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The cost of children

We all know that raising children costs a fortune, and the cash flow never seems to stop, even when they become adults.   But most of us have never tallied the cost, afraid to see the bottom line. What exactly is the cost of raising a child from birth through age 40?  About $1.8 million in today’s dollars. That staggering number includes the usual cost-of-raising-a-kid items, plus college tuition and lost earnings by moms. The calculation was done by Nadia Taha, a New York Times financial blogger, in an effort to help her and her husband decide if they could afford to have children, buy a home and save for a comfortable retirement.  Her conclusion:

It seems obvious that the single decision that can best help us achieve them is one that many newly married, affluent young adults don’t usually consider: Don’t have children.

Ms. Taha wrote that some young mothers told her “good for you” when they heard of her decision. An understandable response from someone who’s wiping spit off her shirt. But what about mothers with decades of “been there, done that” experience?  The perspective of the older generation was offered at Collegeconfidential.com.  More than 700 moms jumped into the discussion and most agreed that the while the decision to bear children certainly carries an economic price, even more costly can be the emotional and physical toll.   Yet few regretted their decision. One comment that summed up the prevailing attitude was from “mnmomof2”:

I love my kids. They mean the world to me. I’d do it all over again, and even wish I had one more! But, they are expensive, demanding, mostly ungrateful, have totally destroyed my career (my choice to “mommy track”), created stress with my H (on parenting issues), and taken practically ALL my time, not to mention the wider hips, the flatter feet, the general physical toll of fatigue… I think the financial piece is just one of the many “costs” of parenting!

We socialize with some childless couples our age. They look amazing (more time for exercise and relaxation), take fabulous trips, and have no guilt about their successful careers. They spend all their money and attention on each other.

That being said, one smile from either of my wonderful kids and I am in heaven! I thank God for them every day.

For the record, I wholeheartedly agree; there’s no doubt that parenting carries a financial, emotional and physical cost, but the experience of parenting two sons and a daughter has been priceless on many levels.  I would not have traded being a mother for any amount of money or freedom to work more, travel more, exercise more, hobby more or upgrade my house and car.

Most of us would not trade in our children even on days they drive us crazy.  But that doesn’t mean it’s an issue that no longer concerns us.  While our struggle to balance a career and children has subsided, our adult children are just beginning to face those challenges, and the decision of whether to have children at all.

That decision to bear children particularly impacts women in terms of their careers and lifestyles.. Last summer  mothering21 wrote about the Atlantic magazine cover story, “Why Women Can’t Have It All,”  which brought the career/children dilemma to national attention once again. A key point: despite advances made by women in the work world, on the home front the moms still do two-thirds of the child care and housekeeping.

Yet our daughters are more ambitious than women in any previous generation, racking up a record numbers of college and advanced degrees.  They fully expect to have challenging professional careers, as do their parents who raised these trophy kids.  Many young women are postponing marriage until they get established in their careers; that in turns pushes back children, if they make that choice.  Indeed, last birth rates fell 1 percent for women in their late 20s.

Which raises a question: While we can’t imagine life without children can we imagine life without grandchildren? Suppose our daughters don’t want to make the same  trade offs many of us made? Many moms  would be deeply hurt and disappointed by that decision. Some might even feel betrayed.  Yet it’s not our decision; it’s up to our daughter and her partner, and our sons and their wives.

While our daughters may indeed turn to us for advice, motherhood is one of those touchy issues where until a decision has been made, we need to be supportive, even if we disagree.  In the meantime, speaking from experience,  as the grandmother of two, there is something proactive you can do while  waiting for the word on grand kids   Hit the gym more often!  You’ll need to be in good shape so you can chase after those toddlers if the time comes.

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