“You don’t know what happiness is until you have kids. And then it’s too late.” — Anonymous
If you’re a parent, you just lol’ed. If you’re not a parent, you don’t get it. Allow me to break it down for you. When you become a parent, a whole new dimension of emotion opens up inside of you, including moments of unspeakable happiness. When you become a parent, the dimension of carefree happiness, which you didn’t even know you had, is gone forever because you will never be carefree again. Once a parent, always a parent, and we’re only as happy as our least happy child.
Back to lifestyles of the rich and childless, two dimensions that—for some obscure reason—often go together:
“[A] middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend about $245,340 ($304,480 adjusted for projected inflation) for food, housing, childcare and education, and other child-rearing expenses up to age 18. Costs associated with pregnancy or expenses occurred after age 18, such as higher education, are not included.”
But “carefree” isn’t just about the dollars. It’s about the kind of bandwidth that verges on navel-gazing. Not that the childless are all navel-gazers, but we parents don’t even have the option. Especially—drum roll please—we stay-at-home moms. I quit my job to be a full-time mom in 2003, and I’ll never forget my cousin asking me, “What do you do all day?”
I have dim, pre-children memories of time and energy that were just there for the taking. My post-children reality is a constantly shifting quicksand of go/no go assessments regarding how dirty clothes really have to be before I wash them; whether it’s all that critical to read nutrition labels; how long my kids can go between haircuts before the neighbors start to talk; and is today a shower day or is that wishful thinking.
Until I got my kids, I lived in a lint-free, ding-free, stain-free world. Now I live in a world where lint, dings, and stains are the least of my problems. I labored under the illusion that I could control my world until little humans came along who wrecked my world (literally and figuratively) on a daily basis. There’s a reason old people are wise. Wisdom bites, but it’s invaluable. And there’s no substitute for the biting wisdom that children confer.
The living room pictured above belongs to a rich and childless friend and business associate who hosted me at a business planning meeting over a recent weekend. He invited a mutual friend and business associate out for the weekend as well, but she demurred because her grandkids were visiting. In that sweet naiveté of the childless, he told her to bring them along. She knew better.
When I first saw his living room, I said, “There is no way you want so-and-so’s grandkids here.” Again, with sweet naiveté, he answered, “Why? Are they wild?”
“No,” I told him. “They’re kids.”
I didn’t waste my breath trying to explain how designer furniture and priceless artwork bring out the “it was an accident” in mammals without fully developed hand-to-eye coordination, impulse control, or logic.
His entire home was so beautiful, so perfectly appointed, so designer magazine BAM! that even I— with my fully-developed hand-to-eye coordination, killer logic, and passable impulse control—stressed the whole time I was there that I might spill or break something.
He cooked three gourmet meals a day, not because I was there but because that’s how he and his husband roll. He checked the dogs—whose fur was never a scintilla below silky clean—before they came into the house lest they track dirt or other unmentionables onto his Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe chairs, each of which costs more than the average American mortgage.
The epitome of our lifestyle clash revealed itself in the M&M moment where I accidentally dropped one on his floor. I looked at it longingly and thought, “I would so eat that if he weren’t here.” In my world, the five-second rule takes care of just about anything that drops on the floor. Because reality. In his world, the floor is an automatic deal-breaker. Because reality.
When it was time for me to fly home, my host graciously poured me a Diet Pepsi in a To Go cup for the ride to the airport. Nice guy though he is, I couldn’t bring myself to take the risk. I poured it out in the bushes before I got into his car.