Two Parents, One Child, No Unemployment

I was struck by it. How easy it must be.

Surely, they have worries – just not the same ones that I do. Or you do. Not the concerns of the single mothers I have known – the logistical nightmares dealing with an uncooperative or unavailable ex, the fatigue that never seems to dissipate no matter what, the legal dramas and financial issues that drag on, year after year. The emotions and excuses, trying to hide how hard it really is. Trying to stay positive. Hopeful. Trying to be a good example to your kids.

Two parents, one child. Never a period of unemployment.

Can you imagine?

I can’t.

The Life Behind the Face

We never know what’s real behind the smiles; the picture perfect family may not be so perfect when you get a glimpse inside. After all, most thought I was living the picture perfect scenario, and it was far from accurate. Still, when I ran into this couple I knew in my former life (as an ostensibly happy married working mother of two), I sensed that their lives were close to what they offered on the surface.

I hadn’t talked to them in awhile, though I see their child often enough. He’s a good kid, and doing well. He’ll be attending a great university in the fall, with a merit scholarship that will relieve about 80% of the enormous burden of the educational expense.

The Cost of Raising a Child

When they gave me that news, it hit me. How easy it must be. How different their past decade has been from mine.

I thought about the cost of raising children – not emotionally – I’ve loved being a mother, but the actual dollars involved and the financial consequences when you’re doing it largely alone.

I thought about how much of the expense I’ve actually borne. About a year ago, Motherlode, the NY Times Parenting Blog, offered up the official governmental statistics which put the cost at $222,360 – a number I suspect is low in general. I am certain that figure is low when it comes to my sons, knowing the cost of their extra educational programs.

I estimate that I’ve covered approximately 90% of that, times two kids. Conservatively, that’s just over $400,000 – after tax, of course. Every dime I earned over many years + debt + liquidation of assets.

And here we are. Or rather, here I am – and how many others like me?

Oh – did I mention that figure doesn’t count college?

The Truth and Nothing But the Truth?

As for the couple and our conversation, we visited for a few minutes and it was all very pleasant. I put on my cheery smile, nodded and responded appropriately, then extricated myself from the situation as quickly as possible.

I could feel panic creeping up through my chest. The fear I keep stuffing down. The truth of my life, which is so different.

The truth of my life, which is so different.

Thank God for a little help from our friends, right?

As for those truths, do we ever really recognize and admit to certain aspects of our reality? And if we wish to, where do we feel safe enough to actually share them?