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Exertions of parenting

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Since it’s test season, I’ll give you a simple multiple-choice question today. 



Being a parent is: 
A) Heartbreaking
B) Expensive
C) Exhausting
D) Rewarding
E) All of the above.


I was talking to The Lady over the past week and casually asked her if she was sexually active. She was shocked and hurt, protesting that she knew a mere two boys outside of her family, and that she was only 13.  Yet, in the next breath, she admitted that she knew girls her age who were not only sexually active, but ones who had been pregnant. None of that made it easier for her to countenance her mother asking her frankly and without fuss whether or not she was sexually active. But it’s my job, you see. I have to ask. That’s one of the heartbreaking things about parenting: you have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Who ever planned to have a child who was on drugs, got an STI, or was expelled for fighting in school? The most vigilant parent in the world can’t plan for such eventualities, which afflict families of all social strata, no matter what the official statistics will tell you. It is not just poor people’s children who get into trouble; but wealthy parents can more easily cover for their children’s mistakes and shortcomings. 


Parenting also can be hellishly expensive. Not that having things is any warranty against a bad childhood, but there are certain unavoidable expenses that come with childrearing. The journey from cradle to university can cost over one million dollars for a child when you factor in food, transportation, education and recreation. An Australian study done by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling found that low-income families spend about Au$450,000 (TT$2,663,330.40) to raise two children to age 21. A high-income family can spend over Au$1 million.
The study noted that many of the costs incurred by low-income families are offset by government subsidies, and I suspect the same is true here in T&T if one opts to use the free but inconveniently slow public healthcare system, public schools that range from excellent to abjectly horrid, and the School Nutrition Programme that provides free breakfast and lunch of—again—wildly varying quality. 


Government health centres and hospitals may in fact provide excellent healthcare, but if you have a job, it’s nearly inconceivable to take your child to one because you often have to spend hours there to receive attention or get medication. Just to save time, many parents take their children to private doctors and dentists, visits that don’t come cheap. Government provides free textbooks to schools but some schools will tell you the texts they have are old and in terrible condition, and parents may have to end up buying their children’s schoolbooks anyway. And while there are many great public and government-assisted religious schools, there are as many neglected ones with unmotivated teachers and sub-par educational standards. Private schooling is not a magic bullet but many parents who can afford it (and some who can’t) opt for it instead of public schooling. Free school lunches are sometimes in hot demand. For example, don’t reach late to collect your boxed lunch when it’s roti day because you might not get one. At other times, these lunches are a hot mess. 


The Lady recently joked about her school lunch, a la Gordon Ramsay, “The chicken was so undercooked, a skilled vet could bring it back to life.”  No wonder many working-class parents send their children to school with lunch money, thereby spending money they can’t really afford.  So certainly, raising a child can be expensive. Exhausting goes almost without saying. Being responsible for another human is quite terrifying—ergo, exhausting—when you think about it, especially if you understand the concept of “monkey see, monkey do.” Then there is the sheer amount of time required to get them ready for school on weekdays, and take them to extracurricular and co-curricular activities, church and so on, on weekends. But then there’s D, the rewarding part. (O thou cynic, I’m not talking about your dream that they will get a big wuk and mind you in your old age. Good luck with that!) I’m talking about the joy of seeing this twitch in your belly grow, emerge into the world and make it a better place. That’s worth every grey hair and every penny.


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