How Parents Can Fill The Void Once Kids Go To School Full-Time

When my kids were born, I made a promise to be a stay-at-home father for the first five years of each of their lives.

Mission accomplished with my son in April 2022. But there’s still some time to go before my daughter starts full-time school in Fall 2024 and turns five. Anticipating the completion of this step, I’m wondering how I will fill the void once both kids are in school full time. The more you dedicate to someone or some thing, the more empty you will feel once it’s gone.

I decided on five years of stay-at-home fatherhood because all the experts said the first five years are the most important developmental years in a child’s life. I figured, if I put in the hours, I would decrease the chances of them hating my guts or not wanting to have anything to do with me when they are older.

The funny sad thing is, kids don’t remember much before age three. So as a parent, you’re often left wondering whether devoting so much time to raising your young children is worth it.

Biology Helps Parents Earn And Care For Children 

I’ve often wondered whether the lack of memory during a child’s first three years is an evolutionary design so that one or both parents can be fully absent to earn money and reduce childhood trauma, if necessary.

For example, let’s say a dad is shipped overseas to fight a war for two years. When the dad returns, thanks to no memory, the toddler and dad can still form a tight bond. 

To ensure the survival of our species, usually one or both parents must work full time. Therefore, for the full-time working parent(s), the lack of childhood memory during the first three years encourages parents to earn without sacrificing too much family connection.

Kids don’t say “thank you” unprompted or appreciate your efforts much at all before age three. So having a full-time job helps ensure the survival of the family.

But given I was already jobless when my son and daughter were born, I figured why not just continue to stay jobless for the entire first five years. Having children gave my fake retirement more meaning!

If I had already had a full-time job, it would have been much more difficult decision to be a stay-at-home parent. Giving up something you’re used to is harder than giving up something you never had.

Exploring The Mundane Life

About two or three times a week I play tennis or pickleball during the weekdays. And every time I go to my club or a public park, I usually see the same people. Of the parents with grade school children, ~75% of the players are moms while the rest are dads. Most are retirees, but some have flexible schedules or are unemployed.

The thing is, these parents play tennis or pickleball almost every day for hours. And after they get done, which is usually by 12:30 pm, they go and get lunch with their fellow stay-at-home parents. After a shower and a nap, they’ll then pick up their kids from school and shuttle them to after school activities. 

Not a bad life! Maybe I just bore easily, but I can’t see myself playing pickleball every day, brunching, napping, and then shuttling for the rest of my life once both kids are in school full-time.

First, my hips and shoulders couldn’t take all the movement. I need at least a day to rest. Second, after a month, I would start asking whether this was all there is to life.

Need Purpose And Fulfillment

Playing all day is not fulfilling. I’d rather have some balance and do something productive for society at least part time. This feeling of unworthiness is one of the reasons why it’s dangerous to give our children everything. We’d rather feel like we’ve earned what we’ve got.

Although, I have talked to several parents who have inherited tons of money and don’t work at all. They either manage their family’s foundation, do some angel investing, or have trust funds jobs to keep the illusion of purpose alive. Apparently, they are doing enough to feel fulfilled. 

Anticipating The Future Emptiness

Some of you might be scratching your head. Isn’t writing on Financial Samurai, recording podcasting, and writing books enough to feel purposeful? To some, each activity may seem like a full-time job. 

Unfortunately, doing just these activities is not enough. I used to regularly work 60+ hours in banking for 13 years. After 14 years, writing on Financial Samurai is like taking a warm shower.

Podcasting is more exciting since I figured out how to use the interviewing software. However, it doesn’t completely fulfill the in-person camaraderie I desire. Plus there are all these technical problems and editing work to do.

Meanwhile, writing books is a lonely endeavor. The end product feels wonderful after two-plus years of hard work each. However, writing a book is like an extension of writing on Financial Samurai. 

With two more days of free time starting in Fall 2024, I anticipate the need to fill a void. Writing and recording more is not the solution because I’ve found a happy cadence. Any more and then I’ll start disliking Financial Samurai. Once the dislike begins, it’s only a matter of time before I quit.

What Do Parents Do All Day Once Their Kids Go To School Full Time?

To answer this question, I asked folks on Twitter. Here is a reasonable answer from @MicheleDahl:

I was a stay at home mom. My daytimes were spent cooking/planning 2-3 meals a day, cleaning, doing laundry, gardening, basic house maintenance (like plumbing), doing the shopping, paying bills, writing budgets, planning vacations, working out, dropping off/picking up.

— Michele Dahl (@chelebeee) November 5, 2023

This is definitely a lot of work and something my wife and I have been doing as well. However, I just don’t think I’ll feel happy if I just keep on doing these activities until both kids go to college. There has to be more. 

Then a reader named Steve Diamond replied,

I work out. I meditate. I read. I clean the house, buy the food, cook the food, clean up after meals, pay the bills, pay the taxes, manage the finances, shuttle my kid to school sports, volunteer….

How does ‘anyone’ find time to play tennis and have brunch?


— Steve Diamond (@SteveDiamondCo) November 6, 2023

Again, a solid answer that keeps a father busy. However, I find most of these activities to be default activities we must do regardless whether we have kids or not or whether we have kids in school or not. 

I do every one of these things. I’ll happily welcome the day when I no longer have to shuttle my kids everywhere. And yes, managing the family’s finances can feel like a full-time job. 

But I don’t think I’ll feel fulfilled if my main purpose is to “chop wood” and just “keep the trains running.” Eventually, I will selfishly start asking what about me?

Another great answer I’ve received from parents who don’t work is that they volunteer at school and other organizations. That’s a great idea. However, volunteer opportunities are at most one or two days a month.

For Parents Not OK Being Stay-At-Home Parents

Every parent is different. Some are absolutely OK with continuing being a stay-at-home parent despite their kids being in school for 40 hours a week. Brunch after tennis every day, hooray! More power to you. 

But let’s discuss one solution for parents who:

Consulting Part-Time Is The Solution To Fill The Void

Consulting is the best balance for feeling like a productive parent while also having enough time to do the daily chores and to “keep the trains running.” Our main job as parents is to ensure our kids are safe, loved, and cared for. And a large part of being cared for is to earn money. 

Working 40 hours a week or longer is an artificial construct. The ideal number of hours a week devoted to consulting should fit into the window of time our kids are in school plus commuting hours.

School usually runs between 8:30 am until 5 pm at the latest. Therefore, the optimal number of consulting hours is usually between 9 am until 4:30 pm, depending on the commute. 7.5 hours a consulting a day equals 37.5 hours a day. 

But consulting for 37.5 hours a week plus doing all the cooking, cleaning, shuttling, and financial managing may be overwhelming. Hence, I suggest 15-24 hours a week as the ideal number of consulting hours.

Consulting Addresses The Need To Earn

As a man, I have struggled with not having a day job since my kids were born. I’m sure there are plenty of mothers who feel unsettled not working after childbirth too.

At times I felt feelings of shame, unworthiness, and even embarrassment at times when I didn’t have a day job. Instead of playing tennis during the weekday, I could have used that time to earn and provide for my family. These feelings are magnified in new social settings when other dads ask what I do for work or share what they do.

It was only after publishing Buy This Not That in 2022 that I felt I had an occupation I would be proud of sharing. After all, being a writer is an ancient occupation that commands a certain amount of respect.

If you don’t have any way to make money at home while being a parent, consulting part-time fulfills any urge to earn and feel like a productive parent. The income you earn will feel great because it is specific contribution you can point to.

When our work as parents hasn’t been generating income, it feels wonderful to have something tangible again. Do not underestimate the power of receiving a steady stream of active income

Consulting Solves The Desire For Camaraderie

One of the most cited negatives of early retirement is the loss of camaraderie. After years or decades of interacting with your colleagues, it feels jolting to suddenly not see them anymore.

Sometimes, this lack of camaraderie can lead to loneliness and depression if you have nobody else to fill the void. 

I miss flying to conferences, bonding with clients over social events, and working with my favorite colleagues on a stretch goal. I don’t miss working with micromanagers, under-the-bus throwers, and unreasonable clients. But when you work full-time, this is often part of the job.

With consulting, you have more flexibility to pick and choose who you work for, how long you work, and what activities you participate in. If you don’t like something about a consulting client, you have more flexibility to change. As a consultant, you may have the flexibility to go into the office as little or as much as you want to boost connectivity. Heck, you might even get to go to the company holiday party.

Consulting Gives You More Purpose

Once you’re able to earn and spend more time with people you respect, consulting gives you a greater sense of purpose beyond just making money.

Ideally, you consult for a company that pays you well and has a great mission. For example, maybe your child has a visual disability. If you could consult for a company that makes products to help those with visual disabilities see better, you would feel a tremendous sense of purpose. 

Consulting Lessens The Guilt Of Not Doing More Parenting

Parental guilt is something most parents struggle with to some degree. It’s the constant battle between working, pursuing your passions, hanging out with friends, and taking care of your kids.

We all know we should be spending more time with our kids. Yet we can’t help but want to do other things to keep our sanity. Taking care of kids full-time is harder than even the most stressful banking job.

With part-time consulting, you lessen the guilt of not making money for your family. Part-time consulting also lessens the guilt of not doing more household chores or spending time with your children because you’re earning. Now you have an excuse for not washing the dishes, mopping the floors, or being at a play date.

In other words, you can use part-time consulting as a tool to effectively wrestle your demons. 

Taming A Restless Soul

Unfortunately or fortunately, I have a hard time doing little. I’m the one who worked overtime for 13 years after college to get to FIRE. As a result, it’s been hard to downshift to a more leisurely lifestyle.

Over the years, most of the people I’ve met who retired early, also have a difficult time doing less as well. And if their wives work, some feel shame they aren’t working in some capacity too. 

We heard this from Colin, a man who is married to a wife who earns $1 million a year and does not seem fulfilled. He worked in strategy consulting for years, lives in a nice house, drives a sports car, golf’s frequently, and has plenty of time. Yet, he longs to do something more.

I mentioned that I’m giving up on early retirement partly because I will meet my goal of being a stay-at-home dad for five years for each of my children’s lives in 2024. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had and I’m sure there will be plenty more parental challenges in the future. 

However, now it’s my turn to focus on what I want while also supporting the family. Looking for a part-time consulting gig might just be the perfect solution to fill the impending void.

How Much You Have To Earn As A Consultant Or Entrepreneur To Replicate Your Day Job Income

Why It’s so Hard To Stay Retired Once You’ve Retired Early

Reader Questions On How To Fill The Void

If you are a parent without a day job, what are some of the things you do while your kids are in school?

What are your thoughts on part-time consulting as the solution for parents with children who attend school full-time?

Besides pursuing a hobby, what other activities help give your life meaning and purpose once there’s a big time hole to fill?

If You Want To Be A Part-Time Consultant

If you want to leave your job and consult part-time instead for more freedom, I’d try and negotiate a severance instead of quit. Pick up a copy of How To Engineer Your Layoff to learn how to get a severance package.

The book is in its 6th edition and is the resource to help you break free from a job you dislike with money in your pocket. Use the promo code “savefive” at checkout to save $5.

How to engineer your layoff - learn how to negotiate a severance package and be free

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