Updated: Jun 1, 2022
The freedom to choose what you do every day is a luxury many of us are unable to afford based on our current lifestyle. This is true for people from all walks of life. Adding a baby to the mix drastically changes even the small freedoms we enjoyed pre-kids but our priorities also shift in a way many of us didn't expect. Many parents in high-powered careers start to reflect on if they want to miss these wild exhausting baby-caring days in exchange for time at the office and meetings. Parents often look at their lives, their mortgages, car payments and wish they could stay home or do extended travel with their families but feel like they can't due to their cost of living/lifestyle. You may have noticed that in the first sentence of this blog post I said "many of us" are unable to afford this type of freedom but I did not say "all." So what are the few doing that creates a life of freedom and autonomy that many of us are currently unable to achieve?
It could be argued that time is the most important asset we "own." Many of us sell our time to employers and clients and rarely feel like we are owners or even the true managers of our time. Outside needs and commitments dictate where we go, who we spend our time with, and what we do. This can lead to burnout, resentment, and general unhappiness. Here we are on this wild blue planet with this finite life and the part we can actually control (eg how we spend our time) is pretty much out of our hands due to the needs of others and our economic need secure income to pay for basic necessities. Money can be a major source of stress including marital/relationship stress. So how can this be changed? What are the small minority of people enjoying financial freedom doing that the majority are not? How could adopting some of these practices improve the perinatal period and beyond?
From my experience, I have noticed these attributes in people who have achieved a high level of financial/time freedom: Frugality, humility, and focusing on what matters most. Let's dive into each of these attributes and see how they can apply to the perinatal period and beyond.
Merriam-webster describes frugality as "... the careful management of material resources and especially money." Material resources are finite and expensive. For most, if not all, of us, securing resources comes at a cost of time, autonomy, identity, liberty, mental peace, etc. Even an inheritance can cost us in a variety of ways such as family obligations or relationships we would rather not have, inheritance can cost us through invisible ways such as dampening our entrepreneurial spirit or causing us to have a sense of entitlement which can negatively impact our relationships. Nothing in life is "free", everything has an effect, both negative and positive. Everything requires a serious cost/benefit analysis. With the cost of resources in mind, it makes a lot of sense to be "frugal" and mindful of how we use our resources. How much is our time worth? What would your time be worth if you have one year to live or 2 days? Would you go to work if you knew your death was just around the corner? Most of us wouldn't and it is interesting to explore why.
Why wouldn't you go to work if you had 1 week to live? For many of us, having only 1 week to live would significantly increase how much we value our time and would, in fact, make it "invaluable" or "priceless" and we wouldn't sell it for any amount. What if our time is truly "priceless" no matter how long we live? We do not know when we are going to die yet most of us spend (literally spend) our time in exchange for money. Money is an unavoidable requirement for most of us to live. We require food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities and most of these cost money. There are ways to be frugal when securing these resources, there is a wide variety of sizes of homes to live in, food to eat, and clothing to wear. Advertising is very successful at getting us to think that we need or want expensive homes, cars, clothes, food, and endless amounts of non-essential items. So, in many cases, we take this "priceless" resource, exchange it for money by performing work and then use that money to purchase expensive items we don't need or could have bought for much less using the principle of frugality. Many of us are in debt due to this behavior.
So how can you harness frugality to turn this picture around and create more harmony and balance? Having a baby causes many people to believe that they need to buy expensive gadgets and other non-essential baby items. When we actually look at the basics of baby care, you really don't need a whole lot. Some clothes (not a ton, either), diapers (could be cloth), and a safe place for the baby to sleep (could be your bed). The less you spend, the less you have to exchange your priceless time for money. There are other demands on your time, absolutely but working less or choosing a job that pays less but offers more flexibility could significantly increase your "time freedom". Time freedom can be used for all sorts of activities that could bring you joy and fulfillment. Most importantly, time freedom can offer the ability to be there with your baby or engage in more self-care so that you can show up in a healthier way for your family.
Invitation: Take a look at your finances and how you spend your money (money=time). What are you exchanging your finite minutes on earth for? Is it necessary? Can you cut back and liberate some time for yourself to spend it how you please?
Humility is related to frugality since true frugality means that most likely you will not be driving flashy cars or wearing expensive clothes so that you can conserve more of your money/time to spend it on freely living your life. Humility makes frugality possible and sustainable long term. I would describe humility as being grounded and honest about your human condition. We all poop, we all make mistakes, we are all on a wild journey and have limited control over most of it. Let's not pretend like there are winners and losers here, you can't "win" at life, being the richest person in the world doesn't matter if you are not living a meaningful and joy-filled life. Humility is the act of understanding this and seeking a connected, non-flashy life that is meaningful. No more rat race, no more striving in this competitive world where the "winners" have nothing of true meaning to show for it. Humility can prevent us from blowing all of our hard-earned money on non-essential items just to look cool or like we "won" life. We already know there is no winning here and we are focused on what truly matters. This applies to the perinatal period because the competition we are steeped in applies to all areas of life, perinatal included. Designer baby items, designer baby lessions, getting into the top preschool, etc. These are all paths that lure us away from what truly matters and into a pattern of overspending our money and underspending our life minutes/hours/years with our loved ones when it matters most. Your baby needs you, a connected calm presence, someone who is not striving to "win" anything, someone who understands that the time we have here is finite and our time is our only true wealth.
Invitation: Take a moment to reflect on how competitiveness and striving have impacted your life. Where can you let go and connect with humility, with being closer to the messiness and imperfection that life is? What would your life look like if you let all of that striving go and just showed up authentically without expectations?
Focus on what matters
What truly matters to you? Let's revisit the exercise of knowing that you only have 1 week left to live. How would you spend that invaluable/priceless time? Who would you spend it with? Doing what? Expand it out to a month. Where would you go? With whom? Return to your life as it is now. What are the differences between how you'd live knowing you only had a limited amount of time left? What regrets would you have if you continued to live the life you are currently living but only lived another week or month?
Many of us stay stuck in our lives based on fear and anxiety. We fear that if we quit our jobs or reduce our hours that we will regret it. Countless older adults have reminded us that not a single one of them wished that they had spent more time working and/or making money in their lives. Most people, at the end of their lives, wished they had spent more time with their families and loved ones. How can we put this wisdom into practice in our own lives? The perinatal period is especially tumultuous because welcoming a baby into our lives basically turns everything upside down whether we are prepared for it or not. The perinatal period offers an opportunity to face our fears and make bold decisions on how we spend our time. Having a baby also quickly reminds us of how fleeting time is and we don't get any of it back. Our newborn rapidly doubles and triples in size in a matter of months. First words come faster than we anticipated. Many of us feel torn between staying home longer or going back to work. How can we design our lives so that we can truly focus on what matters and be present? This does not mean just the time freedom to do so but also the emotional health and mindful capacity to do so. Time freedom can be achieved through frugality, humility, and creativity with your resources. Emotional health and mindfulness through insight, practice, and self-care.
Invitation: What truly matters to you? Is your life in alignment with these values? If not, what are some changes you can make to achieve alignment? What will you need to add or subtract from your life? What can you do today to move in this direction?
There is a wonderful story that my parents used to read to me during Hannukah called "Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins". This story has always stuck with me every time I think about finances and how you can't have "everything." It is actually just one element of the story that has stuck with me. The basic story is that Hershel needs to outsmart these Goblins that don't want him to light Hannukah candles. He figures out various ways to outsmart them each night of Hannukah but it's the second night that has always stuck with me. A greedy Goblin comes and wants to stop him from lighting the Hannukah candles. The greedy Goblin sees a jar of pickles and puts his hand in and grabs a handful. He tries to get his hand out with the pickles and he can't because his hand plus all the pickles it's holding won't fit through the jar opening. He isn't smart enough to figure that out so his hand remains stuck. He doesn't realize if he just lets go of one or two pickles, he could release his hand and have some pickles. At many points in my life, I have recalled this story and realized that I needed to let go of some pickles in order to be free. Many of us have our hands stuck in a pickle jar (debt, expensive purchases, etc) and we are unable to step back and notice that we could free ourselves. Maybe our lives would look more humble and unconventional, our careers might be less flashy, and our kids might wear hand-me-downs. But what we might receive in exchange for letting go of some pickles is beyond measure, beyond comparison. What we could gain is freedom. Freedom that we can spend with our families, our little babies, freedom to be present for these fleeting hours, days, years.