Well Intended: Fantasy not the model for a 'good life'
Kids are expensive. The U.S. government says that it costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child.
When my children were young, I had a fantasy of how I wanted to raise them. Although I desired to focus on kindness and gratitude, we always looked gorgeous in my imagination. My fictional future would take place in a cozy house with a swing set and a playhouse in the backyard, where neighborhood kids gathered. I hoped that in the years to come, my kids would play sports and go to sleep-away camps. The house would be filled with friends and laughter and freshly baked cookies. I would throw them fabulous birthday parties and they would continue their horseback riding, art, swim and dance lessons. I would volunteer at the school in my free time. On holidays, I would give them gifts and they would jump with excitement.
While the end of my marriage and divorce were emotionally shattering, I didn't realize how tied my ideas of child-rearing as well as my own self-image were to my bank account. I hadn't worked in a decade and suddenly was alone with two kids and no financial support. I had no idea how I was going to pay our bills. The reality of the future was chilling, but my deepest fears were more shameful than wondering how I was going to make rent. I worried that with no money, no new Thomas the Tank Engine trains, no movies or restaurants or cable TV, my children wouldn't even like me.
Friends told me that I was crazy. "Kids know that they are loved," they would say. But in this world, in this town, was love enough?
On the weekends, when they were with their father, I was jealous knowing that they had better toys and clothes there and could go to amusement parks, go out for ice cream and visit their relatives in sunny climates. Television commercials for cleaning products made me anxious. How do people afford shiny floors in spacious houses like that? What would the kids' friends think of our little home?
There were some difficult days at first as I patched together a life that met our needs. It took several years before I understood that my friends might be right. I couldn't take the kids on vacations or buy them the latest toys. Sometimes the tooth fairy money was a struggle. But we were happy. It surprised me. Together, we were learning to be resourceful. Our life didn't resemble my fantasy but it was becoming kind of wonderful. We enjoy each other's company. We respect each other and love each other. We're not perfect. But we're growing.
I am surprised how seldom they asked for things. They've never begged me for the costly sneakers that everyone else is wearing. If they had, I wonder what I would have done. When I offer now to take them shopping for new clothes for school, they say that they have plenty to wear.
I am not finished raising them, and maybe the expensive years are ahead. Teenagers certainly cost more than young children do. But I have learned that it was my own fantasy of their childhoods was altered and my image of myself and what it means to be successful that needed to detangled from money. Maybe my belief that a good life is connected to something you can purchase was really more expensive than I thought.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.