Bigi Lui
2021-01-16 ⋅ 8 min read

Money doesn't always help you stop doing things you don't want to do; some things you don't want to do are still worth doing

That title was a mouthful, but I can't think of a better catchy title to encompass all of that.

I grew up in lower-middle class, so money was always sort of an ongoing issue. I was fortunate enough to become a software engineer after I graduated from college. Being frugal and making engineering salaries mean I was able to save up. What comes with money is a mindset of feeling like money should be able to solve most of your problems. (I'm sure that growing up with a backdrop where the lack of money always being a source of problems, has something to do with that too)

This rings especially true for things you have to do but don't like doing. If you live in a house with a yard and don't like mowing the lawn, you can hire a landscaper to do it - spending money to avoid doing what you don't want to.

Stretch that example a bit more - if you don't like taking the train (good chance of that if you live in the bay area and have to take Bart), you can drive into the city and pay for bridge toll and parking. If you really don't want to commute anymore, you can save up enough and take a pay cut and apply/interview/land a remote engineering role (this was a stronger point before COVID and most tech companies moving to remote anyway).

For more than a decade, this mindset gradually crept more and more into my head and I was very used to this mode of operation. Don't like doing something? Slowly work toward solving it with money / not having to do it anymore. Until I have a kid.

Let me be brutally honest here. I absolutely love my daughter. A lot. That doesn't mean there aren't things I also absolutely loathe doing in terms of parenting. For example, I think it would be fair to say that no one is a fan of changing poopy diapers.

I try to do as much of the toddler care work as I can: on weekday evenings, weekends, and most mornings. Because my wife is a hero and can take care of our 2-year-old every weekday during the day (especially in these COVID / shelter-in-place times where it's even harder), it means I try to take up as much of the routine grunt work of parenting as possible outside those hours where I have to work. As an example, bath time is around 5pm, so I try to do that every day since I'd be off work already. (I work from home, so no commute.)

There are days when I'm exhausted as I log off work at 5. Bath time for the kid would be among the bottom of the list of things I want to do at this time (with the top of the list being sitting on the couch doing nothing - even watching TV or playing games would be too much work in that state of mind). Parents with a 2-year-old know that bath time is not just bathing. It starts from helping them pick out clothes (which is an endeavor on its own, as they cycle through and reject options and just generally be indecisive), them refusing to take off their dirty clothes for whatever reason they feel like that day, to waiting for them to play with water or toys after bathing/showering, wiping them dry, putting back on diaper and clothes, putting on lotion, hair drying and combing. It's this whole exercise that takes 30–45 minutes (depending on luck that day) where you (as the parent) are expending physical energy the entire time. (If you're not a parent, you might ask why. Let's take putting on their clothes as an example. A toddler doesn't just stand there in silence letting you put on their clothes. On top of the constant talking, they'll be doing everything but letting you put on clothes. They'll try to play with other things, dance, explore, and generally struggle against you. All you're trying to do is put on their clothes as quickly as possible like an adult would put on their own clothes. All they're trying to do is everything except putting on those clothes.)

Trust me when I say I've thought countless times about "solving this problem with money". It's not even complicated! Hire an in-home nanny, and pretty much all your problems are solved, right? They handle everything from feeding to bath time. All you do then is play with the kid whenever you want for a little bit (and go away whenever you have to/want to; pass them right along to your nanny to handle).

But think again, do you really want to do that?

Something in particular that struck me in a moment of clarity was seeing a friend's Facebook post. The person shared that their child wrote something for school, for what the child was thankful of mommy for. The child wrote, "I'm thankful of mommy for helping me put on lotion every day."

It was a perspective changer for me. To a toddler, play time might be fun, but it's not where the most important bonding happens. What gives them the true, deep bonding is the everyday routines you're doing with them. At 2 years old, bathing with them every day is one of the things they remember the most of doing with you. Sure, playing puzzles or reading with them is nice too. But bath time is such an intimate experience for them and such a memorable time that toys and playing don't compare.

When you think about it, it's not unlike grown-ups building friendships and working relationships. Relationships are not about any specific one-time event but all the little things you do together every day; whether we're talking about friends or coworkers. Parenting is really the same.

With this perspective in mind, it really makes no sense to hire a nanny to "solve the problem", no matter how rich you might be. As long as you have the time and freedom to do so, you really should spend the time and effort to do the boring routine work with your child. Yes, it's not intellectually stimulating, and it's hard grunt work. Your child will remember you for it. Think about it, do you want your child to feel closer to your nanny than they do to you?