Do we really have to choose dreams versus kids?
To say your priorities change when you become a dad is an understatement. For the first time in your life another human being is depending on you: not just for support or friendship or even love, but for its very survival.
Remember the endless array of possibilities and potential laid out before you in your twenties, thirties and even forties?
Once you have a child, those choices are dramatically narrowed to a field of one: it’s kid first.
But just because you change your priorities doesn’t mean you stop being you, does it?
In many ways being a father does change you, but it doesn’t erase the person who was there before. You have the same tastes, the same personality, and — crucially — the same hopes and dreams.
What about my dreams?
I happen to be a man with some lofty, verging on irrational, ambitions.
A few of those dreams I’ve been lucky enough to achieve. Many more I have yet to fulfil, and I often worry that I never will.
Dreams of success in comedy, working in television and film, winning fame and fortune — these are the mad fantasies I allow myself to entertain in my most optimistic moments (in my least optimistic moments I mourn their deaths).
Chasing these dreams was once the great beacon on the hill that I was forever surging towards.
That beacon is still there, but now that I have children, there’s a long road ahead to reach it. Because as important as these dreams were to me — ARE to me — they pale in significance next to my kids.
That’s how it has to be, isn’t it?
You can’t make becoming a movie star your first priority when there are mouths to feed and nappies to buy.
You can’t turn your nose up at a boring 9-to-5 office job when the consequences of having no money aren’t just hardship for you, but for tiny innocents who have no say in the matter.
Often pursuing a career in the arts means playing the classic ‘starving artist’ role for a while.
But while it’s simple enough for a man to live off two-minute noodles and couch-surf while striving for his big break, that’s not a life you want to force your family into.
Doubtless, in every field people have had to adjust their dreams to account for parenthood.
I say “adjust”, not “abandon” — one doesn’t necessarily have to give up one’s dreams as soon as the first child arrives.
Dads who made it big
Obviously there are many men who have managed to find huge success as fathers.
Stephen King, for example, became a father at the age of 23, three years before his first novel was published. I’m sure he faced a challenge juggling the demands of fatherhood with his efforts to hit the big time, but he did it.
Elvis Costello and Billy Connolly were also struggling with young children while fighting to make it big. It can be done — but it’s a lot harder.
The game of choices
In my own life I know there are opportunities I’ve missed, paths I haven’t taken and projects not developed because the business of family took precedence.
I don’t know that I would be more successful without children, but I would at least have had more irons in the fire. This is not, I stress, anything but my own choice.
Every decision we make involves sacrificing the possibility of a different decision.
Having children has restricted me from pursuing some avenues. But if I had pursued them, I’d be sacrificing something else: the overwhelming joy that being a father has brought me.
This is the first thing to remember: if having kids put a dent in your dreams, it’s also given you another, rather wonderful dream to enjoy.
Life involves myriad trade-offs and I reckon I’ve come out on top with this one.
I feel guilty chasing my dreams, but I feel depressed if I completely let them go
Nevertheless, there are difficulties a father faces that the childless man will not.
It’s not just the practical considerations you have to face when you’re trying to care for a family and chase dreams at the same time: it’s the guilt.
When you have kids, particularly early on, any time you leave them brings crushing guilt with it.
If you’re working full-time, time spent with the kids is so limited anyway — to further cut it down by heading out to a gig after work, or shutting yourself away to work on your novel, feels like a betrayal.
But they say that to raise happy kids you have to be a happy parent. That you do your kids no favours by denying your own identity to serve them.
It’s true, children aren’t going to enjoy life with a miserable dad who resents them for standing in the way of his dreams.
But they’re not likely to enjoy life with a dad who pushes them aside to pursue his own desires either.
Do we really have to choose dreams vs. kids?
So where do you draw that line?
Is there a point at which you need to simply give up your dreams?
Is it better, when you know you’re having children, to try to accept the fact you won’t be able to do all you wanted to, rather than battle vainly against the competing pulls of ambition and parenthood?
I don’t think so.
I think that our dreams are part of what make us human and what we impart to our children has to include this.
I don’t want my children to be deprived of anything, but I also don’t want them to think that having big aspirations isn’t worthwhile.
Like many aspects of fatherhood, this is an area where we have to find a way to muddle through.
Our kids will always be the priority, and we’ll always put them first.
If you’re shooting for the moon in your professional life, this might mean making some modifications to your plan. It might mean learning to accept things won’t happen as quickly for you, or find a less conventional route to your goal.
Along the way, you might have to let some opportunities fall by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop looking for those opportunities.
Remember that when you became a father, you didn’t stop being a person — your responsibility for someone else’s life didn’t take away your right to one of your own.
As long as your job as a father always remains your number one gig, the greatest amount of happiness for you and your family lies in chasing the life you want, kids and all.