Why even a planning sceptic should plan parenthood

The truth is, I’m a sceptic about planning. If you’re a sceptic too, this is why it still makes sense to plan parenthood.

Are you sceptical about making plans for parenthood? It might surprise you that I’m a sceptic too. Yes, my business Preparental is a business that helps people with parenthood planning! And I’ve been a planner all my professional life. So why is a professional parenthood planner like me, sceptical about planning?

Reasons to be sceptical about planning

1. “Plans always need to change”

This is true. You can never get a plan completely ‘right’.

I’ve been a planner (of businesses) in my professional life for many years – creating strategies, business plans, financial plans, and project plans. I’ve created hundreds of these, for large corporate businesses and small startups. I can verify that plans always need to change. It’s impossible to get the plan exactly right, and for reality to match the plan.

I have always enjoyed planning, but I’ve found that grand business plans – especially 5 year plans – aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. They don’t survive the first five minutes after the ink has dried.

But the fact that they will always change doesn’t mean that plans are pointless. Plans are useful to get a team onto the same page – working towards the same strategy – which turns chaos into organisation. Plans are directional. You might not get exactly to the destination you planned, in the same way, but you’ll set off in the right direction and probably end up somewhere close.

2. “I can never stick to a plan”

I’m definitely guilty of this.

I start to plan many things in my life. I’ll start a beautiful new, empty, diary on the 1st January and promise myself that I’ll be more organised.

Meal planning, exercise regimes, even budgets: I want to stick to them but I never quite do. I start so many new systems, but never quite follow through with them.

I love planning in theory, but I find sticking with the plan hard.

3. “I want spontaneity in my life”

In my own life, I don’t believe in making detailed 5 year plans. I prefer my life to be a bit more spontaneous than that. I even prefer my business to be quite spontaneous. I enjoy getting distracted from the plan, and doing something that I find fun.

The more detailed a plan I create for myself, the less motivating I find it. I can feel constrained by the plan.

Reasons for sceptics to plan

1. Teamwork

Business plans are valuable for teams and larger businesses. In fact if you want everyone to be pulling in the same direction and not working just as individuals in an uncoordinated way, it’s essential. If you want everyone working to the same timetable, and to ensure everything is actually done, a plan is essential.

And actually, parenthood is like that. It often requires teamwork. It’s not just you getting things done independently and ticking things off a to-do list. It’s working as a team with your partner, with school timetables, with anyone you outsource anything to, and with your own extended family or your support network if you have one. And you should have one. But particularly, if you have a partner, you have a real need for co-ordination and distributing the tasks in a more coherent and organised way. You need to define roles and responsibilities and get buy-in to that.

Parenthood is going to be really hard work if you are two people doing your own thing without co-ordinating your efforts. So teamwork is one reason why you need a plan.

2. Motivation

Some people see planning as scheduling. They think of planning as creating a detailed Gantt chart which defines exactly what you’ll do, when. And whilst there’s a certain benefit in doing this to manage your day-to-day life as a parent, this isn’t the kind of planning you need to do before you become a parent. And this can be limiting for your creativity and freedom. It can feel like setting yourself up for failure.

The best kind of planning you can do before you become a parent is creating a vision, ideally one that is the same or similar to your partner’s vision. A vision that becomes increasingly in focus as you move closer to it and as you move into it, but at the beginning it needs to just be a sketch, but a sketch of how you want things to be. Ideally a motivating vision that you can get excited to move towards.

Such a vision can also keep you going when times get hard. Your visionary plan can be what pulls you through postnatal depression, difficulties in your relationship, and other challenges.

3. Coherence / Planning for decisions

I have had hundreds – I mean hundreds – of business ideas in my life. I have business ideas at a rate of at least one a week. Generally I don’t act on these ideas, but I used to find this really distracting. Obviously out of these many business ideas I have only started a tiny handful of businesses.

I’ve used high-level planning to figure out really quickly whether these ideas make sense and are worth pursuing. By really quickly sketching out answers to a few questions I can see whether these ideas have an internal coherence (do they even make any sense?) and whether they fit with my skills, my values, my objectives. I now have a quick method of doing this and it takes me about 5 minutes, and generally the answer is, no, this idea doesn’t make sense for me to pursue now. So I can simply stop thinking about it and move on with my life, no regrets.

And I try to do the same to help people with parenthood. High level planning, running through some ‘what if’ questions and quickly trying to figure out if the plan could hang together, and whether parenthood would fit with their skills, values, objectives, doesn’t need to be a huge year-long project.

Creating a simple plan, and then asking yourself whether this is a plan you want to pursue, can take as long or as short a time as you want it to take. The benefit is that you can usually get a clear result: yes – this is something to take forward, and as a plan it makes sense and appeals to me – or, no – although this seemed like an idea with merit, the plan I’ve created doesn’t hang together, it’s got lots of inconsistencies in it.

If the plan you make isn’t coherent, it’s easier to decide to leave the plan behind without any regrets.

In summary, planning helps you work out whether all your many goals are coherent with each other – can they co-exist? Can you have an equal marriage, achieve your career ambitions and be a parent to two children, and survive financially? Is it all possible all at once? Or is there some prioritisation you need to do? Or some sequencing you need to do? Maybe you can achieve all you want, but not at the same time. A plan helps you figure this out.

4. Risk

Planning makes sense is whenever there’s risk, and particularly if that risk is at least partly controllable.

The more risk there is in a venture, a business, a project, whatever it is you’re doing, the more it makes sense to plan it.

Why? Because if you find that you’re setting off on a journey that doesn’t actually have a clear path through it, the consequences are potentially big, long-lasting and negative.

And this really is the case with parenthood. The downside potential if you haven’t done any planning is huge. The impact is lifelong. The decision to be a parent is irreversible. The stakes are high.

We know there are risks: we know that many parents leave beloved jobs reluctantly and never go back; we know many parents either separate or divorce due to the pressures of children or stay in a miserable marriage or partnership for their sake; we know that there are huge pools of regret around parenthood, that mostly gets hidden as there’s so much shame around it.

Being a scaremonger about parenthood doesn’t sit easily with me, but it should be obvious that there are many, many parents who would have done things very differently if they had their chance again.

How much should a sceptic plan?

How much should you plan? As much as you want to, as much as it helps. Parenthood is a voyage of discovery and you definitely need to allow yourself some space to discover what kind of parent you want to be. You need to allow for creativity, magic, fun and opportunities. 

And you need to be aware that all plans (except the very small ones) will not survive contact with the enemy. (Obviously children are not the enemy, it’s a phrase). What I mean is, things will inevitably be different to how you imagine, and you need to emotionally prepare for that.

So planning to the nth degree isn’t sensible. It’s likely to be wasted effort and you may even set yourself up to feel like a failure if it doesn’t go to plan.

In summary, if parenthood requires teamwork, you need a plan for it. If you want to be motivated about parenthood, you need a plan of some sort. If you want your parenthood experience to be coherent and to work logistically, you need a plan. And if you want to de-risk your parenthood experience, planning is essential.

Continue being sceptical about planning, but if you want all of these things, don’t go into parenthood blindly, do the right amount of planning for you.

Similar Posts