Last week, I had an interesting conversation with my older kids (we have lots of interesting conversations, actually!), ages 10, 12.5, 14, and 15.5. I always have thoughts on something percolating in my brain, so these conversations get started when I share my thoughts or ask them for their opinions. In this case, I asked them if they thought people should continue having children if the parents were unable to pay full tuition for the children they already had. Since we homeschool, tuition isn’t an issue I have to deal with, and this was a non-personal starting point for a conversation about the value of having children and the choices we make in providing for them.
This isn’t something we’ve ever discussed before, and my kids really wanted to hear my take on it. But I want my kids to learn to think things through for themselves, not to just adopt whatever I say as the right position, so they each had their say before I made any comments. One child surprised me by saying no, people shouldn’t have any more kids if they can’t pay full tuition, and when I asked her why, she said that they would have so much financial pressure that they wouldn’t be happy to have more children. And if they weren’t happy, they shouldn’t have more children. So their happiness was the defining value, not the tuition. The others argued that school is only one way to educate a child, and isn’t a necessity, educating your children is what parents are responsible to take care of. So they said if people wanted to have more children, they should look for other ways to educate their children that would meet everyone’s needs, and that tuition alone wasn’t a good yardstick to use to make that decision.
I then asked what if someone couldn’t afford full tuition for more than one child, should they stop having children at that point? What if they could afford full tuition, but couldn’t afford for the mother to stay at home with the children when they were young? What about if the children had to share bedrooms, couldn’t afford sleep away (or even day camp), had to have very simple food, couldn’t afford extra curricular activities, wouldn’t have weddings/college tuitions fully funded by parents? What about if they had to drive old cars, live in a tiny house in not so great neighborhood, buy used clothes, and never had vacations? What if they could afford full tuition, overseas vacations, and an otherwise high material standard, but the kids came home to an empty house every day, or spent more time with a nanny or housekeeper than their parents?
To me, these questions have to be asked to get to the heart of the issue. We have to ask ourselves these questions to define what our foremost values are, to determine what is worthwhile to spend money on, and where children fit into that picture. What are the necessities in raising children? This is so individual, yet there are so many judgements of those who make different choices than we do. But because the core values behind the decisions are so widely varying, it’s not likely there’s going to be a consensus from the different sides.
Fortunately, everyone doesn’t have to agree with the choices we make. It does matter if we’ve taken the time to think about the choices we make. As you know, we so far have eight children (soon to be nine). Having each and every one of our children is a value for us. It’s a conscious value, meaning that we don’t go on having kids because we don’t know how to prevent it, or because we feel social pressure (none of that actually – few of our peers have large families), or because we feel it’s a religious obligation. It’s because we have so much joy in raising children, in putting our time and efforts into growing people who are making the world a better place and who bring so much light into our lives and the lives of one another, that the material ‘sacrifices’ some might see us as having made pale in comparison.
Having a larger family means our kids share rooms. We have a modest house in a working class neighborhood. We drive an eight year old van that comfortably seats us all, go on yearly camping vacations, and don’t consider summer camp a necessity for anyone (though a number of the kids have gone). Our extra curricular activities are limited, though the kids have been fortunate to have music lessons and sports when desired, and though we do get to have some nice day trips and outings. We see paid work for teens as a positive value, and encourage good financial management from a young age (all of them from the age of six and up have their own savings accounts). There is no college fund for any of them – we expect our kids to find ways to fund college, if that’s the route they take (though we’ll pay for any college expenses while they are still in high school, if they choose to do dual enrollment), and have told them that when they get married, it means that they’re taking on adult responsibilities, including paying their own way and providing for themselves. We are very supportive of teaching our children skills that will help them as they enter adult life, but not very supportive of giving children money just because they want something.
We see learning to get along with others in your family as a very positive value. Learning to think about others and look out for younger siblings is a positive value to us. Learning to delay gratification, share, and make choices because you can’t have it all builds inner character, in our minds. So are we depriving our children? Should we have stopped long ago so that the older children could have more materially as they are growing up? We don’t think so.
On the flip side, we’ve been told how lucky we are that we can afford to have one parent at home full time. (‘Lucky’ is the subject of another long overdue post….) Our children enjoy knowing that one of their parents is always available to them, something that many people will say is a luxury. A family member who once told me that every generation is responsible to make sure the next has it better materially than them clearly would say we’ve failed in our basic parental responsibilities. Most others have looked at them and commented that they are happy and well adjusted – and told us to have more, that the world needs more children like ours! For us, we take it one child at a time, being mindful of our emotional and physical ability to meet what we consider to be the crucial needs of each of the children we already have.
This is a topic that is now being discussed in wider circles, as the mother of the octoplets gains fame. I don’t support choosing to have a child when there isn’t a stable family structure in place, as I see that as purposely denying a child what should be a basic right. But it seems that very few people are bothered by this, and that the real concern is financial.
Most people would probably agree that having more children when you can’t take care of those you have already have is neglectful and not something to be supportive of. The question is, how do you define taking care of your children, and where do you personally draw the line?