On the cost of having kids

My friend Andrea Mrozek from Cardus posted this article on my Facebook page asking for my thoughts: Many Canadians Too Cash-Strapped to Have Children. In the discussion that ensued, working parents noted that daycare was expensive, stay-at-home parents noted that daycare was not a necessity, those who have several children noted that the bills don’t multiply as the family grows, and those feeling the crunch noted that it doesn’t have to multiply to be unaffordable.
News articles about the affordability of children are a sure sign of Spring and their conclusions are as predictable as the proverbial lark.
The cost of raising children looms large in the eye of many and seems inexistent in the eyes of others. How critical “affordability” is to our family size decisions is prone to reflect our own values about family, money, and security, rather than our spreadsheets. Our upbringing, beliefs and life experience anchor our ideas about family and money. The financial argument comes to bolster the life decisions we already made.
The Globe article sets a figure of $13,900 a year to raise a child born in 2015. Yeah, ok, whatever. Daycare in Ontario will run you about $2000/month per child which adds up to $24,000/year give-or-take a few weeks. The figure looks astronomical when viewed as a bill but childcare workers earn less than the average parking attendant. I’ve been described as generous for paying my babysitters over minimum wage — throw in room and board for our nannies — but if I can trust my latte to $12/hour barista I don’t see why my children shouldn’t be. For if where our treasures are, there our hearts be also, our Nation’s vehicles rank above our children.
I have 9 children. Beyond “do you know what causes that?” the questions I get most often are “What does your husband do?” and “How can you afford it?” My husband is a self-employed consultant in the Defense sector. I moonlight as a technical writer. We never considered finances in our decision to have more children because we never had to. We’re well-off by any definition. Not independently wealthy, the money runs out at some point. My children have to pay their way through University and start holding part-time jobs at age 14. How can we afford it? The same way everyone else does: by not spending more than we make. But don’t let the large family aureola blind you: we are not frugal. We have two dishwashers and two laundry rooms for crying out loud. We could be debt free but we are not. If we were, we could pay for our children’s post-secondary education. It’s all about choices, and most people have choices. We may not like them but we have them.
Numbers are numbers. I don’t want to argue about numbers. You can make a statistic admit anything if you torture it long enough. I have friends who have more children than I do on a third of our income. I have friends in the States who do it without health insurance. I have friends with special needs children, orphan conditions, and one income. Whatever your financial excuse for not having more children, I can put you in touch with someone who blows it to smithereens. And the truth is that it won’t change your mind. Because the reason we don’t have more children is because we don’t want to have more children. It doesn’t matter how much we like an idea, our actions make our path.
We do not want more children. As a culture, as a collectivity, as a civilization. We admire attachment, vulnerability, and self-sacrifice as the idiosyncrasies of the saints, not as ideals worth the skin off our knees. We condemn individualism in others but we would rather be caught dead than dependent. Functional happy families are about everything our culture despises: self-sacrifice, unconditional love, giving until it hurts. Once a year, Learned Academics release a study stroking our victim narrative: “I would have had 10 kids but for the cost…” so we can avoid admitting that children simply ask more than we can give.
When I worked for a Member of Parliament, I received a letter — or rather my boss did — from a woman who had to move back with her parents after her divorce. She had two children and a full-time job as a clerk but her income was not enough to keep them housed and fed. It’s a common story in my area. The five of them, two grandparents, one mom and two children squeezed together in her childhood home. She wrote to complain about the hardships of living on a fixed income in a ballooning economy. “Do you realize, she wrote, how humiliating it is for a woman to move back with her parents because she can’t afford to support her children?” And all I could think of as I drafted my — I mean my boss’ — reply was everywhere else in the world where ganging up together to face hardships is the norm.
The cost of raising children is as high as it is because we expect to do it all on our own. Our delusion of independence is an anomaly for which our culture will be remembered. Assuming we leave enough children behind to do the remembering.