22 February 2011

Living the Dream (originally 21 February 2011)

I've met up with several friends recently and the question of when to have a second child seems to be on everyone's mind. Unlike our parents' generation we did not get married and have kids right out of high school or college. We dawdled along this path to adulthood, gathering up graduate degrees like candy from the bulk barrels at the supermarket - one from here, one from there - moving on to get real jobs far later in life than my own parents ever thought possible.

The reward for this sort of childish perseverance was supposed to be a steady job, a good paycheck, a house with an outrageous mortgage, maybe a pet or two. As my friends and I finally settled into this pattern baby pictures started popping up on Facebook. We picked out strollers. We struggled with decision about daycare. Then a couple years went by (or seventeen months in the case of Emmaline).

I thought we had it figured out. It's unfortunate that 10% of our monthly budget goes to paying my student loans, but that's the cost of doing business as they say. Take a deep breath and move on.

But then my friends started saying they weren't sure they could afford another child. Not one friend, not two. Many. And not a third or fourth child. A second.

How is it possible that smart people, hard working people, people who have gone to schools like Harvard and Princeton and Yale and Stanford and who have gotten jobs as doctors and lawyers and business administrators are so strapped for cash on a month to month basis that they are not sure there will be enough left over to see the next munchkin fed and clothed and housed?

Times are tough, certainly. We moved into one or two bedroom apartments. Maybe we even bought these as condos. The market crashed. Our salaries stagnated. The home that was meant to be temporary starts to be a little more permanent. So these friends, these people who get up and go to work every day at jobs they spent years becoming qualified for, are reassessing just what it means to have enough.

Enough toys - fewer to pick up, I say. Enough clothes - require less drawer space, one might suggest. Enough space - the more the merrier, our parents might have believed.

Many of us did share bedrooms when we were younger. But it's not the way we assumed we would operate when we had our own children. Why? Where is it written that you need a four bedroom house in the suburbs in order to have your 2.4 kids?

Is this why the new average number of children per households is only 1.83?

Demographics change for a number of reasons and there are many factors that contribute to that trend. 

Birth control, at least until the Republican Congress has finished waging it's war against women, is more available than it once was. Houses are expensive. Daycare is expensive. We all know these things to be true. Having strong armed my own parents into early retirement to rescue us from this very dilemma I cannot pretend that there is any easy answer. But neither do I think we necessarily need to give up the dream entirely if that dream includes another child, only readjust it a bit.

In the meantime, might I suggest bunk beds. I think bunk beds could really be fun.

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