I had a chat with my friend Jen recently about the cost of raising kids, and something she said has been stuck in my mind ever since. I told her that money was probably the #1 or #2 reason we might not have kids (depending on where you rank a lack of desire to actually have them). She seemed surprised by this, and suggested that I take money out of the equation entirely and focus solely on deciding whether or not we want kids first.
To be clear, Jen’s not naïve and would never suggest that people who can’t afford kids should have them. She said it knowing that Drew and I could technically afford them and we should first decide if we want them and straighten out the finances later. In theory, this isn’t a bad idea. It narrows the scope of what seems to be an impossibly large decision into a more manageable chunk. The problem is, I’m not sure how useful this revelation is to me when taken out of an important context.
Imagine if I’d hemmed and hawed for ages and then came to Drew, squared my shoulders and said, “Yes. I’m ready. I’m ready for my beautiful new Astin Martin, let’s head to the dealership right now!” Could we afford an Astin Martin if we REALLY wanted one? I guess so. But I must say, I’ve never understood this concept of whether or not you’re able to afford something. If you spend your very last dime to get it, and it makes your life financially uncomfortable to do so, is it really “affordable” for you?
Whenever the importance of money comes up (particularly when pitted against non-monetary items of value like family), people are fond of saying that it can’t buy happiness. This is perhaps true, but I must humbly submit that
a LACK of money can buy UNhappiness
And I don’t mean an emotional tailspin because you can’t have your pink glitter Roberto Cavalli slingbacks. Depleted funds may mean you’re unable to buy a $600 Christmas plane ticket to see your family, send a pop of yellow tulips to a sick friend, take that advanced pastry dough class, get the creative writing Ph.D. you’ve always dreamed of, find those Elvis Costello tickets for your husband’s birthday, play Scrabble on the spin board. (Fine, the Scrabble board’s a luxury.) It can also mean refraining from activities that make you a well-rounded person like travelling or trying certain sports like skiing. In fact, it’s sometimes quite difficult to lead a well-rounded life on a limited budget.
There are people who do it, and do it fabulously. My friend Leah quit her job over a year ago and has been traveling the world with her boyfriend Ben, surviving on little more than her wits and wintergreen Tic-Tacs. Having the time of her life. [you can check out her blog at www.TwoWithoutAClue.com]
But I’m not Leah. Money is important to me, and a lack of it scares me. My parents were somewhat poor when my brother Ken surprised them with his existence. I have no idea what inspired them to have two more after that (especially knowing they might turn out like Ken – good grief!), but they did, and we grew up on something of a shoestring budget. I’m not saying we didn’t have what needed – and more, particularly in the later years (they generously paid our college educations, gave us safe cars, etc.) – but we certainly weren’t sporting Juicy Couture velour jogging suits in our youth.
So when I started babysitting at 12 and then took my first “real” job at Burger King at 15 (photos from this time period are conveniently missing), my mom made sure I put 50% of it in the bank, every payday. That stayed with me. My parents have plenty of money now, and so do I, but it’s hard to break that mode of save, save, save if that’s what you grew up with. The thought of living paycheck to paycheck makes me downright nauseous. And that’s essentially what we’d be doing if we had two kids and still lived in Southern California.
But I’m all about trying anything to make this decision and feel good about it. So I took Jen’s suggestion seriously and asked myself – would we want kids if we were independently wealthy? I don’t know. Maybe? Even the seemingly non-monetary things I worry about (not having enough “me” time, my house being a wreck, etc.) actually melt away when you toss a trusty Mary Poppins figure into the mix. But in the end, I’m not sure I’ve really answered the question. I don’t seem to be capable of making even a hypothetical decision in a vacuum, ignoring certain circumstances. We wouldn’t have a nanny, and I wouldn’t have any regular sanity breaks.
So is this exercise pointless? Not necessarily. I think it works nicely for those who are excessively worried about money, but would come up with an enthusiastic YES! to kids when it’s taken out of the equation. Unfortunately, my answer was still a resounding …
How about you guys? How much does money factor into your decision?
PS, many of you reading this may think, if you’re so concerned with money, why don’t you get a REAL job, you blogger bum! And to that I say…touché.
For those without kids, is there anything scarier in this world than someone showing up at work, mid-maternity leave, to show off the new baby? I’ll admit, when I heard those stroller wheels clacking down the halls at my old work, I did a legger to the bathroom more than once. Take Your Kids to Work Day and Halloween (when my company hosted Trick-or-Treating through the cubicle aisles) often found me cowering under my desk, or feigning extreme urgency – rushing off to fictitious meetings or picking up a non-ringing phone to engage in an I-can’t-be-bothered-now argument.
I suffer a certain level of guilt over this and often wonder how would it feel if I were in their shoes and someone did this to me? But oh wait – I sort of already know. Because people ignore the fact that my cats exist all the time. Am I miffed? No. Some people aren’t pet people. If they’re not interested, they’re not interested – why would I ever want them to pretend to be? Especially if the cats are just sleeping or eating, which comprises about 99.9% of their day. But if Jacques wants to join us in a game of flip cup…
…or tries to steal a sip of someone’s Merlot…
…or Olivia attempts a desperate escape up the screen door…
…well, then I’d probably expect our guest to pay them some attention.
Similarly, if someone’s baby is wearing some cute Kate Spade flats or spouting stock tips like the e-Trade baby, I’m likely to take notice. But if the baby – which, by the way, looks remarkably like every other baby I’ve ever seen – is just passed out or drooling on itself…why is it necessary to shower them with compliments? Is the self-esteem of the baby in jeopardy?
No, I don’t think so. In fact, their understanding of compliments is probably equal to that of a cat’s. So it’s for the parents’ benefit – they want their babies to be noticed. And for those of us without kids, pets are our babies. So why is it acceptable to act as if someone’s pets don’t exist, but if you try the same with a baby, your heart must be made entirely of coal?
Think about it – if you run into a friend walking their German Shepherd on the Strand and neglect to pat its head, your friend is likely to continue their walk without a second thought. But ignore a baby in a stroller when you run into a Mommied acquaintance? You may as well be cast as the villain in the next Batman movie, so vile are you.
I’m not asking for equal treatment of pets and babies. Good grief, that would be insane.
Can you imagine if the Pet People started sending birth announcements when we adopt a new furball – touting pounds, ounces and breed? Or registering at Petsmart and asking our girlfriends to throw us a party with a three-tiered litterbox cake? Or dressing our Chihuahuas in little Ralph Lauren velour track suits?
No! Let the babies have that, all of that. All I ask is that we not be vilified for choosing to focus our attention on the mother (whom we likely haven’t seen in a while and can actually hold a conversation with) instead of cooing at a baby who has no idea who we are and will never remember the incident anyways. And in return, I promise to continue not caring when someone ignores the cats, to not fish for compliments about their lustrous coats and lengthy whiskers, and to not insist that people gather them up in a cuddly embrace.
Deal? Probably not, but a girl’s gotta try.
A few strange things have happened over the past week that have further complicated this already-complicated-enough decision, and I can’t help feeling that my brain is playing tricks on me. Quite frankly, Brain, that’s rude.
Strange Thing #1: Inadvertently Sucked Into a Vortex of Nick Jr. Television
Drew’s sister and two nephews recently stayed overnight at our place and left the t.v. on the Nickelodeon channel. When I turned it on the next morning, Clifford the Big Red Dog was teaching his friends a little lesson about why lying is bad. I could not turn it off. The looming threat of having to watch more than 30 seconds of a Barney video had always seemed to me one of the more horrendous aspects of having kids. But Clifford and his rag-tag team of neighborhood strays had lulled me into some sort of trance. I felt downright peaceful.
Strange Thing #2: Seduced by Charming Nursery Curtains with Baby Owls
I went to my friend Megan’s baby shower yesterday, and before all the requisite cooing over bottle sanitizers began, I took a peek at her nursery. It was painted in a soothing soft green – perhaps designed to make me feel as though I’d slipped into a nice bucket of mint chocolate chip? – and everything about it seemed fuzzy and nap-inducing. In an effort to force the issue, I walked over to the crib and tried to imagine leaning over a sleeping mini-Me&Drew. Despite how creepy this all sounds to me (and no doubt you) as I’m now writing it, at the time, being in that nursery felt strangely, surprisingly…calm.
Strange Thing #3: A Baby Nightmare (it’s okay – I’m awake now)
Now, lest you pro-baby people get too excited and think this means I’m on the verge of full-blown Baby Rabies, I must tell you that both these events were directly followed by a rather scary anti-baby dream. And I’ll apologize in advance – I know how dreadfully boring it is to hear about other people’s dreams.
In the dream, I realized I’d given birth to a baby not too long ago. The baby, however, was nowhere to be found. I thought, “Hmm….what happened to that baby thing?” Then, “Oh, someone must be taking care of it.” Then, “Should I find out if someone, is, in fact, taking care of it?” Then, “No, that sounds boring.” Then, “I hope they just keep it, whoever has it.” Then, “Oh my God, did I really just have a baby? I hope not. I hope this is a dream. I hope I wake up soon. Is this a nightmare? Someone wake me up!”
What am I supposed to do with this information, Brain? Which of these experiences actually mean something? From which of these opposing reactions am I supposed to cull some answers?
Maybe There ARE No Answers Here
After all, each of these can be easily explained away:
- Perhaps Clifford the Big Red Dog’s people have just smartly figured out how to hypnotize their small viewers into an all-consuming trance, so their parents can actually get some housework done, brush their teeth, whatever. Or maybe just I’m stressed out, and grown-up television has become too intense and trashy to provide me with any sense of comfort or release.
- Perhaps I found the nursery soothing because I have a thing for mobiles comprised of fluffy lambs, or enjoyed the thought of taking a bath in a whale-shaped tub promising “A Whale of a Good Time”. Or, just as likely, maybe I slipped into a brief diabetic coma from the three mimosas, heaping slice of a Susie Cakes’ vanilla and strawberry concoction, and this lovely owl cookie. [Okay, yes, I’m the hillbilly that ate my party favor while still at the party.]
- And as for the dream, well, isn’t the common belief now that dreams are nothing more than random neurological misfirings? And that Taco Bell Dorito taco just before bedtime couldn’t have helped.
Ah, what am I doing? Looking for answers where there are none right now? Reading too much into every little thought?
Does any of this actually mean something?
Last week, I received a bit of a nasty-gram for the blog, calling me childish, selfish, narcissistic, and a cringe-worthy writer. Yes – ouch, buuuurn, and all that. I thought the issue of Childfree people (or those considering a Childfree life) being called selfish had been covered ad nauseum, but it appears I’ve been proven wrong. So let’s dig in.
Is it selfish to not want kids?
Why yes! It probably is. It means that you value your current lifestyle. That you have some level of desire to hang on to or increase your free time/Me time, your expendable income, your devotion to a meaningful career, your ability to pursue hobbies that make you a well-rounded person, your time spent as a loving spouse/child/sibling/aunt or uncle/friend. But these are still, on a very basic level, things that you want. And by definition, a little selfish. Okaaaaay…
But isn’t it also selfish to want kids?
Well, let’s take a look at why most people decide to have children:
- I want someone to nurture and love
- I want the experience of having a family – children with whom I can share values, traditions, etc.
- I want someone who will always love me and take care of me
- I want to continue my family lineage and see what a little half-me would be like
- I want to experience life through the eyes of a child or re-live my childhood (because going to Disneyland by yourself as an adult is unspeakably creepy)
Hmm…these all start with “I want,” don’t they? Now don’t get me wrong – I think that if someone is prepared to be a committed parent, these reasons for having a baby are just fine by me. But are they unselfish? Not really – you’re still getting what you want.
So is there any truly unselfish reason to have a kid?
I’m trying to think of one. And I’m failing. Maybe breeding a team of tiny volunteers to devote their lives to community service? Or having a baby to create a potential bone marrow donor for your current child who’s exhausted all other potential matches? [Yes, this happened on my soap, thank you for asking.]
While these may seem unselfish in an ends-justifies-the-means sort of way, they’re not. You want that cancer-ridden family member to live. You want the world to be a better place and you want to feel that you’ve contributed to it. You know, that whole “there’s no such thing as true altruism” thing.
On a less dramatic scale, some will say that wanting to give a child a wonderful and loving life is unselfish. But you’re arguing a benefit to a person who isn’t in need of it – because they don’t yet exist! And won’t, unless you choose to bring them into existence. Adopting a child that’s already in existence is probably as close as it gets to being truly unselfish, but you’re still exercising some of the “I wants” from above.
Which is fine, and completely awesome in my book. People should do they want (within reason), and what’s in their best interests, because it’s rational to do so and will net out the greatest levels of happiness. This isn’t just Maybe Lady babble, this is one of the main tenets of philosophies like Ethical Egoism, Rational Egoism and Utilitarianism. [Philosophies that I’m not smart enough to talk about here, but you should read about them.]
So was OK Go right when they said Do What You Want?
I’m not advocating a complete lassez-faire, no internal editing attitude for everything. You can’t call your boss a douche bag, tell your friend she’s high if she still thinks she’s a size 4, or eat a trifecta dinner of Popeye’s chicken and biscuits, Rally’s fries, and a Wendy’s Frosty every day. Because in the end, you won’t end up with what you want. You’ll be fired, friendless and fat. [Please note, I save the trifecta dinner for a once-a-year birthday treat only.]
And if the point is to live a happy and fulfilling life, you’ll have to do some things you don’t want to do to get there. For some of us, that means dealing with diapers and college funds because we know we need a child in our life to feel truly happy. For others, we know that dealing with all these things will bring us down and not allow us to live the fulfilling life we know we’re capable of living sans children.
Country Music is Sometimes Wise
I think George Strait said it best when he said,
I’m not here for a long time; I’m here for a good time.
If your good time is a trip to Fiji at the drop of a hat, spending an entire rainy Sunday with a fabulous book, or quiet dinners with your spouse discussing Rational Egoism – then don’t have kids. If your good time is a Griswold sing-along in the station wagon, getting kicked out of your child’s soccer game for heckling opponents, or sweating in a Santa suit each December to see that twinkle in their eye – then have kids. The point is, it’s your life, it’s your good time. Make the most of it in the way that only you can decide is best for you.
And if someone calls you selfish in the process, go ahead and thank them for the compliment.
So my bizarre claim to fame (if it can be called that) is that apparently James Van Der Beek and I used to toddle around in our diapers together in a plastic wading pool in our mutual hometown of Cheshire, Connecticut. I have no recollection of this, but I’m sure Dawson often looks poignantly into the distance and wonders what became of little Lizzy.
Or maybe not. He’s a little busy these days with the stork recently dropping off his second kid. His tweet on the day his son arrived somehow managed to avoid the standard “mom and baby are doing fine” or “we are so blessed!” (c’mon people, I know things are a little nuts in the delivery room, but can’t we come up with something more creative?) James did – this is what he had to say instead:
Whoa. No more war? That’s a pretty hardcore statement, Mox.
I must admit – I’m not sure I’ve ever felt something quite on that level. I mean, the moment I adopted my cats was nice, but Jacques was a bit of a pain in the ass, chewing on my pen while I signed the papers. Getting married was pretty awesome too, but I was heartily distracted by the fact that my caterers didn’t offer Labatt’s as one of our beer choices. Perhaps the closest I’ve come to this overwhelming emotion was my kickball team winning the 2006 Dogtown Division championship and celebrating in a shower of Andre champagne (nothing but the best for us).
But even THIS I wouldn’t describe as having the power to end all war. And with a statement like that, I guess I’m intrigued.
So What IS This Feeling?
Most new parents, when trying to capture this emotion, spout off some variation of It’s the most indescribable feeling…which is somewhat problematic for me in that they can’t seem to describe it. It evidently just has to be experienced. Or they say something like, Man, when they put that baby in your arms… and then they just shake their heads. Also not tremendously helpful.
I hate the idea that there’s this wildly powerful emotion running around out there in the world that I might never catch. But is the curiosity over this feeling enough to justify the lifelong commitment, expense, blah, blah, blah, of a child? Seems like a tough bargain.
The Other Un-Feelables
Maybe it’s okay that I won’t get to experience this feeling. There are countless other mind-blowing adrenaline rushes I’m going to miss out on as well – diving off a bridge with a flimsy bungee rope around my ankle and dashing over hot coals are not high on my To-Do List. We’ve all met those passionate skydivers (You gotta do it – biggest rush you’ll ever get!) and we just sort of laugh them off. Why risk your life for one wild thrill? Now I know having kids isn’t risking your life (except for the 529,000 women who die each year from childbirth complications). But in a way, children are the death of your private life – or at least your social life as you know it. So why is this surge of parental love – those few shining moments in a sea of temper tantrums – the one intense emotion that one that everyone says you can’t afford to miss?
Am I Even Capable of This Feeling?
I don’t cry easily. I don’t cry ever, really, unless Victor Newman has once again smashed someone’s heart on The Young & The Restless. Drew and I have been together for six years and I’m not sure he’s ever witnessed a Liz tear. But the day my friend Emily had her first baby and her mom ushered us into the hospital room an hour later, I got a little misty. Was it from seeing baby Liam? Seeing Nick holding him for the first time – some contact parental high? Or was it seeing my friend Emily in a hospital bed, looking doped out of her mind and paler than a Downton Abbey servant in winter? Because I had a similar reaction when we visited her in that same hospital six months later after an emergency appendix removal. Maybe I was overcome with fear instead of joy.
Perhaps I’m made of stone. Or it’s my German ancestry (we are a harsh people). But all this overwhelming emotion stuff? I’m just not sure that would even happen for me. Or maybe everyone’s just done a crappy job of explaining it.
Parents who are reading – can any of you do a better job of articulating this?
PS, The photo at the top is of me and my little bro in Cheshire – or maybe it’s James? Who can tell, my mother was too busy chasing three kids around to label photos.
PPS, Just in case my enthusiasm for winning our kickball tournament was ever in doubt, please see the photo below. And please note the upside-down plaque. This is what happens after an Andre shower.