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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Defying Gravity

The family pattern today for married couples seems to be "two-income, two children." "Two-income, one child" is common also. There are a couple of comic strips I follow where the cast of characters is Mom, Dad, and one child. In both comic strips Mom and Dad each have full-time jobs out of the home. In both comic strips there have been references to how difficult it is to survive financially and there are dreams that have to be sacrificed. I can't quote the sources or numbers, but I have run across magazine articles and heard reports on how much it costs to raise a child today. When I look at the numbers and then look at my eight kids I realize that I must be very rich indeed to see them so healthy and happy because I am reportedly spending a fortune. What concerns me more is that I am doing this with only one income. My wife does not work outside the home and I earn what I would think is a very middle-class income.

I am a little confused at the disparity at what I see in our culture and what I am experiencing. My children have a secure home. They are healthy. They are comfortably dressed. Two are attending higher education. They are all happy, hopeful, and active. Perhaps I am missing something here, but is there something more I should be wanting for my children?

Perhaps I need to look at this differently. There are plenty of things that my children do not have. Maybe I should make a list:

  1. They do not have their own bedrooms (except one who somehow scored one, but that is a new development). But when I walk by their rooms at night and hear them telling each other stories or listening to Books on Tape I am actually pleased at this inconvenience.
  2. They do not have a Playstation 3 or even a Wii. Seeing them build creations with Legos, drawing pictures, riding bikes, or reading books takes the sting out of this.
  3. They mostly do not wear new clothes. Except for the odd infusion of new underwear and socks hand-me-downs have been the name of the game for 24 years. And yet my children have always gone to church and out on the town with confidence. Good looking second hand clothes seem easy to come by. As the kids reach the teenage years and desire something new they have done very well in earning enough money to buy clothes of their choosing. Perhaps I am hard-hearted, but teaching them the value of a dollar and responsibility does not make me feel bad.
  4. Most of them have never been to Disneyland yet. On the other hand they have been to so many beautiful and fascinating places around the Western States that Disneyland would just be another place and nothing so extraordinary. I find that Disneyland is more a place I want to take them too than a place they are dreaming of going.
  5. They have to plan on paying their own way through college. No one in my immediate or extended family has ever had a parent pay their way through college. As much as I would like to help (and I would) I don't feel guilty about teaching them to work for scholarships and expect to get jobs and work their way through college.

The list of what I have not given my children could go on much longer than you would care to read, but it would make no difference. I am a firm believer that it is a very short list of necessities that makes all the difference in a child's life or, in my experience, eight children's lives and that this list requires far less money than the little that supports our home.
  1. There needs to be secure shelter, enough to eat, and clothing to wear. Far less needs to be spent on these things than most think to make children feel secure and happy.
  2. There needs to be a foundation of love and support in the home to build a healthy self-image in children. This takes lots of time from both parents and is something that many don't “spend” enough on. Money is not required.
  3. They need to learn to love learning. This is the parents' job and no other. Schools, public or private, are just support structures. Money is not required.
  4. They need to learn how to work hard for worthy goals. Money is not required.

According to what is written about American life today I am in very sad shape. There is only one income in our home. The one income there is does not bring in enough money. I have too many children. My home is too small. My cars are too old. And yet, just as the bumble bee defies gravity and flies, my family defies the “cultural norms” and is happy, hopeful, and productive. Yes, I have my worries. There are dreams I have given up. But I know there are two-income homes out there with far greater worries than mine. And the lost dreams? I am seeing dreams that I never knew I dreamed coming true that make the dreams of my youth seem trivial.