What kids cost

The cost of raising a middle-class American child to age 18 will exceed $245,000 for a baby born in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That includes food, housing, childcare and education and other child-rearing expenses.

Then the college costs kick in.

The Onion itemizes some of the expenses:

$224.99: The same kind of shoes Dylan has
$75: Quick succession of turtles
$900: Better video games than ones at ex-husband’s house
$49: All-day park admission for less than two hours at zoo

And there’s more.

Many years ago, I told my daughter I was tracking my expenditures for her favorite baci di alassio cookies at the Italian bakery. If she ever wrote a tell-all, Mommy Dearest-style book about her horrible childhood and abusive mother, I’d present her with the bill with interest. Otherwise, I’d eat the costs. And some of the cookies. She’s now 33 and has not written a memoir. (How many women her age can say that?)

How to be an education parent

We want parents to support kids’ learning, but what do we want them to do specifically? asks Bill Jackson of Great Schools in an e-mail discussion. He envisions a campaign of public service announcements tied to a GreatKids mobile app:

1. Read to your child for 30 minutes a day.
2. Have conversations with your child every day. Use questions, not commands.
3. Teach your child the alphabet before kindergarten.
4. Teach your child to count to 20.
5. Limit TV time to 30 minutes a day.

An iPad app could let parents “give their kids a quick test to see how they are doing in acquiring vocabulary,” Jackson adds. “The idea here is to  . .  make it a ‘club’ of parents doing the right things and getting positive feedback.”

I think some parents need to be shown how to read a book with a child and how to have a conversation.

Guest-blogging for Rick Hess, Jackson asks parents to list their aspirations for their children at age 18. “When you launch them at age 18, what knowledge, skills, character traits, and other qualities do you want them to have?” His list for his daughters:

1. Be passionate about some activities or commitments
2. Love to read; read for pleasure
3. Know a lot about the world (for their age) and want to know more
4. Have strong analytical and mathematical skills
5. Know a lot (for their age) about at least one area of science (biology, physics, etc)
6. Write well
7. Have skills in at least one visual, fine or performing art discipline (piano, theater, etc.)
8. Have at least one manual skill (sewing, cooking, fixing car, etc.)
9. Have at least basic computer programming skills
10. Be able to draw reasonably well
11. Have friends (fewer closer or more less close both OK)
12. Be active in serving people in need and/or advocating for ideas larger than themselves
13. Be kind to everyone they interact with
14. Have demonstrated resiliency through failure
15. Be physically active
16. Be optimistic

Whether a particular school is good for a child depends on the parent’s aspirations, Jackson writes.

My expectations for my daughter’s schools were modest. I wanted school to teach her reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, history and science — especially math and science, which I wasn’t teaching at home. I didn’t expect her to be skilled in a performing art or in drawing — and I was right. (She took  a programming class in college, but I don’t think it’s a critical skill.) Kindness, friendliness, resiliency, problem solving, cooking . . . Kids learn that at home or not at all.

Nobody can ‘have it all’

Women still can’t have it all, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic. She left a high-powered State Department job to return to academia to have time for her children. She wants employers to let people — not just parents — work from home when possible and take time for family needs.

. . . women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years.

Remember the outcry when Felice Schwartz told employers to create a family-friendly alternative for professionals? It was dubbed the “mommy track.”

Men can’t have it all either, responds James Joyner. His wife died suddenly, leaving him with a toddler and an infant.

Not long after my wife’s passing, I was offered a promotion that would have helped bridge the loss of her income but would have required much more time at the office. Professionally, it was a good move. It also made sense financially, even though it would have meant paying for a few more hours of childcare. I nonetheless declined because my daughters needed me to spend that time with them. And, frankly, I needed to spend that time with them, too.

The fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It’s not possible to “have it all.” It never was. And never will be. For women or for men.

Of course, most people aren’t going to be CEO or Secretary of State no matter how hard or long they work.

Dandelions and orchids

While resilient “dandelion” children thrive in any environment, ultra-sensitive “orchild children” will “wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care,” writes David Dobbs in The Atlantic Monthly. 

So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.

. . .  The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them. And even when they lead troubled early lives, some of the resulting heightened responses to adversity that can be problematic in everyday life—increased novelty-seeking, restlessness of attention, elevated risk-taking, or aggression—can prove advantageous in certain challenging situations: wars, tribal or modern; social strife of many kinds; and migrations to new environments. Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone.

Via This Week in Education.

Shouting is the new spanking

For would-be perfect parents, shouting is the new spanking, reports the New York Times.

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.

I once had to fill out a long form to sign up my daughter for one lousy week of summer child care. I was asked what I did when my child misbehaved. I knew “give a time out” was the correct answer, but in a fit of honesty I wrote: “I yell.”

Let’s get real, folks. Parents yell sometimes. And kids are warped for life, but you’ve got to warp them one  way or another.

The $221,000 child

A middle-class family will spend $221,000 to raise a child born in 2008 to age 17, estimates a government report. That doesn’t include college. From Time:

The report by the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion identified housing as the largest single expense, followed by food and child care/education costs.

However, the study overestimates the cost of a kid, argues Overpopulation.com.

First of all, the USDA did not measure what it costs to raise a child, but rather what parents of differing income levels actually spend. There is an important difference between the two.

Second, the methodology behind the USDA, is goofy, as even its own study notes. For example, the largest part of the “cost” of raising children in that $200,000 estimate is more than $53,000 for housing costs. How did the USDA arrive at that figure? It simply assumes that if a couple has two children and a house valued at $200,000, then each family member incurs $50,000 in housing costs,

An Oregon State study urges adults to reduce their “carbon footprint” by having fewer children. It also helps to stay married and get married, so you’ll maintain only one household for two people.

We’ve been hosting my husband’s first grandchild, Baby Julia. She’s definitely a big-footprint child.