Last night Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted his support for the latest push to increase the size and scope of the federal government:
I’m sure we’ll publish debates on the matter of federally mandated and regulated paid family leave in the weeks to come. Completely leaving the policy and politics of this complicated issue aside, though, Rubio’s statement contradicts some of the best advice my father ever gave me: If you wait until you have enough money to have children, you will never have children.
This is not the same thing as saying you should pay no heed to your ability to provide for a family when you get married and begin gestating babies. But there is a common and dangerous perception that some height of financial stability needs to be attained before you have children. Here are three things my husband and I learned when we began our family.
1) Children Make You Work Harder
I still remember the slight look of terror and disbelief when I told my husband I was pregnant a few short months after our wedding. He’s a brilliant and talented writer, but he works in a field not known for its wealth-making. He was worried about his ability to provide for a quickly expanding family.
But rather than kids making work harder for us to accomplish, they actually made us work harder. And our careers took off. In the short-term, it was his in particular that began going much better. But mine also benefited in the longer term. We were more productive and successful with what we did, because we had to be. My husband used to routinely suffer from lack of inspiration as a journalist. But once our oldest arrived, if he had two hours in a day to write, he wrote! He had to do it to put food on the table. It made him a more serious and focused writer. And the sheer practice of that writing improved his skills a great deal.
When I speak to students or recent graduates, it reminds me how much time I used to have that I didn’t realize I had. I am not sure that people without family to take care of realize how frayed and wastefully directed their energies can be. You can spend an insane amount of time while you’re single searching for fulfillment and meaning, general entertainment, or just partnership and sex. And hey, that’s why my twenties were so much fun! But they weren’t what anyone would call productive, either.
2) Children Are Not that Expensive
Hans Fiene reacted to Rubio’s tweet:
Every year you see some scaremongering report that children cost a gazillion dollars. Here’s a recent example:
All together, millennial families (the generation born between 1980 and 2000) can expect to spend half a million dollars over the course of each child’s life—and the result is that this generation is pushing the choice to have children ever later. The average mother is now older (25 years old, versus 23 in 1995) and is having children later—the average age of a first-time mom is now 26.2 years old, compared with 24.5 for Gen X moms.
Other analyses put it more at a quarter of a million dollars. To be sure, it is expensive to raise children when you factor in childcare so both parents work, and expensive private schools and colleges, and the latest fashions and gadgets. But this approach to childraising as a luxury item is not universal. People have been raising children for millennia without giving them a new computer each year, to state the obvious. And if you prioritize the blessing of children over the blessings of on-demand premium television or new cars, you will find the challenges able to be met.
I speak with some experience here in that my husband and I did not have assets heading into our marriage. When my oldest was born, I quit my full-time newspaper job and strung together some freelance work. We were pregnant with our second child while still living in a one-bedroom apartment. We had a car a friend had basically given to us. We were learning how to make food money spread and how few of the “must-have” baby accessories were actually necessary.
A lot of the commercialism pitched to us is at odds with smaller budgets. It must be resisted, but it can be resisted. We were at our poorest the first year we became parents but it was without question the best and most rewarding year of my life.
Also, have some historical perspective. Nearly everyone in the United States alive today is better off than almost everybody in history was until a few decades ago. We have untold wealth and opportunity. This is not to denigrate real financial hardship, but humans have tremendous capacity to overcome hardship and should be encouraged to do so, if able.
3) Time Is the Scarce Resource You Should Be the Most Worried About
I studied economics in college and always appreciated that the word comes from the Greek for household or family management. Economics is concerned with the allocation of scarce resources. Our culture is obsessed with the allocation of money and wealth, but we should be far more concerned about the scarce resource of time.
This is particularly true for women. My husband and I were blessed with two children within two and a half years of getting married. But then we faced nothing but trouble, including difficulties obtaining and maintaining pregnancies. It has been heartbreaking to not have as big a family as we hoped we would, but we are so thankful for the two beautiful and amazing children we do have. If my husband and I had waited until we had money to have children, we may have had no children. And I can’t even imagine that scenario because of how much joy our children bring us each day.
Many of the messages we receive — from capitalists, senators, and other leaders — will be to delay childbearing until you have more money. Responsibility is virtuous, but don’t go to extremes and refuse the gift of children because of fleeting and unimportant financial concerns.
Now go out there and make some babies!