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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To answer your third

To answer your third question, yes. I'm one of those young women who have hit that Target baby section phase, but as emotionally ready as I feel, the finances just aren't there. Sadly, I don't think they ever will be, and I'm afraid one day I'll be stuck in the same desperate situation as other struggling moms. But the choice is either to have kids when you can, or wait until you have the money — and you're physically unable.

It does seem that way

"But the choice is either to have kids when you can, or wait until you have the money — and you're physically unable."

Yes, definitely. Just the

Yes, definitely. Just the cost of the pregnancy check-ups before the kid would even be born would put me in major debt!

Factors in the Decision

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?

The "ball-and-chain-for-the-rest-of-your-life" bit factors in pretty heavily here. Even as a nurturing, "mothering" Cancer I find it hard to believe I'm ready for that kind of commitment. Having a kid will change your life, there's no doubt about that. This seems more true for those of us close to or under the poverty line: Without the money to pay for credible childcare, and child-rearing costs, a lot of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of one -- maybe two -- people. That's a huge time investment. When work and/or community involvement (or other commitments, like education) is a concern, it's hard to imagine sacrificing that time for the rest of forever (or at least approx. 20 years into the future)

The world looks less and less promising for people. Even the current population is having to relinquish more and more of the privileges we had growing up. If we had few privileges growing up, it might seem unreasonable to bring other humans into the world when we're all already struggle so much to share what's currently available.

Obviously to each their own. Those are the reasons I resist the mighty maternal instincts.

The time part

"That's a huge time investment. When work and/or community involvement (or other commitments, like education) is a concern, it's hard to imagine sacrificing that time for the rest of forever (or at least approx. 20 years into the future)"

It's clear that for some people, the benefits outweigh the costs and the sacrifice is worth it. But until I figure out if I'm one of those people, I'm resisting the mighty maternal instincts (I have them, too.)

At least there are thoughtful people out there...

I have a very planned and thought out 8 year old. I'm still unfortunately shocked by the amount of people I know who didn't even plan out having a child. They accidentally ended up pregnant and are somehow making it work. So for them, there was no planning prior and they are doing everything off the cuff. You love your children and you stay living within your means and you get by. All in all, having a kid really is worth it for them (or I hope it is).

Personally, we planned. I knew I'd have to stay home with no pay (I was freelancing at the time) but I had great insurance through my husband. I had a c-section that cost me only $500 total for the entire hospital stay b/c I wanted a private room. No deductible. It was an initial $40 deductible b/c I only pay for the first Dr visit and after that its an existing medical issue. As for his college, I spoke to all the grandparents before he was born and got each one to donate to a college fund in my child's name. One grandparent gave a LOT, so I'm fortunate. As for the day to day. We make it work, but we are not having more than one because we know our financial limitations (this was decided even before our divorce). We haven't gone into debt b/c of him. We didn't do the fancy private day care and we go to Public School even though it's dicey at times. I'm frustrated by friends with multiple kids who complain of no money, no college money, etc. And even more frustrated by their reasoning when I ask why they had a second if they couldn't afford the first which usually just amounts to them not wanting the first one to be alone.

I hope most people are as thoughtful about having kids as the author and the commenters. It's a much bigger challenge than most people realize and while love should be first and foremost, financial responsibility should come in a closer 2nd than it ever seems to.

Wow

Thank you.
It seems like you were also pretty thoughtful about your decision. Which I think is ideal.
Whether one decides to live childfree or have multiple children, the intention piece is huge.
And attaching a price tag to something as central to family as children can seem...coarse, I think? Maybe reductive is a better word.

No.

I didn't stop for a second to think of how expensive having children would be. Let me acknowledge first that I haven't had to parent under circumstances of true economic hardship. By the standards of our community, we're solidly lower-middle-class. That said, it honestly seems like it hasn't cost that much (I'm also willing to admit here that my math might be somewhat influenced by nostalgia). For the first year we had all the stuff we got at the baby shower plus hand-me-downs from older cousins and friends. The money we saved by not going out or eating at many restaurants probably totaled more than we spent on our daughter (except for diapers--we used disposables). Luckily my job made special provisions so I could take a brief leave, then continue to work part-time while continuing to pull my full-time salary. My family's health benefits were also completely paid for by my employer. Probably the biggest savings for us was that my husband was a student at the time and our child care costs were nil. However, we eventually chose to put our daughter in pre-school for the social interaction value and it totally ate up all our discretionary income, but that leads me to my main point....

Probably the biggest factor influencing my perception is that, once our daughter was born, she was just a person in our family. We didn't think of spending money on her in terms of sacrifice or duty, just as a natural extension of spending money on things for ourselves. I think that's the hardest element to factor into calculations of how much it will cost to have children. Paying for things for your kids isn't the same emotionally as paying the gas bill or rent. Your sense of the impact of the outlay of money is just different. If you don't have kids and you contemplate how having them will impact your ability to travel the world, the calculations are depressing. If you already have kids, traveling the world is just one of many things you can't or don't afford and it's fine. Then, as the kids get older and more expensive, the growing expenses creep up on you without you even noticing. Once your paradigm has shifted, you just take it in stride.

I totally realize all this is much different for people with truly difficult economic circumstances,so I don't want to pretend everyone should go ahead as recklessly as I did. I guess my advice is, if you're relatively financially stable, try not to let the economic considerations become too dominant in your decision-making. Yes, kids are expensive, but your budget paradigm will shift accordingly if/when you become a parent.

Solid advice.

I get the sense that this is true from watching my friends with kids who truly enjoy them:
"Paying for things for your kids isn't the same emotionally as paying the gas bill or rent. Your sense of the impact of the outlay of money is just different. If you don't have kids and you contemplate how having them will impact your ability to travel the world, the calculations are depressing. If you already have kids, traveling the world is just one of many things you can't or don't afford and it's fine."

Money isn't a major motivator for anything that I do, so it's not the first consideration I have when it comes to kids. I liked that you suggested that I don't let it dominate my decision-making. That's a helpful reminder.

Yes - we considered finances

My husband and I thought hard and crunched the numbers over and over and over and over before we decided to conceive. He is our sole source of income as I am a law student that commutes 83 miles X 2 a day to go to class. We had to be sure that we could afford the cost of daycare, health insurance, and other baby expenses while still paying our mortgage, student loans, cost of gas, etc. We knew we wanted children young (read: as soon as possible) but were VERY CAREFUL to make sure the finances would work out since we're on such precarious ground to begin with. I'm pregnant right now due on June 16 and my husband is still very worried about the finances, but there's not much we can do as this point. It will be very tight until I graduate and am able to contribute financially.

I was just willfully ignorant

I was just willfully ignorant about the cost of raising children and figured that if I looked at the numbers, I'd never do it. And I put my homebirths on my credit card. While I don't regret having children, and think that we timed them pretty well despite flying blind, having two children close in age has definitely impacted decisions about our careers, etc, that would have otherwise not been a question. And certainly, it has impacted our ability to make headway on debt (student loans, etc) and impacted my grad school experience profoundly. That said, would I take my kids over a worthless PhD? Yes. I think that better overall financial savvy would have benefited us enormously, so that we would have been more considerate of all decisions before, during, and after our kids' births. Now that our kids are nearing school age and we are facing tons of debt, we're being much more careful, thinking way more conservatively. Do I wish things were different? Often. But I wouldn't subtract my kids from that equation. Just my own stupidity in other matters.

My own son is 6 years old and

My own son is 6 years old and for much of his life, I have been a single parent. Children cost what you make them cost. If someone shops yard sales and have friends with bigger children, clothes are cheap to free, and maybe even furniture (or people can sometimes borrow). I tend to shop end-of-season sales and use coupon codes online quite often too. Of course, they still eat, require a larger home/apartment than one might get normally, and have a host of other expenses, but they honestly can cost much less depending on one's own frugality. Parenting styles/decisions can factor in the costs of babies. If a parent leans more towards Attachment Parenting, strollers, bottles, formula, cribs, basinets, and disposable diapers are cut out of the early years' costs.
He was unplanned, but I decided that keeping him was what felt right to me at that time. I have a great family support system and managed to finish my Bachelor's over these years. I realize that not everyone does have that in place though.

Mothering and Debt

My daughter was planned. The fall out of my relationship unplanned. You make things work. Children aren't expensive, stuff is. Kids are also a huge asset long term: they provide a value which cannot compare to the dollar, but it's of better value.

Yes

Yes, my husband and I did consider finances. After being in grad school for 9 years and then my husband returning to grad school for 3 years in his late 30s this meant that we weren't in a financial position to have a child until I was 36. After two miscarriages, we didn't end up having a baby until I was 38. I guess what I'm saying is that waiting until we were financially able to afford a kid meant that we pushed having kids until I was in my late 30s and my partner was in his 40s-- which sort of sucks since I want to have kid #2 and I'll probably be 40+.

That said, I know plenty of folks who had kids that were unplanned or when they technically weren't in a good financial position to have kids-- but, they are still thrilled with their kids and they made it work somehow. But, I know that may not be the case for everyone depending on their situation.

raising zoe

My daughter, now 15 was unplanned but very welcome. I've been a single mum for 15 years and yes financially it has been hard at times. I am way behind friends who are childless in terms of income,assets, planning for my future and career progression but you know what - I am far richer in life experience and love and that to me is priceless. Life is challenging but that's what makes it great. Only you can decide what kind of life you want and what values you want to live by and for me I am not interested in keeping up with the Jones' so I feel happy and fulfilled. However I will admit that I was already trained as a nurse before i had my daughter so finding employment has never been an issue for me. I think it would be a defferent kettle of fish all together if you had no income.

Nope

My first pregnancy was completely unexpected. My now-husband-then-boyfriend and I were still undergrads, but we were young enough to completely believe anything was possible, and so it was (and remains so). We have one huge advantage, though, which is we live in Canada, and so don't deal with many of the issues raised in this article or by other commenters. All doctor's or midwife's visits (you are allowed to choose which), ultrasounds, medications during labour, and the hospital stay, are completely covered by our public medical system. We also have one year maternity leave and six month parental leave after that (which means a total of 18 months with baby - the parental leave either the mother or father can take). We also have several weeks (I forget how many) you can take during pregnancy due to illness. So when a young broke couple like us gets pregnant in Canada, you have no debt and have a guaranteed 1.5 years home with your child (and obviously more if you take it). This guarantees that for us career driven women, we are legally guaranteed that we *cannot* be penalized for missing time at work. What's more, there's a checks and balances system which grants women "points" for their time away to make sure male counterparts who don't have such times are not unfairly advantaged. The system is by no means perfect, but as a mother, a feminist, and an American citizen (I'm dual), I am honestly shocked by what mothers and fathers are expected to do in the States to have a baby. Frankly, I think having to return to work and leave your newborn mere weeks after giving birth is barbaric. Now, if only we could get as far as Sweden, where feminism has successfully influenced people's thinking to the point where not only do they have 2 year mat leaves, stay-at-home moms get retirement credit because Swedes believe that their contribution is just as valid as other work, and that what they do is of value to society in the same way office work, teaching, corporate world, etc. etc. is.
I also wanted to say that I completely agree with the commenter who said stuff is expensive, not kids. How much kids cost GREATLY depends on what you believe kids "need." The first year can be really inexpensive if you choose to breastfeed, opt out of a crib, choose a simpler stroller (or opt out altogether - we mostly used a carrier), etc. etc.
I don't feel that my kids are at all, in any way, a drain on my life or resources. We have travelled all over the world with them, I am now a PhD candidate in a competitive field, and I enjoy the company of my children more than anyone else's on earth (except my awesome husband's). It's all about attitude and choices. We find parenting fun, and we choose to spend our money on organic food, private school, and trips around the world instead of big TVs, second cars, bigger houses, etc.
I can honestly say that being a Mom is the greatest thing I've ever done (even though - shock - it wasn't planned) and that it gives me far greater pleasure and sense of achievement than anything - including my academic career (which I love).

I'm 30 and I'm glad I haven't

I'm 30 and I'm glad I haven't gotten to any baby-isle-at-Target phase in my life. If I wanted kids, I'd be terrified of getting stuck like my parents did in back-breaking, soul-sucking dead-end jobs because they had extra people to support. Growing up I saw how hard it was for them--working 12+ hour days, often on opposite schedules so they never saw each other. Not having kids has given me the freedom (and class mobility) that they never had. If I had a kid now, I don't know what I'd do...I live in a tiny apartment in a big city, work at a job I like, and make enough to live a pretty modest, but enjoyable, lifestyle. But I don't make enough to save for retirement, let alone support another person.

My parents raised three kids

My parents raised three kids on a limited income (my mom didn't work). Most people can't really afford kids, yet they keep doing it because for a lot of human beings, it's our biological imperative to perpetuate the species.

I'm 27, married, and my husband and I own a home, two cars, a dog, and he's got a pretty good job and savings. I'm still terrified to have kids because of the money issue. But if my parents can do it, so can my husband and I.

I don't know why you mention being a single mom and not having a partner, and you can still have a career and be a mom and be a single mom if that's how it is.

I'm definitely considering the cost of having kids before I have one, but ultimately, it won't really matter. Because honestly, there is never the "right time" to have kids. You'll never be 100% ready.

Money was a consideration to

Money was a consideration to a limited extent when my husband and I talked about getting pregnant. By that I mean, we decided to get pregnant when both of us were out of university, had career jobs and were able to aggressively pay back our student loans. Luckily that happened last year and I am now very excited about being pregnant!
Personally, I have known I want to be a mother since I was a teenager - but I have also known that I need a career, travel and creativity in my life to be happy. I feel grateful that my twenties were spent working hard, going to university, living on my own, and travelling because I am a more confident, peaceful person. I discovered who I was first, then became a wife and (am about to be a) mother.
My decision to wait until I'm 30 to have a child is directly connected to my need to not live paycheck to paycheck, worrying about how the bills are going to get paid while being responsible for another life - that's too much stress for me. It was also related to my need to find the right life partner.
As a Canadian, many of these financial issues raised just don't exist. All my prenatal appointments and my ultrasound were paid for. So will my hospital stay. In 8 weeks I will go on paid maternity leave for a year. I don't believe that a child costs $222,000 to the age of 17 - that's $13,000 per year! I estimate it will be more like $3,000 per year plus day care (so $13,000 for 4 years, then $3,000 after that). Luckily the economy is strong in Alberta, Canada and this expense should be within budget.

I think you're forgetting

I think you're forgetting food, clothing, school supplies, transportation, tutoring if necessary, extracurricular activities like sports, art classes, music classes, furniture (you have to buy a crib, then a toddler bed, then a regular bed.... mattresses and beds are expensive!), birthday parties, friends, outings..... I think you're grossly underestimating how much kids cost, and I'm not even pregnant or have kids yet and I know it costs more than $3,000 a year!

$3,000 includes food,

$3,000 includes food, clothing, transportation, health care and toys. Health care is covered by my husband's insurance, most clothing and toys will be donated to me through friends or on sale, and I plan on breastfeeding for the first year. There are a lot of free or cheap activities and play groups in the town where I live.
The cost of a child greatly depends on where you live and the lifestyle you expect to provide. When my student loan is paid off in three years, I will be much more able to add things I consider extras like paid tutoring, summer camp, etc.
It's also important to keep in mind that things that cost money can also be acquired through bartering/trading services with a little creativity. Friends who are parents can take turns babysitting the children so the parent can get some free time. Tutoring can be exchanged for swimming lessons, and so forth.
You don't need to be rich to be an excellent parent.

First of all, I never said

First of all, I never said you need to be rich to be an excellent parent. My only point was that I think you're underestimating the cost of raising a child, and that $3,000 a year is extremely low, even with free health care. My parents did the gently used clothing and toys, along with hand-me-downs, but you can't always count on things being free or used, or bartering/trading, but that doesn't work all of the time. It's nice to be optimistic, but you have to be realistic first. And I don't think it's realistic to think that you can raise a child on $3000 a year. my parents couldn't, even with living on a lower budget.

I don't have children (but

I don't have children (but then, I'm only 22) but I know I don't want any unless I gain a certain amount of money per month. Like you, I grew up poor and as much as I love my mother, who cared for my sis and I single-handedly for a variety of reasons, I don't really want to end up being broke every month, feeling overwhelmed with bills and not being able to afford anything non-utilitarian..I'm still living under the poverty line according to my country's standards right now, but at least I just have myself to be worried about. I don't diss women who have kids while being poor of course, but I just couldn't bear the strain myself !

Values, not money (but money is still important)

I'm 31, and my baby-fever has been growing over the past few years. I grew up very comfortably middle class, and I worry I won't be able to provide the same lifestyle for a child. Like other posters though, I don't want to wait until I'm financially ready, as that may never happen, or if it does, it will be too late. I have friends who have student loan debt, like me, but have started families- they make it work. A financial expert's advice on children and money (somewhat) reassured me; it's the values you pass on to your kids that matter, not the money (although we do need better maternity leave, etc.).

http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/zenvesting-kissing-ugly

Money is a factor, but

Money definitely was a factor in our decision to get pregnant (we stopped using birth control the night my partner came home from his new job with his health benefits options!). And definitely during this pregnancy there have been a lot of expenses relating to the baby--lucky enough to have health insurance, we're still paying $4,500 for a midwife and homebirth, which was jaw-dropping at first (and required help from family) but very much worth it for prenatal and postpartum care. Then there are the classes that everyone tells you you have to take (childbirth, breastfeeding--but there are free hotlines etc. too), the time off work for me, baby clothes and stuff that didn't come with the shower. Someone said they save money by not eating out but everyone has told me that in the first month or two after birth we'll both be too exhausted to cook, and right now we're worried about those expenses shooting up.

That said, I really agree with the person who talked about baby's being just part of the family, that it doesn't feel like an expense or indulgence. And I agree that it's not the baby its the stuff--my mother-in-law made me feel like we had to spend $40 on a diaper-changing pad so the baby doesn't roll off the table. We did, then my mom told me she just changed all my diapers on the floor or the bed or wherever. Many people have raised their eyebrows about our one-bedroom apartment, but as someone else on this thread said, some of the attachment parenting principles can save you money, and we don't feel like our kid will need an extra room for a few years.

I've also noticed though, with myself and with this thread, that the privilege of having health insurance is a big factor in answering this question. So maybe it's not the baby or the stuff--it's that in the U.S. it's hugely expensive (either in terms of direct cost in or in terms of the choice to get a job that has coverage) just for one person to get medical care, and let alone for a family.

I got knocked up. There was

I got knocked up. There was no planning. Fortunately my husband is an excellent provider, and I can stay at home with my baby or decide to work later if it makes me happy, not to make ends meet. We would have to plan for the second one though--we have a very comfortable lifestyle and want to keep it that way.

Don't underestimate the power

Don't underestimate the power of hand me downs and second hand shops. You can buy toys and clothes at a much cheaper price.

The first year of life, I didn't have many extra expenses except for medical. And luckily, my husband's company did offer a family medical plan. We also do not make that much money.

Baby showers helped, both me and my husband have huge extended families so we didn't really have to buy our child anything for the first year. And we didn't go for the most high tech toy or the designer clothes.

We also tend to live frugally. We don't have cable and we get all our books and DVDs from the library. I've also taken several free classes at our library. I don't shop that much either. (Probably buy new clothes once every two years) We buy all our video games used. I know it's not for everyone, but cloth diapering saved a ton of money.

I'm not saying that it's as simple as buying cheap or holding off on luxary items and I do realize that we are lucky to have medical insurance. I also realize that I am lucky to have older relatives who are done raising kids and want to get rid of all the clothes and toys that they have outgrown. I also have several doting family members who like to buy my child presents (Which is both good and bad). I have noticed though, that among my friends who make more money than my family, I've noticed that tend to buy things that they can't afford and then complain that they are in debt. And I've also noticed that kids have some very expensive toys today. (Six year olds with iphones?)

It's a government/society problem

Again, there is some serious problems in America. Healthcare needs to change and more regulation for corporations to provide the time and support for mothers who have just given birth. This is just ridiculous. Change attitudes, change laws!

i like nope

Shout out to the woman with dual citizenship in Canada. We need a system like that. NO QUESTION. Its crazy here in the US. I was lucky that my boss was also a working mom and granted me leave without pay but a guaranteed job back. That is not what a lot of -people get. And it is still leave with no pay. I'm the breadwinner... so yeah, its scary and not supportive of women- at all. US sucks in that way. My story: We waited a long time, mostly thinking it was SO expensive and we were not ready. Then we thought, lets try it. We are doing good, careers good.. Then I couldn't get pregnant. Then we did invitro. Then we had triplets. what happened to one child costs? There goes all the thought of both of us working and supporting three babies with the amount that would cost. Funny though., yes, it is expensive but you don't think of that when you all of the sudden have these amazing young things to teach and show them the world. That's the part I didn't grasp until it happened. Yes you sacrifice a lot. Yes its hard but honestly, I wouldn't change it for the world. I would have totally ignored that kind of comment before kids. So might not sink in- but I do love it and was never one of those people who wanted kids from when I was young.But, my husband is basically the stay at home dad, I work a flexible job that is mostly weekdays, regular hours. My husband works part time when I'm home (usually weekends or evenings). We have had lots of clothes and books and toy donations, and really, there are so many ways to save money. Garden. Thrift stores. We still enjoy many of the finer things. You just tend to appreciate some of those things more as you don't get them all the time. But its worth it, it really is.

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