Recently, I had coffee with an old friend of mine who was torn over the decision to have a child. His spouse wants a child, as do his parents, but he doesn’t feel ready to take that leap. I told him that I thought he should stick to his guns on the subject, and he looked at me with a mix of shock and relief. He was sure I was going to try to talk him into having a child, given the value I’ve found in being a parent, but I made it very clear to him that there are a lot of deep costs to being a parent and you need to be fully sure of your choice before stepping up to the plate.
The best decision I have ever made in my life (other than arguably the choice to marry my wife) was to have children. My toddler-aged son and my infant daughter are two of the true high points in my life, and I genuinely enjoy every minute that I get to spend with them. The high point of my average day right now is the moment when my son comes in the door and shouts loudly, “DAD!” and we then play a loud game of Marco Polo from wherever I am in the house until we meet up, usually in the living room or the kitchen.
Many parents who experience this joy often tell others how wonderful it all is and encourage them to have children of their own, and I understand why a person would make that recommendation. I deeply enjoy fatherhood, and it’s something that has added an incredible amount of value to my life – why wouldn’t I want that same value to be added to the lives of my friends?
Yet, in the end, I generally encourage people not to become parents. The joys of parenting come with a great number of costs, and these costs really add up. If you’re not ready to commit to those costs fully, then you should wait on parenthood.
The financial costs of children are well documented. You should expect to spend a quarter of a million dollars, all told, on your child by the time they walk out the door. That’s a lot of cash. But it’s not the only cost, and it is the other costs that really add up over the years:
Time Let’s say, on average, you spend three hours a day on child care over the eighteen years of their childhood. That’s almost 20,000 hours, or 821 days around the clock, or two and a quarter years of around-the-clock time devoted to child care.
Freedom Especially in the early years of a child’s life, the ability to just pick up and do something on the spur of the moment is gone. You can still go out sometimes, but it comes at the cost of finding a babysitter you trust and also working with that sitter’s schedule.
Experiences With three hours out of an average day suddenly gone, you find yourself with a lot less time to enjoy other pursuits. Your schedule becomes hard to synchronize with others as well, leaving you with much more limited opportunities for hobbies and other activities.
Career advancement Career advancement is still possible, but climbing the ranks after the birth of a child often means spending less time with the child and not forming as deep of a bond. You end up feeling pulled in a lot of directions, and it feels quite stressful.
Marital stress To a point, you lose some of the time you used to have to bond with your spouse. You’re also injecting the dynamic of a new person into the core of your life. Flavors of loneliness, inadequacy, confusion, and jealously will float through the marriage when a child comes along – and you have to be strong enough to make things work through these changes.
That doesn’t mean that I think becoming a parent is a bad move. It’s not. The real message here is don’t let anyone use peer pressure or social pressures to convince you to become a parent. If all of your friends are having children, that’s not a reason to become a parent. If your parents are hinting for grandchildren, that’s not a reason to become a parent. If your spouse is getting anxious, that’s not a reason to become a parent.
The one reason, the real reason, to become a parent is because you truly want to. You’ll know it if you do – if you read that list of costs above and yet still keep thinking about a child, you should probably have one, for instance. If you find yourself thinking a lot about adding a child to your life and the thoughts are positive, you’re probably ready.
If you’re not genuinely committed, though, children are not worth the costs. They demand – and deserve – your full love, attention, and care, and that comes with a very high cost, one that many people out there, unfortunately, are not equipped to pay. The investment only comes with a fair return (a well-rounded young person that you helped to raise) if you truly feel the calling to become a parent.
In short, if someone is trying to convince you to become a parent and you don’t feel it, don’t make that leap. The cost to you – and to that unborn child – is very high, and it’s not fair to either one of you to expect you to pay it when you’re not ready.