talk about the best school districts and Mandarin classes and accelerated development programs for their kids? Because deep down, I think all of this is useless. The best gift I can give my daughters is a fully lived life as a parent. If they see me reach for the unattainable, fall, pick up the pieces, try again, then fall again, shatter and re-build myself, that’ll be a better education than being trained to work in a white-collar sweatshop by a fancy private school. Or I could be wrong. I don’t know. No one knows. They have their own destinies and they’ll choose their own paths. That’s why here I share some ideas on how not to let go your dreams after having kids.
First off though, these are three pieces of scientific research on what leads to successful kids that has shaped my views as opposed to the “19 ways to be a better parent” kind of Yahoo articles.
1. Kids succeed when they have a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset: Kids who believe that their true potential is limitless and willfully seek experiences that stretch them instead of the tried and the true are statistically proven to have higher creative achievements than those who believe their qualities are carved in stone and stick to the familiar.
2. The Marshmallow Experiment: The famous Stanford university longitudinal experiment in which kids who delayed gratification and didn’t succumb immediately to the “easy choice” had measurably higher SAT scores, health, career and personal success twenty years later.
3. The Book study that shows the number of books in your house is a better predictor of your kids’ education level than how much you read to them. In other words, if you read yourself, you child will pick the habit up even if you don’t do anything particular to encourage it. Said another way, who you are is a better predictor of who your kids will be rather than what you teach them or want them to be.
In short, my biggest duty is to be as much of a role model I can be for willfully seeking constant growth and setting big goals and failing again and again yet resisting the impulse to give in so that my kids imbibe the same values. And that’ll perhaps lead to greater success than being forced to parrot French at age 3. Success itself is a nebulous term though. My definition changes every couple of years, now I’ve accepted it as a state of living in full engagement and passion everyday rather than any fixed end state, quite consistent with the above.
If you’re with me so far, now here are some ways I think you can keep pursuing your dreams with a growing family.
1. Set a lofty, almost unattainable personal goal
Kerry had gone on a nutrition conference for three days leaving Leela in my care when I was in the middle of launching The Seeker. We spoke on the phone. For 30 minutes, we chatted passionately about nutrition and online business models and the struggles of launching a book in India from the US and hopes and dreams before I updated her that Leela had her full bottle of milk and had slept for the night. Leela is the center of our world and yet, our soul is consumed by our passionate side projects. Both are true. On that night, more action was happening on our other projects. If Leela had started walking that day, the conversation would’ve switched. Kids take over your whole life. And they fit into your life. Both are true. Don’t make it an either-or. Set goals that stretch you to breaking point and leave you begging for a respite on your bathroom floor once in a while and you’ll find life expand to include both your goals and your kids.
2. Be Independent
I want my kids to know their extended family and have an incredible relationship with them, the same way I share a very special relationship with my grandmother, but I don’t want to depend on them consistently for child care. On anyone. Except people I hire and pay. Because if you depend on a village to raise your child, the village will advice you and tell you to let go of your goals and “be sensible”. And every time I’ve taken people’s advice, I’ve lived a lie. I want to make my own choices, good or bad. I don’t want to live anyone else’s life. And later, I want my kids to rebel against me and set out in the world to find their own truths and leave me and my dogmas crumbling in the dust. Be independent. Fill your life with love without filling it with bondage, judgments, and beliefs.
3. Don’t “sacrifice” anything
Last night, Leela had her first stomach bug. I was up from midnight-4 a.m., then I went to work at 7 a.m. and am writing this article late in the night. If it were anyone else in the world, I’d probably grudge them my lack of sleep. But you don’t grudge your kids. You can’t. If you let them, kids teach your transcendence, that rare moment of divinity when you dissolve completely in an explosion of love. That’s why you need to sacrifice nothing for them. Do your stuff, your side project, your art, your day job, everything. And then, do stuff for them. And it never feels like “doing stuff” because your heart fills up and expands so much that there’s always more space in it for them. So if you feel you’re sacrificing your dreams for your kids, there’s still a separation between you and them. Dissolve it completely.
4. Set a ruthless routine
This might be the only useful advice in this post so trust it (ha!). A couple of months earlier, Kerry and I realized that we weren’t enjoying our weekends with Leela as much as we liked our weekdays. Once we diagnosed the root cause, we realized immediately it was that old killer: the lack of a routine. Every weekend was different. Sometimes we’d meet friends, sometimes not, sometimes we’d call a babysitter, sometimes not, and we’d try to squeeze in work as much as we could in the middle of child care, being neither fully here nor there. Too much psychic energy was going in creating new plans and rushing around every weekend. A total mess. Now, we’ve made the weekends structured and once again, we’re back to peak performance and joy:
-Saturday Morning: I take Leela to swim/kids gym/walking/hard physical activity.
-Saturday Afternoon: We see friends with Leela.
-Sunday Morning: Kerry takes Leela for yoga.
-Sunday Afternoon: We hire a babysitter and work for 3-4 hours on our side hustles.
Week after week, we follow the same outline and plug variety with different people, activities, and work in this structure just like we do on the weekdays. Kids like predictability. Creativity gets unleashed when you operate within broad boundaries. Make a routine for every day and you’ll give all of yourself to your kids when you’re with them—and all of yourself to your projects when you’re not.
5. Practice willful poverty
We’re yet to practice this one but we’ll be doing it right after THE YOGA OF MAX’S DISCONTENT launches. Stoicism teaches you to live on a fraction of what you can afford from time to time to prove to yourself how little money matters and not to organize your life around it. Money usually comes at the expense of time and dreams get sacrificed with the lack of time. We want to choose time in the trade-off and live outside the US with as little as we can for a few years. Will their growth suffer away from Mandarin classes and organic juices in Brooklyn? Or will they thrive with their parents living room in conjunction with their values? I don’t know yet but I have a hunch. Drom me a note in the comments to let me know what you think. And let’s keep each other honest with our goals this year!