This post is not written to pass any kind of judgement. We all remove ourselves from family for various reasons. Sometimes economic. Sometimes social. Sometimes due to wanderlust. Sometimes due to family dynamics. Some have lost their family. This post is written to all the would-be parents out there. It’s not supposed to be doctrine. But it is something to take under serious consideration.
Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. I came across him because I was a lazy teen. We had to pick two books off of a predetermined list to give presentations on. Cat’s Cradle was the shortest. So I read it.
And he rocked my world. He changed my perspective. He made me laugh. He made me think. And since that time, I have read almost every book and many of the short stories he wrote.
One of the themes that comes up again and again in his writing is the dissolution of the extended family, and how this has created a largely lonely society. In no book is this theme more prevalent than Slapstick. The idea is that we used to have all of our social needs met by those we lived around; our village. That village usually included most if not all of our extended family. When you married someone, you were gaining new, local, social ties that would sustain you throughout your life.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Ithaca, New York. About how going upstate always feels like going home. About how I totally wish I could convince my husband to move there.
But it’s not home. And our village is a major reason why. Especially with the ever-present responsibility we’ve bestowed on ourselves by having children.
Part of it is social. And a large part of those social needs are economic. We weren’t rocking our finances when we first had kids. It wasn’t crippling debt or insane spending sprees. It was our income. We’ve been working very hard over the past few years to improve that situation.
But without the help of family members, we wouldn’t have been able to put the time and energy into those improvements. We both work. He’s in school right now. Our lives are crazy. But not once have we had to worry about childcare costs. Our children have amazing grandparents who watch them for free. With the average cost of childcare around $11,700 a year, that’s huge.
So huge. If we had to pay for childcare, I would not have been able to go back to school and get a better, higher paying job. Continuing to work at my pre-degree place of employment would have been off the table, too. The costs of putting my children in daycare would have far surpassed my annual salary with no degree. We would have been stuck, with little hope of improving our station until maybe, possibly, they were all in school six hours a day.
My husband would not be in school right now. A dual-income is critical to us at this point, especially since he’s had to cut back a few hours at his job to accommodate his studies. Without grandparents to watch the kids during the day, we would not be able to do it. At all. Period. The end.
There are other needs we have, as well. We need time to bond 1:1 with each other. Date nights are sporadic, but ever-so wonderful. When I baby-sat over a decade ago, I was getting paid double digits an hour. I imagine inflation has taken rates even higher today. On our budget, if we had to get a baby-sitter our date nights would be spent sitting in the car outside our house, because we wouldn’t have a penny to be able to afford even turning the ignition. (Or afford public transportation, depending on where we were going.)
But I don’t have to worry about that. Because we have family members all too happy to give us a night out and babysit for $0/hour. They do it because they love us. They do it because they love our kids. They do it because they are generous and kind people. They do it because they are family.
And I am eternally grateful.
We can, of course, build villages out of the people that surround us regardless of blood relations. It’s an amazing, beautiful thing when it happens. But the unconditional love that allows these free transactions is harder to come across when we haven’t forced ourselves into it by birthright.
If the right opportunity for growth comes up, but takes you away from your family, it may be an awesome thing. It may be the right thing to do. But if you’re planning on having children in the near future, consider the costs. Consider date nights. Consider $11,700/year for daycare. (That’s per child, by the way. With a probable slight decrease for every child you have at the same facility.) Consider that with those costs, it may make more economic sense for one parent to stay home, forgoing an income. Consider the travel costs associated with traveling home for big events and emergencies. (Your kids can only ride with you for free on that airplane until age 2.) Consider all the positive attributes your family members can teach your children that you, yourself, may not possess. Calculate all of this into your decision. Because the numbers are huge.
And so is the emotional support. Sometimes I feel like I am going crazy with everything going on. Being able to sit down and chat with a sister-in-law, trade jokes with a sibling, or get a hug from my mom sustains me in a way that I never thought I needed. They give me perspective when I’m scrubbing crayon off the wall for the forty third time, or rushing to get to the grocery store in between work and trading cars with the husband.
Before having children, I wandered all over the place, hardly giving proximity to family a second thought. Now I couldn’t imagine making it through life without them. It takes a village to raise a child, and they are my village.