The Costs of Bringing Up Baby

Sep 09, 2014

One of the first things you find out as an expecting parent is that the receipts for kid-related spending start piling up almost before you receive confirmation from the pregnancy test. Soon after, it becomes clear that debits from your account will rack up for at least the next 18 years. According to the USDA report Expenditures on Children and Families, “a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend about $245,340 ($304,480 adjusted for projected inflation) for food, housing, childcare and education, and other child-rearing expenses up to age 18. Costs associated with pregnancy or expenses occurred after age 18, such as higher education, are not included.” For some parents, these costs will continue well after your little one receives the college diploma.

The photographers presented in this week's Photo Bank gallery document the bringing up of baby to adulthood. While none of these artists specifically tackles the financial costs of raising a kid, they all intimately explore the tipping of the scales that occurs as children grow from dependents to independents over time. Here, images from their varied projects are presented with some statistics of costs that are above and beyond the USDA report.

What this collection of photographs makes clear is the psychology behind why the costs of child-rearing are so high. Phillip Toledano, for example, explores the anxiety-addled brains of new parents who are fraught with self-doubt and fear of the unknown. Toledano struggled to become comfortable with the massive changes that came with the birth of his daughter; his photos capture the new father's progression from feeling detached to enjoying a close relationship with his child as she grew.

Other artists like Jamie Diamond and Julie Blackmon act out moments that are part autobiographical and part fictional. Diamond poses herself in vignettes with a baby doll to explore the mother-child relationship. Blackmon stages multi-layered scenes of family life that have a strange, wry, or whimsical twist—juxtaposing an enduring sense of nostalgia with keenly contemporary details. Colie James, Ginger Unzueta, and Kelsey Hunter document through still-lives what is left behind by a child's fleeting presence—rearranged toys on shelves at a store, half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a handful of baby teeth. James Ransom explores the interiors of a school his kids passed through before graduating to their next class. Mark Nixon heroicizes much-loved and well-worn teddy bears, and child-at-heart Alex Eylar plays with Legos and reconstructs popular movie scenes with them.

Rebecca Greenfield, Gillian Laub and Amy Anderson explore rites of passage into adulthood like proms, bar and bat mitzvahs, and quinceañeras. Brian Finke documents with wit college tailgaters at Ole Miss—a time when children are "free" from their parents and exercise their own independence. Damon Casarez portrays those "boomerang kids" who, despite finishing college, are forced to move back in with their parents out of financial necessity, and Julien Mauve poses family and friends in scenes with his childhood toys to explore how our sentimentality for them continues into adulthood.

These images illustrate the love for one's children that drives even the most frugal of parents—the ones who swore pre-parenthood they would never, ever spoil their child—to get so excited by their baby's interest in Goodnight Moon that they buy her a board book collection that rivals the Library of Congress. And who, so flustered and exhausted they try to drink their coffee out of the baby bottle, just need the happy image of their Peanut sporting a cool pair of Babiators to will themselves awake at 2 a.m. and put her back to sleep for the fifth time that evening. They explore how the initial fear and self-doubt about being prepared for parenthood and building the perfect nest continue well beyond the first months. Those are compiled with new long-term concerns: making sure that their child has what he or she needs to thrive academically and socially, and preparing their teen to eventually leave the nest and finally come into being as an adult.


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This is part of The Photo Bank, a new section of dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for

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