and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
April 2004 #4

Only reason for parenthood is enjoyment
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 22, 2004

Spring school vacation week is a good time to be a stay-at-home mom. The weather is usually nice, so you can take the kids to the park or make day trips. But what do the other mothers do?

I suppose when there is a marketplace need, someone fills it, so there are probably kiddie-camps at local community centers. I seem to recall my son playing at the YMCA while I was doing my part-time job of lifeguard and swimming instructor. On my days off, we went exploring: bike rides to visit the witch trial sites in Salem and Danvers, hikes at the Ipswich Wildlife Sanctuary and state parks, and one year a drive to Mystery Hill in New Hampshire.

These excursions didn't cost much, because not having much money was the downside of working only part-time. Now it seems that many parents who both work full time don't have either time or money. Housing costs have risen to reflect two-paycheck families. And while before the recession there seemed to be a trend toward flex-time, it's harder today with job pressures rising.

By the time I was divorced and working full-time in Boston, my son was a teenager and responsible enough, I thought, to stay home alone. Many parents thus delude themselves. Of course, years later the grown-up kids tell you the stories that prove you were wrong, but at the time you clung to the notion that you had taught them well enough in the years you had each other's full attention.

I wasn't clinging too comfortably, however, and felt better after a friend came to live with us; he worked nearby so was available for oversight and emergencies. And Lance's father and grandparents on both sides, though not living in Massachusetts, remained involved in my son's life and supportive. I was lucky.

Still, I can imagine what Dr. Laura might say about my life choices: people who choose to have a child should stay together to raise it, and one of them should consider this the mostly full-time job. Now that it's all behind me, I am very glad that I spent the first seven years of Lance's life focused on being a mom, albeit one whose little Navy family moved eight times in that period so there wasn't much chance to do anything else.

When we first moved to Massachusetts I picked him up after school and went to watch the four children in a family in which both parents worked. When the professional mother rushed in carrying dinner I went home to my new husband and whatever meal I could throw together in my own hurry. During the summer our little play group tried out all the beaches in the area. After that I had different local jobs but was usually home when Lance returned from school, and his best friend's grandmother next door kept an eye on both of them when they weren't at the beach where I worked. Her daughter worked full-time, but was lucky to have live-in help with her two boys.

My grandchildren have had their other two grandparents around, too. My son and his wife are older than I was when he was born, and got a lot of career, sporting activities and traveling done before the twins came along three years ago. Lance took a lower-paying but less demanding job so that he'd have more time to spend with them, and Mary fits part-time work and classes around creatively focused homemaking and motherhood. Both of them believe that being parents is the most important and rewarding thing they do.

I don't know if my parents felt that way. My father worked a lot and mother kept house, but that was the way it was for everyone in my child-filled Catholic hometown without, I suspect, too many conscious choices being made. I was busy with my friends and didn't pay much attention to grown-ups in general.

Relative to evolution, passing on one's genes and keeping the human race alive are the reasons for living. Aside from this mostly subconscious motivation, for most of history the real reasons people had children were a) they couldn't help it, because there was no effective birth control and b) they selfishly had to plan for someone to care for them in their old age, and c) society expected it and d) they really enjoyed the experience. But now that the human race is big enough, it's hard to argue that it would be irreparably harmed if my genes are not part of it someday, and the Social Security system requires only that someone, not necessarily each of us, is having kids.

So except for those whose religion prohibits birth-control, the only reason left to have children is enjoyment. I hope that the couples who are choosing to have children today can manage to find the time and the energy to thoroughly enjoy them. I do admire their determination to have it all, but I can't imagine how some of them get through the double-work day, never mind the school vacation weeks.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.