“Julia needs a sibling,” my mom friends will often tell me. They forget that I’m parenting alone in New York, one of the priciest cities in the United States.
“I agree,” I respond. “The universe will have to provide it, along with a husband and another paycheck.”
After ten years—four years of infertility and a three-year adoption wait, with a few years of fear and indecision thrown in for good measure—I’m thrilled with motherhood. And with that thrill comes the goal of raising a healthy, happy, well-educated daughter. One healthy, happy, well-educated daughter.
It seems like lately, many of us have only children on our minds. Lauren Sandler, the author of “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One” recently published an op-ed in the New York Times that ran down the ways in which the United States is an anti-only-child society.
She argues that between the suburbs-with-two-kids dream and the fears that only children grow up to be “lonely,” “selfish” and “maladjusted,” America vetoes single-child families. Yet, she points out that studies ultimately show little difference between people who were raised as only children and those who were raised alongside siblings.
On the surface, Sandler and I don’t have much in common. She’s co-parenting in a two-income home; I head up a one-income family with my three-year-old daughter, adopted from Ethiopia in 2010. The Sandlers represent the classic Norman Rockwell family archetype; mine is more the 21st-century, making-it-happen variety. Yet, we agree on the financial and social implications of raising an only child today.
One Child, One Income
By Sandler’s calculation, a child born in 2010, my daughter’s birth year, will cost an average of $226,920 from diapers to college kickoff. Caring for Julia on the single income of an advertising writer presents a financial challenge (one I willingly accept, one case of Huggies Pull-Ups and gallon of organic milk at a time).
While my two-parents-two-incomes friends dine out and order in, I’ve become a home gourmet. “I’m dating Jacques Pépin,” I frequently joke to friends about the 77-year-old world-renowned, chef and host of the PBS show, “Fast Food My Way.” One of my favorites is his broccolini, beans and sausage ragout, which I make following both his creed (“If you have 30 minutes, you can make dinner”) and my own (“Upon walking through the door, do not sit down. The chances of pizza increase with every minute on the sofa”).
My biggest expense is, of course, child care. Full-time coverage from my fantastic nanny—excluding holidays and vacations—comes to about $28,000 a year. I choose to go nanny rather than day care for an important reason: My daughter spent the first eight months of her life in what could be called a 24-hour day care—an orphanage.
I was advised that Julia would be developmentally delayed (as many internationally adopted children are) and would not catch up as quickly in a group setting. If that isn’t enough, centers in my area cost close to $1,000 a month … and I’d still need coverage for city holidays, ranging from Ramadan to Passover, that prompt school-but-not-office closings.
With no mate to trade off with, and my family based in Michigan while I remain in New York, I rely on friends willing to babysit gratis when my nanny is off-duty. During my first holiday season as a mom, after receiving an invitation to a Christmas party—the sort of big bash I hadn’t attended in ages—I leaped at the offer for adult conversation and good food prepared by someone else. I arrived home before midnight and was greeted with a $100 babysitting bill … for the first and last time.