Everybody knows that becoming a parent is hard. Children turn your world upside down and drain your energy. But you get a warm fuzzy feeling when you look at them, so it’s worth it. However, imagine facing the hurdles of parenting life, while accepting the challenge to learn code. Now that’s next level hard. Although, there are things you can do as a parent to make this a more manageable feat. Here are my top 6 tips to help parents balancing family life and learning code.
Now, I am not promising a miracle, it will still be tough, but there are certain changes you can put in place to help you on your journey.
Just a disclaimer, I don’t want to tell people how to parent. Everyone has their own way of doing things, different styles and that’s fine. I just want to share some of the things that have really helped me while learning to code as a new dad.
Children are unpredictable creatures, especially babies. It’s just part of their charm. But you can add some predictability to the mix with a routine.
I have personally found having my little one in a routine helps me with my own routine.
In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of developing a routine to learn code. For parents, this can be more of a challenge as they have the unpredictability of children to contend with. This is why I recommend having a routine for your little ones.
Having a routine for them means you can gauge the times when you’re technically “off-duty” and free to code. And when you can plan your free-time it makes building a consistent code routine a lot easier.
Since the early days of my little guy’s life, he has had a regular bedtime routine. Every night his bedtime routine starts with a bath, followed by storytime, and then a bottle before settling down for bed. And all this happens at the same time each night.
This means I can, with some confidence, say I will code at the same time each night.
That said, nothing is 100% with children. They may get sick or have an off day, which means you may be up and down with them most of the night. But I found majority of the time I can count on my little guy going to sleep and waking up at the same time. Which is pretty handy, even if it is a 5.30am rise.
Being a parent can be exhausting, and while children may sap your energy, they can also light a fire in you. And this can be a very powerful driving force, which pushes you to strive for more.
In my post, 7 reasons why I learnt code, the first thing I mentioned was my son. He is a big motivator of mine. I want to do everything I can to provide him with the life he deserves, just as any parent would. Additionally, I want to serve as his role model. Someone he can look to and think, “no matter what, if I have passion and work hard I can achieve anything”.
I am aware that might sounds very big headed of me! But the fact of the matter is parents are naturally role models anyway. I have no doubt the other parents will feel the same.
The drive to do whatever it takes is a natural instinct. Something we share with the animal kingdom. A lioness won’t think twice about being gored by a wildebeest in order to provide for her cubs. And it’s precisely that drive which can be one of your strongest assets as a parent.
When your journey bogs you down, or even the idea of starting is too daunting, try this little mental exercise to keep you motivated:
Cast your mind to your little bundle of joy, and visualize the life you want for them. Then consider the steps you need to take to reach that life. And finally, think back to the lioness and put yourself in that mindset. It may sound stupid, but when you need motivation, any methods are worth trying.
I would love nothing more than to spend every waking hour studying so I can reach my goals quicker. Unfortunately, when you have a multitude of commitments and a new baby it’s not really possible.
But don’t dismiss your dreams just because your time is limited. Realistically, it’s very rare that anyone will be satisfied with the amount of time they have. You don’t need all the time in the world, you just need a bit and to be consistent.
More time would be nice, but the little and often approach isn’t so bad. For one it builds consistency, which is vital for learning any new skills. The more you practice, the better you become. It’s actually a topic I covered in my last post, but I thought it was particularly applicable to parents.
You may think it’s impossible to learn anything at such a slow pace but you will soon realize that all those little times add up. If you spend 2 hrs a day that equates to 14 hrs a week, which is 56 hrs a month. And that’s nothing to sniff at. Even if you half that at 1 hr a day, that’s still pretty good!
In a few months, you can be well on your way to achieving your goals and finally understanding that complex beast known as programming.
Being consistent is the key, not the amount of time you have.
To be honest, you may even find yourself making more time than you thought. This tended to happen with me. Some nights I would get hooked and stay up late or into the earlier hours studying. What can I say, programmings addictive!
However, if you have a baby who wakes up at 5 am you may not be able to sustain those late night study sessions. For me though the focus was always on consistency.
As a parent, you will be better served by thinking long-term and pacing yourself. As they say, life is a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s a difficult balance working hard towards a dream while being conscious of your health. You don’t want to be lazy but equally, it’s very easy to start going overboard and working yourself into the ground. Especially when you are a new parent confronting the sleepless night and screaming demands of a baby.
But the work till you drop method isn’t a smart move for parents learning code for a few reasons.
The big one is, you’re responsible for another fragile life. Simply, you need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your family.
I have been there, I’ve made this mistake. In my early days, I pushed myself too hard for too long till I couldn’t function properly. I operated on 3 or 4 hours sleep, sometimes less (I don’t know how though!). I exhausted myself to the point where I was having constant headaches and migraines. As you can imagine, this made it hard to both parent and code. It wasn’t good.
Your children are solely dependent on you and you can’t take care of them when your curled up in a bundled heap on the floor.
This approach also resulted in a setback to my productivity. I found it hard to retain any of the information and would have to constantly repeat my previous lessons. The body needs sleep to turn short term memory into long term memory. It’s not practical to be sleep deprived while learning a new subject.
I came to the conclusion that this approach wasn’t productive or helpful to long-term success. Like myself, I am sure you would rather finish the race in one piece than not at all.
Learn from my mistakes and take care of yourself so you can take care of your family and remain productive long term.
Generally, the only free time I have to study is in the evening once the little one is tucked up in bed. However, on the weekends there are little windows of opportunity thanks to the glory of nap time. This may give me an hour or so where I can crack on with my studies.
As a full-time working parent, you will not be able to dedicate the same amount of time as others. So you need to make the most of the time you do have. If a window arises and you don’t have any other duties to take care of, get in some study time!
Any extra time you can give will make a big difference, which is why I say to seize these moments. It goes back to what I mentioned earlier, “do little and often”. The small increments will add up and help you reach your goal faster.
You may have sensed that the overarching theme of this post is TIME. And when you don’t have a lot of time you can’t afford to waste it doing unnecessary tasks. That’s why you need to prioritize.
Deal with first things first. This is habit 3 in Stephen R. Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Essentially you need categorizes things by their importance and urgency. What is most valuable to you? And what needs to be done first.
As a parent your highest priority will be pretty self-explanatory, that being your children! My first thing is my baby boy. Only once he has been cared for and it’s tucked up in bed, will I then begin work on my other priorities.
Family is important so you need to make time for them. This will also help you to scheduled downtime so that you can remain happy, healthy and productive!
To help you prioritize, consider anything that falls into both the urgent and important category as something that should be done first. Followed by things that are just urgent, then things that are just important. Of course, if something is neither important or urgent it should be cut.
It’s worth taking a look at where you spend your time and reducing, or even cutting anything that isn’t a priority. You need to learn to say NO to things. That includes things you choose to do as well as things requested by other people. Sometimes this will be easier than others, but you need to trim down your to-do list and focus on your main priorities. This will allow you to better manage yourself and your time.
To give you some context, lets look at casual gaming as its quite a simple and straightforward example. Sure computer games are fun, but there is no inherit urgency or significant importance that requires you to play them every night. Therefore, this is not really a priority. And as a parent learning to code, who has limited time you should seriously ask yourself whether you can commit your precious time to this leisure activity.
Granted; gaming can provide valuable downtime, so in the interest of my earlier point to take care of yourself, you may consider fitting in some game time during a scheduled well-being break.
It’s very rare that I play computer games, but if I do it’s normally during some planned downtime with friends.
However, as a rule with anything low priority, I only address it IF and WHEN I have dealt with the highest things on my list.
As a parent trying to learn code, the key is to be proactive and plan your time effectively. Set routines in place to help you achieve this and make the most of any windows of time you get to study.
Use your parental drive to provide for your kids as fuel to keep pushing for more. But be smart and listen to your body when it tells you to slow down, remember you have children to look after.
It’s better to think of life as a marathon, not a sprint so pace yourself!
Soon my baby boy will be 1 whole year old and in true nostalgic fashion, I have been reflecting on my first year as a Dad. In particular those first few months. I realize now how naive I was in the lead-up to this momentous occasion. I had a funny idea that my natural parenting instincts would take over and I would just “know what to do”. Although this was true to an extent, there is so much more to babies than…Change. Feed. Sleep. Repeat.
Babies come with a host of potential problems, surprises, and worries that no one can prepare you for. Some advice, be prepared to be unprepared!
I found myself facing challenges I had never even considered and worrying about stupid things. New parents will worry, but I think I was just plain irrational.
I remember Googling “have I broke my baby” at 3 am because I thought I may have burped him too hard. I hadn’t. He was fine. In fact, the little guy was fast asleep next to me, while I was having a mild panic attack.
But through all the surprises and little quirks of parenting the biggest challenge I found was simply learning to adapt to a new life.
A life with more responsibility, more demands, more worry and less freedom, less energy and less time. None of which I would change! Then, of course, all that gets amplified the moment you add “learning to code” to the mix.
Those first few months were a shock to the system, but I learnt so much. Not just about code and babies, but some real-life lessons.
So…what did I learn from my first 5 months as a Code Dad?
My first month as a Dad was magical, exhausting, chaotic, and unproductive, well as far as coding was concerned. By that I mean, NO CODE WAS WRITTEN!
The moment I met my son for the first time was one of the best, if not THE BEST moment of my life. However, like many birthing experiences, it didn’t go to plan. All in all, we spent just over a week in the hospital, and yes, I insisted on staying, despite what some of the nurses said.
During this “wonderful” stay, approximately ZERO sleep was had. And it wasn’t exactly snoozing city when we got home because the little angel would eat, sleep and poop in cycles of 2-3 hrs. Meaning we may get a possible 3 hrs of sleep before playing mummy and daddy again.
Be warned, babies poop a lot at the start, I can’t stress how much, and it’s not your average stuff. It’s this weird black, tar-like substance that takes 10,000 wipes to remove. Sorry, I just wanted to give you a heads up in case you’re expecting. Anyway…
Even after leaving the hospital it still felt like we were there with all the visits back and forth for checkups. Nothing too serious, just issues with the little guy’s weight, jaundice, and feeding.
Oh, that was another thing. FEEDING. We had planned to breastfeed, and by “we”, I mean my wife. Sadly, I don’t have the equipment. However, at the start, there were some problems which meant he was fed both breast and bottle for the first couple of months.
The arrival home was not void of stress either. With the intention to breastfeed, naturally, we hadn’t invested in any bottle feeding equipment. As you can imagine, when we arrived home there was a mad rush for bottles, sterilizers, and the rest.
I have to say, I didn’t imagine spending my first month obsessing so much about weight and feeding problems. I thought it would be all coo’s, screaming baby and no sleep. At least I was half right.
Looking back I feel this first month was mostly spent in a stupor of exhausted worry and wonder. Hours could be wasted just staring at him or falling asleep in random places, and I constantly asked my wife “did I break him?”. I must have sounded like such a first-time Dad.
Finally, this may sound weird, but I found this first month really surreal. It still hadn’t sunk in that I was actually a Dad.
In terms of code, to be honest, by the time I had even thought about learning code the month was already over. This left me feeling really deflated.
It wasn’t a total loss though because I realized in order to learn code as a new Dad I would have to be more rigorous and structured with my approach. Life with a newborn is unpredictable, exhausting and leaves you with very little time. I would need to find some order and routine to learn effectively and be CONSISTENT!
This was a challenging month. I thought month 1 was hard, but it had nothing on month 2. Month 1 was all about adapting to a new life as a parent. Month 2 was about SURVIVING the hard times as a parent.
In this month we found ourselves constantly asking “what’s wrong with him?”. Not in a mean way, but in a genuinely concerned and baffled way. It was all new and we didn’t know what to expect.
We went back and forth trying to figure out what was wrong, why was he constantly crying? We even went to the doctors a few times to see if they had an answer. Was it colic? reflux? silent reflux? A DAIRY INTOLERANCE? Who knows! At the time the possibilities seemed endless.
We tried so many different things but none of it made any difference. The poor fella just seemed to be constantly uncomfortable. We started to think it had something to do with gas, not to be crude but he was full of the stuff.
But honestly, I could be there for like 45 mins just burping him. And every evening before bed we would give him a tummy massages and bicycle his legs. Just so you know, it was to relieve gas. It wasn’t just some fun activity we did in our spare time.
I love the little guy but he certainly had some lung on him. That boy could scream. Two things seemed to calm him; one, pacing around the house, and two, raising him up and down. Sometimes, I couldn’t even sit down! Literally, as soon as I started lowering a small cry would start.
Although it was emotionally tough and draining, I was actually starting to get used to parenting life. Well, the routines anyway, I don’t think I could ever get used to the screaming.
By the second month, I had got used to his routine, and could pretty much predict his sleep patterns at night. Obviously, he was still getting up multiple times in the night, but at least I knew we could put him to bed and he would wake up at x, y, z times.
For example, if he was asleep by 9 pm he would generally sleep through until 12 pm, giving me 3 hrs to do a quick workout and start coding.
That said, babies are babies, and they are not always going to stick to a schedule. A fact highlighted in this particularly challenging month.
Unfortunately, the challenges weren’t just limited to baby stuff. The first challenge anyone faces when learning to code is actually getting started. I didn’t really know where to start, and had countless questions, “What type of programmer do I want to be?”, “Which language should I choose?“, “What website should I sign up to?”, “What course do I take?”, “Should I attend a boot camp?”, the list goes on.
So, for the first week, I spent a couple hours every evening doing a little research and worked my way through these questions. Things started to get clearer, and progress was finally being made!
I had signed up to Sololearn and Codecademy and was working my way through some Java basics. I was finally getting my first real taste of programming. However, before the end of the month, I had already gone through the Java material on Sololearn and finished the free track on Codecademy.
These courses were useful but only provided the basics. I need something more in-depth, practical and real-world. Although Codecademy offered a paid “Pro” course it wasn’t related to Android, which is really what I wanted. So it was back to the internet to find my next step.
The poor guy still appears to be in pain and we were trying various different remedies, and doing everything not to pull our hair out. But we were working through them and getting used to life with earplugs in.
However, what really struck me about this month was how much he had changed already. When he was born he genuinely looked like an angry potato, but what do you expect? He’d been squashed up with no direct sunlight for 9 months.
He was originally a skinny little thing with dark hair, dark eyes and a summer tan, courtesy of the jaundice, all of which made him look slightly Italian. But around the 3-month mark, I remember thinking, “this is a different baby!”. All of a sudden he was a pale chubby little fella, with big light eye and blonding hair, which happened to be falling out on top.
Yeah, babies lose their hair, who knew? It was quite a funny surprise to pick him up one morning to find his mattress like a carpet and him looking like Friar Tuck!
The surprises kept coming as he grew and discovered new things. And every time he did something new I absolutely lost my mind with excitement. I never thought I’d get so hyped up about a baby grabbing their feet for the first time. I’m 99.9% sure all our neighbors heard as I screeched for my wife from the other side of the flat. She rushed in and must have thought something terrible had happened, but no, our baby boy just had a mouth full of foot.
I loved these little moments. Seeing him grow, smile, grab his feet and get excited when I read a story were amazing. It made the hard times melt away.
In a bid not to sound so soppy, a strange turn of events happened in this month. He had gone from being a bonified poop machine to averaging one a week. It was a bit concerning but we were assured it was normal. The issues came when he would catch us off guard. Those were fun surprises, which used to occur just as I was leaving for work and required a full hosing down in the shower. Parenting done right.
That’s probably enough talk of number 2’s. Anyway, how was my coding coming along I hear you ask?
Well, at the beginning I was still trying to find the right platform and course. I had signed up to various free trials for Team Treehouse and other websites. However, I was getting frustrated with myself because I knew I was procrastinating.
I had a good routine and was spending a couple hours each night working, but I hadn’t really committed to anything. To be honest, I was just going round in circles, and I knew it.
At that point, I thought “this is it, I need to get serious, be decisive and create a plan to get me focused and stop procrastinating!”. At the same time, I happened to discovered Udemy. I thought it was crazy that you could purchase a developer course for as little as £10. To be honest I thought, surely for that price the course will be absolute rubbish! But what did I have to lose it was only £10. This sounds like a sponsored ad for Udemy, but I promise it’s not.
I purchased a couple of courses to learn everything about Java and creating Andriod apps and got to work. By the end of the month, I felt like I was making real progress and I could see if I kept it up I may actually achieve my goal. My crazy dream might actually become a reality.
In this month I discovered the reality of how hard programming can be. At the start of the month, I felt that I understood the basics of programming, but things were about to heat up. Definitely, this was the month when I really started programming.
I compare learning to program to climbing a staircase. Each step up is hard, but once you get there it’s little effort. But then comes the next step, another wall to climb, and guess what? IT’S HARD AGAIN.
You end up ascending the staircase and each time repeating the same thing in your head…” what is going on?!”…”ok, I kind of get what’s going on, but how do I do it”…” right, that’s how?”…”it worked, no way!”…”I got this now”. And the cycle continues.
With every step up I would continue using what I had just learnt so the previous concept would become second nature.
In this month I was moving on from basic’s and starting to build small practical programs from challenges issued in my developer course. For example, a program to handle restaurant food orders, a shopping basket/checkout program, a music playlist (using my own LinkedList), and a text based adventure game. I would also go the extra mile to enhance or add to the projects. Doing this was hard but so worth it!
There were lots of late nights trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and to be fair, not a great deal has changed. I’ve always struggled to walk away without knowing the answer. Maybe it’s because I’m slightly obsessive? Who know’s. Either way, I could easily be up till 2 am or later grinding away, just trying to solve one problem.
Late nights are hard anyway, but when you have a baby who starts the day at 5 am, it’s probably not the smartest thing. Sometimes I felt like a zombie at work and if I laid my head anywhere that was it, I was out like a light.
Luckily, my bouncing baby boy was fairly good at night by relative standards, and would only get up once or twice. And even when he did he was fairly easy to manage. Literally, he just wanted a quick feed and change, then boom, he was back to sleep. Winning!
Although, as I write this, I remember that this was the month when he got his first tooth. Awe they grow up so fast don’t they!
It is well documented that teething is not a pleasant experience, any parent will tell you the same. However, what you may not know is how much a teething baby dribbles. Honestly, it’s was like Niagara Falls. If he didn’t have a bib his shirt could be soaked in a matter of minutes. Note to self, stock up on bibs! Just another funny quirk of parenting.
In general, he was doing well. Unfortunately, he was still having some discomfort but it wasn’t as bad as the previous two months. Either that or we were just used to it by then. After exhausting all possibilities we ended up seeing an osteopath. I don’t really know if it was the magical cure, but we did start to see some improvements. In the end, we figured he would just grow out of it, which he finally did.
There are a lot of unknown’s with babies. They obviously can’t tell you what wrong so it’s really hard to get a definite answer. The best you can do is run through an internal checklist and try and workout what’s wrong via a process of elimination. Are they hungry? Tried? Need changing? Windy? Sick? Too hot? Too cold? And when all that fails you just have to turn to yourself and say “babies are babies”, and give them a cuddle and hope they don’t cry for too long.
To give you a quick summary of month 5, everything was going really well. The little man was a lot happier and whatever was bugging him seemed to have disappeared. He was a bubbly, chatty little fellow, with a full head of hair and parenting felt less stressful. It was still no walk in the park, but certainly a little bit easier.
As an added bonus, he would only get up once in the night. And although he would still start his day 5 am the next morning, generally speaking, he would have gone to bed just after 7 pm. That’s defiantly nothing to whinge about.
He was set in his routine, and me in mine. Every evening I would come home from work, play with my little boy. Then my wife and I would give him a bath, get him ready for bed and finally I would read him a couple of bedtime stories. Once he was all tucked up in bed the adults had a little bit of time to have dinner and relax. Before the work started of course.
Coding had become a habit and I was finally starting to feel like a real programmer! I could read Java with little trouble and had confidence in my ability to learn new concepts. I would still struggle, but the last month taught me that learning code is a process and if you stick to it there is nothing you can’t learn!
Even though things appeared to be going well I still wasn’t completely stratified with my progress. To stay motivated I had been reading stories and watching videos of other people who learnt to code. They all had amazing stories of how they learnt to code in a few months and then got jobs as developers. It was a bit demoralizing when I looked in the mirror and compared myself to them.
At this point in time, I didn’t feel job ready in the slightest. I was confident that I could do the job or figure it out at least. But I thought there is no way anyone would hire me. I expected myself to be further along in my journey, and as a result, I started to doubt myself.
I had a long hard look at myself and realized I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. You may be doing the same now.
Learning code is hard. Being a parent is hard. Balance everything and stay sane is hard.
To sum up, life, in general, can be hard and we all have different abilities, different constraints, and different surroundings. But as long as you are doing something, making strides in your life and spending your time wisely, it doesn’t matter.
As the great Gandalf the Grey said: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”. I could probably learn more and progress quicker if I spent every waking hour, when I was not at work, coding. But time with my son is more precious to me than anything and I am not willing to sacrifice it.
If it takes me longer to reach my goal then so be it. As far as I am concerned I’ve spent my time wisely. At least I am still making progress towards my goal, even if it’s not as fast as other.
I hope you have enjoyed this insight into my first few months as a Dad learning to code, and I hope it helps in some way. I will catch you next time!
Feature image designed by Freepik