Lady Business: Motherhood and Debt
I was on my way to another baby shower when I met the writer in a coffee shop, just to catch up. This was several years ago, and I had not been in a relationship that had lasted longer than a full year (usually my fault) since I was in high school. There was never a plus one, only the awkward admission I often made that it would "just me" at these occasions.
The idea of having a child as a single mother had me reaching for my acid reflux pills. I had worked hard my whole life not to be as poor as I was growing up. Until I was financially and emotionally ready, I was clear that I could not afford a child.
More than that, the feminists I admired seemed to consider having children a career-killer. The writer above said a child would act as "a ball and chain for the rest of your life."
That almost sealed the deal. I knew a lot of women who had warm longings to be mothers since they were teenagers—I was not one of them. I admired the mothers in my midst, I considered them brave and privileged. Having a baby of my own seemed scarier than anything I'd ever been through, though—and I'd been through a lot.
"You will grow out of that," my older lady friends would tell me. "There will come a day when you're walking in the baby section at Target and all of a sudden, you will start thinking about having your own."
According to The Huffington Post, from infancy to age 17, the lifetime cost of raising a child is close to $222,360.
As I contemplated the writer's words and attended baby showers while wrestling with my own ambivalence, I was also very aware of living in a world where new parents go into debt. Not just because of housing and medical costs, but also because businesses increasingly don't have policies in place to support family life. Bryce Covert wrote about new babies and big debt in the Nation last week:
…working women who give birth without guaranteed time to recuperate and care for their babies… often resort to drastic measures, such as going deep into debt, to make ends meet. Only three federal laws have ever been passed that offer protections for workers with new children. The best known is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires that employers of a certain size allow new parents up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. No federal law requires employers to provide paid leave to new parents, and eighteen states offer nothing beyond the FMLA. Unsurprisingly, the Census Bureau has found that over 40 percent of new mothers take unpaid leave.
I have heard from my mommy friends that they find ways to make this work in all kinds of partnerships. I suppose I could eventually do the same. But I find it challenging to reconcile pursuing a career and staying debt-free with making a decision, one way or the other, about becoming a mother. All of these factors make it ever harder to sort out. For parents: did you consider the cost of parenting before you had children? How did you manage that? For those of you who are childless, has money been a factor in your decision not to have kids?
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