I finally realized that I’m no longer in charge of my own life a few of weeks ago.
It was a Tuesday at 9:45 p.m. I had arrived home from work at 7:30, just as my wife was putting our son to sleep.
I cooked dinner for the two of us. We ate together on our small dining room table and then spent the rest of the night preparing for tomorrow. Mrs. Tepper collected Luke’s toys and straightened up around the house while I programmed the coffee maker and started to load the dishwasher… only to discover that we were out of soap. Sigh.
I jabbed my feet into my slippers. The dishes needed to be washed, so I found myself headed outside in my pajamas.
As I plodded to my neighborhood grocery store, it dawned on me that I wasn’t running this chore because I wanted to, but because our delicate family ecosystem demanded that the dishes get washed at night. Otherwise, the milk bottles and containers wouldn’t be ready by the morning, meaning my wife wouldn’t be able to pump at work and my son wouldn’t be able to eat.
This two-hour spell of cleaning, organizing, and readying felt like the actualization of a Millennial nightmare.
I had handed over the keys to my liberty to an infant. Before Luke was born, I could sleep all morning, grab a pint whenever I wanted or fly around the country to visit friends. I could quit my job, write a novel, start an artisanal pickled beet company or simply toss a Frisbee in the park all day.
Those days are over. Full stop. But the real question is: Would I ever want them back?
The opportunity cost of having kids
Most people of my generation aren’t like me. In fact, just over one-in-four Millennials tied the knot between the ages of 18 to 32, according to Pew Research Center. That’s 10 percentage points lower than Gen Xers at a similar point in their lives in 1997 and more than 20 points below Baby Boomers in 1980.
Further, research by Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania’s Stewart Friedman seems to indicate that the majority of my peers aren’t interested in kids. Friedman’s study looked at the views Generation Xers had toward bearing children as they graduated college in 1992 and Millennials in 2012. Almost eight in 10 Gen Xers said they planned to reproduce, Friedman found, compared to only 42% of Millennials.
Parenthood comes with a price that Millennials may not be eager to pay. According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will cost middle-income moms and dads an average $245,340 to raise one child up to age 18—a stunningly large figure for those who are already burdened by student debt and who graduated into a nasty Recession.
Another factor that might dissuade Y women: Mothers who alter their career paths to care for their children can lose out on a lot of potential income. Economist Bryan Caplan pegs the opportunity cost as high as $1 million.
And, of course, there are the non-financial opportunity costs of bearing children: less freedom, less time, and less sanity.
The payoff of having kids early
I understand all of this. I’m living it. My wife and I spend the vast amount of our weekends doing the laundry, sweeping, mopping, shopping and organizing. We schlep and push and haul all day long. Not to mention the $1,600 a month we’re giving to someone else to care for our child. We could have put that money toward a dream vacation, a starter home… or alcohol.
But conceiving a family in your 20s comes with certain advantages. For instance when Luke leaves the nest, my wife and I will be in our mid-40’s and just entering our peak earning years. That means while he’s off at college, we can power save to boost our retirement portfolio.
Plus, you’re more likely to have flexibility at work in your 20s, since you probably have a more junior position with less responsibility. The higher up you get on the food chain, the tougher it is to leave early to go to a parent-teacher conference or soccer game (or so my older colleagues tell me).
There’s also the fact that your ability to actually conceive children decreases as you age, per the Mayo Clinic, while the risks of complication—from C-sections to pregnancy loss—increase in your mid-to-late 30’s. And complications typically mean more money for health expenses.
Look, there are many reasons not to have a child. You may simply not want one—and that’s fine.
But to dismiss the idea of raising a child, or raising him now as opposed to ten years in the future, because you haven’t yet traveled the world or written that magnum opus slightly misses the point of it all. When you raise a child, especially with someone you’ve committed your life to, your self-interest becomes tied up in theirs.
To put it another way, what a lot of people don’t think about is that there’s an opportunity cost to deciding not to have a child: You don’t get to experience the sublime joy of yielding your wants and desires for the happiness of the people you love.
Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad: