A Note on Life Stages

A few reflections on parenting, hobbies, and time.

Assumed audience: Other parents, slogging working through new phases of life; and people who aren’t parents but should understand how parenting affects life.

Once again, this morning I had high hopes of being able to sit down and make some serious progress today on the symphonic work I have been so very slowly making progress on over the last past 18 months or so — and was utterly stymied by the needs of my kids. It is still possible I will be able to get something done today, but realistically I have to content myself with the idea that I will not.

This has become an increasingly common experience for me over the past decade, as my now 10- and 8-year-old daughters have grown. Before my children were born, I could do a lot in terms of side projects and hobbies. After my children were born, I could do less, but still quite a bit. Infants and very young children require a great deal of attention when they are awake, but they sleep a lot and have very few activities outside the house. The older my daughters have gotten, though, the more time it has required to be a good father to them. (Not that I am always a good father” to them: but I very much aim to be.) They sleep less and have more activities. They squabble and need intervention more. Positively, they engage with us more, make clear their desire for our attention and conversation!

A friend joked this week of another thing we had been slow in getting to:

Have you tried neglecting your responsibilities? I find that helps.

That sums it up pretty well! Hobbies and side projects and even entertainment all increasingly goes by the wayside as one’s responsibilities increase. That is not a bad thing per se, but it requires a real, sometimes large, change in expectations. Things I could perhaps have done in six months now take two or three years. Things I could have aimed to do in a year or two of side project work before children I now have to acknowledge may not even be attainable at all.

Sometimes I look at the output of other people on the internet and am astonished at all they manage to do. Then I remember that being a single person with no children and no particular outside responsibilities is a very different thing than being a married person with children and quite a few outside responsibilities.1 It is not reasonable for me to expect myself to be as generative as I once was, in three ways.

First, I simply have less time, of course. Second, and subtler, the time I do have is much less contiguous, which means activities which require sustained focus are harder to accomplish. Third, I am also more tired by the time I get to that time, having spent more mental and emotional energy on other things.

To other parents, then: remember this, and adjust your own expectations accordingly. And to others who are not parents, or whose children are still very young, I say to you what I wish I could say to myself years ago: do not pride yourself in comparison to others you see in different life stages. It really is very different. (And yes, this generalizes beyond parenting: people acting as caretakers for aging parents or ill friends or relatives similarly have less ability to do hobbies or side projects.)


  1. Others no doubt once looked at me the same, and some may still! ↩︎