A school budgeting project caused my daughter to not want children. Here’s why I don’t blame her.

At the end of her freshman year, my 15-year-old daughter, Talia, came up to me and said, “Mom, I don’t know how you did it.

She continued to tell me about one of her ninth grade classes, where she learns how to budget. All students in his class were assigned jobs and salaries, and were also randomly assigned additional factors such as children/no children, student loans/no student loans, etc. The students were able to make choices, such as “to marry”. a classmate and where to live in the country, and from there they had to create a monthly budget.

Talia was assigned an income of $29,000 a year after taxes, and she and her best friend, Teresa, soon decided to get married. But even when splitting the expenses with someone, she was left with only $50 a month. Her budget didn’t allow for entertainment, dining out, or saving beyond that. She and her classmate had no assigned children.

For most of my life, I made about $28,000 a year, with two kids, as a single parent. Talia knows this and was shocked that I succeeded. Honestly, it’s shocking for anyone to have to survive like this, and I know there are a lot of people who survive on even less.

I became a single parent when my children were 1 and 4, after escaping an abusive marriage. And while I’ve had long-term relationships over my children’s lives, I haven’t lived with another adult, and none of those relationships have become permanent.

Early in my children’s lives, I lived in a small town where the cost of living was relatively low. However, daycare for one of my children cost the same as my rent. For two years, I paid double my rent for childcare.

Since my income was $28,000, we qualified for Medicaid and food stamps. We ate beans and rice and didn’t go on vacation except for occasional camping trips nearby. When I was a kid, my family had even less money than I did as an adult, so even though it was hard to spend my money, I knew it was possible.

“I wondered then, and I still wonder, how many people try to survive the winter without heating, or go without food or medical care because the safety nets that could help are too difficult to access. “

The hardest times were when I felt lonely and wanted another adult to provide me with an income or even just help me take care of my children when I was exhausted and just wished I could rest . As my children grew and needed more, and the cost of living continued to rise, I juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet. I went back to school with the hope of finding a better paying job. Yet I struggled and relied on safety net programs to keep us afloat.

Talia told me that another classmate, Danielle, was assigned five children and an income of $24,000. Talia said she offered to marry Danielle, but Danielle wanted to see if she could possibly find a way to survive given the variables assigned to her. On paper, it looked like she would never be able to make it work, but she was determined to see if there really was a way.

The teacher told students with very low incomes that if they wanted to, they could look for safety net programs that could help them and ease the pressure on their budget. Fortunately, students in Talia’s class don’t have to try to apply for these programs, but even the process of determining if they are eligible can be daunting and prevent access for those who need these services the most. .

I don’t know if it was intentional on the teacher’s part, but telling the students to figure it out is a realistic model of how it works in the real world. Although there are organizations that help people apply for the safety net program, there are simply not enough resources to reach everyone who needs help.

I remembered all too well the year I applied for energy aid and had to fill out piles of paperwork and provide bank statements, check stubs, social security cards and birth certificates and well Moreover. Each time I thought I was done there was more information I had to provide. Completing Energy Assistance paperwork, in addition to all required reports and paperwork for Medicaid and EBT benefits, has become a part-time job.

It was difficult to understand, given all the detailed information required by each agency, why the myth persists that these systems are easy to access or that people can fool the systems. The energy assistance eligibility process was so daunting that when winter approached the following year, I decided to add another part-time job to my list of jobs. I was exhausted and barely able to work the multiple jobs I already had, but the process of applying for energy assistance was more exhausting.

I wondered then, and I still wonder, how many people try to survive the winter without heating, or go without food or medical care because the safety nets that could help are too difficult to access.

I don’t know if Danielle, with the five children assigned to her, has found any safety net programs that would help her make ends meet in her class budget, but I told Talia to say to her friend that my kids and I are still alive after 14 years of single parenthood — but only because I’m one of the lucky ones.

I don’t come from money, but I have a family who would take me in if a health crisis or job loss prevented me from paying my rent. Many, many other families don’t have family or friends who could take them in.

And even though I now have a secure and better paying job, I am still working. I still need side gigs to keep me afloat. I keep hoping that I can stop hustling one day and let my body rest and recover.

Talia, meanwhile, is now very certain that she will never have children. Although her current goal is to become a surgeon, which comes with a much higher income than I have ever earned, she now understands how much money it takes to raise children and tells me that she wants to use her income to travel, donate and buy a house — something I still don’t know if I will ever be able to do. Other students in his class agree that they don’t want kids either and I don’t blame them.

The birth rate has fallen in the United States every year since 2007, reached a record level in 2020. (A slight increase in 2021 is considered a “blip” by some.) For me and for Talia, a reason for this is clear.

Women are still the main caregivers of children, and it is difficult for many women to progress in the labor market, obtain higher salaries or find new jobs when they do not have access to reliable child care.

And even when children no longer need to be in day care, after-school care is often a necessity for parents who must work after school hours to make ends meet. In addition to childcare costs, housing, food, medical care, gasoline, and clothing – among the many other costs associated with raising children – are all rising exponentially. Even in two-income homes, stretching the budget to cover braces, healthy snacks, or new shoes every time they outgrow old ones can be difficult — and for some families, impossible without safety nets.

I don’t regret the work I did to provide for my children, but I regret having missed so much time with them. They had more opportunities than I had when I was a kid, but I can’t help but wonder what our lives together might have been like if I had been able to work one less job or spend less. time jumping through bureaucratic hoops so we can get warmth or enough food on the table.

It’s hard to see how parenthood will ever be appealing to a younger generation unless our government starts investing in programs to ensure women and other caregivers have the opportunity to succeed.

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