Of Kids and Dogs

“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.”
― Roald Dahl

Inspired by a comment chat with the lovely and thoughtful Grace from Culture Life, on one of the weekend links.

I’m turning 29 this year, Jeff is turning 30. In four months we’ll celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. Depending on who you ask we should have between 0 and 3 children by now. Some people are amazed we married as young as we did, some feel the need to caution us about our dwindling fertility.

Living in Britain means that the latter is a lot less common than when we lived in Utah when multiple people, including total strangers, would ask me about our reproductive plans every week, but it still happens simply because we’re married. It’s a natural progression in the social expectation. In Britain it’s not unusual to partner up but wait until you’re ready to have kids to marry, to have kids before marrying, or some other variation. It’s a lot more more live-and-let-live than the US is in a lot of ways, but family is a topic of conversation for a lot of people I know, particularly working women.

I’ve married a man who definitely wants kids, and who decided at the ripe old age of 23 that he definitely wants to have them with me. (Luckily for all concerned, he still does.) Which means that before we married we had a lot of frank talks on the subject and have maintained a pretty open dialog about the whole thing throughout our married life. One of the things we talk about the most lately is the financial realities of families for people like us. We also talk about about getting a dog.

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It sounds like I’m getting off topic here, but I promise I have a point.

A while back I was speaking to a whip smart agent who works at a major global sales firm. The woman is very nice and always well put together, and I enjoy working with her. She mentioned that she had a dog, a breed that I like, and I asked how she and her husband managed to look after a pet since Jeff and I were interested in having one down the line somewhere. It turned out that she has a dog sitter look after her pup. Every single work day. Her dog needed a nanny.

And lest you think I’m telling this story to make fun of her, I assure you, I’m not. It’s just a reality for a lot of pet owners. Pets take care and if you want a pet you either need to provide it yourself, or ensure someone else is on hand to do it when you can’t.

The parallel to children might seem unflattering towards the latter, but I think it’s a fair one. London is an obscenely expensive city and when I look at my colleagues and coworkers, there are only two options I see for how they manage it. They either 1) make enough money for one parent to stay–or more likely work from–home with the kid(s), meaning they make an awful lot, or 2) they have help. And to make the second option work, that usually requires plenty of money again to be able to afford said help!

Getting this job effectively doubled our income, which has already been an incredibly positive shift for us. I’m still freelancing on the side, but now if we’re smart, we can pay off our remaining student loans within two years. I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to say that, because debt (even obtained in a good cause) is terrifying. However, we’re still a few years away from even thinking seriously about having kids. And in that time, we estimate we’d have to double our income again to afford a child because even though we’re bringing in twice as much, it’s not even close to allow one of us to stay home past a maternity/paternity leave–much less afford a nanny five days a week.

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I know some people, in countries all around the world, who can afford to have and maintain a family on a single income. I know far, far more who can’t, and the trend is very much towards the latter from my generation. Wages have not kept up with cost of living and–in spite of what a lot of Boomers like to argue to the contrary–the evidence is that people my age are pretty frugal. Jeff and I sure as hell are! Like a lot of millennials, in spite of working hard (two jobs in my case) we’re swimming in debt which delays a lot of other financial considerations like buying property and cars (two things the American economy has depended on for half a century), investing…and having kids.

Spawning is a complicated topic for me. I’ve written several times about the fact that I’ve never felt a primal urge to have children like I know many women do. In fact, I dislike infants and babies intensely, silly or not childbirth actively frightens me, and human pregnancy looks to my eyes as if we should have tried one or two other evolutionary models before deciding on the one we’ve landed on. Add to the mix my slow and painful breakup with a religion that couches the female experience almost entirely in the language of motherhood, often (in my personal opinion) to the detriment of nearly all other possible life choices/realities for women, and you get some pretty conflicted views.

But financial issues conflict it even more. We won’t have our debt paid off until we’re in our early 30s, and I don’t want to have children in my late 30s. My mother did and even though it was the right choice for her (plus my little sister is pretty darn cute), it’s not an experience I want to repeat. Which means that our window to consider children shrinks every year. I’m personally fine with that, but I work hard to make sure Jeff and I are on the same page about it. We are. We literally cannot afford them.

And I don’t think we’re unusual. In fact, I think we’re the increasing norm.

Weigh in with your thoughts and experiences, kittens. I’m curious to hear them. 

20 thoughts on “Of Kids and Dogs”

  1. Have them when you think you’re ready for them. Never mind the others. My wife and I were 30 when our first born came along, 34 when #2 was born. You’re ready when you’re read and no one can tell you otherwise because they aren’t you, they are them. 🙂

  2. You have a healthy approach to parenthood. I think that the decision to become parents is taken too lightly by many. Far too many people have kids without considering the MANY ramifications simply because it was they are “supposed” to do.

    Being a parent is more than just a full-time job–it completely changes your life in every way. As such, a couple should take the time to prepare themselves in whatever ways they see fit and make sure it is what they want in life. And that time should vary for each couple because everyone is different.

    When we first got married, husband and I had this magical number of kids that we talked about having someday. After our first, that number became a little less firm. And after number 2, we are much less concerned with the final tally. Instead, we are keeping the possibility of future offspring as just that–a possibility. One that will only come to fruition after serious consideration (and a few more years down the line). We’ve decided to take it one kid at a time instead of trying to meet a quota.

    My two girls are more demanding than any job I’ve ever had. I have never been so consistently sleep-deprived in my life. And I am constantly trying (and often failing) to find balance in my life. But do I love being a mother? Absolutely! It is what was right for me. Do I see myself cranking out babies like crazy? No. Because that is not what is right for me.

    To each their own.

    1. You summed it up perfectly–to each their own. I’d really love to see a social shift away from the notion that there is “one right way” to do a family. It seems to me there are myriad ways to have healthy, happy partnerships and children and what works for one might be horrible for someone else. You just have to do what works for you in your own unit.

      Jeff and I had a hypothetical number to negotiate from when we started talking about kids before marriage. That number shifts CONSTANTLY, especially with age and financial considerations. I like you’re approach to considering all future kids a possibility, probably to be evaluated when you feel it’s right or wrong. Very healthy.

  3. I love this post.

    It’s refreshingly honest and straightforward about a complicated issue.

    I never wanted children for a variety of reasons: 1) journalism is insanely competitive and I could not imagine having and enjoying both a child(ren) and work at the high level I hoped to achieve; 2) I could not ever imagine earning enough from it to afford a nanny or au pair (let alone a large enough home for them) to help, because 3) we have no family who have the slightest interest in helping with baby-sitting or financial issues of child-rearing.

    In other words, becoming a mother looked lonely, expensive and exhausting. Which is what I have read many times from those who made that choice.

    You’re wise to know your limits.

    1. It is a complicated issue, and I sometimes wish the infinite complexities were talked about more! There’s not one reason to decide to have kids, just like there’s not one reason to decide not to. And in between, there are a lot of reasons in either direction.

      I recognize as an adult how hard parenting must have been for mine because we were often whole continents and oceans away from the network of extended family (although a church community helped). Now I’m conscious that if we had kids now, we’d also have no help from extended family…AND currently no built in community for support. It’s a daunting prospect and not a particularly appealing one to us!

      1. People have a bizarre notion it can or should be done alone when many cultures and societies assume it will take a lot of help, professionally, personally and through public policy.

  4. Having kids terrified me too. When I was actually wanting one, we didn’t have our finances in order. That said, I felt at peace about having them and everything has worked out. Not fairy tale worked out–as in, I was home bound without a car, we were very poor at times, and sometimes needed help. That said, I am still glad that I went with when I wanted to, versus waiting until we had X,Y,Z because the joy they bring me is worth the stress of finances. But, I wasn’t ready to deal with that for awhile (we had been married 4 years, and Claudy was 29…which was a far cry from the normal in Provo). Wait until you feel ready and then the rest can work itself out.

    1. SO glad you weighed in because I think your experience with motherhood has been so thoughtful and purposeful. You write about is so beautifully as well. I like what you said about being “at peace” with your decision, which I think is a good sign that you’ve made the right choice, whatever it is.

  5. It’s a damn shame that 2 of my favorite people on this earth aren’t reproducing just for the simple fact that are far too few like you. I look forward to any little minion(s) should they ever grace us with their presence.

    1. Sorry to disappoint. But I’m pretty sure Jeff will ask you to be a godfather to the mini-minions at some point, so hopefully that alleviates the sadness in the meantime 😉

  6. I’m absolutely in the same boat. Some children (like my nieces and nephews) get (limited) amounts of love and appreciation, but most of them just bother me and make me feel like I would be a horrible person if I had to deal with them every day. Also, I have weird body issues that make me never ever want to bear my own children anyway, so adoption or hiring a surrogate mother is one more expense I can add to the list if we decide to be parents. I realize that raising a child is a selfless way to contribute to the future and to humanity, so I like the idea of adopting anyway (especially a girl from a place that tends not to celebrate girls), but mostly I think it’d be a better idea for me to just pay for people who want to adopt to do so. My opinions and my community have greatly changed since we married, and so far my significant other has been okay with that, but I worry about the day when our families and possibly my significant other start really pushing (my Chinese in-laws mentioned us having children at our wedding, but they say they understand that the focus is on career “right now”—what will happen when they decide that my focus needs to change?). Props to you for knowing what you want and for communicating about it with your spouse.

    1. Thank you for mentioning body issues! I find it really hard to explain that I genuinely fear childbirth. and pregnancy has always weirded me out. Even as a teenager, when I tried to picture parenthood, I honestly envisioned adoption. It’s an option I’d like to keep open even now, but physically bearing children has always carried a sense of dread for me. I don’t know why, but there it is.

      It can be very hard to stand your ground when other people tell you that your focus is “wrong.” I’m learning to be better about just saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” instead of my current burning need to defend myself. Loudly.

  7. I keep meaning to comment on this because I found it super thought-provoking. 🙂

    I agree that the decision of when to have children and how many is an intensely personal one, and one that should be openly communicated about in a marriage. There are so many pressures to parenthood and there’s no need to add to that by having children before a couple is ready for that.

    The financial considerations of children are complex, to be sure. But I feel like in the end, it comes down to what people choose to make a priority in their lives. Paying off student loan debt is definitely a good thing, and paying it off as fast as possible relieves stress in a lot of ways. But my guess is that if you were one of those people that desperately wanted children immediately (just for the sake of argument) the extra money that goes towards paying off student loans at breakneck speed could go a good ways towards putting you in a place where you could afford children. That’s not the case with you since you’re not wanting children now for a myriad of reasons, so it makes sense that you’re putting your money towards another of your goals. Again, priorities.

    And I think it needs to be said that when we say we “can’t afford to have children now” the unspoken end to that sentence is “and continue living the lifestyle we’re accustomed to and/or achieve all my other goals simultaneously.” Again, someone in your situation who desperately wanted to have kids right away, may find themselves moving further out of the city for lower rent, or finding a job in an entirely new city that was more family-finance-friendly. They may be fine living in a cramped space and sharing their bedroom with their child if that’s what it took. Or they may not mind so much that cutting out a salary and/or paying for daycare left them with no money for takeout or entertainment or vacations, and tightened their budget on groceries and clothing and utilities, etc.

    The fact of the matter is, no matter how much anyone is making or when they decide to have kids, children are always going to come with a certain amount of sacrifice. More sacrifice for some families, less for others. Time, money, social stuff, sleep, a changed body, whatever it is. But it’s there for everyone. And that’s something that I think should play a big part in the discussion in a marriage of when to have kids – what are we willing to give up now and what kind of life are we willing to live?

    These are big questions that are personal to each couple, and there’s not any one right answer. But again, I think it comes down to priorities. I think most couples in our socio-economic bracket could afford kids if that’s what their top priority was (not that having kids needs to be anyone’s priority).

    Whew, this got way longer than I meant it to be. 🙂 And while we’re talking of when to have children, let me just say I desperately hope this child is out of my body by the end of next week. My arms are reaching around my stomach to reach my keyboard and I can’t help but giggle at your thought that we should have tried out a few more evolutionary models before landing on this one – amen, sista!

    1. Excellent points all! Thanks for weighing in, mama-to-be.

      I don’t agree with some conclusions, but you make a really solid case for them (and of course, I’m fairly open to the idea that I’m totally wrong!). The biggest one I’d push back on is the idea that *all* people who say they can’t afford kids mean that they can’t afford it PLUS the lifestyle they are accustomed to. Of course we all know people who do think that way, but I’d posit there are a lot of people out there who honestly can’t afford children without help, be it a family (a network of people to provide you resources and care) or financial (resources and capital to allow you to make major lifestyle changes and endure the change period). And if you don’t have those options available to you, I’ve seen firsthand in underprivileged areas, that’s exactly how poverty happens.

      I do agree entirely however that having a family, no matter how you do it involves some major changes and sacrifices, there are no two ways around it and that people need to consider that fact incredibly thoughtfully when thinking about it.

  8. As a child of the early 30s birthing… My parents only had me. I have never asked about the financial issues that could have arose but I know that the reason it worked for them is because my mom worked the day shift and my dad worked the night shift. I was never without a parent. And I’m glad it was like that.

    I feel that nannies have such a bad rep today. But more and more parents are allowing their children to be raised but them. I see all these spoiled children who have no relationship with their parents or their nannies. So what’s the point?

    To me, as a child who spent all my time with my parents growing up, you should definitely feel comfortable waiting till you can spend the time you want with your kids.

    You do you! Best wishes :]

  9. HEY! I’m writing my comment now. But only a shortish one. Because…breastfeeding.

    Anyway, the main thing I wanted to say, having now been on both sides of the not-wanting-right-now and then wanting-kid-nowish fence is that it drives me bonkers when people say, “You’ll never be ready to have kids” as a reason to have kids right then.

    I call major bull on that one.

    Does anyone ever say “You’ll never be ready to get married” as a good reason to get married? If they do, then MAJOR MAJOR bull on THAT one too! Or “you’ll never be ready to shave your head”…I mean, I can think of so many examples of this faulty logic.

    Fact is, you can be ready when you are actually ready. It’s really possible. It’s a thing. Like…don’t do something so drastic when you are not ALL IN and FEEL COMFORTABLE and WANT TO and are READY, you know? Like that quote in some movie that I don’t remember the title of: “Having kids is like getting a tattoo on your face. You need to be really certain it’s what you want before you do it.” (paraphrase)

    Also, apologies for the caps.

    And as for the body image thing – personally, I think that is a totally valid concern. Like, I really, really get it.

    1. We do not apologise for all caps at SDS HQ. We encourage them. I like your insight a lot! I too call major bull on the idea that, “You’ll never be ready so just jump in kid!” It implies that all times are equally good which I fundamental refute. There are times that are demonstrably worse for such a life-alterting decision than others and damage can be done by poor timing.

      The people who have done kids with the healthiest mentality to me have been those who were able to go on the thought process, “I didn’t want them then, I do want them now. That’s okay, deal with it.” Something can be a really bad idea at one point and a really good idea at another, without invalidating the reality of either scenario.

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