Monday, August 31, 2009

Having a Child is SO Worth it!

Really? Is it worth $221,000? Because based on surveys with thousands of households, that's what it costs for a middle income family to raise a second child today. And that's only to age 17. That figure doesn't even take college or wedding costs into consideration. So let's say we add another $105,000 for college education (the average cost for a 4-year state school), plus $20,000 for a wedding. Now the figure is at $346,000. And that's only for one child. Since most people have at least 2 children, sometimes more, you are looking at a total expenditure of a half a million dollars or more for the privilege of having children. If you want to be a parent, you better start getting really good at playing the stock market (or really lucky playing the lottery). According to this MSN article, Raising Your $221,000 Baby:

Typical families, those making from $56,870 to $98,470 a year, will spend a whopping $221,190 to raise a second child born in 2008 through age 17, estimates the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (.pdf file), a division of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Higher-income families will spend even more. Those earning more than $98,470 will spend $366,660 overall in the U.S. to raise a second child; that figure rises to $406,680 in urban areas of the Northeast.

Though not as steep, the figures for lower-income families are just as unsettling: $159,870 for families making less than $56,870 to raise a second child. That averages $8,882 a year for a lower-income family, $12,288 for the middle-income group and $20,370 for top earners.

Ah, but fear not! According to the author of this article there's no need to take a vow of celibacy because there are ways to trim costs. (Interesting, isn't it that the only choices presented here are having kids or taking a vow of celibacy - no mention of the obvious other option of using birth control and not having kids at all.)

I continue to be utterly fascinated by the undying devotion to parenthood and the never-ending claim that it is so worth it. So worth working yourself to the bone for? So worth giving up any chance of saving for retirement? So worth endlessly struggling to make ends meet? So worth ruining your marriage for? So worth losing your friends for? So worth giving up your hobbies for? Your personal privacy? Your sex life? Your sleep? Your mental health? Your energy? Your free time? Your attention span? Your career advancement? Your community involvement? Educational opportunities? Your sleep? Your health? and on and on and on and on.....?

Oh, that's right. Of course it's worth it. Having children is the most joyful, blissful, fulfilling experience in life. This is so evident when we look around at our friends and family with children, isn't it? Aren't they all just beaming with joy and happiness?

Here's my theory about the it's so worth it line. I think this line is nothing more than parents' rationalization to convince themselves they didn't majorly f*ck up by having kids. They realize they have gotten themselves into deep doo-doo, and they are coming to terms with the fact that they can't undo the doo-doo, (they can't take their kids back to the hospital and get a refund), so they delude themselves chanting the it's so worth it mantra, like glassy-eyed Stepford wives, because facing the truth head on is simply too horrifying.

To be clear, I do not claim that there are no joys involved in parenthood. There most certainly are joys. But to date there has not been a single person who has effectively convinced me - either through discussion or by example - that the joys of parenthood outweigh the costs. Yet somehow, despite the fact that the painful costs of parenthood are in everyone's face all the time, the having kids is so worth it mantra continues to wash over everyone like mind-numbing Muzak and we are all hoodwinked.

Well, not all of us.


CFVixen said...

I've never heard a compelling argument in support of having children either. Yet parents try and try to convince you that it's all worth it.

Awhile ago I researched the cost of private school tuition. I became interested in it since many of the people I work with send their children to private schools. Granted, a good majority of these people are professionals with higher than average incomes. Still, the cost of tuition to a private school is STAGGERING. If you add that cost into the mix, it blow the original numbers out of the water.

Schrodinger's Kittens said...

And if the baby has a medical problem, that just ups the pricetag. I work with a guy who has a toddler that is allergic to so many things: eggs, peanuts, dairy, soy, insect stings, certain fruits--all in greater or lesser degree ranging from upset stomach to life-threatening reaction. The kid has had a couple close calls at daycare that required trips to the hospital and the guy I work with is literally withering before my eyes from worrying about the child's health and the associated medical costs.

He doesn't complain much but one day at lunch he cracked a little and said to me, "I never imagined having a kid would be like this." He and his wife don't take vacations, he doesn't go out for lunch much. He has given up his hobbies. I like this guy; I think he's a good dad, and I can't imagine what a crushing burden that must be. Seeing what's happening to him is scary and sad.

LGT said...

Great post.

Seeing a discussion of the particular costs and demands of raising children in this society (yes, indeed - making it harder to save for retirement, for example, and huge college costs a crazy economy) makes me wonder if having kids is just especially hard in this culture at this time and was easier in other centuries, cultures, etc.

At times, it might have been easier than *not* having kids, for instance, if your kids would work on the farm or contribute to the family economy.

firefly said...

I think that in this day and age, when you can easily avoid having kids, the social Wurlitzer has been playing at a fever pitch to dissuade people from making that choice.

And although it may seem that childhood now costs more in money terms, it's never been easy to raise children. The costs come in other ways -- more women dying in childbirth, higher infant mortality, and in ancient cultures orphanages were full of children who had parents who simply couldn't afford to feed another mouth.

The problem of unwanted newborns has been documented in Italy since Roman times, when babies abandoned next to a column in a forum were either taken home by a third party to serve as slaves or left to die.

Foundling wheels were institutionalized by a papal bull issued in the 12th century by Pope Innocent III, who was shocked by the number of dead babies found in the Tiber. ... Many common family names in Italy can be traced to a foundling past: Esposito (because children were sometimes “exposed” on the steps of a convent), Proietti (from the Latin proicio, to throw away) or Innocenti (as in innocent of their father’s sin).

New York Times, Updating an Old Way to Leave the Baby on the Doorstep

Anonymous said...

Great post. I wonder the same thing about a lot of parents. I've actually had people tell me they were struggling financially, all the while, trying to conceive. I don't get it.

Personally, I don't know anyone with more than one child who isn't being stretched for time or money. With one child we will still be able to go out to eat, vacation, and do other things bigger families can't. I have nothing against big families, but I do think it's pretty selfish to keep popping out babies and expect them to "make do" just because it was your childhood dream to have a houseful.

My husband was a gifted toddler( began reading at 18 months). The public school system wouldn't allow him to begin kindergarten when he was intellectually ready. A private school would've taken him in a heartbeat. His parents couldn't even think about private school at the time. Why? Well, he was 4 years old with siblings aged 3 and 2. He was held back intellectually, got bored with the coursework, and lost interest in learning.

Our only child will be attending Montessori school for the entirety of her education. The next time someone badgers me about "well you have to have another", I'll tell them about this.

Wag the Dog said...

Here's my theory about the it's so worth it line. I think this line is nothing more than parents' rationalization to convince themselves they didn't majorly f*ck up by having kids.

Your theory does have some scientific backing. Particularly relevent is an experiment illustrating Choice Blindness. I believe a similar effect occurs when people opt to have kids and things do not turn out as originally envisaged. Parents will subconsciously justify their original choice even when it is not what they first thought they would be getting into by having kids. Parents are the worst people when it comes to introspection.

The Pint said...

That sound you heard was my head exploding upon seeing those numbers - and my parents were able to send me to a private school from pre-K - 8th grade (for which I'm eternally thankful as that school saved my life in so many ways). I can't imagine what they had to give up to send me there.

And yet for some people, the financial and emotional sacrifice is worth it to raise a child or children - which is fine and dandy for them. But for a lot of people, that sacrifice is too much, and the infuriating part is, they were never told that this might be the case for them because no one likes to talk about it.

The problem is that "Having a child is SO worth it!" is applied as a blanket response to genuine concerns/questions about the costs of parenthood. It's an attempt to circumvent the discussion by trivializing those concerns/questions. How can people be expected to make the right decision to be or not be a parent if they're not given all the information about their choices? I've said it before and I'll say it again - denying the negatives about parenthood will not make them go away; better to acknowledge both the joys and hardships of parenthood and allow people to make their decisions regarding children based on the reality of what they can handle, rather than on flimsy arguments like "Parenthood is SO worth it."

LGT said...

about the costs: "...married couples with children are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as their childless counterparts, and 75 percent more likely to have their homes foreclosed.... having a child is now "the single best predictor" of bankruptcy."

The Two-Income Trap

Sophie the french said...

I totally agree with "Was the dog" : according to parents, their children bring them so much happiness, etc...they are totally subjective.
As Chidfreeee says : why "not having children" is never quoted as a reasonable solution??
Well, i (we) have chosen!

redwings19 said...

You know, I think you can show these numbers to everyone. But if they are dead set on having kids (and YOU having kids), they will move on to the next argument.

My sister is now, thanks to a divorce, a single mom of three kids. TWO of them are special needs, one of them has SMS (a cousin to Downs'). Tough? YOU BETCHA. I'm now helping her out with school supplies because the garnishment on her ex's wages hasn't gone through. She has now stopped the "you gotta have one, too!" argument.

I just tell my friends/family/complete strangers that I have a hard enough time taking care of myself, so it would be unfair to add a kid into it. And it would! Add to it the political stuff going on, and the strangers slapping toddlers in stores....

Nope! Not for me!

Unknown said...

This has always propelled my reasoning not to have children, and also quite neatly segues into the answer to the classic bingo:

"But who will take care of you when your old?"

And my answer invariably is: " My property and investment portfolio."

As...the half a million smackers we saved by not procreating will nicely round out our retirement and "twilight care" savings plan.

Incidentally, my husband and I are in our mid / late 30's and already have started thinking and planning for retirement / senior assisted care for ourselves, may we live that long...

I don't know any parents who have managed to think beyond the next five to ten years, (and then it is invariably for offspring related investments, university, car, wedding, etc...)

My husband and I, and our other childfree friends are the ones carefully planning away so that we are a burden on no-one, and so we will always have our independence in one form or another, and are trying to anticipate ahead of time what we will need later. I know plenty, PLENTY of peers who now have to help with caring for their elderly parents, (and usually they are tired and hassled parents themselves) and they ALL begrudge it. Considering the original bingo I started this post with... Ironic, No?

Caring for now frail seniors is far further down the list then they (the elderly parents) might have hoped when 40 or 50 years previous they thought..." Oh, my kids will just take care of me."

Yes, they probably will. And most will resent doing it, and honestly, as harsh as it sounds, many would have received far better senior care had they just saved up instead of having children and paid a professional care assistant to help them out in old age instead, as we are planning to do.

"My nutty / annoying/ bratty child " conversations are being coupled with "my crazy/ senile / troublesome parents" conversations, and I have a lot of chats about how frustrated my friends are now about having to support or care for THEIR parents AS WELL as their children. I know it is just life...but just seems like such a crappy cycle.

I know that because we are remaining childfree it will be expected that we shoulder most of the responsibilities when our parents need it, and I accept that, (possibly I begrudge it less because I am not overstretched financially and emotionally already?) but times have changed, and I feel so much more liberated to think that we (hubs and I) are taking ALL aspects of our lives, including the last years into our own hands and will have made those choices with care and attention, (and with the money we invested and saved...) and not left them in the hands of potentially stressed, beleaguered, irked adult children who now consider us burdens.

Just a thought.