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Why I Go Home: A Developer Dad's Manifesto (adamschepis.com)
229 points by aschepis on Sept 15, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments

This reminds me of this great article by Clayton Christensen to Harvard Business students about life balance: http://hbr.org/2010/07/how-will-you-measure-your-life/ar/1

Looking back over a short 7 year or so career I can't remember many projects where I can go: "Oh man, I'm so glad I spent all that time late at night on that project. It's really made a lasting difference in the world."

I'm sure there are some things that are worth spending a lot of overtime on; I'm sure there are ways to write software that will literally make a massive change in the way the world works. But most of the stuff that I see coming out of startups, most of the stuff that I've worked on in a wide variety of companies is stuff that ends up being rewritten soon, or changed or what have you.

One of my favorite CS professors was diagnosed with terminal cancer relatively early in life (late 50s, early 60s). He had another 10 or 15 years of teaching in him probably if he hadn't gotten sick. Towards the end of his fight with cancer, one of the other professors visited him and came back to us and said that he had been visiting the dying professor on a way to his daughter's flute recital. The dying professor looked at him when he mentioned the recital and said something like: "Good! More flute recitals! More ball games! Fewer papers! fewer conferences!"

I know that the time I spend away from work, particularly on my family -- my relationship with my spouse, with my kids -- ends up being the time that matters most in the long term.

Time is so fleeting, and so precious. It's criminal to stuck in cube for a large portion of that lifetime.

Every so often, stop, just stop and think about what's important. Best to do it now, rather than regret later.

If i could upvote this comment 100 times, i would. I've seen that comment before, but had forgotten about it. It sums things up much more eloquently than I can.

As my father used to put it "No-one ever died thinking 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office'".

Just remember to ask yourself when you're out of hours in the day and still have work to do and family to be with: "What matters most?" http://youtu.be/l70e1TfN34w

Totally agree with all these points. Ever since my first daughter was born I made a similar decision but I still work less hours than you do. I end up working around 40 hours a week and have never felt compelled to work any more. I will work after the kids go to bed particularly when my wife goes to bed and I don't feel like reading for whatever reason.

My first obligation on this Earth is to my family and part of that means not being gone all the time at work. I do that for the kids but also for my wife. Raising kids is hard work and she needs my help particularly at the end of the day. This changes a little when the kids are older and are less physically demanding I guess but when you have small kids you really need to take your wife's feelings into account when deciding how much to work. She really needs to feel respected and honored in the decision and part of that comes from making sure she is in total agreement with the final decision.

Also if you're any good at programming companies are so desperate to hire you that they will accept pretty much whatever schedule within reason you want. You might not be the absolute favorite employee of management but if you're good people will respect you and your contribution.

> My first obligation on this Earth is to my family

No disrespect but to what was your first obligation before you had a wife and kids?

I'm always tempted to interpret this kind of statement one of two ways: either your life before your family was so miserably empty that it gave you a purpose (nothing wrong with that) or you're borderline schizophrenic that you can fool yourself (or worse, truly believe) that your personality suddenly morphed and you're now a different individual who will be just as content with a lifestyle radically different from what he ever had, obligations as well as satisfactions that cannot be possibly imagined until you actually cross that line and have kids.

I personally have a hard time believing people can change that much...

> No disrespect but to what was your first obligation before you had a wife and kids

Obviously something else... ?

Life has a way of changing whether you want it to or not. So, maybe whatever was #1 got bumped down to #2. That doesn't mean that their life was meaning-less and empty before having a family. Nor does it mean that their lives really had to change all that much with a family.

I don't understand the false dichotomy here.

This is exactly it.

You don't prioritise your life around things that aren't relevant to you - to have your number 1 priority as kids when you don't have kids clearly makes no sense.

It's like suggesting that someone who gets a new hobby had an empty life before that hobby. Nope, they just filled it with different things. When something they wanted to do more came along, everything else got shuffled about a bit.

> I personally have a hard time believing people can change that much...

On the day my kids were born, I felt my priorities and what was important actually change. Things that I had emphasized as important before they were born became entirely unimportant. Literally, felt it.

But here's the thing: call it schizophrenia or miserable emptiness or whatever label you'd like to assign, I don't care. I care about my kids more than things I did before I was a father, and the third-person observation that tries to impart some logic that doesn't include my perspective is, well, wrong. No fooling was involved, no tricking myself into believing anything. It just happened.

From observing other people (I consider myself to be the least important person on the planet): It is usually the self that matters the most until you become part of a family. At that point:

Some people mature into people who put their family first.

A lot more people mature into people who put their family last.

The latter never achieve inner happiness.

Reminds me of:


From which comes one of my favorite lines about business ever:

"You will be forced to choose between work and family - and there’s only one right answer."

> When you work crazy hours you yo-yo between 20 hour days and 8 hour days that really only have a few hours of productivity (or none at all!)

This would not have made any sense to me until I had actually spent three months working 12-18 hour days (+ Saturdays). Yay for salespeople selling things the company doesn't actually make! It's a really stupid feeling to spend 12 hours staring at your keyboard, getting almost nothing done, and knowing you're going to come back and do the same thing tomorrow.

and honestly, you probably could have done the job better and faster if you had done 8-10 hours (or less) per day and had enough time to mow your lawn, pay your bills, unwind, etc.

No question about it. Repetitive long hours are deleterious to critical and creative thinking abilities. It always makes me think twice when I see stories about game dev / wall st / startup developers working insane hours. I think the story is better than the reality.

Death marches and late nights take a lot out of you

Death marches seem to happen far less often (in my experience) when I'm releasing early and releasing often.

If the system automatically tests and ships out every incremental change multiple times daily, you don't have the crazy weeks before/after big releases as there are no big releases. Shipping new code is a normal part of every day and I get to go home to hang out with my kids on time.

A bad week or tricky release isn't a death march, and I congratulate you on a career well managed if that's what you genuinely believe.

You are completely correct. I've been involved with bad weeks, tricky releases, death marches, pretty much every sort of dysfunctional software development clusterfuck you can imagine short of Duke Nukem Forever.

The point remains the same. My experience shows that committing to incrementalism in design/code/test/release improves quality of life as well as quality of product.

Sounds like he's made the right decision. It's important to have balance in your life. However, I don't want to hear him cry "ageism!" when that young kid that's doing 80hour weeks gets promoted ahead of him. It's important to make these kinds of sacrifices when you have a family, but you should also understand that they are your sacrifices.

Sounds like you're measuring input rather than output, an all too common failure of software development management. There's a rather good chance the experienced pro with a life is several more times efficient than the "young kid"; I certainly know that e.g. after 20+ years of programming my skill at debugging became almost frightening. Or after 15 years how low my error rate became and how good my designs were (best metric: accommodating totally unanticipated requirements).

You completely missed one of the points of the story:

By doing this I’ve actually discovered that I can be more productive when I get away from the code for a while

I wish more people in IT would realise that software isn't like digging ditches. Another hour of work, after a certain point, does not necessarily translate into an hour of productivity.

To be honest that makes the article a lot less interesting. So... you spend more time with your family _and_ you're more productive? Yay!

Glad you realise something subtle here. It's not so obvious.

I hope the guy working 80 hour weeks was not promoted into a management job. He doesn't sound particularly efficient.

efficiency = output / input

you can't measure efficiency by only looking at time spent. if the 80 hr a week guy produces twice as much as the 40 hour a week guy, their efficiency is the same. if the 80 hr a week guy produces 3 times as much, his efficiency is 50% higher

Software engineers aren't making widgets, and its hard to measure output quantitatively. I can assure you that your ability to make good decisions isn't as good after 18 hours of working as it is during the first 6. In engineering, good decision making can save you tons of time in the long run.

But the assumption that an the very same guy produces twice the amount in twice the amount can't obviously be true in any job that requires mental exertion.

I get what you're saying. Though more is not necessarily better, I have no doubt that someone with abilities similar to myself without a family could put in more effective hours and outperform me.

Like so many things in engineering, I have analyzed the situation and made the tradeoffs that i think provide the best solution to my particular situation.

That's exactly what I meant. The responses to my comment I mostly agree with. Diminshing returns are true, but businesses pay attention to total output, not per-hour output. To say a childless workaholic with no interruptions will somehow accomplish less in 80hours than a family man will in 40hours is just not accurate. If you were a woman complaining about a pay gap, people wouldn't hesitate to point this out.

It is a sacrifice, but I consider it the right one. That the choice costs something only shows how seriously we take it. I'm just trying to add some perspective for those with an odd definition of "fairness".

The arguments about mature programmers being more efficient with less time are a red herring. The point is, given this guy working 40 hours a week and an equally mature (presumably childless) programmer working say 70 hours a week, I'd go with the second one. It's just that there aren't a lot of the second to go around.

Its interesting that we've managed to build a society where people consider it normal that the most fundamental activity possible for maintaining that society requires potentially sacrificing position and status.

As a thought experiment, try explaining the above post to a 13th century feudal Lord.

From what I've read, feudal lords normally focused on affairs of state and carousing and let trusted servants tend to their heirs until they were ready to start learning their roles, while peasants mostly treated their kids as unpaid farmhands. Even a couple of generations ago people wrote of growing up with a distant parent and mostly spent time with other kids. Parenthood as the main focal point and time commitment for the lives of most adults seems pretty recent, and I worry that people may be neglecting the unique ideas they're called to create in favor of largely doing the same things everyone else is.

experience can do in 40 hours what younger, inexperienced can do in 80. As you build your tool chest, things become faster and less mistake prone.

Except that it's often more like 80 minutes vs. 80 hours, or the inexperienced---although it's more often the less ... skilled---simply can't solve the problem at all. In my other comment I mentioned debugging; my ability to recognize the ... pattern/smell/whatever of a bug will often let me heuristically narrow the search to an amazing degree. What once would take me hours or days became minutes.

You're just a whole bucket full of humble aren't you :-)

Heh, indeed.

But just as it's unbecoming to boast about what you are not, one needs to recognize what one is and can do to arrange that things work out best, at least in startups where that vs. e.g. politics determines personal and project/corporate success. The flip side of the theme of the 2nd Dirty Harry movie, "A man's got to know his own limitations."

Plus I think I'm allowed to be proud of what I've accomplished over decades of hard work. I started with punched card FORTRAN "IV" on the IBM 1130 in high school in the fall of 1977 (scare quotes because it was closer to a FORTRAN II, e.g. no logical IFs), that prompted me to begin a lifelong independent study of software engineering (since I realized there had to be better ways to do this) and the cited level of skill in debugging nasty C programs was achieved by 1999, a full 22 years later. One would really hope one has learned a thing or two over a couple of decades.

This is great, but you have to have a manager that looks beyond how all the idiots are working so much 'harder'.

Aye, there's the rub.

This is true. So many managers see somebody doing such hard work, fixing so many bugs, that they think he must be the brightest engineer. They never think about the fact that the engineer must have created all those bugs in the first place.

This is the saddest comment I've ever read on HN.

Randite. Surprised?

Sorry, but this is getting a little unctuous.

I don't think the trend in our time of parents organizing their lives around their children is very good for anybody, especially the children. I'm thinking, for example, of fathers who call their kids "buddy" and think it's the meaning of life to play with them. This is pandemic where I live. People have convinced themselves that the good life consists of being child-centered parents in child-centered families. Everybody [†] is busy confirming to everybody else that this is true (consider the platitudinous tone of most of the comments in this thread), but I doubt that it is true. It has much to do with parents' emotional needs (edit: specifically the need to Be A Good Parent, which if you think about it is actually a selfish concern) and little to do with kids'. Children ought to be running around outside playing with other children and depending on nice-but-otherly (not pseudo-peer) adults to keep their world secure and stable and fix things when they cry. Children raised by child-centered parents seem at a loss when they aren't at the center of attention. This bodes ill for inner strength and good breeding. Most such parents fail even to teach their kids basic manners. They're so identified with their child, or rather with the mini-me they imagine their child to be, that they don't notice if the child is routinely disrespectful to others. When they do occasionally notice something egregious and limply intervene, it's always with the same whiney "Honey..." followed by a feeble plea which the child ignores with no consequences. What they ought to do, of course, is what any ordinary mammal does when their offspring goes too far - smack them. Figuratively if you prefer.

The problem is that we're immature and infantilized ourselves, so we've forgotten all of this. Perhaps it's an outgrowth of postwar youth culture.

One tell-tale symptom is that children have fewer friends than they used to, and adults consequently have fewer friends and less time for the ones they do have. (Nowadays when a friend has a kid I tell them "See you in 20 years." Not my choice.) Adults' time is taken up with the sacred family-ness we all must bow before. Children's time is taken up by their parents. I remember how hard it used to be to arrange for my son to play with a classmate after school. (Arrange! When such a thing need to be arranged in the first place, we're already losers. This whole subject really needs a Louis CK to do it justice.) Parents would look up times for "play dates" in a calendar. I swear they were jealous of their kids seeing other "buddies".

In short, a little neglect never hurt anybody.

p.s. Maybe it seems like the above hasn't much to do with "work-life balance" (blessed be its name), but it totally does. However, I'm over quota.

[†] Well, everybody in my lily-white liberal world.

The author of the post is working nice hours a day so one can spend three hours with his daughter, it's a pretty big stretch to say he's "child-centered".

You bemoan the lack of manners of today's youth. When, prey tell, are children going to learn proper behavior from their parents if they're spending only an hour a day with them? Where else will they learn manners? At school or day-care? Good luck with that.

You're a fan of Louis CK so I'll paraphrase him to denounce your disgusting call for more figurative or literal smacking. You have a physically and emotionally weak being who trusts you implicitly and they end up being the only people you're allowed to hit. Sounds like a recipe for a well adjusted kid to me!

"a little neglect never hurt anybody", but a lot hurts everybody. Children today are so neglected they fill their time with TV, video games, and junk food. As a result of this they will be the first generation in eons who are less healthy than their parents (and we'll pick up the tab be it Obamacare or private insurance).

Unless you're Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg your tombstone isn't going to read "Hacker Extraordinar", if you're lucky it'll say "Loving and devoted Father". No matter what it says you're children will be the only people on this earth who will remember you. The least you can do is spend a couple extra hours a week with them.

I respect the sentiment of your post, but you posit a false dichotomy between either the type of all-consuming "helicopter parenting" gruseom is inveighing against on the one hand, or antisocial behaviour, TV, video games, junk food, and early death on the other. If that's really the choice, well, how can anyone disagree with you?

See my sibling post; I strongly feel there is a third way.

I don't think the above comment is positing a false dichotomy. Then again, the highest-rated comment here literally advocates violence against children — because supposedly other mammals do it, so we should be violent animals too and inflict premeditated pain on the weakest — and everything else pales in comparison. "Disgusting" is quite an understatement. (And it's not so much the fellow advocating child abuse who's disturbing, but those supporting this advocacy here with upvotes and agreement.)

Obviously I'm not advocating violence against children. Nobody does that, not even those who practice it.

I was referring to nature films we've all seen where a bunch of adorable cubs are crawling over a mother lion and one of them crosses a line somehow and she swipes it with a paw. What I'm advocating, which I think was pretty obvious, is quick, clear, and loving boundary-setting in response to bad behavior. How one does this is beside the point; that's why I said "figuratively". The point is that we ought to do it, children need it (have you never seen a child calm down after being stopped like this? they need it for their own security), but parents who identify with their children tend not to do it.

Violence is all about the emotion of the violent one - trying to relieve a feeling of rage or whatever. Discipline is about giving the child something they need. It's impossible to do that when in a violent state oneself, so in fact these two things are mutually exclusive. It's possible to be violent to a child without any physical contact. That's our preferred form of violence nowadays.

On the whole, it's better for people not to hit their kids than to be as brutal as past generations often were. But to turn that into a virtue, as we have, is self-righteous.

Man this is so true. Violence is a state of mind.

"what any ordinary mammal does when their offspring goes too far - smack them. Figuratively if you prefer."

I'd call that advocating discipline, not necessarily violence.

I agree. It's easy to be seduced by all sorts of justifications to be incompetent at your job, an incompetent parent, whatever. These failure-justifying perspectives are so elaborate, it's hard to even know where to start untangling them.

In particular with such a skewed demographic (for example, overwhelmingly male), which is obviously symptomatic of something.

How did you get this rant from that article? This is about a guy who wants to block off time every night to spend with his daughter. How is that so offensive? (especially when she is so young)

Your rant about parenting is way off topic. After all, you can't "parent" if you're at work all the time.

Parenting is off topic in a thread about family responding to a post about parenting? I don't think so.

Actually, I was reacting more to the triteness of the thread than to the OP. But it's pretty clear that the OP is imbued with much the same values. In fact, the author is making a case for them. Why else call it a "manifesto"? The thing is, the case is -- as it always is -- lined up on the side of love, nurturing, and what-really-matters-in-life. Stuff nobody could reasonably oppose. Which means that, whatever the argument is, there must be something wrong with it. If it were correct, it wouldn't exist.

It's off topic because the post wasn't about parenting, it was about scheduling your work life. Your post was talking about parenting styles (child-centric, etc...). He didn't mention a thing about how he was raising his daughter, just that he was scheduling the time to do so.

For example, I can block off 3-4 hours a day for my kids where I don't work/check email/etc... That has nothing to do with how I am raising them.

The point that I took away from the original post was that taking time for your kids[1] is good for your work. It was a counter-intuitive discovery for him, but he felt that the dedicated time away from work helped to make him more productive.

[1] For him it was your kids, for you it could be your dog, your spouse, or building ships in bottles...

Thank you for putting it so succinctly. The fact that you got mostly emotional responses from supposedly levelheaded hackers shows how much you hit the nail on the head.

I noticed that too, but in fairness, it's worsened by the poverty of the medium (online forum discussion) which doesn't provide for emotional calibration. Our brains tend immediately to snap into a binary formation in response to what's presented. Since what I said on this (pretty charged) subject was provocative, it must mean that I oppose nurturing children and favor abusing them. Rationally that's absurd, but emotionally it's quite logical.

But in person, it wouldn't as likely come to that, because we could use many tools to calibrate - tone of voice, personal warmth, listening, etc. - and mitigate the extremes. Or we'd efficiently detect that a discussion can't get anywhere right now and save ourselves the trouble.

Anybody who figures out a technical solution to this problem is in a position to make a major contribution. Unfortunately, it may not be possible short of teleportation. We are wired for physical proximity.

p.s. For what it's worth, I have found every bit of effort toward becoming aware of this binary dynamic in oneself to pay off a thousandfold.

don't worry! my daughter is getting a healthy dose of neglect from me during the 21 hours in the day i'm not with her.

I agree with many of your sentiments about rude kids, or kids with no manners and that's part of what drove my choice. I don't take the time with her so that I can be her best friend. I take the time so that i can be the best parent I can be. I love to play with her, but if she misbehaves or isn't listening to us then she is punished. Timeouts work pretty well with our daughter as a punishment so there's no need for the smacking.

I think I would have been a lot more of a helicopter parent if it weren't for my wife (who by trade is a special education teacher.) She is the one who can take most of the credit for the fact that my daughter is well mannered, well adjusted, and has lots of friends.

Also -- to be fair, i never said that i spend those hours alone in the house every night. Sometimes we go to the park with other dad's, and at least once a week I try to go out with her to do a class where she mostly interacts with other kids (my wife stays home with her and does a lot more of this with playgroups etc. She won't start school until next year.)

Thanks for your comment, its always nice to see the other side of the coin.

My comment got a bit distorted by this subthread moving to the top of the page. When I said "this is getting unctuous" I meant this thread, not your post. I was responding to the comments that were on this page when I saw it, certainly not criticizing you personally. My fault for not making that clear.

I'd never let loose like that on anybody personally (well... almost never!) I'm criticizing our culture. Since our culture isn't a person, I figure it's ok to be rude to it.

No worries. I didn't take it that way. I agree w/ you about the culture of over-parenting and needing to be your kids best friend.

You are conflating two completely separate issues. The amount of time you spend with your child has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not your child is spoiled, undisciplined, pampered, sheltered, etc.

Bad parenting (for lack of a better phase) is what causes these issues, not spending time with your child.

You are trying to make a connection between the two ideas, but I you are just recklessly generalizing your own personal observations of bad parenting.

As a counter example, I spend as much time with my daughter as I can (which is really only a 2-3 hours a day during the week due to work schedule and bed time) and she is absolutely respectful, not spoiled, and has plenty of friends.

I'm sure I'm biased regarding my own daughter; you'll just have to take my word for it.

His point isn't that spending too much time with children causes them to be spoiled.

People should spend every possible moment with their children. They should also spend every possible moment learning about the world, and every possible moment trying new experiences and getting out of their comfort zone. There aren't enough moments, so you need balance. Lack of balance in one direction is correlated with spoiled children. I think that's all he's saying.

(Personally I think it's hard to cause irreversible damage by spoiling children; it's amazing what they'll outgrow.)

Generalizing? Sure. Recklessly? I don't know. If you take your point literally, it's impossible to make any social observations at all. That can't be right. An observation needn't be true of everyone (you, for instance, or the OP) to have value.

As for "two completely separate issues", they're not completely separate. They're connected not by necessity but by a model of parenting that is common in our culture.

I agree (mostly), and while it's important for me to "be around" (my office hours are very similar to the author's), my kids spend a good chunk of their time playing with one another and with other kids. I like to be around, because sometimes they say "hey dad, let's play _something_," but mostly my wife and I stay out of the way.

There's a fine line, however, between being a good parent who doesn't hover and "arrange" their kids' lives to death, and a parent who is literally never around to see their kids. The whole "arrangement" thing also goes for parents who schedule every minute of their kids' days so they don't have to be around the house.

Personally, we enjoy spending time together as a family. Most weekends in the summer and fall are spent rock climbing and camping. We do, however, spend many of those days with others (and other families), so our kids are generally off in the woods doing what kids do. But, we also spend a good bit of time together, and I think it's meaningful to have activities that _are_ family-centered every so often.

Another cultural shift you don't take into account is the growing fear we (in the U.S., at least) have that our kids are simply going to be whisked away while we aren't looking. Many parents would never even consider allowing their kids (I'm thinking under ten years old) to wander around the neighbor, or simply walk over to a friend's house and see if they are around.

I do, however, think you bit too harsh on the idea of being a "Good Parent." There's also a fine line between giving your kids enough rope (and freedom) and being the drunk who only yells at his kids to get him another beer (yes, that's a bit of an overstatement). There are plenty of nights when I come home from work, we eat dinner as a family, and then my kids disappear to play. I won't see them again 'til bedtime. But I feel as a parent, I need to be available for them when they want me, too.

But there is not a "fine line" between these things. In fact there is a great expanse between them. This is binary thinking. You can see a lot of this in the responses to what I wrote. (e.g. the ones saying that I advocate child abuse. How likely is that?)

As for the "growing fear ... that our kids are simply going to be whisked away while we aren't looking", I do take this into account. It's utterly foolish and irrational, not to mention childish, and to assuage it we are depriving our children of the simplest and healthiest freedoms. So as to give ourselves the feeling that we're protecting them against this (essentially imaginary) bogeyman, we're actually depriving them in reality. That is a poor and neurotic tradeoff. (Edit: and it's a really good example of what I wrote about downthread, that we act out our own unresolved personal issues through our kids. What's really driving us here is our own fear. But we call it "protecting the children" so as to make it a virtue. Fear is not a virtue.)

George Carlin has a marvelously sharp piece called "Fuck the Children" which is all about this. I'd post it, but people would accuse me of advocating child molestation.

Thank you. Good to know that I'm not alone...

Unfortunately, whether it's due to the societal environment or maybe some of my guilt for not feeling like the perfect Dad that desperately wishes to spend every waking seconds with his kids is transpiring but my 5-yo son floored me today.

When I kindly refused to play with him on the computer, explaining that I was tired after a very long day and that, beside, we were heading out in the next 10 minutes he replied with a tone clearly aimed at inspiring guilt: "But Daddy, you're supposed to take care of your kids..."

Let me add right now that I do spend a healthy amount of time with my kids, just like any reasonably involved parent of 2 in a family of 2 working adults.

His plea was not a cry for attention, I assure you.

5 years of age.

Stuff like that is quite awesome - children showing that they know how to manipulate others from a young age on. At a very young age it seems to be an instinct (e.g., crying for attention); but throughout their child years most of western society tries to 'educate' that out of them; and then those who do have to re-learn it (albeit in other terms) in their student or early career years to get ahead.

If not a cry for attention, what was it? A call for your attendance?

Yes. After having failed to obtain it using the most frontal approach (asking me), he naturally resorted to a more subtle approach that appealed to my (apparently obvious) insecurities as a parent. Or it could have been a trial balloon to evaluate those insecurities. In any case, my statement about not being a CRT for attention was meant to emphasize the "cry" part in the desperate sense of the term. It was simply a calculated move.

>Children ought to be running around outside playing with other children and depending on nice-but-otherly (not pseudo-peer) adults to keep their world secure and stable and fix things when they cry.

My son is 20 months old. He started going to nursery 9 to 5 when he was 9 months. He spends plenty of time playing around with other children and be ensured that he enjoys those 3-4 hours he spends with both his parents at home. Small children need guidance and examples that only adults can give, not other toddlers.

I am not american and while I agree with you that the american culture is very retrograde by many counts (relationship with religion, early marriages, sexual puritanism... ) I don't see anything wrong with cutting some hours at work to spend more time with children. In fact, quite au contrair.

I certainly did not say that about American culture. God Bless America.

As an ex-Soviet immigrant, this is one of the things that was most striking about Americans to me, early on. Adults seem to make a very big deal about their children; they have an awful lot of displacement. From what I remember in Moscow, people just had children rather matter-of-factly, and generally stayed out of their way.

It's not an apples-to-oranges comparison, of course; in our culture there was a great deal of supporting infrastructure in the form of grandparents often in the same city, an effective network of neighbours, the environment was not suburban, there was a free state-sponsored daycare/kindergarten available from a very young age, etc. Still, it seems that there is a great deal of anxiety about having children here because of the self-fulfilling expectation is that children are going to be extremely disruptive to one's incumbent lifestyle.

I don't think that necessarily needs to be the case. Yes, children introduce changes, no doubt about it, especially when they're really young. But at the end of the day, you are still you. You still have your identity, you still have your individuality, you still have your profession, your passions, your interests, your friends, etc. I don't see why people have to resign themselves to "see you in 20 years".

The suburban pattern of development strikes me as being far more responsible for this than people give it credit for. A big part of the reason why "play dates" have to be arranged is because in these vast tracts of suburban expanse, children substantially rely on being driven to "activities" by their parents in order to do anything outside the house at all, immediate neighbours notwithstanding. From what I can see, exurban subdivisions are getting larger, with houses being spaced farther and farther apart. And of course, the inefficiencies that inhere in all this, the enormous drags on parents' time, in turn fulfills the prophecy: if you're going to be an "involved" parent, you really are up to your ears in obsessive logistics.

I was lucky enough to have avoided a lot of these pitfalls because I spent many of my formative years in an unusually communal setting in the US (a married graduate student housing complex), the likes of which I have not encountered since, even in nominally analogous parental career situations. It had a high population of children and many adults who were constantly around keeping watch in some way, making for a safe place for dozens of us to run around and play at all hours. It was a very practical nod to "it takes a village".

It was not until we moved on that I got to appreciate how much I had--the same stuff I took for granted as a little boy in Russia--that other middle-class kids here lacked. Chiefly, it was the ability to spontaneously organise my socialisation with other kids more or less as I wanted. I learned the overwhelming preponderance of what there was to learn about life on the playground, especially given my latchkey situation. If I wanted to go hang out with my friend, I'd walk over to his apartment and knock.

I turned out just fine (cue for laughter). More importantly, I don't get the impression that this kind of thing, which I take for practically a God-given human right, is a common option for the average suburbanite today. The entire locus of possibilities is described by unconscienable distances of freeway, mediated by the cursed automobile. You can't really run around anymore. Where? With whom?

And for all this wondrous hospitality, which was so instrumental in my formative years and my coming of age, so inextricably bound up in who I am today, with so many friendships and experiences that continue to endure, to forever be fixtures of my fond reminiscing and my imagination, my parents and their peers routinely got harassment from the state department of family and children's services. Supposedly we were being "neglected". Bollocks to that; we were being allowed to actually live, not to suffocate silently in the cul-de-sac at the end of the driveway in that neighbourhood that's a "nice place to raise kids", and with all the soul of a funeral parlour. Damn them all to hell! As you say, a little neglect never hurt anybody. Quite the contrary!

The other syndromes are more widely understood and don't bear extensive repetition here: (1) culture of obsessive "safety"--the intense, burning conviction that being out and about physically exploring the world is innately in conflict with almighty "safety"; (2) the Baby Einstein pathology, which postulates that your child is a budding musical/artistic/athletic/etc. genius, but this genius will go unrealised unless s/he is shuttled all over creation in a dizzying itinerary of (possibly extracurricular) "activities" and "programs" that leave them little to no time to spontaneously indulge their curiosities or whims.

I agree with you on many of these things, and certainly the isolation and lack of freedom for children in the US these days seems like a very bleak existence compared to how I grew up in Sweden.

But these things seem kind of orthogonal to the OP's argument. Holding all those things constant (since it's a systemic problem with American society that's not easy to change for an individual) do you really think a child whose parents work all the time is better off than one whose parents spend some time with them? (Especially when they are very young, which seems to be the case with the OP.) I don't have any hard statistics about this, but my impression is that there are far more kids in the US whose parents work all the time than have parents that neglect their jobs for their children.

"Damn them all to hell!"

A true Russian!

That's a good point about the suburbs. Indeed a major part of it. I've seen grad student family residences like you describe, too. They were great. Kids running around randomly all over the place.

My eight-year old niece lives across an alley from her school, but isn't allowed to walk to school. There might be a car going down the alley! The irony is that she is a brilliant strategic and tactical thinker about whom the running joke is that she's already engaged in a project of world domination. As my wife put it: this kid could organize the assault on Dieppe, how can she not cross an alley?

I think you're 100% right about over-parenting. Hence the need for something like this:


But I don't think the author of the article is (necessarily) there. I suspect the author is already pretty close to the middle ground you're proposing. I think the responses you've gotten on this have a lot more to do with people feeling bad for how you seem to be treating the author (though you didn't specifically say anything about him) than they do with people disagreeing with you.

Yeah, I feel a little bad about that (see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3005079) since I wasn't responding to the author in particular but impersonally to the pattern in the comments. I have no idea of where the author falls on this spectrum; quite possibly he's resolved these issues better than I have. A blog post isn't nearly enough information to make any judgment. The cultural pattern, on the other hand - that I've been observing closely for years. In myself as much as in anybody!

You make a series of good points, but I think there is a distinction which should be made esp. in the case of a very young child (< 2 y/o). Parents should not shelter or keep their kids from exploring, being with other kids, or generally operating independently on an impromptu basis. It should be noted, however, that this may be more applicable for an older toddler/child/teenager than it would be to a newborn/infant.

Well I'm sorry for your future/actual kids.

Do you mind elaborating? Drive-by judgements rarely add much to an intelligent conversation.

It's his kid -- not yours. It's his choice -- not yours. Sit down and go neglect your loved ones elsewhere.

You didn't get that I was not talking about the original author? That suggests you didn't read my original comment very carefully, nor my subsequent ones at all. I was talking about a common pattern in our culture right now (over the last two or three decades). It's interesting that although some people found what I wrote objectionable, no one actually disagreed with me about this.

Perhaps I should let you in on a secret: I don't really believe children should be neglected. That use of the term was ironic. What I believe is that we, as a culture, have redefined the healthy autonomy of children as "neglect" in order to justify our belief that they need parental attention all the time, for reasons that have little to do with children's real needs and a lot to do with us. My guess is that this is because we haven't grown up ourselves. Emotionally, in some important way, we're still children, and this causes us to think of our children as peers. Ironically, this means we're actually failing to fulfill the parental role for them even as we make parenting the central meaning of our lives.

By the way, all these ideas come from my own struggle to understand what it means to be a good parent, something I by no means claim to have mastered. I do believe that to do it well, it is vital to distinguish one's own fantasies about parenting (which are always self-centered) from the real requirements of the job.

Thank you for the thoughtful response, but you reached your original comment because of the author's post.

In spite of your reasoning (some of which I agree with), my point is that we're guilty of another thing -- parental judgmentalism, in which we impart the thoughts of what we as parents ought to do in the general sense, but try to apply it on an individual basis. And we impart these thoughts onto other parents, which is both presumptive and unrealistic.

With sincerity, I would caution about projecting your individual thoughts onto others (i.e., we haven't grown up ourselves). I for one won't claim to have mastered parenting, but I don't feel that I'm a parental failure either.

Doesn't mean the overall societal comments you make aren't valid, just that suggesting the tome for all parents is bad ju-ju.

Oh, come on. I agree that "play dates" (a consequence of suburbia, where the Calvin and Hobbes childhood is impossible because space is cut up by 45-mph roads) and helicopter parents and $35,000-per-year-fucking-preschools are a sign of something sick in our society. No question there. But wanting to leave work after a 9-hour day to be available to his children is not "organizing [his] life around [his] children". If you have kids, they become a major part of your life.

This doesn't mean he's forcing his presence on his children for three hours per day. It means that if his daughter needs him for help on homework or his wife wants some time to relax, he's available.

The problem in many workplaces is that results are difficult to measure while sacrifice and pain are obvious. Most teams at most companies are cemented together by the loyalty and camaraderie associated with shared misery, and a person who goes home at 5:00 (even if he's been working since 6:30 am) is cut out of that and finds himself pushed into the "out crowd". It's an extremely dysfunctional arrangement (see: investment banking, where the actual workload is only 40-50 hours per week but in a dysfunctional arrangement that produces 80+ hours of in-office time) but it's also very common.

People, in general, are terrible at measuring others' productivity and contribution but have an intuitive knack (or think they do) for emotional currents of loyalty and sacrifice. The problem in most work environments is that the latter is what actually drives reputations, social fluidity, and often decisions about whom to promote and (if things get bad) whom to let go.

Let me take a wild guess: you don't have kids, do you?

"Adults' time is taken up with the sacred family-ness we all must bow before. Children's time is taken up by their parents. I remember how hard it used to be to arrange for my son to play with a classmate after school. (Arrange! When such a thing need to be arranged in the first place, we're already losers. This whole subject really needs a Louis CK to do it justice.)"

Heh, I initially had the same reaction, but he's talking a lot of sense. It needs to be read a couple of times.

Way too many peoples' lives are utterly dominated by their children, essentially because children can be allowed to exist in this world for even a minute without supervision.

This is very much not how it was for me as a child. Benign neglect would be putting it nicely.

Your last paragraph (if I'm reading it correctly) leads to a point I've often mulled over. We tend as parents to overcompensate for what happened to us as children. I think this happens at the social-historical level too. Traditional child-rearing was something between harsh and brutal. Physical and emotional violence was common. We have rightly come to abhor that. But, typically human, we (or at least the educated white North American middle class) have merely flipped a bit and gone to the opposite extreme of elevating our children to little gods. This can't be good for the little buggers, deceive ourselves and adore our own virtue though we may. (Side note to the indignant: I like children. Including my own!)

Back to how, as parents, we overcompensate for what happened to ourselves in the past: we do this unconsciously, so it's hard to know that we're doing it. And it's a bad thing, because almost inevitably we end up creating a mirror image of the old mistakes. But there is a way out of this dilemma: personal healing and growth. To the extent that one can integrate one's own experience, feel one's own feelings, etc., one becomes free of the compulsion to resolve them through one's child and able to behold the child as an independent being.

> We tend as parents to overcompensate for what happened to us as children

It happens at all levels. It's a common criticism of militaries that are equipped to fight the last war, not the next one.

You guessed wrong:

> I remember how hard it used to be to arrange for my son to play with a classmate after school

No guessing needed. You could have just read his comment to find the answer.

This is a great article about work/life balance. Frequently that balance is asymmetrically weighted in favor of work at the expense of time spent with family.

The author is making a commendable point to commit to time well spent with his family while still putting in nine hours at the office.

When we're near the end of our lives and reflecting, are you going to wish you spent more time with your family or more time at the office? There's a simple answer there.

I'll just make a comment from my cosy European perspective. He's still working 9 hours a day. But it's okay, he "doesn't feel as burned out". Seriously, is this what is expected, or is it just the default?

In many cases it is expected or at least the cultural norm. However, I think that there is a growing body of research that shows how unhealthy it can be.

I think 8-5 is actually 8 hours in the US: federal laws guarantee you an hour lunch break, just as in the UK. Of course, I imagine in a lot of start-ups that's ignored or perhaps doesn't even hold.

Ah, so that probably means he's not actually working 9 solid hours per day. That's better. I admit to doing the same, albeit at different times of the day (10h-19h).

Yeah, 8-5 is absolutely expected.

I completely agree with the post. Most of the negative responses are clearly from people who have no clue what it means to be a parent. Firstly, it has nothing to do with raising kids with 'good manners', or anything as simple or boring as that. Hanging, teaching and interacting with your kids is actually fun and rewarding. A lot like coding.

I can also highly recommend a 4 day week. 1 day a week is purely my daughter (20 months) and I. Not only does it give you more time than you have in an evening, it also opens up other opportunities to go out and do things you wouldn't normally be involved with. I've been fortunate to have employers who are happy to oblige and live in a country - New Zealand - where it's relatively easy to arrange.

I also agree that it makes you a more focused coder. It gives you a healthy dose of perspective about what you're doing, and I've found I spend far more time on productive work than I did before.

After a particularly bad stint at a previous job I've vowed to never work past my normal hours just for the sake of being there. If there's something immediately wrong that I can help with, or if it's something that I broke, I'll stay and work the problem. Otherwise, I'm in out at my established hours.

hey all, thanks for the positive discussion. Apologies that my blog is terribly slow. I didn't notice that it spiked because, well, it was between 4:30 and 7:30 ;)

I'm working in my spare time to get it all off of wordpress and onto Jekyll so i can just host it out of S3 and get rid of the EC2 instance its running on.

> I'm working in my spare time

There is a subtle joke in there somewhere.

Great piece and thank you for writing it.

As an added bonus, I've discovered that not being able to hack till after the kids are in bed means you're more motivated to get them to bed on time. They get more sleep and you can code once the house is quiet and you brain just had a break. I find it extremely productive.

My husband (a developer who is frequently "death-marching" his way through projects) sent me this article yesterday. We are about to have our first child, and it was so cool to read this, especially since we've already been talking about what it's going to be like after our son is born in regards to his work schedule. He also works with West Coasters and is a team leader, which makes things tricky in terms of scheduling meetings and conference calls. Let me just say I so appreciate that this blog post was written and that he came across it. I love that my husband loves his job and is so incredibly talented at it. He is so dedicated to his work and spends way more than 9 hours a day at it (his recent "early" bedtime has been 3am consistently, with 6am actually being the most frequent hour he finally lays down to get a minute of shuteye). It's a kind of commitment that I admire, and that I myself have benefitted from. But it's also good to read that his dedication can still be seen, even if he isn't "death marching" through coding problems night after night. I do not see this at all as "parents organizing their lives around their children," but rather a parents taking care of and giving priority to all aspects of their lives, especially their children. I think there is so much wisdom in the statements concerning how a person can always get another job, but not just "get" another family.

Cheers to you and yours and all the hard work you put into all aspects of your life!

Sometimes I think about how lucky most of us white collar workers really are. I grew up with a Dad that worked rotating day/evening/graveyard shifts and I know how much it would have meant to me if he could have spent more time with us.

My neighbour, who used to work in construction, gave me some advice after the birth of my son: "Make sure to spend time with your kids, especially when they're young. One of my biggest regrets was working too much and not being around to watch them grow up." Now they live in Australia.

I find it really hard, because nobody in this career has kids! Very few have wives, i have a suspicion that most are single. So when you put family first, it really is a culture clash. My solution is to try and become self employed. I hope it works out.

Maybe in bohemian Silicon Valley startup circles of 20-somethings. However, that is an extremely inaccurate supposition about the IT profession as a whole.

I was recently in the process of changing roles at work, so I was doing a few internal interviews for another roles that seemed to be good fits.

I lost one of the roles, because apparently I wasn't hungry enough for it. One of the reasons stated by the manager doing the hiring was that I consider my kids more important than my work. It wasn't stated exactly like that, but that's what he meant. In my younger days I would've let the idiot have it or bursted out laughing.

I am so glad I no longer work there.

One thing that seems to be missing from the debate here is that spending time with your kids is actually fun, it's something that's nice to do and really isn't a sacrifice.

I know no-one who spends time with their kids out of a sense of obligation (and trust me, your kids would work out if that's what you were doing and really not want you about) - in spending time with my daughters instead of in the office, I'm doing what I want to do, not what I feel I should do.

I think people should do what they want to do. If you are passionate about your work, and want to spend more time there than everyone else, I'm not sure that sends a bad message to kids. If you want to spend more time home with kids, that's fine too. People are different, and you shouldn't adopt the standards of other people.

Thanks for giving all of us future Dads (or soon to be) something to aspire to.

He should cut that 9 hours at the office to 6. And yes, I fail at this too :(

Egads, are we at the point where developers with young children have to write a manifesto to justify working a "mere" nine hours a day, followed by frequent meetings after the kid goes to bed?

I would have never understood this before I had a child of my own.

I feel the same way about my cat. I love her and would rather spend a bigger percentage of time with her than what I spend now.

Question though is, why is this on hacker news?

Very true, and I learned this early on: your job, no matter how much you like it, will never hug you back.

I'm in the UK.

I spend as much time as possible with my children so that I can teach them that a 37 hour working week is actually normal and that they don't NEED to become an American-style 80-hour-a-week corporate slave.

Humans have needs: family, friendship and companionship.

"Work" is a relatively new thing; a product of the rapid growth of the population and the distribution of self-responsibility. Go back a couple of thousand years, and we were farming in family groups much like the Amish are today.

We're short-changing ourselves and missing out on a large chunk of life by not spending time with our closest ones.

I'm impressed that the guy managed to find a wife while working so hard during the earlier years.

LOL. I'm lucky, that's very true. She is a saint.

Long time lurker and made an account just to reply to this. What does it say about the expectations of this industry when you have to even weigh working almost 60 hours a week against 15 hours with your daughter!! Good god. I am so glad that you made the right choice. Great article.

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