The Opportunity Cost of Parents Leaving Their Village

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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.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and Debt Free Divas*

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19 thoughts on “The Opportunity Cost of Parents Leaving Their Village

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      We really are, Kay! The funny thing is that when we first got together, I tried to convince the husband to leave with me. I felt stifled and stuck, and running away was how I wanted to deal with it. Seize a new adventure. He wasn’t going anywhere, though, and I wasn’t going anywhere without him. So glad he was so stubborn now!

      Reply
  1. taylorqlee

    I sometimes wish that I had family nearby, but SO is from the area. I can definitely attest to the fact that my social circle increased ten-fold once we started dating. It’s really nice having this very cohesive group of friends and other cohorts to interact with who really support each other. Thank you for your story and reminding about all the good little things in life. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Petrish @ Debt Free Martini

    I was very blessed to be stationed in New York City when my daughter was born. For my daughters first four years of her life she bonded with my family and now that we are away she missed them so much, and I really miss the support. I do understand how important extended family is when you have children. My family use to take care of my daughter when I would deploy on the Naval ships and I don’t know what I would do without them. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Wow what a huge support! I know it’s hard being so far away from them now, but I’m sure they’re waiting anxiously for the day you can come home!

      Reply
  3. Kassandra (@MoreThanJusMony)

    I truly know how you feel. I still miss Montreal as that was my home for over 32 years before I moved to the US a year ago this month. I still make it a point to return there every couple of months for work and more importantly to spend time with my mom and close friends. I find it somewhat challenging to establish a new community and support system in my new environment but I have made some headway. Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Me, too. Some places I’ve lived or clicks right away, and then others I’ve been so lonesome. I’m glad it’s starting to gain momentum in the US for you, though! Cheers to your village!

      Reply
  4. Mel

    I think the “Village” applies to everyone – not just with parenting. I spent most of this year realizing that. I spent most of the last 12 years away from my friends and family and spending a whole year in a situation where they’re only an $8 and 35 minute train ride away has been sort of incredible. I had a terrible day a few weeks ago and just decided to go home. I hopped the train and walked from the train station to my parents house and was sitting in their living room watching a movie with my brother when they got home from work. I didn’t even tell anyone anything was wrong, just being there made things a lot more tolerable – it was a luxury I’d forgotten even existed over the previous decade.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Absolutely. The emotional value sometimes cant be measured, but $8 is a heck of a lot cheaper than a plane ticket! I didn’t realize I was missing it either while I roamed the country in young adulthood. Once you have it back it’s kind of amazing.

      Reply
  5. Nichole @Budget Loving Military Wife

    Sounds like you have an absolutely wonderful and supportive family. I definitely miss “home” and having that in-person support of family and close friends. This is one of the reasons we are putting off having children. Living a military lifestyle and moving every ~3 years would make it difficult to develop close enough relationship for me to feel comfortable enough asking a “new” friend to watch my children for free, but that’s just me.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      No I hear you. I’m the same way. I grew up in a military family. I have no idea how my parents did it. They had this immense talent for quickly building a village that I just don’t possess. I was decent at it when I was younger, but it’s faded as I’ve gotten older. I also didn’t have dependents to worry about then so it may be my perception of what a worthy village is has changed.

      Reply
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  7. Vickie

    Great post! You know we are like your parents who love to help out and babysit for free. We have many times through thought about leaving and heading south when those winter winds start blowing. After much thought we have decided to stay in our village too. The cost of leaving would be great for us also. Plane or car trips home for birthdays, holiday, etc. could get very costly! Especially when we love those grand kids so much.
    Then when you flip the coin who would be there for us when we need their help.
    Have a great day!

    Reply
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