With his five-bedroom Colonial house set in homey Orange, Conn., beautiful wife, two dachshunds, and a three-year-old son so cute that his face graces the packaging of diapers sold in hundreds of Stop & Shop grocery stores, Richard Samela, by all accounts, is living the American Dream.
But behind the lovely suburban setting, 42-year-old Samela works his butt off to keep it alive.
In addition to his full-time, breadwinner job as a technical project manager, Samela takes on 15 to 20 hours of freelance work each week in order to afford anything beyond the basic mortgage, health care and child care expenses. This cuts into his weeknight family time, and dampens his ability to contribute to household tasks.
“It’s insane,” says Samela, whose wife Amy, 36, also works full-time. “Most weekends I have to worry about, ‘Do I work on maintaining the house, or spending time with my family? I basically have to work two jobs just to get by, and most of my free time is spent doing yard work, laundry and that sort of thing.”
As a result, Samela says he and his wife, who both have college degrees and white-collar jobs, are not planning on having any more children.
“The cost of day care is exorbitant,” says Samela. “It’s $1,300 a month, which is the cost of a mortgage. Can you imagine, in 15 to 18 years from now, what the cost of college will be?”
Samela’s challenges speak to the sentiments of many Americans, especially middle-class parents, who according to “The American Dream 2.0,” a recent survey by LearnVest, say they face unprecedented financial and social pressures when it comes to staying afloat themselves—while raising kids.
In fact, 72% of respondents say there are more concerns when it comes to rearing children today. More than half feel it is too expensive to raise children in this day and age—and 60% believe you need dual incomes, like Samela’s and his wife’s, to make ends meet. Over 1 in 3 respondents say they have delayed having children because of their financial situations.
We’ll take a closer look at how the landscape has changed since our parents were parents, as well as how a new generation is interpreting the dream for themselves.
Our Parents, Ourselves: How Raising Kids Has Changed
The sour economy and mounting financial pressures were actually enough to make one newly minted family flee the country. When an opportunity arose for Emily Bond, her filmmaker husband, Robert, and their baby son, Ezra, to transplant from Brooklyn to Seville, Spain, in September 2010, she jumped.
Border-hopping seemed a means of escaping the pressures of parenting 2.0.
“People were [already] asking me what school he was going to and what waiting list he was on,” says Bond, 35, of her newborn. “Moving to Spain presented an alternative choice.”
The same financial pressures didn’t exist in her childhood, she says. Bond, who is African American, grew up in an “idyllic suburb” of Washington D.C., with a lawyer mom and physician dad. In essence, they had achieved the American dream.
“I grew up very comfortable,” says Bond, who has three other siblings and often compares her family to the Huxtables, actor Bill Cosby’s 1980s TV family. “We had cars, private schools, the whole shebang.”
After moving to Spain, things were great at first for Bond and her husband, 50. But slowly, they started to change. “I lost two contracts, and as the economy recovered in America, it became difficult to convince employers to outsource to Americans overseas,” she recalls.
Then, in mid 2012, Bond gave birth to her second son, Finn, and she and her family decided to move back home.
Her reality today–raising a family while looking for a full-time job, while living in the house she grew up in—is certainly a stark contrast to the one her mother enjoyed.