Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kids are startups

I just got back from being out of town and discovered that a one-line comment I posted on hacker news two weeks ago ignited a firestorm of debate. The comment was in response to another comment, which was posted in response to a story about Google's recent difficulties with day care:

As the parent of a 2 month old, it's a difficult question we're facing right now. Who? How? When? Should my wife, with a doctorate in biochemistry, abandon her career completely and stay home? Should I? I'm not enthusiastic about those options. Should we hire someone? Not wild about that either. I think the best would be to kind of try and switch off, but it's going to require a lot of flexibility, and perhaps earning less money. The second is probably ok, depending on wherever it is we settle, the second may not be forthcoming from many employers. Sigh...

To which I replied:

With all due respect, did it never occur to you to get this all figured out BEFORE you had kids?

Various people took umbrage:

I hope you must be 21 or something. Maybe when you have kids, you will understand the difficulty of raising them, while trying to have some kind of career.

and (from the person I was responding to):

Wow, I don't think I've ever been so offended by something on this site. Your implication that I haven't thought about the future of my daughter is... something I hope you never say to any other parent.

We've done our best to think about the future, but it's unknowable.


Do you have any kids? Do you realize how unpredictable it is to plan things for your child, for example, how sick the child is going to be, or how well-tempered?

So for the record, I am not 21. I am in my mid-forties, married, with no kids. But that does not mean that I do not know how hard it is to raise kids. In fact, it is because my wife and I know all too well how hard it is that we decided not to have any. Nowadays it's a choice.

And while you can't predict exactly, it's a good bet that sooner or later if you have kids they will get sick. They will throw temper tantrums. They will do all the things that kids do.

Kids are startups.

And I'm sorry the OP was offended. None of the questions you were asking came about as a result of unpredictable events. You knew before that no matter what someone would need to look after the kid and you'd need to put food on the table. If you are asking questions like, "Should my wife, with a doctorate in biochemistry, abandon her career completely and stay home? Should I?" then you have manifestly not thought enough about the future. These are questions that IMHO you should have answered BEFORE you took the plunge, so to speak. Maybe you'd need to change the plan in response to contingencies, but that's not what's happening here. You didn't have a plan before your started. If you did you would not be asking these questions.

Paul Graham wrote:

Here is the rational answer you seem to want. (a) This problem is so hard you can probably never solve it satisfactorily, and (b) you can't know what it's going to be like to have kids before you have them, or what your kids will be like. So however much thought you expend on the question before having kids, you're still going to be working on it afterward.

I'm surprised he didn't come up with the kids-as-startups analogy. It's really pretty good. In both cases there is a lot of unpredictability. But again, in both cases, that is no excuse for not having a plan before you start.


Jeffrey Hamby said...

You're absolutely right... before having children, the first question a couple should ask themselves is how they're going to actually raise them. And nobody in their right mind should be offended when you point out they obviously didn't do that.

I have 4 ranging from 11-18 now. It's been a wonderful, albeit difficult at times, experience. I have foregone higher income to stay put, and we're at a point where my better half is considering going back to work. That will actually be in a complete different career than she worked in previously, and that has been her choice.

The decisions we made were with considerable forethought. That said, nobody could predict a heart problem, injuries, out of state traveling for sports, etc... Those are the unpredictables that you can't plan for, and simply have to adjust to.

Unknown said...

Not having kids because of uncertainty?

...and who's going to defend Lisp? ;-)

or is this a case of "worst is better"?

Maybe you should check out this movie:

All the best, great blog, cool articles.