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Why your kids are "economically worthless"

Daily Ticker

Remember when children were an economic asset?

No, you probably don’t, because that was back in the 1800s, when kids labored on farms and in factories and kicked in a few pennies to help cover the family expenses. “The more [children] you had, the better off you were,” Jennifer Senior, author of the new book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, explains in the video above. Since most kids produced a positive financial return for their parents, there was a natural incentive to have more.

The financial implications of having kids have completely changed, needless to say. The average middle-class family these days will spend about $295,000 to raise a typical kid, one reason the average mother now gives birth to just two children, down from three in the 1970s and more before that. With fewer kids, parents tend to dote on them more. Children, Senior writes, have become “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”

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Most parents are okay with that, since child labor is now illegal, after all, and a lot of parents have bigger ambitions for their kids than field worker or factory sweeper. Yet something else is wrong. “The moment children stopped working for adults,” Senior writes, “everybody became confused about who was in charge.”

Now, if you’re a parent, you might earnestly believe that you’re in charge of your kids, instead of the other way around. But if Senior is right, odds are, something about parenting makes you unhappy. It could be the lack of freedom or the unrelenting demands most kids make. If you’re a working parent, you might feel you’re constantly juggling work and parenting duties and never doing either particularly well. “Our kids’ jobs now are homework, and going to soccer practice and violin lessons,” Senior tells me. “That becomes our work.”

To make parenting a bit easier, Senior urges parents to ease up on all the extracurricular activities, especially the ones kids themselves aren’t enthused about.

There’s nothing wrong with kids doing chores either – without earning pay or a weekly allowance. “If you’re paying $295,000 to raise them,” Senior argues, “the least they can do is take out the trash.”

And if you feel guilty about leaving your kids while you go to work—don’t. “I hear this all the time, especially from mothers,” Senior says. “They feel this compensatory impulse, and they don’t need to feel that.” If you need convincing, remind yourself that you’re the one out earning a living, not your kids. They have it pretty good.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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