or Connect
Mothering › Child Articles › Family Planning Are The Financially Stable The Only Good Parents

Family Planning: Are the Financially Stable the Only Good Parents?

 

I always knew I wanted to be a mother. After struggling to find my path in this life, endlessly searching for what would make me happy, the only thing I was ever certain of was that I wanted to have children. Unfortunately, it didn’t come easy for us. In fact, it nearly bankrupted us just to have our first daughter.

 

I was at Cornell when my body went haywire, and we discovered it may take some time for me to get pregnant. I’m grateful we got started when we did, because I almost ended up with a hysterectomy and no children at the age of 33. Adding fertility treatments to the already hectic schedule of waiting tables full time and going to school full time was too much. I was also unimpressed by the program there, so I left school and began my three year journey to get pregnant. My husband was getting his MFA at the time, a light at the end of the tunnel that has never quite panned out for us either. The economy tanked when he graduated and teaching jobs were more competitive than ever. Seven years later, he is a carpenter and I will no doubt remain in the service industry for now.

 

Life never seems to go the way you expect it to, and we have had to do our fair share of rolling with the punches. Fertility treatments, complications, surgeries, time off work… all of it has left us struggling financially. We had a strategy to get back on our feet after it all, and then I finally managed to sustain a pregnancy and have a child. “Best laid plans” as they say, but I know with great certainty that neither of us would trade the challenges we faced (and continue to face) if it meant not having our daughter in this world.

 

Regardless of how we feel about where life has led us, it has come to my attention that there are some out there who disapprove, to put it mildly, of people having children when they are not financially stable. Women, in particular, may be harshly criticized for choosing to start a family before completing college and getting settled into a career. Lately I’ve witnessed numerous discussions regarding family planning, and it seems to me that the driving factors behind it boil down to two main things: love or money.

 

There are some who may actually want another child, but feel that it is unacceptable to even consider because they would not be able to maintain their 401K’s, college funds and current lifestyles. Others follow their hearts and grow their family regardless of the size of their bank accounts, because the quality of life they seek has little to do with material possessions, vacations or nest eggs. I am not implying that those who put finances first don’t love their children. I’m simply stating that financial security is their priority when it comes to family planning.

 

I would like to assume that most fall in between these two polarized approaches, but based on what I’ve seen and heard it seems to be pretty starkly divided, with a remaining few who fit neither category and are primarily concerned with overpopulation. Unfortunately, there was something that became evident from these conversations that did not sit well with me. There is a small faction within the financial planners who are adamantly opposed to anyone having children when they can’t “afford” it. Often their comments would be littered with words like “selfish, irresponsible and careless.” The discourse would generally deteriorate to lumping anyone who either has a lot of kids or who doesn’t have money into the same category as the favorite, derogatory characterization of the welfare mom with ten kids in tow.

 

I don’t mind being compared to those grossly misrepresented women, many of which are probably strong as hell. What I am disturbed by is the overwhelming sense of disgust and hatred for anyone and everyone who has a lot of kids or no money or both. As usual, it is typically the most passionate who voice their opinions, so I am by no means suggesting that everybody who plans their family based on money is thinking these same things. However, every discussion had at least a few speaking out with an intense fury on the subject. I couldn’t help but feel as though there were others who may not have been so overwhelmingly incensed by it, but deep down they agreed as well.

 

This logic confuses me. Apparently, only those who can contribute to college funds and 401K’s should be permitted to have children. Putting financial prerequisites on childbearing not only reduces the percentage who would qualify in the US to a very small minority, but if you extend those standards worldwide, almost nobody “should” have children. What surprises me even more is that I have heard these sentiments from liberal women – the same women who defend reproductive freedom when it comes to terminating a baby or using birth control, but take a very different stance when that same choice is applied to having one. The idea that a woman should wait until she has attained a degree and some significant success in her subsequent career before starting a family is a notion that can often be a blurred line in feminism. Is it not equally empowering to make the choice to forgo all of that and have a family if that is what a woman truly wants? In a time when paths have already been forged and women have the ability to have it all and do it all, isn’t the perception of the college educated career woman as the feminist icon a bit antiquated?

 

I grew up the youngest of four, wore nothing but hand-me-downs and while we lived comfortably, there was no college fund waiting for me. I have never looked back on my childhood and felt as though I was deprived of anything. I went to a state school which I paid for with scholarships and student loans, completed my core courses and transferred to Cornell on nearly a full scholarship. There are ways it can be done. Would I love to be able to give my daughter any education she wants or send her around the world and never have a serious care about money? Of course I would, and I don’t know many who wouldn’t.

 

The fact that I will most likely never be able to provide that for her does not make me a bad parent, or a bad person. The fact that we still continue to try for a second child while we tread water from the financial aftermath of having our first does not make us irresponsible and careless. We may not have money, but our home is brimming with an abundance of love. We have a child who radiates this and brings joy to every person she encounters – even strangers. She is happy and content with her life, and so are we.

 

To the people out there who cast a judgmental eye on any parent they see with 4, 5 or 7 kids, and who don’t think it’s appropriate for my husband and I to have children, I would like to say that it’s none of your business. If you want your lives to be dictated by a sense of financial stability that is probably unattainable for most, then that is absolutely your choice, just as it is our choice to believe that we have everything we need. We will get through whatever life throws our way, because we always do. If we haven’t been broken by three years of fertility treatments, being forced to sell our home or losing a baby in the second trimester, it’s going to take a lot more than a lack of money to keep us down. We look into those beautiful eyes and realize we are the richest people we know.

 


 

400Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home.  She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family's ecological imprint. 

 

Her website, The Mindful Home, shares with consumers the information she's found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure.  She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.

Comments (14)

Would you like to leave a comment? Only logged-in members can leave comments, but you can become one with just a click! (We offer both easy Facebook Connect and new account registration, the choice is all yours.)
This article echoes with me.  I'm a believer in big families and that happiness is not dependent on wealth. But even then, I know I have made comments saying that people should wait for a certain level of security before having kids.  As my mother says, though, if you wait until you're truly secure, you'll probably never have kids.  We're in a tight financial spot right now, and yet I keep thinking it's time to have another baby.
 
I would say, well, you should have a plan for providing for your children, but what does that mean?
I really liked this article.  I think it has a lot to do with priorities.  Some people need that financial security.  Some people can function with less.
 
It's something I've been thinking about a lot.  We want our kids to go to Catholic school through high school, and Catholic high school is about as expensive as some state colleges.  We have three kids and are planning on having another within the next year or two.  I would love five.  We always wanted five.  But I think for my peace of mind, we'll need to stick with four.  I have no problem doing without luxuries; children are surely worth it.  But I do know I don't want to have to constantly be worrying about paying for their schooling.
 
And as for college… unless we come into some sudden unexpected fortune, they will have to rely on scholarships and grants.  The way I see it, siblings are worth the cost of student loans, and I hope they will feel the same way when they enter adulthood.
 
But those are my decisions, and your decisions are your decisions, and if people get angry and bitter about their choices, I think that says more about their confidence and happiness with their decisions than with you.  
 
Kids need happy, loving, healthy families.  If they have that, then what else could they possibly want for?  We have a playroom full of toys, and yet my children nearly always choose to sit on our laps and read or cuddle than sit in the middle of all of those material objects.
 
Some people need a lot of financial security to feel peace, and that is totally fine.  Some people need less, and that is totally fine.  As long as you are happy with where you are at, then I think that's all your kids need!
Well, life is uncertain and as we have seen with the financial crisis of 2008, people can be financially "secure" and loose it all. People can have a great job, 401K, the house, and it can be lost. A spouse can have a great job, and get sick. There is really no lasting financial security. And what do children really "need"? A home, food, clothing. Loving parents. I grew up with a lot of wealthy kids who didn't have love. They were just another object for their parents to check off of a list as having acquired.
And one other thing -- I guess we were fairly financially secure when our kids were born, but that was by chance.  We got pregnant when I was 30 and my husband was 32.  I had completed my MA and he was working on his.  He had a full time job, and I could stay home full time.  BUT we actually tried to start getting pregnant when I was 25, but it took us years.  Had we gotten pregnant back then, we surely would not have been financially secure.  And had my body not finally decided to cooperate, adoption would have cost us any and all financial security.  
Your sentiments really echo with me, too. I am truly disheartened by comments from friends and family regarding whether we could afford to have a second child.  To me, that is last on the list.   Our income ranks poverty, though we find ways to make it work...without welfare, and with saving.
I am in the minority I suppose in this group. I waited 6 years to have another child due any day now. I waited so we could afford for me to stay home again with this baby and we could afford to give both our children a level of care we feel is right. I do agree that it's no ones business what standard you wish live by or how many children you have. The caveat of course is if you are collecting welfare or state subsidies. Accepting aid is supposed to be temporary not an income source.
You hang out with wrong people? And on a feminist note, I love this quote from you:
" Is it not equally empowering to make the choice to forgo all of that and have a family if that is what a woman truly wants?" I am also that kind of feminist ;)
Aziz Ansari said in his last standup, regarding children and financial stability (I'm paraphrasing), "hey, we have a good income, a nice house and some savings. let's screw it all up with a kid!" You had a nice balance before a child, but that doesn't mean you'll have the same afterward. I had a good job, but it wasn't enough to save a nest egg, and I was fired during maternity leave. I'm not sure I would have sent my son to daycare at three months of age anyway. Not for a job I hate. I think am smart for having my baby before starting my career. Why would you work so hard to have a successful career, then take time off for a baby? While we should be allowed to do that without repercussion, unfortunately most bosses look down on mothers who take time off for their kids.
I also love the idea that feminism now means that a woman can choose to be a wife and mother. I love taking care of my home. Its not oppressive if you're happy :-)
I had my son (an unplanned pregnancy) when I was 20 years old and still in college (although I did have a job as a nanny and waitress).  I had my 2nd son at 23, before I went back to graduate school to earn the degree that enables me to provide for my family while working part-time.  I wasn't financially set by any means (even though I was trying my hardest to get there) and I looked even younger than I was, so I received many disapproving stares.  I was a loving mother, but I did deal with a lot of stress that ended up affecting my parenting and causing me health problems (working 30 hours per week with 2 young ones at home and going to graduate school is not something I would recommend if you can save yourself from that).  I think most of us who have truly struggled know it is heartbreaking to wonder if you can or what you will have to do to be able to pay the rent and feed your kids from month to month, just praying the car doesn't break down or a medical crisis doesn't happen.  Now, I work as a children's counselor at a shelter and I see the heartbreaking effects of poverty on children- many have never had a stable place to call home, many have had to live in unsafe situations and haven't had access to healthy, fresh food.  It's more than love versus money, its a balance of love and money.  If you have all the money in the world and no love or time for the child, the child's emotional needs won't be met.  If you have all the love in the world and can't reliably provide safe shelter, clothing, and healthy food, the child's physical needs aren't being met.  I decided to only have 2 children, not because I wouldn't love more, but because I can't bear the thought of having more children than I can reliably provide for physically or emotionally.  Each family has a different situation, some have a husband who pays the the bills reliably, some can rely on family or friends in times of hardship and some can't.  We all have to be honest with ourselves about our situation and do what is fair to our children.  If you are willing to do whatever it takes to provide physically and emotionally for them, have as many as you want. 
I absolutely love this article, I believe when there is love .. a child will thrive. There are families that have children , financially stable and absolutely no love at home. When love is the top priority the money and support always follows. Life and miracles happen. My mother was not financially stable,(19 year old single mother) however she loved me and I thrived in school, got a full ride scholarship to a 4 year university. She would have been labled by society as irresponsible.. No she had limitations in her life and obstacles.. And gave birth to 3 children.. did everything the wrong way , no money,, other bad habits.. But she loved us and we are successful. Going to school with other children who were from financially stable families .. I surpassed them in the classroom, maybe I was just innately intelligent, or maybe I just had a poor mother who believed in me .
Everything you wrote truly echoed with me. I'm one of the "irresponsible" moms who has a beautiful, bubbly little ray of sunshine, and THANK YOU, Uncle Sam, for Medicaid. I'd like to see one of these "financially stable" folks afford a >$75,000 hospital bill for a preemie. Or the $1000 breast pump necessary to allow me to nourish my child. (Thanks again, Uncle Sam, for the WIC program!)

The only people who should not be having kids are the small percentage of parents who either abuse their kids, or resent their kids. Neither of those reasons have anything to do with money!

This is epic. I want to print this out and recite it to the next person who gets on their Judgey McJudgerton High Horse about financial stability and reproductive freedom: "To the people out there who cast a judgmental eye on any parent they see with 4, 5 or 7 kids, and who don’t think it’s appropriate for my husband and I to have children, I would like to say that it’s none of your business. If you want your lives to be dictated by a sense of financial stability that is probably unattainable for most, then that is absolutely your choice, just as it is our choice to believe that we have everything we need. We will get through whatever life throws our way, because we always do. "
Thank you for putting this out there! We had our first two when I was 20 and then 22, still in college and just starting our own farming business.  We're working on # 3 now when I'm 27 and still trying to grow our business to really support ourselves. (getting there!).  I have a part time job to cover most of the bills and provide health care for my husband and myself even though we would probably now qualify for medicaid or similar on the Obamacare law.  We are on Food stamps to help bridge that last gap that even our farm cannot yet provide.  and we still have $0 even before we pay all the bills each month sometimes.  But we make it work.  My children get hand-me-downs or thrift store finds when they outpace the giving of our generous family and friends.  We will spend every last penny to get them an amazing gift for Christmas and they have some talented and/or wealthier relatives who provide them with more toys or birthday money for books but in the nicer three seasons of the year their toys and playground are our yard, farm, creek, etc.  their playmates our chickens, sheep and pigs.  their ability to take care of themselves, imagine and investigate, persistence in climbing the things they shouldn't be, will serve them well.  Their ability to earn their own money from selling their own pumpkins alongside ours or run whatever other small business they desire by the time they are 5 years old will help them achieve in life what many children of more "financially stable" parents may never be able to do.  
 
The fact that we love them and believe they can figure out how to do anything they want to do will, i hope, be more important to them as they grow up than the fact that we never could provide them with new things and after-school activities as children.
I think this is an interesting topic and it makes me realize that my own upbringing was a major reason behind my priorities in family planning.  Financial stability was a high priority for me, mainly because I grew up without it.  I'm the eldest of six children and although my parents had stable and relatively well paying jobs (we were middle class, not poor and never on welfare), we had to go without a lot of things other families took for granted.  I remember being aware of financial issues from a very young age, hearing my parents fight over bills, feeling guilty whenever I needed money, just being aware of the constraints in our lives for things like school clothes and extracurricular activities.  There was definitely no college fund or security nets waiting for any of us.  I went to my last choice university because it offered me the best scholarship and I still had to work two jobs to pay my way.  So when it came time to plan my own family, I knew I wanted to wait until I had reached a secure point in my career, owned a house, and had a savings nest egg.  We had our first baby at age 32.  In my experience, my approach was the exception - most people I know told me I was waiting too long and that my financial security goals were unrealistic.  But I'm glad I waited because now I can provide my children with the types of opportunities that I didn't have.  It's really not a matter of short-term materialism (e.g. new toys and clothes), but rather the long-term considerations (401K for us, college funds for kids) that we focus on.  And yes, I did have to make some trade-offs for the financial stability - I would ideally have preferred to start our family at a younger age, but I'm happy with how things turned out. 
 
On a side note, I personally haven't heard the type of criticism towards large or poor families that is described in this essay, especially not on a level that could be described as "hatred".  If others have experienced this, is it coming from people you know or general media?
Mothering › Child Articles › Family Planning Are The Financially Stable The Only Good Parents