I Hear Ya, Sister

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Nest Egg?

Raising kids in an expensive city can be insane

One of the topics that stuck out most for April and me, when discussing this week’s column, was “wanting to raise a big family in a city but feeling like it’s unaffordable.” So, I wanted to GO THERE this week because nobody likes to talk about money and neither do I.

And yet, money is an absolute deal-breaker (or -maker) for many looking to start a family, especially in urban areas where the cost of living is through the roof.

Six months before I found myself pregnant with my first child, I had a boyfriend — a different boyfriend than the one who got me pregnant, mind you — and when “having babies” came up in conversation one day, he told me that he wouldn’t even THINK about having a baby until he had a minimum of a million dollars in the bank.

This sounds insane, perhaps, but in Los Angeles, this is not unlike many young professionals who want to have a shitload of money before they: 1. Settle down and 2. Make babies. Perhaps this is why I am 20 years younger than most of my kids’ friend’s parents. Or maybe it has nothing to do with that at all. Regardless, most parents, nowadays, want to fulfill certain requirements before having babies.

RELATED: Happy, Independence

I get it. I mean, the million-dollar thing is bananas but I get wanting to have certain things in place before “breeding.”

Marriage, house, job … the nest egg typically comes before the chicken. It’s just that, for us, we did it backwards.

Raising a child is a huge financial undertaking, to be sure. Hal and I make a decent living even by LA standards and we still have to hustle like whoa to make it work.

I was not a very evolved person when I gave birth to my first baby. Hal and I lived in a tiny apartment and hated each other. Not exactly ideal and yet, the beautiful thing about having children before you’re “ready” or “stable” or have money and a job and a house and a dog (Oooh! But I had a dog! I had two dogs in fact!) is that you are in NO way set in your ways. Life is a spontaneous romp at that age (it was for me, anyway) and while it certainly was a rude awakening for me to be rudely awakened by an infant, I was young enough to know … that I knew nothing. (And when I thought I did know more than nothing, I was promptly put in my place by everyone else.)

Hal and I grew our marriage and our careers AFTER having our first child. And from there we became confident that with baby #2 and #3 and #4 we’d be able to do the same.

Truth be told, it is EXPENSIVE to have four children in a city. But it’s also expensive to have one. And two. It’s expensive to live alone as a single person. We knew that we wanted our kids to share rooms, even when we didn’t have a choice, so since our second child was born, they have shared. We went from a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom duplex to a three-bedroom house. Our kids share rooms, clothes, a bathroom (we all share) and have lived to tell the tale.

No matter how successful your job is, it will never be enough and the schools will never be enough and nothing will ever be enough.

Our mantra when we found out we were having Archer was always, “We’ll make it work because we have to.” That was our mantra when we got pregnant with the twins as well. And we have. Sure, there have been close calls and borrowed funds, payment plans and downgrading in certain areas in order to compensate for new expenditures but, for the most part, we’ve managed to make it work and have come out the other side.

Hal and I have both been fortunate enough to take on extra work when we needed to and while we have spent a good portion of our “down time” working. We have grown our careers, tripled our earnings and have managed to become self-sufficient as a couple. And we did this while raising four children. (When the kids go down, Hal and I hit the books. We seldom do much more than work at night, but here’s the thing about time — the less time you have, the better use you make of it. )

That said, we come from privileged backgrounds and extremely supportive families, who when needed, have been gracious enough to help, and I fully recognize that that plays a major part in this conversation as well. We have always had a village and therefore never doubted if/how we would make it work, even when times were tough. I do not take that for granted now that we are steady on our feet, nor have I ever.

“You can always move home,” was the first thing my mother said, after I told her I was pregnant with Archer.

And those words have, in one way or another, been in tacked to my brain ever since.

You can always move home. We have your back.

Miraculously, we were able to afford hiring a nanny while the twins were babies and, although it’s a stretch now that they have started school, we’re making that work as well.

That said, if my parents weren’t in the picture, having a baby at 23 to practically a stranger wouldn’t have been easy to do. (Truth be told, I don’t know that I would have kept my pregnancy if my family situation wasn’t as strong as it was/is.) And while it wasn’t “easy” to make the choice to start a family at that time, knowing I had my parents’ (and Hal’s parents’) support made a huge difference.

We all get where we’re going by way of different roads — there is no RIGHT way to start a family, no RIGHT time, no equation for making it work.

RELATED: On Raising Brave, Strong Girls

I do think however, that there is something to be said for recognizing that NO MATTER HOW MUCH MONEY you have, you will never have enough. No matter how successful your job is, it will never be enough and the schools will never be enough and nothing will ever be enough. (I feel like there must be a proverb somewhere that says, "If you wait too long to have ALL OF THE THINGS you will end up with NONE of the things." Having a FEW THINGS is all the THINGS you really need.)

NOTHING besides the experience of JUST DOING IT would have prepared us emotionally, financially and socially for this life. But, I’ll tell you this, nothing lights a fire under your ass more than having to provide for a child. And then another child. And then another pair of children. And it is impossible to know that feeling unless you know that feeling. That’s been the experience for us, anyway. Take it as it comes, play it as it lays …

That said, we still need things. Families need things.

What about you? Did you wait until you were financially well-off to start a family? What advice, if any, do you have to give for young families getting started? What came first for you, the chicken or the nest egg? And in retrospect, was that the right move? I look forward to your comments, as always! Thank you, in advance, for sharing.

Around The Web
6 Comments
stay in the know