I just realized that my entire "editorial" calendar for the next three weeks is just one controversial post after another. While I'm sure that some of you read my blog just waiting to see the eventual implosion, I figure that I better space out the overly opinionated content; after all, one can only handle so much divisive rhetoric, and I'm sure that you've already gotten more than your fair share from the elections. Which is why I'm going off course for today to bring you three gender neutral financial truths about parenting.
While these truths require parents to come up with solutions, I won't prescribe solutions... this time.
Parenting in the abstract is different than parenting for real
Before I even talk about parenting, I would like to take a moment to thank all childcare workers, nannies, and school teachers (including high school teachers, because let's be honest, sometimes your pupils act their shoe size not their age).
If you work in one of these professions, full time, for several years, then there's a good chance that you understand parenting. Because parenting is about wanting the very best for you child, even if you're not able to provide it. It's about coming up with solutions to problems that don't exist in adult world.
Parenting is a labor of love. It is exhausting, and as much as you'll try to live up to your parenting ideals you'll fail. I mean, I've already failed four times today, and I've only been with my son two hours.
Whatever you think parenting will be like for you, it's quite likely to be different in reality. No matter how many parenting books you read, no matter how well you think you know yourself, you'll be surprised.
One of the fundamental reasons that I chose to post my controversial-ish piece about women not dating underearners is because my parenting in the abstract never included a world in which a strong, independent, moderately intelligent, and highly opinionated woman like myself would entertain the idea of staying home with a child all day. However, my parenting in reality makes me think that it might be a good idea.
It's impossible to know what you'll be like as a parent, and this reality means its impossible to accurately guess ahead of time what the best set up for your family will be once you have kids. The implementation of your ideals may look drastically different than you thought it would, and that is perfectly acceptable because adulting is hard.
The reason I call this a financial truth is that how you navigate earning money and raising kids might be quite a bit different than you thought prior to having kids. Having a multitude of income earning options can make this truth easier to deal with in the real world.
Childcare can be outsourced, but child rearing can't
If you are a parent, you can outsource a great deal of childcare. Usually, you will do this through daycare and then through school. However, as much as I love our babysitter, and as much as you love your daycare provider and your kids' teachers, they are not parent substitutes. (Or more accurately, when teachers must serve as parent substitutes, children tend to suffer).
Child care can be outsourced. Someone else can care for your child's physical, intellectual and social needs, but as a parent, you remain the primary provider for your own kids emotional and spiritual needs. At least one parent really needs to know their kids well enough to say, "Our kid needs therapy," or "Our kid needs to go to the doctor right now." Children need parents to be their advocate until they learn to advocate for themselves.
Putting your child in childcare doesn't mean that you've managed to pay for someone else to deal with the most exhausting parts of raising a kid. No matter where your child spends the bulk of their day, parents must still be parents.
Why is this a financial truth?
Even though your kids might not be with you full time, you still have to give them the full time equivalent of love and affection and care. You still have to be flexible enough to deal with their wildly inconvenient timing for medical and personal emergencies. Many traditional jobs make it difficult to get ahead or even hold steady in your career if you need the flexibility required to raise kids.
No matter what balance you and your spouse choose to strike between kids and careers, you're making a choice with major financial implications.
Children grow up
At some point, children grow up. Barring some major disability, your child will eventually not need you to care for their daily needs. They might seek out your advice, or they might forget to call for a few weeks (Hi Mom, I love you! I'll call you soon!).
Labor intensive parenting is a season of life. It lasts, at most (again barring major disabilities), two decades.
If you follow a typical career trajectory (starting at around age 20 and retiring somewhere north of 60), less than half of your most productive career years will be invested in your kids instead of your career. It's important to remember that turning 45 doesn't make you useless or incapable of producing high quality work (in fact, if you ask my grandpa, he'll say that productivity only decreases around the age of 79).
Many people worry that dropping out of the workforce for an extended period of time means they've shot their income earning potential forever, but I don't necessarily think that's the truth. No, you won't have a smooth income (great explanation of rational spending behavior), but you can reinvent your career later on in life. After all, career stability isn't guaranteed even if you remain in the workforce for the full 40 years.
When you remember that the necessary career limits that come from being a parent (and they are necessary, even if neither parent ever quits their job) only last for a season (a long season, but a season still), then it helps contextualize the financial implications of parenting.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.