I came across yet another article about the horrendous cost of raising children in America. It inspired me to write this post which is not in response to the above mentioned article in particular, but to all of the complaints about the high and growing costs of child rearing in general. Every time I read an article like this I wonder how does anyone manage to spend so much money on a kid that is not even grateful. Do people feed them gold flakes with diamonds? No, they just spoiled them too much with too many classes, toys, laptops, tablets and other electronic gadgets. There are two reasons for that: the culture of worshiping children and the inability to assess what is really essential and what is just another useless or even harmful expense.
American parents spend a lot of money on gadgets like hundreds or thousands of toys, fancy or too many strollers (new ones for each child), monster-sized yard playgrounds, inflatable castles, not to mention computer games, tablets, smartphones, computers, laptops for each kid, and other electronic equipment not necessary at this age. Does a kid really need a potty tablet, or a smartphone? I doubt it. If you really need to contact your school kid, a simple cell phone is enough.
Sometimes, driving by houses, I see this stuff, especially toys and strollers, laying about not in use, or in a yard sale. The items sold at yard sales will at least get recycled and some people will donate their stuff to charities, which is highly appreciable, but most of the purchases will eventually end up in the garbage contributing to environmental destruction.
What is the use of a new stroller for each kid if the old one is still in good condition? Why buy a new stroller at all, if you can take the one your friends have in their basement that is still in very good condition? Why buy tons of plastic toys? The Earth does not need more plastic and the spoiled child will not appreciate it anyway, maybe will not even thank you for it, throwing it in a deep corner of the room after two minutes. Why buy designer clothes for a two year old, or any new clothes for that matter? Your sister will be happy to give you the clothes your niece grew out of just a few months ago. Your daughter will not die from her cousin’s germs; washing them is enough. Are these items not fancy enough? Are you embarrassed to be labeled as cheap or poor? If so, say that this is for environment reasons, you will be called trendy.
Americans so often underline how they encourage kids’ creativity, yet they fail to involve their offspring in creative mending of damaged toys. They spend money instead of teaching children to release their creativity and make their own toys of fabric scraps, boxes or blocks of wood. My elementary school taught and actively encouraged these activities. I loved to make dolls and clothing for them using leftover pieces of fabric and yarn or making cars using boxes and colorful paper that would otherwise be thrown away. Yes, I was allowed and able to use a sewing machine at the age of 7 and no, it did not bite my hands off, I am typing this post using my 10 fingers. Why not encourage kids to embrace these kinds of activities?
Another issue is the price of food. How many times have you heard that food is so expensive, that prices are going constantly up and many people cannot afford organic food, thus eat unhealthy fast foods? I drive frequently around places with a small downtown area and large residential areas of houses with yards. Guess how many yards I have seen with vegetables growing in them? Zero. Z-e-r-o. People do not grow their food in their yards. I have seen four fruit trees altogether. Even these people, labeled in America as poor, although they would be rich in most places in the world, do not grow their food. They say they cannot afford organic vegetables. Can the nation really afford this kind of waste of resources? My aunt who lived with her elderly mother wanted to sow grass in their yard because she saw the beautiful lawns and hedges in American movies. Her mother said: Will you eat that grass? Are you a cow? They ended up planting vegetables, eating them when in season and making preserves for the period of time they are not in season. They were not poor, some peoples simply like to use resources wisely. How many Americans make preserves?
Why not teach the kids to grow vegetables? The whole family might enjoy doing it together. My cousins were required to work in their parents’ agricultural business starting at the age of 6 every day after school and after homework was completed, and worked longer hours during vacation time. I helped whenever I visited. We all enjoyed it. Now, as the older generation retires, one of them uses that land and the skills learned during childhood to run an organic farm. Her tomatoes are famous in the area for their delicious taste. Your child does not need to become an organic farmer in the future, but growing your own food is a valuable lesson of respect for work, respect for nature and brings a lot of savings to the grocery bill.
When people complain about food prices they also mean restaurant prices. Yes, restaurants can be expensive, but why not use them only for special occasions and eat at home everyday? No time to cook? Why not share the tasks with the kids, cook together and eat at home? It will be much faster if more people contribute to the work. You will also have an opportunity to teach them the table manners so many children in America lack terribly. By not taking kids to restaurants, you will not only save a lot of money, but also do a huge favor to so many people who, each day, are exposed to uncontrollable rude behavior of ill-mannered kids in those venues. Unfortunately, so many children do not appreciate the restaurant experience at all, and most of them offend other patrons being extremely rude, with their parents’ silent permission.
Way too often I see in public places obnoxious, screaming kids and parents stuffing candy in their kid’s mouths to keep them quiet instead of teaching them respect. Teaching the kids to stay quiet while in public places and to respect other people upon an adult’s request, not contingent upon a candy bribe, will save you money on junk food. You will also save a lot on dentist bills that can become very high, especially in case of children used to chocolate bar snacks to shut their mouths. Even if junk snacks are not used as bribes or as mouth stuffing devices, they are still unhealthy, as are sugary drinks. They can be easily eliminated, which will save a lot of money.
The vehicles people so often use to drive kids add up to the high cost as well. Minivans and monster size SUVs cost a lot. Why not use a simple sedan? People in other developed countries use them to drive kids, if they use any car at all, many kids are simply required to walk to day care or school, or to use public transportation, and their offspring usually turns out better raised. What would a kid need a huge vehicle for? Just another gadget out of the parents’ whim.
Private schools and extracurricular activities add significantly to the cost of raising children. There is no reason to exaggerate with using them. Kids really do not need lots of classes for all sports, all dances and two musical instruments. They will not become geniuses just because you drive them from one class to another and from one fast food joint to another in between and from one game to another all day long. Letting them play by themselves, together, without organized classes, and invent their own games may even do more good because it boosts the ability to think.
I understand that the cost of childcare is very high due to the lack of public, affordable daycare centers and high prices of the private ones. Public daycare works really well in many European countries. It not only stores kids when parents are working, it also teaches them social skills and corrects their behavior and manners when some parents fail. In America, there is a cultural problem though. Due to a gender discriminating assumption expressed by so many people that a permanently unemployed mother is the best for childcare, there is no push or lobby for creating public daycare and who knows when and if at all it will eventually arise. Until then, the cost of childcare will remain high.
Also, there are many other costs that can be reduced if the parents are spending money on these: Parenting classes, diapering classes, and lactation consultants. These additional costs are just another whim after all. Millions of people all around the world are doing much better without them.