The Productivity Paradox Of Parenthood

Productivity Paradox

Photo Credit: Jon Grainger via Flickr CC 2.0

We have three kids under age five. People cringe when I say that.

Faced with the huge responsibility of raising children, you’d think that parents would be completely unproductive outside of parenting. Instead, many Moms and Dads consider themselves more productive after having a few kids. It’s kind of a productivity paradox for parenting.

When I meet a first-time expecting parent and feel the need to offer unsolicited advice, I tell them to enjoy their free time and finish any outstanding to-do list items and projects asap.

I said this to an expecting co-worker recently and he scoffed at me as if he is so busy now. HA! No idea what he’s in for.

It’s not that projects can’t get done once the child arrives. It’s that they’ll need to prioritize time around the child.

What I’ve found with parenting, is that in the rare instances during the day when I have a free moment, I seize the opportunity to do something productive. Got five minutes? Plenty of time to collect the trash with a buddy.

Mom’s out with the kids? Time to write a blog post, read, fix something in the house, pick up toys or scrape crusty oatmeal off the floor.

All three kids asleep? Hallelujah, time to get shit done!

Even though I’m more strapped for time now with three kids, I accomplish way more in many aspects of my life than before having kids professionally, on side hustles, house projects and developing relationships. Maybe it’s the sense of purpose that comes with being a Dad. Or maybe it’s about wanting to provide more for our kids. Whatever it is, it’s counter-intuitive. It seems I should be way less productive.

Balancing Productivity and Piggy-Back Rides

As a parent working a full-time job, it pains me to leave my kids every morning knowing all they want is to play with me. Recently, I took my son to Home Depot to run some errands for the condo rental. He was in a bad mood all day. I asked him what would make him happy.

He said, “I just want to play with you, Dad“. I guess I had been paying too much attention to his sisters or watching sports. So when we got home, I let him pick exactly what he wanted to play… One game of Count Your Chickens and one game of Candy Land. That was all it took to make him happy.

Since the kids are my number one priority, I make sure to spend quality time with them every day. Quality time means making them breakfast when I’m home, playing outside when it’s nice, dinner together, bath time, and reading books before bedtime. Quality time also means shutting off the smartphone.

On weekends, nearly all of my time is dedicated to the kids. We usually make one “major” outing, like a trip to a big park, a party, the trampoline warehouse, the zoo, a train ride, the “quesadilla restaurant”, or a day at the pool.

With so much time allotted to the kids, productivity must come in the form of time utilization. I use free moments at work to settle bills or any nagging to-do list items. Nap time (though rare) or quiet time is perfect for tasks around the house. When it’s warm I manage to sneak in some yard work and sometimes let the kids “help” outside. It’s all about making time, prioritizing, and having a good tag-team partner.

Do Parents Accomplish more after having Kids? Why?

First of all, this may not be true for all parents. And I’m not suggesting I’m some ultra-productive to-do list conquering machine. I was very lazy before kids. Now I’m much less lazy.

Mrs. RBD doesn’t think she accomplishes much all day at home with the kids. But raising those three kids every day is a huge accomplishment. Way bigger and more important than anything I do. Not to mention shopping, pre-school drop-off, meal planning, cleaning, poopie diapers, keeping the kids dressed and fed, and managing play dates.

Then at night, she can finally experience some peace without two kids constantly nagging and a third sucking fluid out of her.

Now, think of a typical career. Many professional parents achieve the most success in their careers while raising kids. Working parents are the ones climbing the corporate ladders and starting new businesses.

In part, maybe it’s Horstman’s corollary to Parkinson’s Law which states, “Work contracts to fit in the time we give it“. Parents have less time, but still complete the necessary jobs and more.

Parenthood requires better organization, planning, guile, patience, and even outsourcing tasks like childcare and house cleaning. All of which make people more productive.

More so, productivity increases due to the elimination of unimportant activities. After a few kids, we decided to get rid of cable TV. Though we still watch some, TV is a much smaller part of our lives. I’ve gained hundreds of hours of my life back since cutting the cord.

No more House Hunters International marathons. While the kids are watching Rescue Bots and Paw Patrol, I’m finishing up our taxes, or doing yard work or odd jobs around the house.

Another life change we made was cutting back our social lives. I can’t remember the last time I said yes to a happy hour. Before kids, I never missed a beer special. Now, I never miss a story time.

The biggest time-suck before kids was staying up late and sleeping in.

Up all night, sleep all day!

Now when we’re up all night it’s because someone is barfing up a cupcake or had a snake in their bed.

If we do actually sleep through the night on a weekend, it’s a guarantee a certain stuffed kangaroo will be hopping up my leg at 6:30 am to wake me up.

Nobody sleeps in, ever.

Mrs. RBD and I look back on the days before kids and realize how much time was wasted. We both worked full-time jobs but relaxed most other times of the day. I completed a few house projects before kids. But I could finish projects after work or on weekends, and still find time to go the gym and close out the bar.

In fact, I don’t remember ever being short on time during the years leading up to parenthood. Nothing then motivated me like my kids do now.

The Importance of Time Alone

The distractions three young kids create are overwhelming. The other night during dinner was typical. I swear I got up from my chair twenty times.

Someone dropped a fork. Someone needed more tortellini. Someone didn’t like his milk cup.

I don’t like that. More bread, please. I want apple sauce!

Then the moment after I took my first bite of food, someone had to go poop. So I got up again to go wipe a butt. When I returned my appetite was gone and I had trampled on a dozen Cheerios. All the while, Mom was trying to eat and feed the baby, but she’s screaming because she didn’t nap again and Mom can’t shovel food into baby’s mouth fast enough.

Productivity time is usually after bedtime (aka bedlam). Unfortunately, I’m completely exhausted by that hour.

Somehow, I’ve still managed to write these blog posts, launch a new site, keep up with investment research, and occasionally exercise.

Recently, I’ve been waking up early on work days for some “me” time. I heard about The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod on a number of podcasts. The author is super inspiring. The book is all about waking up early and ritualistically performing six self-improvement activities to start your day off right.

With some regularity, I’ve woken up to write blog posts, read, exercise and plan out my day. I find I’m much more productive early on because my brain is fresh and the kids don’t interrupt me for about an hour. I’m waking up with a purpose now instead of letting a stuffed kangaroo be my alarm.

It’s hard to leave those warm sheets when the 5:00 am alarm goes off, but it’s made a difference.

Time with Mrs. RBD

I talk about the kids wearing me out during the few hours a weekday I see them. That’s nothing compared to what Mrs. RBD deals with. She is worn out completely. The two older kids nag and wrestle and beg for more snacks all day. The baby literally drains her.

Nowadays, it’s infrequent that just she and I do something special together. Quality time usually includes three tagalongs. Sure, we could get a babysitter once a week for date night. But that’s expensive, and we’re so tired we just want to stay home.

We save date night for when our parents are visiting. They all live out of town. So for most of the year, we get very few breaks from the kids.

Now may be the most challenging period of our parenthood years.

We talk about all the awesome vacations we’ll take once we’re “out of the fog“. It’s not that we couldn’t take a serious family vacation now, we just know it wouldn’t be a vacation. We’d rather wait until all three are potty trained instead of travel with an extra bag of diapers and toys.

Packing for travel sucks with three young kids.

We got the travel bug out of our systems temporarily before kids, at least enough to keep us away from airplanes while we have young ones. In a few years, the bug will be back. Maybe we’ll start with a Disney cruise or an all-inclusive resort.

Last summer we did our first big family vacation. Well, I should clarify, we went to Disney. – Jim Gaffigan

Occasionally, we treat ourselves by feeding the kids early and putting them to sleep. Then we eat in peace, sip some wine and pass out at 9 pm. Simple pleasures. Parenthood is a sacrifice. We still have the same 24 hours in a day, but we’re using them much differently.

How do you balance productivity and piggy-back rides?

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10 Responses to The Productivity Paradox Of Parenthood

  1. brian503 June 8, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    Great post RBD! It’s a fine balance. It evolves too. As the kids get older you’ll be running them around to sports and activities, than to parties and friends houses for play dates. As teenagers they will be off doing things on their own. So enjoy this time now, it goes by quick.

    • Retire Before Dad June 8, 2016 at 8:24 am #

      Thanks for adding insight from a more experienced Dad. We feel we’re constantly in the weeds. It’s sad to think when they get older they’ll ignore us and not worship us like they do today. But I also wouldn’t mind being able to use the bathroom without a spectator.

  2. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor June 8, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    So true! Everything in this resonates with me. We only have two kids but they are 4 and 2 and it’s crazy! As a stay at home mom, I also feel like I’m accomplishing nothing, but I know raising kids is very significant. And I definitely manage my time better than ever. Thanks for this encouraging read; it’s great to know I’m not alone!

    • Retire Before Dad June 8, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

      Sounds like you could hang out with my wife. It is crazy at times. And stressful. If you’ve got a blog on top of staying at home with young kids, then that’s a significant accomplishment.

  3. Stockbeard June 8, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

    I do not fully relate to this. I was more productive before my kids came: That’s when I started my side business and I’m glad I did it back then, because I wouldn’t have the time or strength to do it now. today the side gig is doing well, thanks to the effort from 8 years ago, but it’s less work than it used to be.
    I also tend to sleep nowadays, when the kids are not around (or when they’re sleeping). So I’m definitely not more productive. Having our first kid also pretty much killed my attempts (and motivation) at climbing the corporate ladder

    I guess we don’t all react to kids the same way, glad it’s making you a more productive person 🙂

    • Retire Before Dad June 8, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks for the counterpoint. I wish I had side hustled more prior to kids, but I guess I wasn’t motivated enough. Sounds like kids had the opposite effect on you. I’m envious that you find time to nap when the kids aren’t around. I can’t nap anymore!

  4. PhysicianOnFIRE June 8, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    Our boys are 5 and 7 now, so they are a bit more independent than your three, but I hear what you’re saying. Horstman’s corollary is about right. I can procrastinate with the best of them until I’m faced with a deadline. If it needs to happen before tomorrow, it will.

    I also tend to be much more productive outside of football season. I’m always sad when winter is in full swing and the last game has been played, but there is the added bonus of getting my weekends back!


    • Retire Before Dad June 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm #

      Good point about football season. I watch a lot less football now because weekends are spent with the kids. College FB is out of the question except later games. My NFL team isn’t on the local stations so I usually only catch about 6-7 games a year. My weakness is binge watching good tv. Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead set me back a few months, each time I was hooked!

      Deadlines are deadlines. I don’t miss those either.

      • PhysicianOnFIRE June 9, 2016 at 10:06 am #

        I go to 4 or 5 NCAA games a year, which requires a 4.5 hour round trip for home games, and maybe a flight for an away game. I thank my wonderful wife for allowing that to happen!

        Some of the highest performing medical students in my class were parents when most of us were 23-year olds hitting up those happy hours and wondering how those Moms and Dads found the time to dominate the exams. Parent Power.

  5. zeejaythorne June 10, 2016 at 12:19 am #

    I always admire what my parent friends are able to do with their time. It is a good choice for so many.

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