Investing in Children

I’ve come across a number of articles lately that discuss the costs/benefits associated with having children. Several of these articles compare children to other financial investments like 401k and various retirement plans.

This doesn’t feel right to me and here’s why: How do you put a price on the joy children bring into your home?

Conversely, how do you put a price on showing up late to work because you got an hour of sleep due to the baby crying all night?

I was well into my 30’s before Kim and I decided to have children. We never once ran a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether a child would meet certain a yield threshold. We certainly weren’t 100% out of debt nor did we feel particularly prepared to raise a child. We probably prayed more during the 9 months Kim was pregnant than at any time in our lives, and I’m certain this played a large part in our attitudes towards starting a family.

But we did know that we wanted children, and that we were willing to sacrifice having a larger home, fancier cars, and a lot less flexibility in our life. Kim was also willing to sacrifice her career to stay home and be the primary care giver. It was never a question of if but when we’d have children. We were both raised with four siblings and enjoyed having brothers and sisters around.

The decision to have children is personal, and I respect those who decide it’s not for them. I work with several such people and they are just like the parents I know: some are great around children and some not so much. If they ask about my decision to have kids I try to give them a balanced viewpoint although they probably already see both sides of the coin. They see me walking like a zombie through the halls when our last child was born and I wasn’t getting much sleep. But they also see the joy my kids bring when they come visit.

If I viewed life as a time to collect as many things money can buy I’d followed Ken Rockwell’s advice (near bottom of page) and not have children.

But many joys in life cannot be purchased.

I was reminded of this when I picked up Luca from piano practice today which I only get to do if I leave work early. As I pulled up to her teacher’s home she bounded down the stairs and ran straight to my side of the car. She beamed ear to ear as she told me how her teacher gave her a sucker because she played so well. Although I’d dropped her off only 30 minutes earlier she gave me a big hug and a kiss and said, “Dad, I like when you surprise me”.

The small experience didn’t add to my 401k, but it made me feel like Kim and I are doing some things right with our children. Sharing in your children’s joy replenishes the soul.

And you can’t put a price on that.