Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Big Mistake? Rubbish!

An article currently among the most read/shared on Slate.com, "Is Waiting To Have Kids a Big Mistake?", is absolute rubbish.  The author, Allison Benedikt, bemoans the fact that her and her husband waited until their thirties to start a family and that, in retrospect, starting in her late twenties would have been the wiser choice.  There are a couple of reasons why I disagree with her but first, a little background.  Ms. Benedikt and her husband live in a smallish Brooklyn apartment with soon-to-be three young children while paying out $5,000 per month for child-care and even though she claims they are "rich" by the standards of most Americans, they stopped contributing to their retirement accounts years ago so they could pay for child-care.  Realizing the risk of alienating and annoying her readers, she admits she can't cry "poverty" simply because her family has little money remaining after their monthly expenses while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.  Fair enough.  The financial whining aside, though, what really annoys me about this article is the regret she has about having postponed starting a family until she reached her early-thirties (late-thirties for her husband) and the subtle admonishment to not repeat her experience.  If she is going to encourage baby-making at an earlier age then be honest and blunt.  No need to cite statistics about the increased risk of congenital defects from waiting, the slim odds that you won't see your children's 50th birthday, or the unlikelihood of living long enough to interact with your children's children.  And --- this is what compels me to jettison the article to the rubbish bin --- is the assumption that the material lifestyle they currently enjoy is a foregone conclusion.  She admits she spent five years career-building and I contend those five years, along with the many years her husband devoted to his career, education, etc. are the reasons they can fork out $60,000 per year on child-care and live in one of the most expensive and culturally-rich cities in the world.  It is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, downright dishonest to assume that if she'd had children earlier and foregone all the career-building and time together with her spouse sans kids that her material lifestyle would be the same.  She acknowledges the possibility of being professionless if she had bred many years ago but she conveniently neglects the possibility of not being "rich".  

The other reason this article caught my attention (and ire) is how much money her and her husband pay in child-care:  $ 5,000 per month?!?  My immediate reaction is both resignation and shock.  If this is what child-rearing looks like in major American cities --- insanely expensive --- then it is no wonder many young people postpone starting a family until they feel comfortable financially.  Some detractors will argue that if you wait until you are "ready" to have children you'll be waiting forever so why not take the plunge while young and spry?  This is a romantic, but quaint, notion.  And one wholly incompatible with the kind of society America is moving toward:  a society where entrenched inequality is fast-becoming the norm and equality of opportunity is becoming a myth.  Ms. Benedikt need not consider such trivial concerns because her children will always inhabit the land of the "haves", even if her and her husband temporarily suspend contributing to their 401(k)s.  

A NY Times columnist, Ross Douthat, penned a column on December 1st, "More Babies, Please", outlining the problems of decreasing national fertility and encouraging people to have more children so that America can reclaim its global perch.  This article, much like Ms. Benedikt's, riles me up because Douthat has the luxury of advocating for larger families (or starting them earlier in life) when he is unlikely to follow his own advice (either by choice or artifact).  Since it seems like more and more people are keen on "more children!" and "start earlier!" then shouldn't we also be considering realistic policies to encourage and ease the burdens of child-rearing?   A society in which child-care (preschool) costs upwards of $60,000 per year (obviously much less with fewer children in less metropolitan areas) isn't one that encourages families to have two or more children and to have them in their twenties.  Child-rearing is difficult --- it isn't suppose to be a cavalier endeavor --- but I think if the US adopted some of the more family-friendly policies of Western Europe we wouldn't have people like Ms. Benedikt and Mr. Douthat condescendingly pushing for "start earlier!" and "more children!" since most of the population would already be considering as much.

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