Saturday, May 3, 2008

It's HOW expensive to have a kid?!

I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the conversation I've been having on one of my message boards. It all started when someone who has a comfortable income in an admittedly high cost of living area of the country made the comment that she felt like she was "on the losing end" of the economic stimulus package because her income rendered her family ineligible to receive a check.

While I know it's my perpetual financial problems talking, and while I know that it is possible for People With a Lot More Money Than Me to feel like they're missing out on something, it's still kind of difficult for me to feel something other than a little insulted when I hear her say that she feels like she's on the "losing end" of the stimulus package. However misguided it may be, the stimulus package simply was not designed for people in her income bracket, no matter how high the cost of living in her area.

As an aside, I know a couple of unmarried, non-parent-type people who probably have roughly the same income as she does, if not more. But once you take all of the tax credits she gets through the reproduction-rewarding nuances of the United States tax codes, the annual federal tax liability of unmarried non-parents making the same as she does is more than double her family's liability. You wanna talk about who's losing out?

She claims she's not "rolling in it," but the minimum income she'd need in order to be rendered ineligible for the stimulus check, when adjusted for the geographical difference between where she lives and I live, is equivalent to roughly double what Bryan and I make. I made a comment to the effect of "if our income was suddenly doubled, you bet we'd feel like we were rolling in it," and her response was "try having three kids," which eventually turned into a discussion about how expensive kids can be.

Higher grocery bills, medical costs (ones not covered by insurance), replacing clothes and shoes that the kids have grown out of, school fees... all of that I understand. It's the other stuff that just blows my mind.

Horseback riding, figure skating, language classes, ballet/tap/jazz, gymnastics, Gymboree, parties (which of course require gifts), mall outings, movies, concerts, sports, scouts, theatre group, music lessons, private tutors, week-long clinics and camps for just about any activity imaginable... ?!?!?!

I think part of the reason I'm finding it all so hard to comprehend is that I didn't do any of that. None. Nothing. Nada. It's not that I wouldn't have wanted to do something, it's just that my parents couldn't afford it. The most money they spent on us aside from necessities, birthdays, Christmases and the occasional field trip was the $10 a week or so it cost for us to be in a bowling league. I longed to take ballet/tap/jazz like all the cool girls at school, but I know now that my parents couldn't afford it.

My life, from the day I started elementary school until the day I graduated high school consisted primarily of getting up, going to school, coming home, doing homework, watching TV and going to bed. I went to bowling on Saturday mornings, then stayed home and read books or watched TV the rest of the weekend. I never took a class outside of school hours, never played a sport, was never in Brownies or Girl Scouts. My parents didn't drive me all over creation to do this, that or the other thing. Since I was - admittedly - the fat, four-eyed nerd, I wasn't exactly popular, so there weren't many birthday parties, mall outings or movies. My parents didn't feel young teenagers had any business wearing makeup, using hair spray or wearing an article of clothing that cost over $10.00, so there were virtually no expenses there. I was in choir because - aside from singing well - it was free. I tried to be in orchestra, but the bus driver wouldn't let me on the bus with my school-issued cello and my parents couldn't afford to rent or buy me even a used one on which to practice at home. The only camp I ever went to was choir camp the summer between my junior and senior year of high school (which was paid for by my high school). I never saw NKOTB in concert (my childhood equivalent of the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus juggernaut). I had one birthday party at a mini-golf place, rather than today's annual jaunts to American Girl or Build-a-Bear or Club LibbyLu or even Chuck E. Cheese.

And you know, despite my childhood being fairly lonely and boring, despite a few lingering issues that have more to do with things other than how much money we did or didn't have, I don't think I turned out so shabby. Sure, a dance class may have turned me on to enjoying exercise, and a family outing more than once a year would have probably been good for all of us (and convinced me that my parents actually liked each other and enjoyed being parents), but I guess I do okay.

I know that there are loads of people who came from money who had absolutely miserable childhoods. But seriously. I want my child(ren) to have a better, more fulfilling, more entertaining childhood than I had. I don't want my child(ren) to be grown, lamenting on a blog (or whatever the popular form of journaling happens to be when they're grown) that mom and dad never did anything fun with them or for them. But honestly, does it have to be so expensive? Does a family have to have money in order to have any chance at giving their kids a happy childhood?


Bryan S said...

I'd like to point out that some of us are trying to make sure that Beenie has a wonderful childhood, albeit a little late.

Deirdre said...

It can be as expensive as you want to make it. Unfortunately, it cannot be as inexpensive as you want to make it. For example, both my elder son and DH's coworker's elder son take ice skating lessons - the difference is that I pay about $10/week for the community-parks once-a-week program while she pays hundreds of dollars each month at a private rink and her son is on the ice five or six days per week.

My childhood was a bit like yours - mostly television and books - but that just makes me more invested in seeking out (affordable) opportunities for my children.