Coming into fatherhood I assumed my only baby-related expenses would be diapers and Air Jordans. I was wrong. According to recent estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I can expect to spend over $750,000 to raise my three boys, though these projections do not account for cost savings resulting from use of hand-me-downs and my ability to give a remarkable “We’re not buying anything” speech prior to entering a store.
Still, despite my frugal ways, kids are costly. Fortunately I moved to California before accidentally becoming a parent, a state that operates as a quasi-Scandinavian-style social democracy when it comes to children.
Babies always come with hidden costs, even before they de-womb. When my wife, Amber, was pregnant with our third child, doctors recommended she get a cerclage. In plain speak, they wanted to stitch her “incompetent” cervix so the baby wouldn’t get curious and crawl out the birth canal before his time.
After the procedure, Amber was told to stay off her feet as much as possible. This was not likely to happen at home—we already had two rowdy toddlers—or at her job; she worked as a 7th grade teacher.
One or the other had to go, and kids these days can’t look after themselves until they’re like 30. So she took off work for the remaining two months of her pregnancy and was paid 55 percent of her salary, as required under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave law. This safety net played a large part in enabling her to be barefoot and pregnant instead of barefoot and pregnant and broke.
Once our son arrived, Paid Family Leave kicked in. California’s one of five states where parents can be paid while bonding with their new child and/or recovering from birth-related bodily torture. Amber again received 55 percent of her salary for an additional six weeks (paid for by employee contributions).
Then she took six more weeks of unpaid leave. The three months were great. Our boys were lucky enough to get fresh direct-from-titty milk and plenty of co-sleeping.
With that said, the time off didn’t much compare to the 52 weeks of paid leave Denmark offers new parents, but it was something. Plus it gave Amber the time to physically and emotionally heal, though all the pain came rushing back the day she had to return to work.
After family leave, Amber caught the stay-at-home bug. She resigned from her job at the end of the school year, which meant we, a family of five, had to rely on the often fluctuating income I earned as a contract worker/gig getter.
Around this time, we thought our oldest should go to preschool. Like his father, he was shy and withdrawn and not too interested in having human friends.
I price-checked some of the area schools and YMCAs. To send him would have been the equivalent of a second mortgage. Then I came across the California State Preschool Program (CSPP). It’s a Head Start-like program for middle income families, with 10 percent of classroom spots reserved for families over the income limit.
Our nearest CSPP was 15 minutes away in what was considered a “tough” neighborhood. I say this because homes near the school had bars over their windows. Plus there was a Church’s Chicken within a couple of miles. Anyway, I had no idea what to expect. Would there be school-sanctioned toddler fights? Would the school have metal detectors, and if so, would students get gold stars for passing through without a beep? Would my son relearn his colors as Crip blue, Blood red, and Gangster Disciple black? Hey, you never know!
Well, whatever the case, the program only lasted three hours per day. I was sure my boy could handle himself for 180 minutes, five times a week.
The school was actually great. They encouraged parental involvement, had lots of activities for students, and the teachers really took a personal interest in each child. They also helped my boy come out of his shell—he performed his version of Michael Jackson’s dance moves in front of teachers and classmates. We enrolled our second son this year.
Now we’re moving back to Ohio, where they largely express love for families and babies by regulating abortion in an unconstitutional manner, though some of its cities have adopted six-week paid leave programs. We don’t plan on having more kids—not that we ever planned—but we do hope California-esque prenatal policies become law in more states. These programs are state budget friendly (California has a surplus), and may even increase the national birthrate, lest we become Japan or Germany, both of whom are on the verge of perfectly fertile but childless people ruin the financial future of their countries.
Most importantly, family leave programs are good for kids, and at an estimated cost of 250 damn thousand dollars per child, we should aim for more for our most valuable assets.