May 1, 2010

Should I Have Children?

During my therapy session today, it occurred to me that this question alone is one that, of all the questions and confusions on life I have, is the one that freaks me out the most. I'm not going to have kids tomorrow or the next day, but at 26 I have to face reality that if I am going to have children (I'd like at least 2, at most 3) I should have kids within approximately the next 10 years. That's a lot of time and not much time at all.


10 years ago, I was 16.5. I was a junior in high school, trying to figure out where to go to college, taking the PSATs, and really just starting on my journey of adulthood. It kind of feels like a long time ago. Will 30 or 35 feel that long from now? I hear time speeds up the older you get.

My therapist and I briefly discussed today whether or not I want kids. To be honest, I don't know. She said that people don't have to have children, and you have to really have a physical urge to have kids and a desire to appreciate the joy they'll bring (along with all the sacrifice and stress.) Do I have that urge? Will I ever?

Surely, my life without children might feel a bit meaningless. It already feels meaningless. But it's not good to put that much responsibility on my yet-to-be-conceived offspring -- "bring my life meaning or else." I can't really see myself being a mother. Then again, there are plenty of other people in this world who should not be mothers who are, so why should I be so hard on myself? (Ie -- see WhytheFuckDoYouHaveaKid.com) I'm not THAT bad, right?

I mean, I have my shit together. Sort of. I have $50k in savings/retirement, a job (that isn't stable, but I at least have a career that can lead to more jobs), I'm probably doing a lot better than many people my age who already have children. Why do I feel like I need a million dollars in the bank before I can procreate?

Some days, I think reading all these personal finance blogs and listening to Ray Lucia and tracking my Net Worth hurts me a bit. It just makes me freak out about money. It's important to be responsible with money, to save a certain percentage of your income, etc, etc, but I'm paralyzed by my fear of never having enough. This whole "should I have kids" question goes beyond just having the finances to afford them (heck, am I really the type of person who can be responsible for infants or deal when my teenagers talk back to me?) but the money is a big part of it.

The days I dream of grad school, I have to remind myself how much debt I'll be in at 30, versus the non grad school route where I can possibly reach a networth of $100k or more by 30. If I end up having kids and wanting to stay home with them, why even bother with grad school?

Meanwhile, my boyfriend has barely any savings, no Roth IRA, no retirement accounts, and is planning to go to grad school -- at least for his masters, probably for his PhD. So we'll likely have his debts to deal with. Why bother adding mine? We can't do that if we want to have children. I really need to have kids in my early 30s... I will have to go through in vitro and all that fun due to my PCOS, and having children will probably cost $20k+ a pop. I'm not just making these money concerns up.

What do you think? Do you have children? When did you have your kids? How much did you have in net worth when you had children? Do you think it's silly for me to be this concerned about money before having kids?



12 comments:

eemusings said...

I didn't used to think I wanted kids. Then maybe a year or two ago, something shifted inside me, and now I definitely want to....one day. Luckily for now I have cute nieces to play with!

I'd like to be married in my late twenties, have a couple of years on our own, then have two kids. I'd like to be well on our way to buying a house, if not already owning one.

How much of that is going to happen? I have no idea.

I don't think you can ever feel quite ready for kids, especially financially. But I do think at one point you just have to take a deep breath and forge ahead. Kids don't have to have the newest and best of everything.

Anna said...

I'm 24 and I really want to want kids. I'm hoping for a shift like yours, @eemusings. ;)

I think money shouldn't be an issue. People had children in way tougher times and still have them in way bigger poverty. Don't get me wrong: you should make sure you'll be able to feed that mouth, but I believe most people in developed countries can afford it.

Kids vs. career... no easy answers here. I think a woman's career *always* gets into some trouble when she has kids. Kids do take time and people who can invest all that time in grad school and work will get ahead. It's always a sacrifice. I'm personally okay with that, as long as having kids doesn't mean leaving my work forever - I need that activity.

I'm still really really reluctant about giving someone so much of my time. Plus, I have doubts about how helpful Hubby will be.

Man, this is so complicated! Good luck with figuring all of this out!

elleandish said...

It's definitely not silly to be concerned with money before you have kids! Like Anna I'm 24 as well.. I'm pretty sure I will have kids but maybe just one. The one thing that scares me the most is funding higher education. I realize that so many families aren't that well off and have kids anyway, but I don't want my kid(s) to deal with a stressed out, overly-frugal mom that worries too much about money! haha.

Abigail said...

I wasn't completely sure I wanted kids, but I definitely knew it was a possibility. And I don't think it's weird to worry about this stuff.

I was in my mid-20s and wondering if I could ever have a kid because of my disability and my (then) inability to work. I've since found some work I can do from home, so that's huge.

But my husband and I don't make a ton of money. We probably never will. So the kids thing is an issue. We know we really want one, but we'll probably need to stop there. And if we did have more than one, I've told him I kind of feel like we should get a foster kid or adopt or something. There are so many kids out there already. But who knows.

Also, if I may point out, if you know that you would want two, potentially three, kids, it's a pretty good bet that you're pretty sure you want kids. It's okay to want kids and not want one right NOW.

I would love to have a child with my husband but we're not out of debt yet so it'll be a little bit longer while we build savings.

All that said, if we discovered I couldn't get pregnant, it would hurt a lot. I'd be sad. But really there's no earthly way we could adopt in this country (unless we managed to do the foster to adoption thing) so we would probably just have to make our peace with it.

Abstractly, I know it wouldn't be the end of the world, and that we could still be very, very happy together. So your therapist is right that there are other situations where you can be happy.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I have somewhat complex and conflicted feelings about having children. I have always wanted children at some point in the future, but the number seems to be shrinking (I thought 4, then 3, now maybe one or two), and lately I find myself wondering if I will ever really feel ready.

I'm around the same age as you, and would want to have any children by age 35, so that gives me about 8 years, which lately I've also realized is not really long at all.

I think it comes down to having an urge to have children, but definitely not right now, and though my husband and I are reasonably financially stable, make a relatively good income, paid off major debts, and have substantial savings for our income/age, I think I would really panic if I found out I were pregnant. Partly I would feel a sense of loss -- loss of freedom of time to do what we want -- and partly I would feel as if we're not entirely prepared, as we have not yet bought a house and do not want to do so or raise kids in the city where we currently live.

I also think I may at some point find myself all of the sudden very ready and wanting to have children NOW, and at that point, if we were to find out we could not get pregnant, I think I'd feel a profound sadness, like another commenter said. I don't think I'd pursue adoption given the cost and the emotional toll it can take, but who knows. I think it's a complicated issue.
-Jenn

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that if you wait to have kids until you can afford them, you will never have kids (in other words, that excuse is just a cop out for those who don't want kids or are afraid to have kids).

It's a trade off. Have kids when you are young and you'll struggle more financially. Have kids when you are older, and you'll struggle less financially, but you'll struggle more physically (trust me, I know from experience how much difference there is having a baby at 25 vs having one at 28. Even though it was just three years, having a baby and taking care of a baby at 28 was much harder pysically than at 25! I can't imagine what it would be like to have one in my 30s!!)

"you have to really have a physical urge to have kids and a desire to appreciate the joy they'll bring (along with all the sacrifice and stress.) Do I have that urge? Will I ever?"

That's BS. I never really had the urge. I was one of those people who would have been perfectly happy with OR without kids - didn't really matter to me. In fact, I was the LAST person my family thought would ever have kids (I was a bit selfish and career oriented in my early 20s). But once I had them, it was amazing. They really do fill your life with joy (and challenges, but it's worth it!). It's amazing to watch them grow and develop. ANd what I found amazingly unreal - is how much LOVE a heart can hold!

When I was in my early 20's, I never thought I would say this....but life would feel meaningless without kids.

:)

Investing Newbie said...

Anonymous 2 - Were you talking to my mother? Because that sounds like its straight from her mouth?

My mom is always telling that if I wait until I have enough money to get married/have kids, then I'll never do either of those things. I was pretty obsessed with having "enough" money prior to blogging so I can't blame the blogging. I just saw my parents, who came from Haiti with nothing more than the shirts on their backs and their love for each other, and build a life for themselves. 25 years later they are stable, but still not living, like they should be. I guess I just don't want to struggle. I want to have enough money to have a nice wedding. I want to have enough money to buy a house and contribute to the supporting of my family.

But I did put "enough" in quotes above. I just don't know what enough is. That's when I think, maybe it doesn't matter how much money you have? My parents had nothing and they were pretty awesome parents (seeing as none of their kids turned out to be murders or crack addicts...really loose definition here...). You should ask yourself, as a person, are you ready to be a parent? That through richer or poorer, you'll be able to fight for your kids and give them a semblance of a life? That doesn't mean Disney World every year or giving them the best clothes, it means raising them to be a positively contributing member to society. Do you think you can do that? Then, yes, I think you're fit to be a mama!

Anonymous said...

I.N, - haha! just jotted that down in 5 mins before I left for an early lunch break...I didn't even have time to read others' comments here (or the whole post for that matter). but I still feel the same.

I don't think any one ever FEELS ready to have kids. But it seems like most just THINKING about kids here are more ready than most actual parents. Our only criteria for deciding WHEN to have kids was that we had to have a house. If I had thought more about it, I might have wanted a bit more in savings. But there's where the tradeoff (financial vs physical struggle) of having kids came into play. I was also like many here - once we decided we wanted to have kids, I was worried that if I waited too long, we might have trouble. So we tossed the birth control as soon as we closed on the house, and were preggers within a month (probably days!) of closing :) I was 23 then. The second one came 3 months earlier than planned - which was OK. We planned to space the first two at exactly 2 years apart, so in the grand scheme of things, 3 months didn't make a bit of difference. The third one - we waited a few years...and did NOT conceive on the first month - that's when I learned about "secondary infertility." That's what they call it when you already have a kid (or two or more) but have trouble conceiving another. I think it's age - our stuff just doesn't work as well when we get older. I was only 27 (almost 28) then (only 2 years after the second). Luckily, it didn't take us too long, but it was still frustrating, especially when we got preggers the first two times almost by just *thinking* about it ;) HAHA! But at least we didn't have to revert to fertility drugs or adoption like many of our friends who waited until they were at least 35. Those are the people who ONLY have one kid b/c it either (a) took them FOREVER to conceive or (b) could never conceive and paid a small fortune to adopt.

As far as a "trade-off" between career and family. Well, anyone who has kids makes sacrifices in some form or another (in the first few years - you sacrifice a LOT of sleep!). But you don't have to give up your career for kids. You may have to scale it back a little if you actually want a relationship with your kids, but you don't have to give it up. I am proof. I am 33 with three kids and still way more sucessful than most of my peers (even the ones who decided to wait to have kids until they had a stable career, ironically enough!). Granted, I'd be way more sucessful if I did NOT have kids - and I'd probably be working 60 - 70+ hours per week. But like I said before, I think a life like that would be meaningless. I think I've found a good balance between work and life. It also helps that I have a husband who takes a very active role in raising the kids (he stays at home with them!). If he didn't do as much as he does with the kids, there's no way we'd have 3 of 'em now!

On the other hand, if you DON'T want kids, I think that's OK to feel that way. I felt that way once also. We all have different views of what a "perfect life" is :) In the end, whatever you decide, I hope you have no regrets :)

Anonymous said...

and I just realized I misspelled successful twice! once..an obvious typo, but twice - makes me look stupid, huh?!?

Anonymous said...

I love reading all of these comments and I agree with most of what everyone has said. I am 30 and my husband is 25. We have a 3 year old and one on the way. Whenw e got pregnant the first time, it was a huge surprise. (I have endometriosis, andenyomiosis, and have been told that I am infertile...)

The thing is, we had no diea that we wanted kids until we got pregnant and then we KNEW that we wanted one.

I agree with the people that have said that you will never have enough money. You won't. If you wait until you're in a "good position" then you will be waiting forever. We learned that when planning for our second child, which we knew we wanted. There is never really a good time to have kids because you're always going to have financial obligations and responsibilities. Welcome to life.

If you do have children, though, then you will learn to adapt. You'll learn to cut corners and be frugl on some things and how NOT to scrimp on others. You'll learn real fast which luxuries are worth keeping and which ones aren't. You will probably surprise yourself at just how capable you really are.

I don't understand, though, why you think that you can't have kids if both you and your husband have college loans. Combined, our college loans are more than $100,000. Our payments are high, but we were accumulating those debts before we even met each other. It will be harder with loans, but not impossible. Some people have debts that are a lot worse and they have children just fine. If I were you, I'd look more at the big picture in terms of children. Are you going to be okay with being in your 50's or 60's and thinking, "I really wish I'd had children"? and realizing that the reason that you didn't was because you didn't think you had the money. If so, then great! That's your choice. But if you think that one day you might look back with some regrets on it then you might want to reconsider.

Anonymous said...

Sure, have kids, but not with that lame ass boyfriend who is milking off of you. No where in that post did you say you love him, nor have you mentioned this anywhere in the blog that I recall. If he is barely working and siphoning off of you, then you two have different wants and needs right now. You've been focused on accumulating wealth and he can barely get out of bed in the morning it seems.

Waiting to have children because of career goals is fine. But waiting to have enough money....no. Kids are not all that expensive in the beginning. Sure, there's the hospital bill, but if you have insurance. Setting up a nursery isn't expensive--it's called a baby shower and most things the kids need for sports/schools/etc. are in the future when your income has increased. College funds have 18 years to grow. Invest in them and you'll be fine.

I'd talk to your therapist about relaxing and learning to stop worrying all the time. And how to get rid of the dead-beat boyfriend who is milking you.

simple in France said...

I think it's very important to realize that children are not mandatory by any means. They are not the default. It's really up to you. I agree with Abigail. . .you can think you want children maybe, someday, while knowing you don't want them now. Seems realistic.

That said, I had a parent of one of my sixth graders last year say something to me that I found rather fascinating, "Having children is never a rational decision and it's never a 'good time' to have them." It costs money and takes energy no matter when you do it. Having kids is about wanting them in spite of the sacrifices.

And you know, I think that having money problems with kids is probably stressful, surely. But so many people have kids on a shoestring budget and the kids can turn out just fine. What's harder for kids to overcome is parents who don't have their act together psychologically. Whoowee have I seen this as a teacher. It's just not fair to the kids--regardless of how much $ one makes. I'd say that even more important than money is getting to the point where you feel ready for kids and that you can care for them mentally/emotionally. If you're there, I suspect you'll know.

And another thing--having been the teacher of adolescents. . .I'm not so sure that kids give your life meaning! Hah! (ok, that sounded flippant, but there are times when parenting looks like a pretty thankless profession!)

Full disclosure: no kids yet. . .maybe someday. I'm already 33 and my husband is 40 (he's wanted kids since he was 15).

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