Both CNN Money and Canadian Living estimate it now costs almost a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid to age 18. And, sorry, that’s before college or university.
A good portion of our adult life is spent in pursuit of money, for survival and pleasure. Why, then, are many of us willing to give up a good chunk of our hard-earned pay to embark on a voluntary career that is utterly baffling? One with no retirement or pension plan? One that feels quite thankless most of the time?
Although my initial job was as a bookkeeper, when I became pregnant with my first bundle of joy, the future cost of this extra family member did not show up as a spreadsheet item on the budget. Who am I kidding? That was the early ’80s. Our mortgage rate had gone from 11-3/4% to 18-3/4%. Hugh had decided to go back to school and was doing construction projects nights and weekends to supplement my entry-level pay at an accounting firm downtown. If I sat down and did a proper budget, we’d both be jumping off the nearest bridge.
If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with children, this most important of all jobs has nothing to do with cash flowing in and everything to do with cash flowing out. And other things flowing out of you, like love. Pure love. In all colours of the rainbow, from red through violet. Simple and sweet. Complicated and messy.
“To ‘spend out’ is to give up keeping score, to give love without calculation,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. And while Rubin recommends spending out for ongoing happiness, once you have a child, this is exactly what you do every day for the rest of your life.
Says Dan Pearce, author of Single Dad Laughing: “Parenting is the greatest pay it forward system on earth. We don’t owe our parents anything. We owe our children everything. The same was true of our parents. The same will be true for our children.”
B balked at the line, “We don’t owe our parents anything.” I expect those caring for elderly parents would disagree with this sentence as well. Out of love, we tend to feel we owe our parents something. Respect. Understanding. A bit of our time, right? So, there is payback in the end. Ever since I heard the suggestion, “Live long enough to be a problem to your children,” that’s been my intent.
I just finished reading The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, an incredible first novel that I highly recommend. The emotions evoked as she shares the early years of a girl’s life are powerful. Toward the end, a character recalls the days when his children were young, then thinks of Billy, forever three-years-old.
“When it comes to their kids,” he feels, “parents are all just instinct and hope. And fear. Rules and laws fly straight out the window.”
Is it easier for a woman? Parenting? Does it come more naturally because it is she, after all, who carries the child within her? Determined to be a good mom, Tan read many parenting books, then came across the important advice to never forget her own instinct.
In The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, Harold ponders his wife Maureen’s apparent innate ability to mother. “It was as if another woman had been waiting inside her all along, ready to slip out. She knew how to swing her body so that a baby slept; how to soften her voice; how to curl her hand to support his head. She knew what temperature the water should be in his bath, and when he needed to nap, and how to knit him blue wool socks.”
Then there are the mothers who approach the task by attempting the exact opposite of what their mothers did. In Who Killed Mom?, Steve Burgess describes his mom this way: “Our childhoods, she determined, would differ from hers. And she would be a different mother from her own.
“In the airline industry they call it ‘tombstone technology’ – the mechanical and operational improvements that follow a major plane crash. That was Mom’s parenting model, more or less – survey the wreckage and vow to do better.”
Isn’t that the goal of each generation, though? ‘To do better’ than the last? I’m in awe of today’s parents and their intelligence, attentiveness and patience with their children. Like those who went before them, there will be mistakes, sure, but one thing is certain. The quarter of a million dollars and the immeasurable pounds of love will be well spent.
In their oddly-titled song about familial love, Murder In The City, songwriters Scott and Seth Avett sing, “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”
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