As I turn the corner of our steps, the sunflower seed carpet lush beneath my feet, I see the clear strips of money stuck to our walls first. Some bills lay crumpled on the floor, folded in on themselves in an adhesive mess. Others are clean lines on the wall, only identifiable by the sheen reflecting light from the hallway window.
The further I walk, the more money I see. Big wet clumps are strewn about my daughter’s room, leaving a trail leading from a thin bag next to the changing table to nowhere and everywhere. Big, fat wads of bills are wrapped around stuffed animal butts.
I walked into a mess of strewn Scotch tape, baby wipes, and diapers. And all I see is a big pile of hard-earned money, wasted.
I have concluded children are not inherently expensive, but the cost of establishing their independence is.
I remember my pre-baby body driving to a baby shower for a family member or friend. Over mocktails and charcuterie, we played The Price is Right using random baby items. The host held up a 32-count pack of diapers and asked us to write down the price. Those things must be at least $14, right? I thought to myself as I confidently jotted down my answer. What’s an applesauce pouch? $5?
As each price was revealed to be at least 50% less than what I wrote down, I turned to the person next to me and said, “I think I could actually afford a kid! They are clearly way cheaper than I thought.” I cackled harmoniously, tickled by my own “revelation.” My naive brain was thinking literally.
I thought I won the real game, but I was sadly mistaken.
From the moment a pregnancy is announced, a community of support swoops in like a stork, providing everything from the practical (diapers, wipes, swings, and clothes) to advice (how to get them to sleep, what to feed them first, how to know when they are sick).
In those early days, support is as easy to give and receive as one-day shipping on Amazon Prime. But as children grow, their needs become less certain, less tangible. And because those needs are less clear—and the fate of a parent’s decision has higher stakes—the advice and support become harder to come by.
Intentions are always good, but we need to stop supporting women with endless advice and start empowering them to trust their instincts about motherhood from the beginning. It’s the only thing still there as a mother when the road becomes less paved and less clear. That 25-year-old girl that sat on that couch thinking babies were only diapers and pouches didn’t have the tools to know what to expect, but she had a deep desire to love and do the right thing.
Fast forward to the present when my oldest daughter insists on changing her own diaper, using a 6:1 ratio of baby wipes compared to the average household usage. My youngest daughter drops so many toothbrushes in the toilet I should get a Colgate membership plan. Just like The Price Is Right game, the cost of them establishing their independence is quantifiable. It carries a very real price tag I would rather avoid paying if I had the choice but is something I can budget and plan for.
I know how to handle these messes, these choices, these attempts at independence, and stretching those little wings. The stakes seem low now, but when the decisions about her path have become less certain, how will I know if I have given her the tools to make the best decisions?
And will I have given myself the tools to let go? Will I ever feel confident I have done all I can to prepare her? Will I know when to just listen and when to step in?
Those decisions don’t appear to me as loose change to collect and cash in. They feel like life or death, like the space between knowing someone truly and deeply, and feeling like you are viewing them from beyond the frosted glass.
There doesn’t seem like enough time to get it right. Motherhood is a constant feeling of wanting everything to slow down and speed up at the same time. Toddlerhood is so packed with energy and emotion and big feelings. It can be challenging just to feel sane at the end of the day, let alone accomplished. Every choice feels heavy, but you must make it in an instant.
I don’t know where to invest.
These choices feel bigger than any money decision I have ever made. Where I place my time, resources, and energy with my daughters now will either produce the most productive, independent, and self-reliant future women–or I could crash and lose everything.
Krystina is a content creator, and storyteller fueled by coffee and making a difference. She enjoys all kinds of writing, including grants, profiles, healthcare, sports, lifestyle, and creative nonfiction, especially about motherhood. Her work has appeared in Babes Who Hustle, Baltimore Style, Multiplicity Magazine, OneVillage, and more.