The Cost of Being a Better Parent
Remember the good old days? Of course not, because they never really existed — at least not the way they're recalled in old TV shows and movies. But you can still get a flavor for how things have changed by watching old episodes of black-and-white classics like Leave It to Beaver. Speaking of which, here's an old public-service clip featuring Hugh Beaumont before he became famous as Ward Cleaver. (The satirical comments are provided by the silhouetted robots and human of Mystery Science Theater 3000.)
If you don't want to watch the whole thing, here's a line that will give you a taste: “The women of this family seem to feel that they owe it to the men of the family to look relaxed, rested, and attractive at dinnertime.”
My, how things have changed.
Not that my wife doesn't look attractive every night, but she and my daughters don't owe anything to me and my son that we don't owe to them (though we have that whole “don't leave the seat up” responsibility).
The era of Super-Dad?
Watching this clip — and this actor who came to epitomize the ideal father — it occurred to me that, actually, Ward had nothing on the dads of today. The dads I know are far more involved in the parenting and household duties than their fathers were.
Part of this is necessity, because over the past few decades, moms — who were already super — have increasingly added “make money” to their list of daily chores, requiring them to become super-duper. Dads had to pick up some of the domestic duties or we'd be overrun by feral children who reeked of decomposing McNuggets.
But I don't think it's just necessity. I think today's dads see an active, engaged fatherhood as one of the big ingredients of a successful life. It's not that previous generations of fathers were bad dads. It just seems to me that today's dads are more involved — not to mention more likely to be affectionate and sappy.
This could be just a return to how things used to be (except for perhaps the affectionate and sappy part). Before the industrial revolution, most people worked on farms or in a trade out of their homes, and kids worked alongside their parents for a good part of the day. But then adults increasingly left the home, and commutes got longer, and you eventually have parents who see their kids for just an hour or two each weekday. Perhaps today's dad realizes that's not enough (and that he should help out around the house more so his wife has some time with the kids, too).
The cost of being a better parent
What does all this have to do with getting rich slowly? Financial planning is often about getting things done:
- Creating and sticking to a budget
- Finding lower-cost solutions
- Researching investments
- And so on
But it's tough to do that when you work all day, and then take care of the kids and their related maintenance in the evening. By the time you're “free,” it's 9 p.m. and you're exhausted. This, of course, applies to both moms and dads.
Having kids can be a financial double-whammy: You have higher expenses, but less time to earn more money. Raising a child costs $8,333 to $23,180 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture [PDF] (which is in charge of this calculation because, far too often, there's little difference between a kid and a pig). The total cost through age 17 is $205,960 to $475,680. Reproducing ain't cheap.
Several years ago, I asked Motley Fool readers for their reasons why they don't save enough for retirement. In an article, I explained that one of the most commons reasons was the costs associated with raising kids (and that's why I eat my children's scraps).
Also, a schedule chock-full of income-earning, household-managing, and child-rearing means you're more likely to have higher expenses due to paying people to do things for you, such as cook your food, clean your house, iron your shirts, and, yes, even help raise your kids. As a wedding gift, I promised my wife I'd learn how to cook. More than eleven years later, she's still waiting. (That's just one reason why I, personally, have not reached “super-dad” status. Another involves leaving the seat up.)
As productivity evangelist Merlin Mann explains in one of his presentations, “The things you COULD do are infinite, while your time and attention are FINITE.” He references Joel Spolsky, who uses the metaphor of a box. Only so many blocks can fit it in it, and if you choose one block, that means you have to ignore another one. All this super-parenting and career-building by both parents means that something has to get left out, and I suspect that is often the boring, mundane (but important) financial tasks, especially the ones that have long-term — not immediate — consequences.
And your point is?
Sometimes I write a post or article, re-read what I've written so far, and ask myself, “Ummm… what are you actually trying to say here?” I've reached that point with this little ditty.
Here's why I think I wrote this:
- I'm curious: Do you think today's dads are more involved?
- I'm fishing for commiseration. Over the past couple of months, I've found it particularly difficult to get all the professional, family, and financial things done.
- I need your help: How do I finally learn how to cook? A class? A good book? YouTube videos? The Swedish Chef? Börk, börk, börk?
- I love Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Happy holidays, everyone. I'll see you in the 2011.