Country Living Series

Friday, June 17, 2011

Minimalist parents

An interesting query came across my computer this morning. It seems a writer is seeking information on "minimalist parents" and wants input from those who "spend very little" on children.

Specifically the query went like this: "Looking for parents who purposely don't spend thousands on their child to give them every possible advantage because they think it's better for the child. Even though they can afford it, they send them to public school over private, daycare instead of nanny."

I thought briefly about answering this query, but the daycare/nanny option put me off. Obviously the writer seeking this information doesn't even have housewives on his radar if his emphasis is on child-care rather than mother-care.

What about those of us who clearly can't afford either public or private schools? Our income is far too low to afford private schools, and our standards are far too high to afford public schools (hence our choice to homeschool).

And what about those of us who would never dream of putting our kids in either daycare or nanny care?  As I see it, those options shirk our personal responsibility.  Thrifty housewives everywhere live in tight financial circumstances to raise their own children.

But this query got me thinking. Is it better for kids when parents are low-to-middle income, or is it better for kids when parents are well-off? Affluent parents can afford "the best." But do they nurture and raise their kids the way kids ought to be nurtured and raised? (See my WND column What's Needed to Raise Well-Rounded Kids.)

This reminded me of a passage I wrote many years ago in a book I've never published. I wrote this at a time when our girls were toddlers and our financial position was (cough) precarious. Bear with me while I reprint the entire passage:

One of my pet peeves about the lifestyle we have chosen is when people assume we have the “luxury” to stay home with our kids.

One day while driving home from an errand during the children’s nap time (Don, of course, was working in the house during that time), I happened to catch a radio talk-show interview with the author of a book on how to raise your kids without going broke. Always interested in such subjects, I listened intently. The interviewer was soliciting calls from listeners concerning the most expensive aspect of childraising – whether it was private schools, daycare, the cost of a computer, etc.

There weren’t too many callers, but those that did call in proceeded to gripe and moan about the high cost of raising kids. I pulled into our driveway, jerked on the brake, and ran in the house to grab the phone.

To my delight, I was able to get through right away. Imagine me, calling into a nationally-broadcast talk show! It was also one of those rare and wonderful times when I was able to wax eloquent, logical, and intelligent. (This doesn’t happen very often.)

“I don’t know if I qualify to participate,” I began, “since our kids are so young. The youngest is just over a year, the oldest is three.”

The hosts warmly assured me that my opinions were just as meritorious as the next.

“However,” I continued, “I think you may be approaching this the wrong way. I’d like to offer suggestions not so much on how not to spend so much money in buying a computer, but on how to raise kids cheaply.”

I explained in brief that my husband and I work at home, that we struggled for years to build our home business in part that we might be home with the kids when they finally arrived.

“As a result of the choices we’ve made,” I said, “Both of us are able to be home. We work long hours, sometimes literally 24-hour shifts during our busy season. We also don’t make a lot of money, but we consider that a more than adequate tradeoff to be at home. Our girls have always used cloth diapers, we buy our clothes from thrift stores or yard sales, toys are either second-hand or home-made, I breastfed so as not to buy formula, we don’t use daycare, we’re planning on homeschooling, we don’t get TV reception where we live so they don’t watch television and develop a gimme attitude, we don’t get cable, we cook from scratch and buy grocery staples in bulk, raise much of our own food...”

I went down the list, ticking off the methods we employed to minimize our spending and maximize the amount and quality of time we spend with our children.

The hosts listened respectfully, and concluded by saying, “Wow! That’s amazing! We’re so impressed by your creativity that we’re going to send you a free copy of our book. Hang on while the screener takes your information...”

Click. I was off the air. Although I could no longer communicate, I could hear the show continue while I was on hold. Just after they disconnected me, the host was telling the guest author, “That was all well and good, but most people don’t have the luxury to stay home with their kids...”

Luxury...! Didn't he hear what I had SAID?

The screener got on the phone at that moment, so I was unable to listen further, but that last comment sums up my pet peeve.

Did you know that my husband and I have the “luxury” to stay home with our kids? Yeah, that’s what we’re experiencing... luxury.

The ability to stay home is so frequently and cavalierly dismissed as a luxury. What those radio hosts did not understand is that Don and I work brutally hard to stay home with the kids. When I must work at an outside job, I work second or third-shift hours so Don can be with them in the evening. Many’s the time I drag myself to bed at 5 a.m., only to be awakened three hours later because Don must get to work. We discussed swapping shifts, where I work days outside the home and Don works evenings and nights in the shop, but I refuse, because then I’d never see the kids except a couple of hours in the evening before their bedtime. I’d rather go without sleep than not see my kids.

But to discard the sometimes grinding poverty we experienced (which, fortunately, has improved through the years as our business has improved) really irks me.

I can hear the arguments now: more money would mean a higher quality of life for our children, therefore we should be maximizing our income to maximize the quality of life for our children. I say: hogwash.

What kids want more than anything else, in my opinion, is a stable, happy, consistent home life with lots of love, attention, and discipline from their parents. Money, and the things it can buy, are secondary (within reason, of course).

Clearly there are many times when both parents must work. I know...we both do work. I work seasonally at a variety of jobs, but always in sync with Don so that one of us is home. And so many times, both parents work to support an oversized mortgage, new and multiple cars, private schools and daycare, new clothes, new toys, and other designer goodies.

This diatribe is not to make light of struggling parents everywhere. Please believe me when I say, I’ve been-there-done-that. There are also hordes of single parents out there, or those whose circumstances have led them to financial struggles (such as medical bills). But don’t dismiss the sacrifices and struggles Don and I have made to provide the best possible childhood (as we see it) for our kids as a “luxury” to stay home.

So often what’s also dismissed is the mental state needed to stay home. For instance, the kids seem to be going through an especially whiny stage at present. Everywhere I go, [Younger Daughter] is whining (she’s approaching the Terrible Twos, so I accept this as my fate). [Older Daughter] makes constant demands on my time and attention. Every so often I fantasize about working in a nice clean tidy office where coworkers won’t constantly be tugging at my clothing, whimpering, and soiling their undergarments. How much easier a life that would be, and with a paycheck too! At those times, I have to remember that at least I’m not giving my kids anything to whine about, such as stashing them in daycare so I can “find” myself.

Incidentally, when I received the free copy of the book in question, I sat down and read through the chapters on babies and young children. Aimed at yuppie couples (which, let it be known, we used to be), it guided them towards essential expenditures versus nonessential, and suggested the least expensive but best-quality cribs, furniture, gadgets, toys, and clothes. The essence of the book was how to get the best bang for your buck. Never once did the book suggest buying anything second-hand. There are used-baby-stuff stores all over the place, where I can buy cribs and car seats (and yes, they meet federal standards), clothes and toys, gadgets and goodies for a fraction of what even the cheapest cost new. This doesn’t even begin to cover the necessary items you can get at yard sales and thrift stores. I’ve seen more beautiful clean high chairs at yard sales for $5 than I can count (ours was a hand-me-down from relatives). The book had a large section devoted to finding the best quality daycare, without considering whether this major expenditure is necessary or beneficial. Some suggestions in the book were good, but most were waaaaaay too expensive for Don and me.

And people wonder how we can “afford” to stay home with our kids.

The writer looking for "minimalist" parents might not think we're qualified for his article because we're not wealthy.  Our kids have never, ever been buried in "stuff" for the simple reason we could never afford it.  But they ARE buried in what children honestly, truly need: a stable, intact family; a strong moral foundation; high expectations in behavior and attitudes; and an attitude of personal responsibility.

A reader named Aim said it best: "It's all about priorities in a culture that creates entitlements out of what used to be luxuries."

In the end, I would conclude: we're NOT cheap. We just, um, prefer to raise our kids with quality investments such as time, attention, and love rather than filling their laps with physical STUFF. And by these means, we're raising terrific kids.

At least, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.


  1. Thank you for posting that. I would have never been able to articulate that as eloquently as you did, but it sums up our philosophy in raising our children.

  2. And that's a GOOD story! You stick to it!


  3. Dear Patrice, no doubt that wasn't the first time you'd been frustrated by the ignorance and unreasonableness of liberal progressives. No, that host did NOT hear what you said, because it wasn't what he wanted to hear. He had his liberal agenda and he wasn't going to let you muck it up with sound, common sense reasoning!

    You've said many times that liberals can't be reasoned with, and you're right. They only hear what they want to hear. They've been deceived and conditioned to think that way. Add arrogance, self-centeredness, a penchant for lying and belligerent defiance to the mix and voila! You've got today's liberals.

  4. I'm at the office and just read this.
    Very funny.
    I posted this to our in office group chat:
    "(02:17:28 PM) Gabe: At lunch I was reading articles ... one was written by a stay at home mom .. this line from the article; "Every so often I fantasize about working in a nice clean tidy office where coworkers won’t constantly be tugging at my clothing, whimpering, and soiling their undergarments. "
    (02:17:32 PM) Gabe: can I work in an office like that?"

    The response was co-workers telling me if I find an office like that to let them know.

    We work for the government.


  5. That's my biggest pet peeve too! Can't believe how often I hear people saying they wish they could afford to stay home with their kids. My husband and I talked about this before we were married. No daycare, no public school. (Is that redundant?) we survive on one income. It's not a big one, but it's steady, and provides health insurance. We have 5 kids under 10. I spend more hours in the kitchen in a day than many mothers I know do in 4 days. I know the difference between home made, and home assembled meals. We don't buy convenience food, we eat out rarely, buy used, do as much as we can ourselves, raise our own meat, eggs, veggies, milk. We are tied down by our lifestyle. Many people express envy at what we have, but they could have it too if they were willing to sacrifice luxury things like going out to eat, designer clothing, movies out, fancy vacations, modern gadgets, cable tv on a plasma screen, etc. My social life is primarily through church, some family gatherings, and wonderful neighbors. All of our kids need from us every day in various degrees; school, laundry, meals, potty training, reading books, discussing current events and funny questions, nursing baby. The list is long. I'm tired of hearing someone complain about income, and every time I visit they have new furniture, appliance, clothing, travel trailer. Our furniture is second (third, fourth) hand, I'm wearing the same clothes I wore in high school, and we camp in a tent. One guy says "We can't afford another kid." They have one. He makes the same salary as my husband and his full time working wife more than that. It's all about priorities in a culture that creates entitlements out of what used to be luxuries.
    Our house isn't tidy, we have animals scattered about the property, life is noisy and busy. But it's full. And rewarding. And I'm never bored. I don't have time.
    Thanks for posting your passage. The truth in it is still up to date.


  6. "It's all about priorities in a culture that creates entitlements out of what used to be luxuries."

    Actually, isn't society trying to create a luxury out of what used to be almost an entitlement -- a stable family life for kids?

  7. I feel the same way. I agree entirely with everything you said. I have my "luxuries" too. I think we have a far better life then most around us who cannot afford to keep mothers in the home because they need to be in three sports each moms get their nails done, dinners out daily....yada yada yada.
    Nuff said- Melissa

  8. Even to this day, I have to tell my mother that I never ONCE felt deprived as a child because I had only one Barbie doll or because my winter coats came from Goodwill. It just never occurred to me.

    I tell her it always meant more to me just to know she was there.

    Just Me

  9. Yes, I've gotten similar comments over the years for various things. For the short while my husband was off working in a different state (we were laid off and expecting #4, having some income to pay the mortgage and have health insurance just in case was a good thing at the time), his coworkers were constantly blown away by us.
    We refused to pay for two entire households (here and there) because we flat out couldn't afford it, and hubby rented a little room in a house while working there. I continued to be a stay at home, homeschooling mother, continued our garden as best I could, continued canning to some degree and we kept to our budget.
    Then one month the transmission on our (paid for, 9yo) van went out, and we had the savings to pay our transmission guy with a check and move on with our lives. Even hubby's old boss, who was making an obscene-to-me amount of money, said he wouldn't have been able to come up with the cash to deal with that kind of expense. Hmmm.

    I do have to admit, we're still at the beginning of our homeschooling journey (my oldest is 7yo) and books are my downfall. If the kids clamor for one that looks good to me, I have a hard time saying no. Or if I come across some screaming deals at consignment/yard sales, I'll pick them up. What's really fun is that a friend of mine opened up a consignment shop last year, and she gets all kinds of neat things through the door. :)

  10. Whenever I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by not contributing to the household budget with a salary of my own (as opposed to contributing to the household budget by pinching pennies and keeping us in a lower tax bracket), instead of staying at home, I just look around and note that the neighbor's kid spends almost as much time at my house as he does at his own, and he'll do anything to keep on my son's good side so he'll continue to be invited over.

    He needs adults who will actually sit down and talk to him (which we do - new kids are always a little taken aback by this. I suspect they are too used to being ignored). He brags about the new toy he's getting, but I can see what he'd really prefer are Present Parents.

    I suspect he's a little jealous of my son, but won't admit that he'd give up playing football at school in exchange for a mom who was actually there for him.

    I was a full-time working, day care mom, then I woke up. Having gone both ways, I can say without hesitation, that it's cheaper for mom to stay at home, and it's so much better for the home atmosphere as well.

    Who needs new stuff? The new stuff is really garbage anyway, so buy the really good old stuff, save your money and have belongings that will really last.

    As others have said, what it really boils down to for most people, is where do your priorities lie? If your priority is keeping up with the Jones', then you'll both work long hours and pay someone else to raise your kids.

    If having smart, stable, enjoyable kids is your priority, then you will FIND A WAY to make sure that at least one parent is with them at all times. It's as simple as that. Even some single parents have options that will achieve that - can you say Grandma? Aunt? Uncle?

    As long as everyone has the same priority, there will be a way to make it work.

  11. This reminds me of when our niece had to do a report for a class on the cost of raising a baby in the first year of its life .I believe it was meant to scare them away from having babies too early.We had a year old at the time and she asked me to write down all our costs for everything that year.4 trips to J C Penney for photos , co pay on healthy baby check up a few pretty dresses bought full price for those photos...a couple bottles to give my milk in when I couldn't be present...everything else was gifts or hand me downs from relatives oh and an exersaucer which she loved and has been continued to be handed down in the family to other babies.Our neice looked so disappointed because the report was supposed to show the High Cost of babies!!!

  12. Wealth is not always measured by how much money you have or spend!

  13. Amen, and amen, Patrice.

    Before my wife and I got married, we had no real plan about kids because her doctore told her she couldn't get pregnant. Just a couple of months into our marriage, she DID get pregnant, and our first child (of four) was born shortly after our first anniversaru. At the time my wife was working full time and going to school working toward an MBA. She put all of that on hold to be a full-time mom. With the drastic cut in our family income, we merely adjusted our lifestyle, and did without nonessentials.

    That was almost 30 years ago. We have bought "handyman specials," vehicles that we could pay cash for, shopped at thrift stores, and joined a food coop. We've done what we could to stay out of debt, and resuse what we can. This sort of discipline has helped when I lost my job in 2006. Unemployment isn't nearly as devestating when you aren't under a crushing mortgage or credit load.

    As a result, our kids have not really "done without." Good food, shelter, adequate clothes, and parents who are around to help them navigate growing up.

    Continue to be "in your face." Most of us love connecting with a kindred spirit.

  14. When we decided to get married, my husband said his desire was for me to stay home and raise our kids. My mom was a SAHM for all 7 of us kids, even after my dad left us, (the oldest was 15, the youngest was 6 monts old). She raised us for nine years by herself, (then met and married an amazing man). If she could do it, so could I.
    I am not the best homemaker/housewife but I love staying home. Our daughter was 4 years old and begged me to get a job so she could go to daycare with all her friends. I enrolled her in the preschool part of the program for 2 hours 3 days a week. After a couple of months, she didn't like it anymore and has never wanted me to get a job since! She will leave for college in August and we have one son who will be a sophomore in high school this Sept.
    I helped out in their classes when they went to elementary school and was always available to run them around, bring books, lunches, p e clothes, backpacks etc to them when they forgot.
    Our kids have played sports but only when they were little and it didn't cost much. We camp in tents and a tent trailer, we do have one 4-wheeler, only because Dad thought he needed it for hunting lol. The toys we have bought for our kids include rifles, .22s, shotguns, fishing poles, etc. We have also bought dvd players for our Jeep, (very long trips with only old, black & white movies), mp3 players loaded with Christian music, and we only had one computer until we bought our daughter a laptop for college. Because we were only blessed with 2 children, we have walked a middle path between giving them every toy and advantage their friends have and keeping them grounded in poverty, lol.
    We have never taken them to Disney Parks, but we are taking them to Six Flags next month. It will be their fist time. And we won't stay in motels, we will stay with family who have the same values as we do.
    This year, we are homeschooling our son, because we felt he would learn and grow better in constant contact with parents. He has earned a reputation in our town for being a hard worker. We have only lived here for 3 years and he is known for his work ethic. Same thing with our daughter. The local cafe calls her to come and work anytime they need someone.
    If you looked at our income during our marriage, you may wonder how we were able to have me be a SAHM, but we have been so blessed. We may not have all the toys, but our lives are overflowing with amazing blessings.

  15. AHA!!!

    So I've only been partially correct about you and why you do like you do.

    You're not just in it for the glamor.

    You're in it for the LUXURY!!!

    Girl, you are SO busted!!

    A. McSp.

  16. YOu summed it up.

    As a result of the choices we've made

    That is what it comes down to are the choices you make for you or for your children?

    I once was silly enough to express my opinion at work that I felt that my boys were best served by having their mother stay at home with them through High School graduation, you would have thought I broke wind in church. The single mothers were quick to explain that their children were just fine, even with the multiple piercings, tattoos and drug and/or alcohol use. Go figure

  17. DH and I raised our kids. He worked the day shift. I worked nights and weekends. There weren't very many times that we needed anyone other than just ourselves.

    We waited and shopped the sales for what we needed, or we did without, or sometimes we got what we needed at yard sales & thrift shops. If we had to, we got by with one car.

    Our kids did go to public school (the private one in town offered discounts & scholarships, but honestly, they weren't any better than the public school). We supplemented their education at home. ("No - that is not how it happened! Grampa [or Dad] was there at that time in history. Here is what happened.... [etc.]) Of course, that was a few years ago, and schools have not gotten any better, and I agree that homeschooling is the best idea these days. (I could not get my kids to clean their rooms, let alone think about what they would do with their homeschool assignments; but homeschooling wasn't as thought-of at that time, many years ago.)


  18. As a female teacher in a 10K+ a year private Catholic high school that caters to a very wealthy clientele, I can say with utmost certainty that 90% or more of my students (all males)are materially wealthy but spiritually bankrupt. They have everything money can buy but are so miserable, bored, selfish, etc. that all they can do with themselves is to do drugs and live off their parents' money. They have no idea how to be real MEN and have no work ethic. If these are supposed to be our future leaders, then God help us.
    I grew up scrimping, saving, wearing handmedowns, and working since age 14 to help my single Mom keep us together and food on the table. I've had to struggle for everything I have, but honest to God, I'm know I'm better off for it.