That scary looking number is how much it costs to raise a child born in 2011 in America, from diapers to college tuition. That’s up more than $50,000 since 2000 according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture. And that’s a lot of cash, especially when you have more than one child.
It’s numbers like that that often cause young, fertile couples to delay or stop having children, especially in an economic recession. Dr. Jacques Moritz, Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University, has heard that from a lot of potential parents. But in an interview with CNN, he points out that a baby is “a bigger expense up in your head than in reality…Stock is up, stock is down, but the stock of your eggs is always down.” Delaying children may cost more than extra cash.
Raising a child will take a chunk of cash in the long run, but babies are cheap, especially if you live in a country with socialized health care. Babies aren’t free, certainly, but they don’t cost as much as you might think.
When I was expecting our first, I was still in school. I graduated a few weeks before moving, unpacked, then waited a few weeks to go into labour. Shortly after the baby was born, my husband gave notice to the board of the school where he taught, and with small savings and no income, we moved to the UK so he could start his PhD.
Yes, I was panicking. Two adults were not supposed to be able to live like this, let alone two responsible parents. We didn’t own a crib, pack’n’play, car seat, stroller, baby bath, bumbo, swing, change table, sling, diaper genie, baby toys, baby clothes, high chair – nothing that modern North Americans consider necessities when having a child.
The Lord provided amazingly: our congregation threw me a wonderful shower, welcoming this covenant child with baby clothes, diapers, baby carrier, and a great little children’s library. Someone loaned us a car seat till we moved. In the UK, the Christian community there loaned us a car seat, stroller, bassinet, high chair, and even found a place for the baby to live for very cheap. When we moved back to Canada, someone found us a stroller and car seat. My parents bought us a crib, and a friend kindly passed along clothes from her child. We borrowed a high chair from my grandfather, who had bought it for his kids 50 years before. I breastfed for more than a year. For the first couple years of life, our first child couldn’t have cost us more than $500.
When we found out we were expecting our second, we were living in the US while my husband finished his PhD. Our health insurance was travel insurance that covered emergencies. They didn’t consider my pregnancy an emergency. Yes, I was panicking.
Again, the Lord provided amazingly: the hospital waived fees or gave us reduced charges for prenatal care. When I was eight months pregnant, the Lord provided a way that covered labour and delivery costs. The congregation there gave us another amazing shower, providing us with a baby bath, toys, and baby clothes. I breastfed for more than a year and a half. Things were getting cheaper as they went along.
These days, with a bigger family yet, we bought a car seat, are still using the borrowed high chair and do not own a change table. Thinking outside of the North American baby box drastically reduces the cost of having a child. A friend of mine with a toddler told me recently that she had to buy some extra food for the first time. I remember that feeling – being shocked at having to spend money specifically on the child.
And I am so thankful that we did not wait until we were done school, had a house and a certain amount of savings before having children. Yes, it was tight – we ate a lot of rice. But the Lord gave us everything we needed. Waiting would have meant missing out on enjoying my kids during those sometimes lonely grad-school days, learning how to move long distances with little people clinging to me, and having the energy to do it. Instead, our kids have more years with their grandparents and great-grandparents. We have longer with them, to guide and counsel and instruct them, even when they are adults. We have also learned an awful lot about the Lord’s provision and the love of the saints.
Our case is not that unusual. Increasingly I’m meeting young couples who are still in school who have young children. With them come amazing stories about the Lord giving exactly what is needed at exactly the right time.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to carefully plan and be wise in all aspects of our parenting – there are situations in which having children would be irresponsible. If you are living in a borrowed trailer with no life plan, it’s probably not the time to pray for triplets. But when the Lord gives His people children, He’ll also give them a way to look after them. After all, the fruit of the womb is His reward (Psalm 127:3). Receiving the amazing gift of a child to raise in the faith is something materially immeasurable, even if we do spend a quarter of a million dollars in the process.