Can you afford to raise a kid?

Posted 03.28.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Statistics tell us that it costs an average of a quarter million dollars to raise one child to the age of 17 (in the US). High-earners can spend a half-million. I don't know about you, but I have three grown kids and I know we didn't run through that much money.

Living on a farm in Quebec's Pontiac has great benefits: Making our own entertainment, raising much of our own food, and so forth. We likely couldn't spend a quarter-million because Pontiac doesn't have enough spending opportunities.

In the cities and our bigger towns, it's a different story. Check out the super-fancy kid strollers today -- they look like Mars Rover knock-offs, many of them. Designer clothes and shoes for toddlers and kids, even stuff like "babycinnos", a decaf espresso drink for kids (at five bucks a cup). There the quarter-million price tag per child doesn't sound far-fetched.

Results of another poll fit here: a full 75 percent of mothers today think their kids are at least "somewhat spoiled." I guess they are, if kids now have their own Second Cup shops. And a personal poll within my extended family adds this: 100 percent of the parents believe their kids get too much stuff at Christmas, birthdays, Easter, graduation, etc.

How can we hold down the cost of raising kids, without compromising the glories of childhood? How can we reduce the flood of "too many gifts" and "too many spoiled kids?"

Parents all know the answer: Stop using money as a substitute for our presence in our kids' lives.

Buying the kids all the stuff they want may create big smiles and cheers, but at a cost of a lifetime of expensive expectations and accumulating unhappiness. Everyone knows stuff doesn't bring happiness, apart from a few moments while ripping off the wrapping paper. Giving kids more stuff each year increases their feeling that they actually need even more stuff -- because they are still not happy, despite all the goods.

These pollsters also tell us that expensive tastes in our kids are extremely difficult to reverse. Expensive tastes don't decline, except under great difficulty and privation. So why start down that road?

A couple of years ago, the Toy Hall of Fame in the US announced the most popular toy in the world -- a stick.

Something as simple as a stick allows the kids to use and cultivate their creativity and curiosity. That stick can becomes anything. And this tells us that the best thing we can give our kids is not necessarily the 50,000 piece Lego Star Wars Kit, but simple things which leave space for kids' imaginations to fill. And the absolute, all-time best gift for a child is your time and attention. It's also a tremendous gift to yourself, to your own creativity and imagination.

So, for any of you readers who have yet to start a family, and who may be nervous about the statisticians' price tag, the real gifts are not things at all. Things just stimulate a taste for more stuff, when the momentary "Wow!" is replaced by "What else?", "What next?", with barely a moment for "Thank you."

The real gifts are physical contact -- hugs, holding, brushing hair, massaging shoulders, touch-you're-it!-and time. Absolutely nothing we give our kids can replace giving them time, giving them our presence with them. Playing, reading, doing crafts, drawing, walking, exploring -- these are win-win. These are gifts which assist us all in growing up.


Copyright © 2013 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.13