The Opportunity Cost of Children (Or Why Pubs Aren’t That Interesting Anymore)

A single, childless colleague of mine sneered derisively the other day and said: “Now that you have a baby, you’re locked mate. Everyday early starts, no more after work pub sessions or free weekends for you! I couldn’t live like that.”

The Opportunity Cost of Children (Or Why Pubs Aren’t That Interesting Anymore)

I felt a bit jilted at that barb of a statement and the pity it seemed to be dripping with. For a moment a younger version of me wanted to say “See you at the pub after work, then, I’ll show you!”

The thing is, I used to be that guy. Back in the day when I was childless, I used to urge my colleagues with kids to “Just have one…” after work. C’mon, just one. You know you want to. Your wife/husband will understand. Just one. Promise.

And we all know where that usually leads…

Now that the shoe was on the other foot, my older, wiser self buried that “I’ll show you” thought as I remembered: “He has no idea.”

Everything in life is about opportunity cost: the economic theory of calculating the consequences of pursuing one choice or course of action over another.

Opportunity Cost

Every decision you make in life – especially with children – has an opportunity cost.

Prior to having a baby, Claire and I would indeed often be out late most evenings, sleep in on weekends and let time slip by without stress. It seemed our biggest worry about having a baby was the thought of losing our lie-ins on the weekends.

But that was before the miracle of having our son. Now every day starts at 6:30am – 24/7/365. No exceptions. No refunds. It will be that way for at least another seven years. Claire and I often forget that we shouldn’t text childless friends before 11am on a weekend. Oops.

So what is our opportunity cost, really? What are we really giving up by having a baby?

But here’s the paradox; secretly a more focused life is what everyone really wants.

To be honest, having a baby is the best thing that could have happened to me on so many levels. Above all, I am more focused and driven than ever before. Every minute counts, there is no time to waste. And that means my productivity – at work and in life – has gone exponential.

You want something done fast and right, you ask a busy person. Or a parent. (Or a military person, to be fair.)

To be sure, one of many big trade off is missing after work drinks, nights out and not being able to go away for the weekend at a moment’s notice. But here’s the paradox; that’s only temporary, and secretly it’s actually what everyone really wants.

How many times have you heard (or made) the drunken new year’s resolutions to try harder next year, get up earlier, drink less, eat better, train harder, get more out of each day? Followed by “But tonight I’m going all out, [sip drink], then tomorrow to the gym at 6am!”

Then how many times has that not really happened? Repeat.

(I once had a friend who would put a bowl of raw oatmeal and a spoon on his kitchen table every Sunday evening after endless benders. It symbolised a healthy start Monday. A new leaf. A new day. A new him. They turned out to be the loneliest oats in the world.)

Having a baby will take care of all of that. It will make you into what you keep saying you want to be; a person with a mission and a focus. I laugh when I see books like “How to get up early in 30 days” and read articles about how the world’s leaders sleep four hours a night.

Amateurs.

For us, this is a default setting. Your body will level up. It will be ok.

One evening, however, I did ask Claire if I could go for drinks with my colleagues after work. It felt like I needed to re-connect with a scene I hadn’t been part of in awhile. A scene I used to lead. And maybe show that colleague I could still hang.

And…

And the scene was exactly how I had left it, almost frozen in time; all we did was talk shop. I spend all day at work with people, and outside of work they talk about… Work. Work dabbled with complaints about the wider world and other people getting in the way (clients and co-workers) of their progress.

All the old familiars were there; the false bravado, the dropping of inhibitions, the “Don’t tell anyone but…” statements that everyone would find out five minutes later, the inappropriate gestures and comments that suddenly slip out and – in the sober light of day – would normally remain repressed.

Animal Muppet

This is what my son looks like at bath time. Why would I want to miss this?

And all I could think about was how I was missing that huge smile light up my son’s face when I walk through the door, and my son splashing about like Animal from the Muppets in his bath. How could I possibly square a hangover with him? He doesn’t need beer to be happy, just me to play with him. Natural high.

“You listening mate?” suddenly broke me from that reverie. My colleague was still telling me I had no life in a noisy pub.

The thought dawned on me: whilst my son has a brain like a sponge, my colleague had a liver like a sponge, and a bank account on the decline for no apparent benefit other than temporary pub glory.

Then I realised that I didn’t actually need to be in the pub. I could get all the gossip, shop talk and horror stories the next day at work or on Facebook or Instant Message. And better yet, I didn’t have to be part of the furniture in these stories. That is such a win/win.

Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep so the clock could hit 6:30am the next day, when I would get 1.5 hours to watch the happiest baby in the world grow up and develop and find everything new, exciting and interesting before I went to work to hear the same old hum drum complaints that would later coalesce in the pub.

I stared back at my colleague and said: “Now that you have a pint, you’re locked mate. You have to buy a few rounds to make social convention, and you’ll have a hangover tomorrow. Your weekends are recovery time. I couldn’t live like that.”

Epilogue

A few nights later I changed my mind. Sometimes I like being a contrarian.

I went out to the pub with a bunch of NCT husbands (we gather every now and then as we all attended the same birthing classes and all now have brood with similar birthdays.) And the conversation was amazing; we talked about life, about plans, about dreams, about our children.

And that’s when I realised pubs weren’t the problem; it was the company that meant everything.

We laughed, we vented, we commiserated and co-celebrated. It was an amazing night. And that’s when I realised pubs weren’t the problem; it was the company that meant everything.

Call it what you will, but my appetite to drop £50 buying endless rounds in a pub has dried up. That’s £50 that my family could put to much better use.

Call it what you will, but I no longer quest for shop talk, unambitious banter and anything that doesn’t involve planning on making life an adventure each day, starting at dawn. The feeling of having a focus in life and a mission each day is such a high.

Call it what you will, but I call it opportunity cost.

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2 Comments

  • Daniel Lavallee says:

    You need a job where you can drink on the job…say…. bellman or room service in a swanky hotel. Imagine that… you could even catch up on sleep and get fed for free. I doubt this place exists though :^(

    • Allan Wills says:

      I hear there is such a place. But you have to start working nights, where the ghosts might get you!

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