The Unspeakable Cost of Parenthood

THE UNSPEAKABLE COST OF PARENTHOOD

Katherine Zoepf

One morning in May 2016 — having unexpectedly become a single parent several months earlier, and sick of lying awake nights trying to mentally balance my household budget — I did something that, at the time, felt drastic and slightly shameful. After taking my 5-year-old to school and my 2-year-old to day care, I returned to our fourth-floor walk-up, tidied the place quickly and took what I hoped were some appealing photos: of our kitchen table with its pottery bowl of fruit and cheap, knockoff Eames chairs; of our overstuffed bookshelves; and even of our tiny bathroom, with the map-of-the-world shower curtain my daughter loved to inspect at bath time. Then I went online and opened an Airbnb account. “Private room in family home,” I wrote, posting my own bedroom on the service. (My kids preferred having me squashed into one of their bunk beds anyway, I reckoned, and we needed the money.) Within a couple of hours, I had my first booking request: from Mathilda, an opera singer from Indiana who’d be coming to New York for auditions the following week.

For about 15 months, the extra income this Airbnb arrangement generated was a lifeline for me and my children, a way to stave off financial catastrophe during a tricky transition in our lives. And, for the most part, it was also a lovely experience. Almost without exception, the women who stayed with us were considerate and kind. My kids grew so fond of a couple of them — Laura, a Danish graduate student who stayed with us during her two-month internship; and Sara, an Italian pediatrician who had a six-month research fellowship at Mount Sinai — that they became honorary “aunts,” a status they retain to this day. Yet, until now, I’ve avoided speaking of the year-and-change I spent “taking in lodgers,” as my mother calls it.

I’ve been thinking about my Airbnb side hustle again in recent weeks because, here at NYT Parenting, we’ve been talking a lot about the intersection of money and family life. Type “finances” and “parenting” (or any number of related combinations) into a search bar, and the first page of results will include a half-dozen upbeat articles advising you on how to put your financial house in order before you even consider reproducing. According to the dominant public narrative, this is what responsible prospective parents do: They pay off all their student loans; they purchase “forever” homes; they’re already thinking decades ahead, making the sort of safe investments that will allow them to comfortably cover their children’s college tuition.

But, according to the data, this is not how most Americans with young children are actually living. When NYT Parenting partnered with YouGov to create an online survey of parents in the United States, it found that the costs of preschool and day care represented a “very significant” or a “somewhat significant” financial strain for nearly 60 percent of us. A 2018 online survey of 1,000 parents in the United States conducted by Credit Karma, a personal finance company, found that 67 percent of respondents had gone into debt in order to buy their children necessary items such as food, clothes and shoes. Revealingly, some 69 percent of those surveyed by Credit Karma said that they kept their child-related debt a secret, and avoided discussing it with other parents.

If most American parents are struggling financially, why do so many of us feel alone in these struggles? Everyone knows that raising children is wildly expensive, so just what is it about money difficulties that feels so unspeakable, when you’re a parent? In an effort to answer these questions, I reached out to Sa’iyda Shabazz, a Los Angeles-based fellow at the Center for Community Change, a community organizing nonprofit, who has written eloquently about her own financial troubles as a single mom.

Shabazz believes that some of the sense of stigma parents experience comes from our fear of burdening our kids. “You don’t want to fail them,” Shabazz told me. “I don’t ever want my son to see me crying, wondering if I can keep the lights on this month.”

But much of it, Shabazz argues, is the result of our cultural attachment to the idea that if we graduate from college and work hard, we will inevitably succeed. “There are so many of us that are one paycheck away, one accident away, one wrong move away from really being in trouble,” Shabazz said. “But we’re afraid to admit it. People don’t want to confront the fact that it’s not the individual’s fault, it’s the system’s failings.”

According to Emma Johnson, who has built a career offering financial and professional advice to single moms via her website, “Wealthy Single Mommy,”parents’ shame around financial struggles is often bound up with a sense of ambivalence about mothers who work, and exacerbated by a culture that fetishizes intensive parental involvement. “It’s still a status symbol in many communities to be a stay-at-home mother,” Johnson told me. Some of the single moms of young children she works with, Johnson said, feel guilty about their difficulties providing for their kids and about working outside the home.

“There’s a lot of stigma,” for working single parents, in particular, said Shabazz, who freelanced from home when her son, now 5, was a preschooler, because she couldn’t afford child care. “But there’s also a lot of people saying, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ And I’ll think, ‘Do you really want to know how I do it?’ Netflix is the babysitter, and I keep him steadily stocked with snacks.”

4 Reasons You Need to Keep Doing Hard Things to Be Happy, Healthy and Successful

4 REASONS YOU NEED TO KEEP DOING HARD THINGS TO BE HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL

Marc Chernoff

You need to do hard things to be happy, healthy and successful. Because the hard things ultimately build you up and change your life.

If you already feel like you’re at the end your rope today with little slack left to hold on to, realize your mind is lying to you. It has imprisoned you by reciting self-defeating stories in your head—stories about your mistakes and what you should have done differently. And you’ve begun to believe that you’re really stuck.

But you’re NOT.

You are alive in an immense world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this fact. Go outside. Look up at the sky and the clouds or the stars. THIS is the world in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.

Remember that adversity—doing and dealing with the hard things in life—is the first path to truth. Your defeats often serve as well as your victories to shake your spirit and light your way. You just have to hold on tight, embrace the daily pain, and burn it as fuel for your journey.

Easier said than done, of course. Which is why you need to continually remind yourself…

1. Every day you are growing stronger from your struggles.

Life can be a struggle. It will break you sometimes. Nobody can protect you from that. And hiding alone in a cave somewhere won’t either, for prolonged solitude will also break you with an endless thirst for connection. You must dare to love. You must dare to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth.

You are here to sacrifice your time and risk your heart. You are here to be bruised by life. And when it happens that you are hurt, or betrayed, or rejected, let yourself sit quietly with your eyes closed and remember all the good times you had, and all the sweetness you tasted, and everything you learned. Tell yourself how amazing it was to live, and then open your eyes and live some more.

To never struggle would be to never have been blessed with life. It is within the depths of darkness that you discover within you an inextinguishable light, and it is this light that illuminates the way forward. 

2. The hardest days shine a light on what’s truly important, and what isn’t.

Adversity is like walking in to a turbulent windstorm. As you fight to push through it, you not only gain strength, but it tears away from you all but the essential parts of you that cannot be torn. Once you come out of the storm you see yourself as you really are in raw form, still holding the passions and ideas that move you, and little else.

Ultimately, there is only what you want and what happens. When you don’t get what you want, there is only grabbing on and holding tight to the passions and ideas that move you. These are the lusts that matter—the love that defines you. It is this kind of love that drives you forward and even when the going gets tough. It is this kind of love that should never be overlooked.

3. Stress can be a healthy guidepost for making positive changes.

Sometimes when the going gets really tough, the world seems like it’s spinning too fast and you feel completely out of control. It seems like you’re losing your mind and going crazy, but you’re not. You need to pause and take a deep breath.

Just about every emotional issue imaginable, from fear to anxiety to the onset of depression, is triggered by a mounting build-up of stress. Stress impedes your ability to think straight and see the world as it is—a world that is not spinning too fast or burning to the ground.

Being extremely stressed-out and feeling overwhelmed is not a sign that you are psychotic or “going crazy.” It’s just that stressful experiences make it harder to think clearly and can make you think you’re more out of control than you actually are. The craziness you feel is stress. It’s not time to give up, it’s time to regroup and hold tight to your sanity. The more you relax, the saner you will feel.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I working too much with not enough downtime?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Am I eating healthy balanced meals?
  • Am I spending enough time with those I care about?
  • Am I involved in relationships that cause me excessive stress?
  • Am I drinking too much alcohol or relying on other (non-prescribed) drugs?
  • Am I constantly worried about some other time and place?

If you are experiencing any of the above issues, you know what you need to address to reduce your stress. The vast majority of us never go crazy; the vast majority of us simply fear, at some point, that we may go crazy based on stress factors we allow to reside in our present life situations.

So let your stress guide you—make sure you fill your time with meaningful activity, get enough sleep, eat well and manage your stress so it doesn’t mange you. 

4. You have something special to offer the world.

You are only destined to become one person—the person you decide to be. Do not let your own negativity walk all over you with it’s dirty feet.

You feel a unique gift burning inside you that you want to offer to the world, to help move it in the right direction. It may be covered up by days and weeks of waiting, doubting and defeat, but it’s present and as bright as ever. If you look deeply enough, you’ll find it. There is a capable person inside you that wants to soar, to create, to build, to love, to inspire, to do far more than just exist.

Your everyday chores and difficult tasks can be a prison or a pathway. It all depends on you. No matter how far down you think you’ve traveled, there is always a road leading to higher ground. There are always great possibilities in front of you, because you are always able to take a small step forward.

Stay true to yourself. Hold on to your values and passions. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right. Decide what you think is right and gradually step in that direction.

Now is the time…

There’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed. You are not a robot; and even if you were, you’d still need to stop for maintenance once in a while. There is no shame in admitting to yourself that you feel tired, doubtful, and low today. This is a natural part of being human. The simple fact that you are aware of this means you are able to turn things around, one day at a time, starting now.

So tell me:

What helps you push forward when times get hard?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

The 9 Secrets of Happy, Healthy, and Emotionally Committed Relationship

THE 9 SECRETS OF HAPPY, HEALTHY, AND EMOTIONALLY COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

This weekend, I attempted to bake gluten-free muffins.

It got me thinking… if lasting love had specific ingredients, what would need to be mixed together?

What would make it delicious year after year?

  1. 100% Emotionally Invested: Caryl Rusbult is a social psychologist who studied commitment in marriages over a 30-year period. This is not a “one foot in, one foot out” type of investment. This is an all-in investment, and it is required by both partners.
  2. Responsiveness: Dr. Gottman’s research highlights that successful couples turn towards each other’s bids for connection 86% of the time. Couples who separate only do so 33% of the time. In order to last, tune into what your partner is saying or doing. Additional research highlighted that it wasn’t how often a couple fought, but how little affection and emotional responsiveness they offered one another that caused a relationship to deteriorate. Responsiveness is the cornerstone of trust and connection
  3. Cherish Each Other: Partners who are 100% emotionally invested and responsive have positive views of each other. Whether they are together or separate, they think of their lover’s positive attributes and express what they admire to one another.
  4. Put the Relationship First: This means putting your partner’s needs on par with your own. This doesn’t mean neglecting your needs in favor of your partners. Doing this requires a willingness to kindly express your needs to your partner in a way they can understand because you know those needs are core to your own happiness.
  5. Nurture Love and Respect: Happy couples nurture gratitude for the partner they have. They honor each other and display respect, even during conflict.
  6. Best Friends Forever: If the above ingredients are available, it’s easy to see why committed lovers feel that there is no better partner in the world than the one that they have. A strong friendship makes it easy to weather relationship storms. Couples who have cultivated a deeply connected friendship are affectionate and even laugh together during conflict.
  7. Seek to Gain a Greater Understanding during Conflict: Before happy couples come to an agreement on how to resolve their issues, they first focus on understanding each partner’s perspective. They focus on reconnecting emotionally before trying to resolve their issues.
  8. Interdependent: Each partner is connected and dependent on the other for closeness and comfort, but independent enough to pursue self-interest and share their perspectives openly, gently, and honestly. Even if the issue causes tension or a conflict in the relationship.
  9. Calm, Stable, and Safe: A secure romantic relationship is as smooth as a calm body of water. An insecure relationship feels as unstable as a roller coaster.

By the way, to answer your most important question: No, my muffins were not good. I burnt them. 🙁

I guess following directions is pretty important in making something delicious!

I’m taking off my “Kiss The Baker” apron, and I’m going to eat my burnt muffins…

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