If you do not stay home with kids, you’ll be annoyed to hear all the benefits of watching kids, because people don’t really care about what benefits could be gained. We care about what we could lose. This is true for everyone: Consumers, liars, straight-A students. Working moms.
This is why people love to talk about what they could lose by staying home with kids. The discussion often gets extreme—death by boredom!—but most people will say they lose interestingness, self-actualization, and respect from other people.
But I don’t think we gain any of these things from work. And pretending that work provides those benefits makes finding a good job impossible, and it makes staying home with children feel impossible as well.
People do not get paid to solve interesting problems and learn new things all the time. That’s a perfect, heavenly job, so why would you need to be paid? You get paid to work on teams you didn’t choose, and toe the line for an executive board you don’t agree with, and make products that have no intrinsic meaning.
Interesting people are interested, no matter what they do all day. If you are interested in ideas you’ll think about them. If you’re interested in people you’ll connect with them. You don’t need work to do that—and it probably would just get in the way.
Living up to your potential is a terrible goal. People who grow up thinking they are gifted feel pressure to perform in a way that leads to having the most unhappy adult lives. Free yourself from the idea that people are in a horse race and everyone has a scouting report.
The truth is that the only people who have a ton of potential in the workplace are people who will give up everything else for work. That’s about 5% of people. Everyone else sees their career start to flatline at age 30 or 35 and then tank. But our level of self-actualization goes up as we age. And our sense of well-being peaks at the time of life we are least likely to be focused on career.
So self-actualization and career are not particularly related. Self-actualization is much higher on the Maslow hierarchy than winning a gold star or getting a big raise.
Respect from other people
OK. This is where you are really lying to yourself. You do not want respect from people with terrible careers. You want respect from people who have great careers. And people with great careers avoid the mid-life plateau by making work a higher priority than family. If you were able to do that you would have read the headline of this post and clicked delete.
By the time everyone is 35, we can see who is going to be at the top and who isn’t. You will have made a mark. You will have been working very, very hard. You will be ruthlessly climbing to the top of your field. If you have not done that from age 0-35 then you are not giving up the opportunity to do that from 35 on. Because you are not that kind of person who does that.
Adults do not get respect because they have a high IQ or high ambition. At some point, it only matters what you’ve done and who you’ve loved. Respect is hard to come by unless you give it to yourself.
And, in fact, you provide your own interestingness and your own self-actualization as well. It’s hard, for sure, but you don’t need a job or permission from other people. It’s way easier to punt on interestingness/self-actualization/respect and say you couldn’t get them because you stayed home with kids.
Don’t do that.
To be our best selves involves being free of self-criticism, envy, and regret. I don’t know anyone who has achieved that. Because it’s very distracting to have to take care of kids. Or go to work.