However, when approached from another, more realistic, angle, those dauntingly high aggregate childrearing costs usually cited (a whopping $250,000 per child) aren’t really that scary. We’re just looking through the wrong end of the telescope. After all, we live day to day and year to year, not all at once.
Parenthood compels you to take your finances seriously, maybe for the first time in your life. This is never a bad thing. The fact is, I make more money now than I did before I became a father – in part because I have to! I was obligated to become more industrious.
Children really are cheaper by the dozen, as members of my religious community can attest. Economies of scale kick in. Just because we have four children doesn’t mean we have four of everything. After all, we need only one changing table at a time, and my younger son doesn’t know or care that he’s wearing his older brother’s clothes.
Contentment: America was founded, in part, on the ideal of “the pursuit of happiness.” Two centuries later, however, the pursuit isn’t enough for us. We want guaranteed happiness on demand. The exhausting daily chores and sacrifices that parenthood requires are the last thing we think will help us achieve it. After all, who wants a bunch of time-consuming, noisy, unpredictable children around, interrupting our pursuit of happiness? The studies about parenthood and happiness have it only half right. Yes, parenthood is hard and painful and requires sacrifice. It also provides a level of joy that no other human experience can deliver.
Reveling in my children’s childhood isn’t the same thing as trying to relive my own. Having written a best-selling book about superheroes, I’ve spoken at lots of comic book conventions, and it saddens me to see thousands of grown men and women living vicariously, playing make-believe in their elaborate costumes. Watching men my own age dressed as Jedi knights having light-saber fights in the hotel lobby is funny for a minute or two, but ultimately it’s a little weird. Once again, we see people trading true happiness for temporary comfort, maturity for nostalgia, and true family for a fragile arbitrary “community.”
Carbon footprint: Back in the 1970s, overpopulation was the global warming of its day. But as a chorus of modern day demographers have pointed out, those experts’ doomsday predictions didn’t come true. Not only is there enough food to sustain the world’s population – which could theoretically fit comfortably into the state of Texas – but food prices are declining while distribution has improved exponentially.
Other experts warned that we were running out of coal, oil, and other raw materials, yet inevitably new sources of these fuels were discovered, along with alternatives. Every generation has witnessed innovators developing new ways to harvest resources and use them more efficiently and cheaply. We take progress for granted, but we shouldn’t. You can’t remove an important element (in this case, a new generation of children) from any equation and realistically expect to get the same end result.
My family’s carbon footprint isn’t six times that of a single, childless person. Driving my wife and kids in one vehicle uses up no more gas than one driver tooling around in the same car. We vacation together, eat together, shop together, and so on. Families learn to conserve their limited resources by necessity. My children and I are also learning how to care for planet earth by reading the Curious George books together, as our family’s favorite fictional monkey learns to “reduce, reuse and recycle.” Education rather than annihilation is the answer.
Not everyone agrees, of course. I’m forced to confront opposition to my family’s very existence almost every day, as progressive Brooklynites bluntly inform me that I’m being selfish for having so many children.
For my part, I used to see the childfree movement as selfish and blindly dogmatic, but now I realize I was being naïve and simplistic. In fact, in many cases childless couples choose to be so for what they consider altruistic ideals, not selfish ones. The irony is that the reason they give for not wanting kids is the reason they would make the best parents: they are responsible, forward thinking people who care about the future of our planet.
About the Author: Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, an internationally known best-selling author whose first book, "Up, Up and Oy Vey!" received the Benjamin Franklin Award, has been profiled in leading publications including The New York Times, The Miami Herald and The London Guardian. He was recently voted New York’s Hippest Rabbi by PBS Channel 13. He chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at Pratt Institute. His forthcoming book is “The Case for Children: Why Parenthood Makes Your World Better.”
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