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The Cost of Joy

Today, we tend to put a dollar value on just about everything. We have a carbon tax to let us know the cost of our pollution. Most of us are keenly aware of crude oil prices as it relates to the cost of fuel at the pump. We place a value on our time, even when we're not working, as though our every second is calculated based upon our regular hourly wage (I figure it's worth much more).

So how much are kids worth? Well, I read recently that the US Department of Agriculture announced that raising a child until age 18 can run up to $345,000. That's a lot of cash by anyone's estimation. You could buy a house—or at least a condo in Victoria. And that's for just one child. What about families with more? I have two children, so right now my "bill" is reaching for a million bucks. Chances are, God willing, my wife and I will have at least another child (and I say "at least" because we've talked about the possibility of going for four). So when you start to add up those numbers in cold hard cash, it gets a little daunting.

But do these numbers make any sense? There must be some logic to them, at least for economists, but publishing them as some sort of absolute fact, as though this huge dollar amount is the sum total of raising a kid, I think misses the point. And, I worry it does a disservice to nervous couples who may be contemplating having a child, wondering if they are financially capable of providing for their new addition.

Of course every family needs to assess their ability to have and raise children, and finances are part of the equation. But what about all the intangibles of family life? How do you put a dollar amount on the joy of watching your children dance and laugh? Or the heart-rending and humbling, yet infinitely valuable, experience of holding and comforting your sick child?

But perhaps the biggest problem I have with the whole "cost of raising your child" thing is that it promotes a materialistic and utilitarian frame of mind in a world oversaturated by these very points of view. Without a doubt, raising children is full of very practical, day-to-day realities. But it's much bigger than this. I'd argue that at it's core, raising children is a much more metaphysical experience, one that simple dollar values can't dream of explaining.

Raising children, as any parent would agree, is about sacrifice. And yes, money does definitely factor into the equation. But the sacrifice is both much more painful and much more satisfying compared to any of the economics. Having enough cash to buy a plasma TV or upgrade your car's lease to the latest model—or to even buy your dream home—is simply a ridiculous comparison. I think we intuitively recognize this, but we aren't always able to articulate it. So instead, in so many ways, we're caught up in living an abbreviated life, one less rich than it could have been. Ultimately at the heart of the matter, I think it's worth exploring not only what we hold valuable in our lives, but also the value of the little ones we hold.


Find out why Father Knows Best in Paul's previous articles:

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