Updated on 05.11.11

A Sick Child or a Mountain of Money

Trent Hamm

My children have been sick for most of the week, so I’ve been sticking to old reliable meals that I can make with my eyes closed rather than being adventurous. That means no new “Dinner with My Family” post this week. Tune in next week for a new one, though!

A few days ago, my two oldest children were extremely ill. They were both deep in that type of lethargy that young children get when they’re feverish with an illness. They largely don’t move unless they urgently need to go to the bathroom. They don’t like their rest to be interrupted. If you give them some Tylenol, they might rebound a bit for a while, but they’ll soon go back to resting.

During the day when they were the sickest, I spent the day in the family room with them, doing things like making sure their water bottles were full, keeping blankets near them, fluffing their pillows, reading them stories, watching movies with them, making them chicken noodle soup, and so on.

There was never any question about my job when I was doing this. I dropped my work so that I could be there for my children without a second thought. Better yet, I had the freedom to do so.

My priority in life is to be the best father I can possibly be, period. That priority comes first. I’ve always wanted it to come first. After that, my priority is to be a great husband, supportive of my wife in whatever she chooses to do, whether it’s take several months off to be a stay-at-home mother or to throw herself back into her career with passion. Beyond that? Be a good writer. Be a good friend. Grow as a person.

Notice how none of these priorities are about earning a ton of money?

Setting these things as my priorities means making less money than I could. It also meant walking away from a job that I loved that often put me in conflict with that first priority.

Personal finance is just a set of tools that enable me to have these priorities. Earning more money or maximizing every dollar is not the end goal for me. It’s a means to an end. Because I practice good finances in my own life, I have the freedom to just drop my work and be there for my family when they need me. I don’t have to make a choice. I don’t have to worry about a boss that might fire me for not working enough. I don’t have to choose my job over my family.

Yes, I don’t have the income I might wish that I had. However, I have the priorities and the freedom that are a higher priority for me, and thanks to good personal finance practices, I’m not starving, either. A mountain of money is not the goal I have in my life. Being a good father is. Being a good husband is. Being a writer is.

Personal finance is not the answer. It is a tool that helps you on your journey to whatever it is you want for your life.

Right now, as I sit here, my daughter is dozing on the couch. She still doesn’t feel well. However, she requested that I sit here next to her while she sleeps. Her left foot is draped over my shoulder right now, actually.

She feels safe. She knows that I will be there to take care of her. When she wakes up, she can sleepily ask me for some water and she knows that I’ll be there to get it for her.

As she grows up, I’ll be there as she learns how to ride a bicycle. I’ll be there as she learns about boys. I’ll be there to feed and nurture her intellectual curiosity. I’ll be there as she (hopefully) grows from a charming young girl into an amazing young woman ready to take on the world.

Good personal finance choices make all of this possible.

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  1. Andrew says:

    This is the kind of mentality I try to convey to people when they think I’m being “cheap” or if I come across as obsessed with my money and my finances. I’m not careful with my spending and investments because I’m greedy, I take care of my money so that in helps me accomplish the things in life that are truly important to me.

  2. Andi says:

    I think one thing I would add is that sometimes being a good parent (mother or father) is working hard to help provide for a family’s needs. It doesn’t mean you don’t care and it doesn’t mean you always miss the big moments but it does mean that you realize that one way to care for you family is to provide for them.

    I don’t ask this to be flip but does your wife care for her children any less because she’s at school today and doesn’t have the same flexibility in her job?

    For many years, I taught in the public schools. Loved most of my job but also knew because my husband is self-employed, I was working for our health insurance. We were practicing good personal finance at the time but I needed to help provide for this need. Circumstances have changed and I have more flexibility now as well which is truly a blessing but it doesn’t mean I love my kids more now or they are more aware of it either.

  3. Jeff says:

    Trent, you are a man who truly “gets it” and has priorities straight. I wish that you could teach this skill to everyone.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Reading just the highlighted words, I agree with #1 Andrew. Reading it immediately after Trent’s previous post has given me whiplash, watching as he went from loathing himself to deciding he has built the perfect life.

  5. Amy says:

    Basically, you want to be a good man and it sound like you are accomplishing that. Certainly something to be proud of.

  6. Kathryn says:

    My mother was a SAHM, and she wasn’t as attentive as you are, Trent. I remember being very sick at the age of 7 and being left home alone. I also remember that being sick in our house meant i went to my room until i was better.

    It tugs at my heart how you are right there for your kids, when they wake they know they are safe and you are there for them. I can’t tell you how much i longed for that as a child. I’ve been ill at my MIL’s a couple of times now. If she brings me a cup of tea or some tangerines, it chokes me up.

    It sounds like you know this, but let me reaffirm: You being near your daughter is the most precious gift you could possibly give her.

    It isn’t just your financial freedom that gives you this gift, but who you are and where your priorities lie.

  7. Hunter says:

    A wise person once said “a man is nothing, without his family”.

    I think we have a lot in common. I gave up a finance career to be the primary carer for our three children, in support of my wife’s Navy career. Parenting is something that we just didn’t want to outsource.

    Life is great.

  8. deRuiter says:

    Have you folks ever considered taking sick children to the doctor? Fluffing pillows and serving soup is all well and good but if two of my children were really sick, it would be off to the doctor for his / her opinion of what to do.

  9. Kate says:

    deRuiter: taking kids to the doctor everytime they have a fever or the sniffles would mean spending a lot of time in the doctor’s office. And, thankfully, doctors now prescribe time and rest for many things instead of doling out the antiobiotics for everything. The body, very often, takes care of itself quite well if given the chance.

  10. emily says:

    Hi Trent,

    I hope your little people are starting to feel better. It’s always scary when they get so sick. We’re praying for your family from Beaumont, Tx.

  11. Dee says:

    Why would anyone assume that a doctor was not consulted.

  12. Kevin says:

    Trent, I’m glad to read that you’re living your values. I’m also glad neither my wife nor I are baby-crazy and let ourselves succumb to society’s pressure to spawn. Abstaining from reproducing has been an amazing financial boon to us. Our priority is our own financial security, not some abstract, warm fuzzy need to multiply.

  13. Graciela says:

    Hope they are feeling better. Good job Dad.

  14. Darla says:

    Now THAT is what life is all about! I share those values and dealt with sneers from others because my child is my priorty. What a better world we could have if all parents provided that kind of love, affection and attention.

  15. Andrea says:

    @Kevin, sounds like you guys made the right choice.

    Trent, I would think that your first priority should be to your wife. The second is to your kids.

    That wouldn’t mean that you would have to do anything different in this situation, but if kids are #1, then your relationship with Sarah could suffer. AND the kids will move out and become adults (sooner than you think) by the very design and plan you are working on.

    The marriage is for a lifetime, the kids you only get for ~20 years. It’s a subtle shift in thinking.

    Now, based on everything else I’ve read about you I dont believe that to be true, but I’m just recommending caution in how you do number those priorities with such a wide audience.

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