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ER with small children
Old 12-11-2009, 07:25 AM   #1
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ER with small children

I'm curious about the non-financial considerations of retiring early with very small children. I'll almost certainly retire while my son is still quite young. Probably before he's even in kindergarten.

I sometimes worry about what life lessons he may derive (or miss) from the experience. Should I worry about what example I'm setting about work ethic? Or about what he sees as 'normal'?

I can certainly see loads of benefits of having time to spend with him while he's young, but I do worry about unintended consequences.

I'd be interested to hear others' experiences or comments.
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Old 12-11-2009, 07:27 AM   #2
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I wouldn't worry about that. The fact that you will have so much time to be involved in his life will more than offset any concerns you may have over the work ethic argument. You can actually use it as an example of how you don't have to work all your life if you live your life the right way.
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Old 12-11-2009, 08:28 AM   #3
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I retired with 4 small children 8 years ago, and I struggled with the same thing. I actually DO think it is a big concern, children learn by watching...its all well and good to tell them you worked very hard and now you don't have to anymore, but chances are they will remember seeing you NOT work a lot better than they remeber WHY you don't work. I struggled with this for a long time, and still wonder if I made the right decision with the example I am setting. On the other hand, I wouldn't trade having been home with them everyday of their lives for anything.

I do a lot of volunteer "work" now, and I think that helps.
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Old 12-11-2009, 09:06 AM   #4
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I wouldn't worry about that. The fact that you will have so much time to be involved in his life will more than offset any concerns you may have over the work ethic argument. You can actually use it as an example of how you don't have to work all your life if you live your life the right way.
Yes, but the little darlings grow up and new issues crop up. I've had a couple of situations recently that illustrate what OP is asking about.

Youngest son (17, but was 11-12 when I stopped working) has been struggling a bit with AP Chemistry and has developed a bit of a negative attitude about it. Like his older brother he's very intelligent, which is good, and he's always done well in school just because he's darn smart. But that last part has bitten both of them on the backside when they face a academic challenge that they can't overcome with just good looks and natural intelligence. He's frustrated that past patterns of behavior (go to class, do the homework and be done) aren't earning him the straight A's he has always had in the past.

So, I've been dealing with a teenager who thinks, "it's the teacher's fault, she just doesn't know how to teach the subject so that I can understand it." Which I've been countering with, "No, it's just that you're not putting in the amount of study time, over and above what's assigned as homework, to improve your performance."

Two recent conversations, one just the night before last, made me realize that he just doesn't remember Dad as the guy who worked his tail off to be a success at w*rk.

In the first conversation I was talking about the challenge of overcoming the situation; he surmised that if I were facing the same challenge I would be just as frustrated as he, and would want to quit as well. He was genuinely surprised at my answer. "Quit? Are you kidding me? I would rather die than quit anything. No, it would be like my mission in life to kick that class's butt." I didn't really think much about it then, I guess I just figured that the kid must be a little dense to not realize that his dad was a type-A, over-achieving, uber-competitive workaholic.

And then, a couple of nights ago, he asked, "Did you ever have to bring work home?" My jaw actually dropped and I almost asked him if he were on drugs. But then it dawned on me, he just doesn't remember.

For me, this is a timely thread, because I'm pondering the issue today.
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Old 12-11-2009, 09:35 AM   #5
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Good perspective. To be honest, I also worry about what his perception of me will be. All my life I've been a type A person, graduating college early, getting a good job, advancing rapidly in my career, traveling the world including multi-year ex-pat assignments.

And my son will know me as a guy who reads a lot and plays the piano every day...

Not that there's anything wrong with that. And I know many people have qualms about retiring because of the extent to which identity is tied to profession, especially for men. I think its just magnified 100 times if you have small children that didn't know the previous 'you'.
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Old 12-11-2009, 03:58 PM   #6
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Kids are smart. I don't think you will have any problems. He will think of you as someone who worked hard so you can spend lots of time with the family as soon as you could.
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Old 12-11-2009, 04:54 PM   #7
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Two years into ESR we have handled it with our two kids by letting them see us work since we work from home most of the time. They do not know for sure how many hours we work while we are in school so the perceptions we are working hard but have a lot of schedule freedom also.

TIME WILL TELL IF THIS WORKS. we usually knock off once their home work is done for family time and of course we make all school and extracurricular events even during the daytime as well. We certainly like and they seem to also. No one complained on our 42 day RV West trip this summer!
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Old 12-11-2009, 10:27 PM   #8
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I ER'ed 3-1/2 years ago with three daughters in grades 7 to 12, and I worried about this a lot. It seems to be working OK so far. Our implicit family expectations and their whole school experience points them toward getting into a good college, and they have all worked hard on that. Two are already there, and the youngest is doing fine. But we still have the school-to-work transition to get through, and that concerns me. They are all likely to be liberal-arts majors with no obvious professional path but that doesn't really have anything to do with my ER.
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Old 12-12-2009, 01:41 AM   #9
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What about this perspective:

Did you take your kids to work with you?
If not, they didn't SEE you work. They heard you talk about work. That's not the same thing.

I learned about work, about work ethic and about going for what you want not from my parent's work experiences (which seemed very removed from my childhood life and concerns) but from the shared and common work experiences at our home, school and community life. Things like my Dad sitting down at the dinner table with us to do homework (he was in grad school while I was in high school) even when his favorite TV program was on, or my Mom heading out the door on a cold and wet day to help at a local non-profit because she committed to going. I learned discipline from watching my parents keep to a grocery budget or clothing budget as we shopped together, not because they said they did.

If retiring early to you means that you're going to be sitting on the couch watching soaps or ESPN and slamming back cold ones every day, yes, maybe you should be concerned. But if you are intending to dig into the business of life and your family's life in particular, and you plan on taking your kids along for the ride, I think you and your kids will be just fine.
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Old 12-12-2009, 01:12 PM   #10
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I picked the boy up from school yesterday and he was in a great mood - the chem test that had him freaking turned out to be a breeze. It was a perfect opportunity to explore the subject so I took him to the wing shack for a snack and some dad time.

He said that he had a conversation at lunch with another guy about having a work ethic. Not an unusual subject for conversation at his school, it's in the top 3 public high schools in the metro area and the kind of place where parents jump through all kind of hoops to get their kids in the attendance zone. Most of them are obsessed with academic achievement and 97% of each class goes on to college. The kind of place that has 45+ national merit scholars every year.

So I asked him about this conversation he had, and he said that he had concluded that he didn't think he would be as good as some of the other students because he wasn't as obsessed about academic achievement. (To be honest, that's a good thing, some of those kids have had no life outside of studies since elementary school. They are freaks.) But, he said he knew he that he came into high school as a straight A student who never had to work very hard, and when that concept was challenged he had not met the challenge very well. He concluded that he knew he had to develop a better work ethic and raise his level of effort, but it was clear that he was a little unsure about exactly how to go about that. He wasn't sure how to turn a desire to perform better into something concrete and measurable.

When we got home we talked about setting realistic and measurable goals, and then I let him loose to come up with some of his own. I successfully resisted his efforts get me to just give him some goals, but I did steer him on how to turn, "I want to have a good GPA" into "I want to have a X.X GPA for the Spring Semester".

The other goal he came up with still needs some work (or at least I think it does). He came up with something along the lines of "I want to win every sparring match". I felt it was unrealistic and reminded him that his brother had been ranked 4th internationally a few years ago, but still got his butt kicked regularly by 4th and 5th degree black belts in training. He kind of modified that into something along the lines of winning a gold medal for sparring in at least 1 national tournament next year.

I brought up the subject of this thread and asked him what he remembered about me w*rking. There wasn't much that he remembered. When I asked him a few questions to see if I could jog his memory he said he didn't remember any of it, but he knew about many things and he brought up some specifics. It seems that he made me the subject of a paper he wrote earlier in the year about people working to achieve goals and be successful. He interviewed his mom and his brother and collected their recollections. "I don't remember much of it at all, but I know some of the details about how hard you worked to get promoted and collect all of those commendations and awards you got."

After reading some of the responses here, and helping him create some of his own goals, I've decided that I need to do a better job of modeling the right behaviors. There is a goal I want to accomplish next year that's going to require a lot of work, and it's something he could be involved with and help me accomplish. During the Christmas break from school I think I'm going to ask for his help.
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Old 12-12-2009, 01:38 PM   #11
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I cannot imagine a better time to ER. I greatly miss the time when my kids were small and you only get so many years to spend with them before they grow up. I'm sorry I spent so much of that time working and wish I could have spent more of those hours enjoying life with them. Sieze the day.
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Old 12-13-2009, 06:07 PM   #12
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As I prepare to retire with kids in grades 4-11, I'm more worried about my kids remembering me as off working all the time rather than not demonstrating a good work ethic. Reading the above gives me a lot of hope that my overdoing it on work at the expense of family time will be forgotten fairly quickly, especially by the younger ones. I can't wait to have the problem of my kids wondering "why is dad hanging around us all the time instead of off earning a living"...
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Old 12-13-2009, 06:56 PM   #13
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This is a good thread.

I'll be dealing with this issue when I ER at the end of 2013 with children aged 8 and 10.

If/when the issue comes up, i'm intending to explain that I worked very long hours so that I could retire early. Both my wife (before she quit last month) and myself have taken the kids to our offices to see where we work, but i doubt if they will remember that.
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Old 12-14-2009, 10:36 AM   #14
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I'm in a similar position - kids will both likely be in middle school (maybe just finishing elementary school) when ER time rolls around. It isn't too big of a deal, since I think they will be dealing with the typical pre-teen/teen angst issues and probably won't notice me loafing all day.

I try to be honest and open with them now. They are 3 and 4 respectively, and already have a concept of "work" and "money". They know work=money=buy stuff we need from walmart. They see that Mommy and Daddy sacrifice every weekday by leaving them and going to work. They understand that we are all together on the weekends to spend time with each other, have fun, etc. When you hear things like "I wish you didn't have to go to work today, Daddy. I miss you." I think that is a sign that they would prefer you to spend time with them versus abandon them for 40+ hours a week.

Those sentiments may change by the time they are pre-teens or teenagers though!

I think as long as you give them a realistic picture of the way the world works, and be honest with them, they will understand that you once worked for your money, you made smart money decisions, and now have a lot of freedom that others do not have. One who FIRE's at a relatively early age can be a role model that not a lot of children will have.

The question really dives into deeper issues like what do want to get out of life? What do you want your kids to get out of life? Is a job, a career, and money intrinsically valuable or instrumentally valuable? Does one have to be highly successful at one's career to lead a fulfilling life?

I'm personally looking forward to spending more time with them when they are children before they grow up and leave the nest. I'd like to think that spending more time with them can make them better children and grow up to be better, more well rounded adults. Maybe give them a little perspective and a jump start on figuring out "life".
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Old 12-17-2009, 07:24 PM   #15
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Your child is younger than mine, but I have faced the same situation. I FIREd at age 45 with 14 and 15 year old children. I worried about the same thing.

The jury is still out. Before I stopped going to the office every day, I was not working 100% of the time, and we traveled quite a bit. Now, I spend a few hours in my home office every morning (there when they leave for school). I spend the rest of the day exercising, doing stuff around the house, and doing volunteer work.

I don't know how they are processing this. In general, they seem to take life a little more easily than I did at their age, but then I did not have the advantages they do.

I make sure they are involved in service work. One has founded a charity that this year (2nd year) served over 600 families in our surrounding area. The other does more sporadic physical work since he is not as organized. But they both like it. My wife is very involved in philanthropic/service work. The kids are also at least aware that we give a fair amount in contributions in addition to our time.

Maybe my take-away from this is that while they don't see me/us busting our humps at work, they see us doing other things to make a difference. Different goal/result, but not a bad thing. In 20 years, if both were doing something that made them happy and/or doing something to benefit others, I would be pleased.

Our lifestyle has not changed, other than constraining the growth rate in spending because it seems the sensible thing to do. This raises another issue, which is how they deal with friends whose fathers are losing jobs, houses foreclosed, etc.

I think the bottom line is you won't know until well down the road an you have to make the decision that seems right for you.
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Old 12-20-2009, 07:44 AM   #16
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After reading some of the responses here, and helping him create some of his own goals, I've decided that I need to do a better job of modeling the right behaviors. There is a goal I want to accomplish next year that's going to require a lot of work, and it's something he could be involved with and help me accomplish. During the Christmas break from school I think I'm going to ask for his help.

I think that's a great idea. Even if your kid knows on an intellectual level that you were a hard working dilligent person in order to ER, I'd still be concerned about what habits he may pick up (or not pick up) day to day. After all, even kids with poor role models at home know at some level that hard work is the best route to success, but still they are likely at risk for picking up bad habits, or never forming good ones.
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Old 12-20-2009, 07:45 AM   #17
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I cannot imagine a better time to ER. I greatly miss the time when my kids were small and you only get so many years to spend with them before they grow up. I'm sorry I spent so much of that time working and wish I could have spent more of those hours enjoying life with them. Sieze the day.

I don't doubt that for a second, I am certain we'll have a better relationship because of it. I'm just worried about unintended consequences....
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Old 12-20-2009, 07:48 AM   #18
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I think the bottom line is you won't know until well down the road an you have to make the decision that seems right for you.

Yeah, and I'm sure not going to postpone retirement just in order to make an impression on my son. Especially since I got such a late start - my son was born when I was 40.

I think I just need to make sure he sees me engaged in productive and goal oriented activities of some sort.
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Old 12-21-2009, 04:22 PM   #19
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I'm starting to spend more time working from home in preparation for retiring next year - I was basically always away from home except weekends. So I stayed home last week. Thursday morning, as I was sitting in the kitchen before school, my 16 year old comes in and asks "are you going to hang around all week?" My wife thought it was hilarious - she's the one who pushed me to retire. It's a great change from my wife harassing me about being away too much - 2 stories she loves to tell...she asks my youngest, maybe 4 at the time, "guess who's coming to visit?" His reply, all excited, "Dad?" The second example - the same little darling asks my wife after I've been traveling for a couple weeks, "mom, is daddy dead?". Really makes you feel like a great father.

So for me, at this time anyway, worries about how my kids view my work ethic after ERing are not a priority.
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Old 12-21-2009, 05:10 PM   #20
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Hear you, Xman. I have been stuck starting to travel for work lately and it kills me to hear the tear-streaked "I miss you, Daddy.". Glad you are getting some of your time back.
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