Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a two-part article. Read part 1 here .
There are some dangerous myths about the costs and economics of raising families that are unfounded and untrue. These myth stop potential parents from having a child that they should have or cause them to make poor decisions about lifestyle and priorities with the children they do have.
We discussed two of these myths yesterday, and conclude with two more today
Myth #3: It’s Foolish to Get Married and Start a Family until you are Financially Secure and Have Finished School and Have a Career.
We have a daughter-in-law who marched through the Harvard graduation line in the third trimester of her pregnancy. She was a huge curiosity (excuse the pun) and made the front page of the Harvard Crimson Newspaper. “Just imagine,” the article said, “someone having a child while still in college! Someone who is married while still an undergraduate!” It was unheard of. The reporter who wrote the article searched the Harvard student body and found that there were only 12 married or engaged students in the entire student body.
(He should have visited BYU!)
Is waiting to marry until you have a job and a house the right thing to do? Or is marrying early and struggling along together the right thing? Of course the answer is that there is no one “right way.” Everyone has to find what is right for them.
What bugs us is the growing sentiment in favor of waiting, waiting, waiting, even when two people feel that they have found each other and that they want to share their lives.
It may be right for some, but it is certainly not right for all.
We married while Linda was still an undergraduate and Richard was just starting graduate school. The first years were a challenge, to say the least. We had a $10-per-week food budget the two years we were in Boston and had to spend most of it at the outdoor Haymarket Square vegetable market because that is where we could get the most for our money.
Our first child came during those penniless first two years, and squeezed our budget even tighter. We drove a 15-year-old car (when we had a buck or two for gas), and our idea of entertainment and recreation was to make paper airplanes with other poor graduate school couples and see who could fly one across the Charles River from the balcony of our tiny high-rise married student housing unit.
But we look back on those “starving” years with relish, and with joy. The struggle and the budgeting and the going without drew our little beginning family together and made us more appreciative of the few little things we were able to have later on.
The fact is that no one ever knows when he or she will meet the right person. Falling in love is not something we can program or time-manage. When it happens, people are not always “ready” for it. It is not always the “best time.” It may be a little earlier or a little later in life than the “ideal.”
But when it happens, and when you know it has happened, why wait? Is it better to struggle together or separately? Is marriage and family really about being comfortable and convenient?
Now lest anyone think we are sanctioning or recommending teenage marriage or having kids on a whim, let us say that of course it is wise to be reasonable. Waiting for a mission, for getting into and getting started with university, or for parents and families to become better acquainted and to approve of one another — all are almost always good ideas.
What we are against is waiting just for convenience and comfort, which is almost always a bad idea. Make deliberate, well-considered decisions based on your mind and your heart — and not on the prevailing public sentiment. And of course the real basis of all important decisions should be faith and prayer and the answers they can bring.
Myth #4: Successful, Career-Oriented Persons Cannot Fully Prioritize Their Families
You hear this final myth in a lot of forms. We run into young investment bankers and lawyers on Wall Street who say “I would lose my job if I didn’t show up before 8 each morning and stay until evening, because that’s what my whole department does.” Others say, “If you want to make it in the professional world, you have to compete. It may take me away from my family for a few years, but ultimately it will give me the earning power to give my kids a good life.”
The question is, “Is it worth it?” The other question is, “Is that really the way it has to be?” And the more constructive, positive question is, “Are there ways that I can succeed in my career without sacrificing my family?”
Let us give you a few case studies from the real world.
We know an aggressive young attorney with a big international firm in London who would lose his job if he tried to go home earlier than 8 each evening. But since he rarely has early-morning meetings, he has set a pattern of getting up early each morning and having breakfast with his kids, enjoying some quality family time, and taking them to school each day before he leaves for work.
We know another young set of parents in New York City who have changed jobs so that the husband now has a still demanding but much more flexible job that allows him to get home for dinner with his kids each night and get to school meetings during the day when necessary. The wife has cut back to part-time so she can be home when the kids get home from school. It was a big adjustment and the new jobs were not easy, but they are now doing just as well financially as they were before, and not short-changing their children any more.
We know an even more extreme case (not recommending this for everyone) where the parents sold their expensive home and are using the money to allow them to live in a more modest home and take some extensive time off to really spend time with their four kids while they are all young and impressionable. They believe they will be able to reenter their career once the kids are all in school, and they are willing to live a much simpler, less expensive lifestyle for a few years while their kids are young and in their most formative stages.
Still another parent, a single mom, found a way to share parenting duties with a sister and their mother, which now allows all three of them to work while rotating responsibility for being with and caring for the children.
The point is that it doesn’t have to be a choice between career and children. Anyone who looks at it that way will end up paying a huge price. We need to look for ways to do both, and to do both well!
And here is something to think about: Today’s life expectancies are over 80 years. This means that you will have a child with you in your home for about one fifth of your life.
Once that child is gone, you will still have your career, and your golf game, and your church callings, and your hobbies, and your interests, but the child will be gone.
How important that we find a way to prioritize these kids during the fleeting years they are under our roofs. And how important to reject the myth that we can’t put them first, no matter what our work demands are!
Conclusion: As we complete this two-part series on four myths that can discourage parents and undermine families, our advice is simple: Don’t believe any of the four myths! You do not have to have two incomes to raise a family! It doesn’t cost a half million dollars to raise a child! Aggressive, career-oriented persons can still prioritize their kids and families! And waiting to marry until school is done and financial comfort is achieved is not the only wise or prudent way to go!
Richard and Linda are former mission presidents in London, founders of Joyschools.com, and New York Times #1 bestselling authors. They lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com. Their new book is The Entitlement Trap.