I came across a link to an article published six years ago in the Washington Post entitled Three Kids? You Showoff! Written by Pamela Paul, it discusses the shocking decision a young couple made to have three children, rather than the obligatory maximum of two (by New York City standards).
One of the things I found fascinating in this article is the tangential glimpse of what life is like in large cities. My understanding is that space is often so tight that three children could, indeed, prove to be a hardship (unless you're wealthy enough to afford a spacious townhouse or something).
But it was the implications about the cost associated with child-raising that I found to be such an interesting contrast to the reality of raising kids on a budget. The author writes, "What shocks people, when we tell them, isn't the thought of hauling three kids onto a place for a vacation, or even the idea of coming home every night to a houseful of runny noses and homework assignments. What gets them is the sheer financial audacity. Raising kids today costs a fortune. Last month, the Department of Agriculture estimated that each American child costs an average of $204,060 to house, clothe, educate and entertain until the age of 18."
Amortized over 18 years, this comes to $11,336 per child. Not in anyone's wildest dreams does the average American spend over $11,000 per year per child. (When this figure first came out, my husband did some investigation and learned that the bulk of that figure includes one's mortgage. In other words, for a family of four, one-fourth of the mortgage costs are "assigned" to the child as the cost of raising him. Unrealistic, in my opinion.)
"There's no question that it takes a lot more money to bring up baby nowadays," writes the author. "Many parents would scoff at the Agriculture Department's humble figures. When you get into the nitty-gritty, the price of kids feels more like a million dollars a pop."
Apparently in some places, children have become visible displays of walking wealth. The author writes, "In many major U.S. cities and their suburbs -- especially New York, where I live -- having three or more children has now come to seem like an ostentatious display of good fortune, akin to owning a pied-à-terre in Paris. The family of five has become 'deluxe.' Last year, novelist Molly Jong-Fast mused in the New York Observer, 'Are people having four or five children just because they can? Because they feel that it shows their wealth and status? In a world where the young rich use their $13,000 Birkin bags as diaper bags, one has to wonder.'"
(Anyone here own a $13,000 Birkin bag, whatever that is? Anyone? Hellooo?)
When our girls were young, Don and I were living so far below the poverty level that we were scraping bottom. We were desperately trying to get our woodcraft business viable, and all expenses were examined with a microscope. We squeezed every dollar til it shrieked. We had no choice, unless we wanted to return to the nine-to-five nightmare we'd worked so hard to escape.
We had our children at this juncture because, as a friend so wisely advised, if we waited until we could afford to have kids, we'd never have kids. We were well into our 30s by this point and couldn't wait forever to start our family.
As a result, frugality became the norm in our household, and we've managed to raise our girls up with the love, laughter, and discipline (rather than material excess) that we feel every child needs. We've cultivated their gifts in music, art, and reading. More importantly, we've cultivated their minds and spirits toward a high work ethic, distaste for government charity, a knowledge of their American heritage, and a love of God.
Find that in the aisles of Toys R Us.
But the modern parents this author discusses are crushed by guilt unless they raise their child "right." "And the pressure to do that," notes the author, "even if you're not uber-wealthy, has become overwhelming. From the moment the heartbeat blinks across the sonogram screen, Big Baby starts in with its pleading and conniving: I'm your child! How can you spare any expense? Don't you care?
"For a couple's every conceivable wish or worry, the parenting industry knows the precise formula of guilt, fear, hope, love and desire that will empty the parental wallet," notes Ms. Paul. "Rather than fret about spending too much money, most parents these days are consumed by the anxiety of underspending -- the fear that somewhere, some other parent is offering her baby an educational toy or child-development class that will propel the toddler ahead, and that if you skimp, your child risks losing out and falling behind."
Later in the article, Ms. Paul sensibly points out how Benjamin Franklin didn't have "his vision enhanced by a Stim-Mobile or his sense of spatial relations improved by Baby Einstein Numbers." She points out how the average American child gets "an average of 70 new toys a year yet child development experts agree that the best toys are simple playthings such as blocks, balls and figurines that a child can play with over and over, in new ways."
Seventy new toys a year???!!! On what planet? Our girls were lucky to get toys at Christmas and birthdays. Period. And many of those were homemade or second-hand.
I always find articles like this to be fascinating since it offers a glimpse into a land of spending I've seldom seen. Are these types of parents so caught up in status that they'd never darken the door of thrift stores or even (gasp!) utter the immortal word "No" when their child asked for a toy?
One of the families I admire the most has six children ranging from eight months to 14 years, all crammed into a modest home and all supported by a father's modest salary. (And when I say modest, I mean modest.) Around here, this family is not unusual for the standards by which they raise their large numbers of children.
Whose children do you think are more pleasant? The children who grow up sharing toys, books, rooms, love, fights, and adventures? Or the children who grow up showered with toys, electronics, and the undivided attention of a nanny but not a parent?
It's not expensive to raise children. And to my way of thinking, raising children in modest circumstances (within reason, of course) is healthier than raising them in luxury.
(Seventy toys a year? Sorry, can't get over that.)
"Between diapers and bouncy seats," reports Ms. Paul, "parents can count on spending at least $6,500 on the first year of baby gear alone. 'You walk into Babies R Us, and you're just overwhelmed,' recalls Brooke Houghton, a 35-year-old mom from Chicago who said she ran out of the store in panic after 15 minutes. 'There was just so much equipment I hadn't even considered.'"
It's been a long time since we've been new parents, and at the time our kids were born it wasn't an option to raise them "luxuriously." It wasn't hard to resist the lure of the "parenting industry." We simply couldn't afford it. Yet I think our kids turned out okay.
So tell me -- any parents of younger children out there -- how do YOU resist the "parenting industry"? And is it hard?