Parenting 2.0: What It Takes to Raise Kids in America Today

Marisa Torrieri

american dream 2.oWith 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?”

RELATED: 10 Ways to Reduce Those Steep College Costs

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.

RELATED: Paycheck to Paycheck: How 4 Real Single Moms Make It Work

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.

RELATED: The American Dream in 2013: What Does It Mean to Achieve It?

“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.

  • Patch Rowcester

    The gentleman living in a 5 bedroom mansion certainly cannot complain how hard life is. Seriously, if it was so difficult, why not find a cheaper place to live? Who forced them to buy a house that big?

    • Adam Peters

      Amen, Brother! A 5 bedroom palace for three people? And I have an equal amount of sympathy for the family who can’t “afford” the fancy cars and private schools. Boo Hoo, get a clue! If your parents were a lawyer and a doctor, you were UPPER Class, not Middle Class. Gimme a break!

      • Denise

        It’s quite possible that when he and his wife purchased the home they could afford it. But having a child and all the associated expenses have a drastic effect on a couple’s financial situation. Let’s not forget the downturn in the economy – what folks could “afford” 7 years ago, is a struggle to maintain now.

        • Adam Peters

          Denise, your point about the downturn in the economy is valid. That said, if they can’t afford the house with THREE EXTRA BEDROOMS anymore, they should sell it and buy an appropriately sized one that they *can* afford. To your other point, if they didn’t realize that having a kid was going to be expensive, they are idiots. The bottom line is, they are CHOOSING to live this lifestyle where he works a second job. They don’t have to live that way.

  • guest

    It is good to redefine success, but we still need to campaign for affordable and safe day care, work-life balance measures, and support for families with or without children as well. Success should not be just about material comfort, but full time workers should not have to take on extra jobs to afford their bills either. I don’t think I have it harder than my parents financially (they were both in graduate school with two small children, and I’ve worked full time since college), but I do see that costs for everything (childbirth, preschool, afterschool activities, college) are all significantly more expensive while at the same time jobs are asking workers to work longer hours with less support and the threat of firing hanging over your head. Something has to give eventually.

    • JJ

      I’m with you! Seriously the US is one of only 4 (yes four) countries without paid maternity leave? Plus that’s not even counting the other countries that help out with daycare costs. I’m afraid to have kids. We’re frugal and live within our means but just the idea of the cost of daycare is overwhelming. Yet I’d have to work in order to pay daycare plus a little extra of the bills. I just don’t know.

  • Janes

    What’s different is when I was a kid (I’m 41) you lived within your means. Don’t get me wrong there was a lot of competing with the Jones but not to the extent it is happening today. Everyone needs the latest gadgets, a beautiful home, good schools, vacations a few times a year, kids being involved in a ton of extra curricular, etc. And if you don’t keep up with you peers, you and your kids are left out. I don’t remember that being the case when I was kid. My parents were immigrants we didn’t do half the things my friends and their families did but it was ok. People may have judged but it didn’t matter…. today we seem to equate material wealth with the worth of a person/family.

    • casggp

      I agree, I was raised in a similar situation, attended public schools, lived on the bad side of town, didn’t have a car at 16 nor hang out at the mall whenever I wanted. These days people feel they “need” so much for their kids and forget what the basics are….and you build character from there.

  • NC

    A 5 bedroom house sounds insane. I mean if you can afford it, good for you. The economy does not seem to get better. I know of people who apartment share because they can’t afford their own space, even though they have jobs. I don’t feel bad for the gentlemen in this article, you have to work crazy hours for a house like that.

    • pamb

      I do agree that if you and your spouse are working 2 1/2 jobs put together to pay the mortgage, something is out of whack. I’m thinking they live in an expensive suburb with a good school district, and don’t want to shortchange their kids’ education. But they need to downsize their house ASAP.

  • JackieAU5

    What’s most alarming is the INSANE cost of college! I recently attended a college fair with my younger cousin and was flabbergasted! This prompted me to look up the current cost of my alma mater–which tuition has DOUBLED in the past 10 years for a public institution (out of state student). This issue has to be addressed…and soon.

  • dr.bosslady

    Is it me or is this all about expectations?! I have recently found myself being hypnotized by the trappings of my own success. I am an engaged woman with no children. I make 6 figures, have a brand new custom home, drive a car that I bought 5 yrs ago, and take 3 really nice vacations a year. I recently heard myself complaining about money?! Seriously, when I thought about it I realized that the things that I had ALLOWED myself to be accustomed to were ridiculous and it is my own faulty if I have difficulty living happily on my salary. I am in the process of adjusting my expectations and finding happiness outside of material possessions BEFORE I have children and get stuck in the mindless cycle of greed and consumerism. Thank you Learnvest community and a solid upbringing for pulling me out of the abyss of foolishness before it was too late.

  • Martha

    Mind.Blown. …Talk about MISSING THE BOAT!..The Connecticut family might earn their extra cash being the official poster of What’s WRONG With Our Entitled, Whiny, Self Absorbed, Excessively Shallow&Self-Serving Generation “..I’m not even able to comprehend HIW ITS POSSIBLE that two at least better-educated-than-many people could even end UP IN their situation and not see what is so clear to an 11 year old who read their story: YOU CANT AFFORD YOUR LIFESTYLE BECAUSE YOU HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF YOU DONT NEED THAT YOU’RE SPENDING TOO MUCH MONEY ON!..Put another way you are leaving THE KIDS you wanted so that you can be free to work/maintain an income sufficient to buy things you don’t NEED AT ALL and should be able to be happy and comfortable even without and you would dare be IGNORANT AND HEARTLESS ENOUGH to complain about your “struggle”?!?! …Put another way.. III magine what we would say about a couple who left their kids with their parents for 7-8 MONTHS OUT OF THE YEAR so they were free to work to fund their vacations to luxury resorts, buy a new boat and oh they have to pick up a wardrobe for this season tailored by an exclusive clothier in Milan ..and “work” on their 17th century antique collection… Its ABSOLUTELY EXACTLY THE SAME THING! I can only hope that in 25 years your poor children know they dont want to be ANYTHING you were!..Moral morons!..CLEARLY money isnt EVERYTHING -thank you for reminding me how grateful and lucky I am that I HAVE MY HEAD
    SCREWED ON STRAIGHT&THE ABILITY TO HAVE a happy,satisfying,&fun life both DIRT POOR and in times we have had more than extra economically..We have had lots of both. :)