I was reading an article this morning about the financial considerations of having kids. Basically, it undertakes a cost-benefit analysis and tries to determine whether having children is worth the investment. Now, of course, it would be cold and callous and politically incorrect for them to determine that the cost of having children is not worth it, so after determining that it costs about $200,000 to raise a kid, plus college tuition, plus about $1 million if you choose to be a stay-at-home mom, and then going on to cite research that children aren't really the balm of old age that we think they will be, it tacks on a half-hearted conclusion that intangibles like bouquets of dandelions and cute little voices saying, "I love you, Mommy," somehow make the investment worth it.
Now, I don't want to underestimate the value of those intangibles, but I have a hard time believing that they would even come close to the $1.5 million dollar price tag that they apparently wear. I could pick my own dandelions, or become a nanny and get someone else's kids to love me with their cute little voices.
Is it so hard to imagine that people become parents for some reason that can't be calculated mathematically? Perhaps for a reason that is almost entirely selfless, with the dandelions simply being a perk of the job?
Why do some lawyers work at inner-city clinics instead of big corporate firms? Why do people join the army? Sure, there are benefits to both career choices, but in the end, I think it comes down to something other than a cost-benefit analysis. It has to do with being a part of something bigger than you; investing in the greater good. I guess those things are intangibles, too, but they aren't direct personal benefits.
On the most basic, practical level, society needs people to have kids purely for the propagation of the species. Beyond that, we need dedicated parents to invest in the lives of children so that they will grow up to be productive and valuable members of society.
But that argument doesn't seem to go very far in our individualist culture. Most people, even those who choose to be parents, treat having kids like a purely personal choice. And articles like the one mentioned above only further this mindset by trying to create a self-contained system of child-rearing costs and rewards.
It's because of this mindset that our society does such a poor job of supporting parents. It's why child-free people try to get out of paying school taxes, and why most people (parents included) think of government-sponsored parental support programs as a form of charity, rather than as an investment in the future.
What happened to the old adage, "it takes a village to raise a child"? The underlying assumption of this saying would be that all of society benefits from well-raised children, therefore it is the responsibility of all of society to engage in the raising of children. But this assumption seems to have become as obsolete as actually living in a village.
Just because we live in the city, or in the suburbs, does not mean that we suddenly need to become perfectly independent and self-sufficient. When my single, independent friends retire in luxury, it just might be my kid that performs the open-heart surgery on them that saves their lives. We're all inter-dependent, whether we think we are or not. Maybe it's time we started acting like it.