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.