The Cost of Children

This morning, my youngest child woke me up at about five in the morning. He was standing there beside my bed whispering “Dad….. Dad…..” and just waiting until I opened my eyes.

When I looked at him and greeted him, he said simply, “I make mess in bathroom.”

He’s still in the latter stages of potty training and sometimes he doesn’t do things with grace and cleanliness in the bathroom, particularly when a parent isn’t supervising him. I was happy that he had been aware enough to wake himself up and try to use the bathroom when he felt the urge instead of going in his pants, but I still felt trepidation as I headed toward the kids’ bathroom.

Well, at least I could say that he tried. He used his small potty correctly, but then he tried to handle too much and attempted to clean it out himself. It didn’t go well. Let’s just say I needed a few cleaning supplies, several rags, and a healthy amount of breathing through my nose.

The first cost was my patience. If someone trashed your bathroom in this way, you’d be mad, but this wasn’t a situation to get mad at my child. He’s not really able to distinguish between the fact that I would be upset with the dirty bathroom but simultaneously happy that he went to the toilet on his own and attempted to clean things up himself. So, in my half-awake stupor, I had to bite my lip and start cleaning. In order for him to understand the situation, I told him that he did a very good job going on the potty and that I was proud he tried to clean it all up like a good boy, but he did make a mess. I then had him help me (a little) to clean it up, then gave him a bath.

The second cost was my money. I burned through some cleaning supplies and had to do a partial load of laundry thanks to the mess. Sure, it was only a few dollars for this specific incident, but incidents involving children and messes and cleaning supplies are a routine part of the equation.

The third cost was my energy. It’s later in the day. I’m tired. I only got about five hours of sleep last night and I can feel it.

The above story is just one example of one typical incident on one typical morning. I’m not even touching on the financial costs of food, clothing, health care, entertainment, education, social events, extracurricular activities… the list goes on and on. The time costs are everywhere, too – educating your children, teaching them good manners, spending quality time with them, helping them clean up their messes, transporting them to events, preparing meals. Most of these things have energy costs as well.

Children are costly. All of the rewards of parenthood do not take away from the fact that children cost you in many different avenues of life, and these costs, though individually small, add up to a tremendous cost over the years of their childhood. Beyond daily needs like food, clothing, and housing — consider the lesser remembered costs that add to this: children’s health insurance, transportation, entertainment — it all adds up.

With all of those costs, why have children at all? There are a lot of people out there that have made the conscious decision to not have children. It reduces their financial costs along with adding to their energy and time for other initiatives, it’s the more environmentally sound decision.

I tend to agree with Christine Overall’s take from her book Why Have Children?

At its core, her argument is that the relationship between parent and child, when done with care and nurturing, is the most profound reason to have children. The relationship there has psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral benefits for both the parent and the child. Parenthood has the capacity to make you a better person and to play a vital role in the shaping of a new member of society.

Parenthood has made me become much more efficient with my money, much more efficient with my time, better at building and sustaining relationships, and more productive throughout a given day. As my children grow older, I see those efficiencies showing up again and again in a positive way in my life, not just in my interactions with them, but with how I interact with the broader world. I am more patient and more forgiving. Parenting has made me care more strongly about the relationship I have with friends and family, with the challenges that others face in their lives, and with the healthiness of the environment. It has pushed me to take specific actions in all of those areas that I simply would not have taken without parenthood.

For this, I have paid a tremendous cost in time, in emotional and physical and mental energy, and certainly in the form of money.

Is the cost worth the benefit? I think it is for some people. I don’t think that it is for others. My sense is that if you are feeling doubt about the idea of parenthood, then you should not become a parent. Give the question serious thought and respect. By choosing to become a parent, you are agreeing to take on a tremendous cost, but there is tremendous reward for that cost.

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