Children Are Not a Luxury

There’s something a little bit wrong with the way we look at children in our country.  We talk about children as if they were luxuries when they are not.  I understand there is a grain of truth to the claim “If you can’t afford to have children, you shouldn’t have them”, but life just is not as simple as that.

There is only a very brief window where people decide whether to have a child or not, and it’s before the child is born.  After that, you can’t just put them back where they came from.  Childhood also lasts a very long time – at least thirteen years in distant cultures, and often more like twenty or twenty five years with the extended adolescence we practice here in the United States.  There is a lot that can change in thirteen to twenty years, and some of it will be unpredictable and unavoidable. Even if a child is born into a solid life of luxury, it is entirely possible for those people to become poor.  Indeed, the strongest predictor of bankruptcy today is having children.

And children are not like a car.  Children still live lives of their own, both when they are young and as citizens once they are adults.  You can’t sell your children like you could a car once you’ve realized you can’t afford it after all.  They require more attention than a puppy, and are more expensive by far (even more than a pedigree puppy).  The important point isn’t about the cost, though.  It is that children are people, not objects.

If we could stop talking about people’s children the same way we talk about buying a sports car, it would really improve our country.  Just because somebody is having a hard time with life now does not mean that they were irresponsible when they chose to have children.  Even in the worst case, if a child does happen to be born to somebody who is financially irresponsible, the best we can hope to do is make sure they have the opportunity to learn from people who are responsible – which is part of what I believe our education system is supposed to be doing.  I sincerely think personal finance is a topic that should still be covered in high schools; it was not when I was there.
I get that children are expensive, and nobody wants to be forced to be responsible for a child that isn’t even theirs when they can’t afford to have children of their own.  That is a valid, legitimate claim. If we can make sure that contraception is cheap and easy to access (especially for the people who think they can’t afford it), it would go a long way toward reducing that separate problem.  And if we could stop pretending that people who have children are enjoying a luxury instead of providing the public service of raising our country’s future citizens, our public policy would greatly improve.

Some Links:

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2003/10.30/19-bankruptcy.html

Why We Want—But Can’t Have—Personal Finance in Schools

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