As my children age, I’m giving more thought to how I want to advise them on the next stages of their lives. (My oldest children are in elementary school.) My conflict is quite simple really. On the one hand, I want them to be open to love and family formation well before thirty. On the other hand, I want them to have graduate degrees and be secure in their ability to provide for their families. All I need is a third option here, and I could say pick any two of three, as goes any number of things in life. Like any good father, I don’t want my children to needlessly suffer, but the nature of life is that of suffering.
So why on earth would I want my children to marry before they can provide everything for their own children? There are a number of reasons, and I’m sure validating my own choice to marry at 21 is subtly one of them. More seriously, one is better equipped to handle the toils of parenthood when one is young rather than 40. While time doesn’t ever seem to be in abundance, it does seem to correlate somewhat with income. In other words, the tradeoff for spending more time with one’s children versus the money one could be making working is less steep in one’s youth than it is during one’s prime earning years. It is much easier to walk away from $10 an hour than it is from $30 an hour. There are certainly examples of high income women – I’ll use the generality since fewer than 5% of stay at home parents are men – foregoing income to raise children, but they are exceptions. Even the alleged income security that waiting supposedly gives still results in over half of two parent families being dual income and over half of those households have both parents working full-time.
Then there is the not so insignificant matter of being able to have children. I have heard way too many tales of couples trying to get pregnant near 30 who have needed to involve a doctor. The plan of go to school, get a job, get married, be successful, and have kids is wonderful on paper. In practice, it rarely works that way. The child part of the equation is easy enough to understand. The get married part of the equation can be complicated too. Most folks that get married do so because they want to raise children. Needless to say, if that is a high priority for you, you are more likely to dismiss impediments that other people see, like questions of beauty or money. As one ages, finding a partner that wants to have children and wants to get married becomes harder, because many of the people who desired to do so have already done so. Think of it like a game of musical chairs where no one told any of the participants that they had to sit down when the music stopped and no one started the music. The ones left standing are the ones that didn’t give a lot of thought to what they were going to do if they wanted to sit.
This point seems as good of a point as any to throw in the but. Self denial isn’t the easiest thing in the world. But compared to denying your children, it is real simple. Yes, millionaires have rough days, but their day-to-day existence isn’t relatable in that nature to the poor. Certainly the millionaire doesn’t get everything he wants, but the poor don’t get most of the things they want. In this country, the number of single people in poverty is pretty low. They tend to be disabled, either via mental illness or physical impediment, or elderly. In the broader society, the difference between poverty and making it tends to be the presence of children. A family of four is under the poverty line at $22,050 or less in household income. That is a fulltime job at $11 an hour. Many social welfare programs have eligibility at 200% of the FPL. For a family of four, that is $44,100, or $22 an hour. $44, 389 is the median national household income.
While it would be nice if turning off the cable and the cell phone would change this, it isn’t the case. Children are a luxury good in this society. The libertarians have assured me that the free market will solve all of this, but it seems like the free market has already done so. The solution has been for children to be luxury goods. I hate to be so cynical with my children. This society is going to become awfully interesting as the only people having children are those that don’t care about their economic well-being, those for whom children came so late in life that they praise God that they could just have one (or two) or those for whom money will have to make up the difference for time unable to be spent. Perhaps we can build the walls higher around the gated communities so that we don’t have to contemplate this stuff. It is very difficult to have family values when money is your god.