The Economics of Midlife Motherhood (Part II)
In Part I of this guest post by Cyma Shapiro, we explored the fundamental economics of choosing midlife mothering. Here, we listen to experts and midlife mothers weigh-in on this increasingly prevalent life choice. You can pop back to Part I of this post, if you wish, to refresh your recollection before moving on to Part II.
What price will women pay to achieve motherhood? At what cost will someone over age 40 go to, to fulfill a dream of loving, nurturing and having a family? Does the increasing number of women choosing new older parenting mean that the sheer economics of it all require fundamental changes in our society? With the redefinition of the family model going into the 21st century, will all of this impact and encourage the passing of a (long-awaited) federal Family Leave Act?
I turned to some midlife mothers to get answers:
“I'm guessing (the total cost was) about $20,000 for the conception of my two lovely daughters,” said 41-year-old Andrea Hopkins, single mom to a 3 and 6 year old. “I have never, ever, added up all the bills. It is possible the cost was closer to $30,000, once every single band-aid and syringe was added up. The cost was spread over about five years, so I managed to keep up without going into debt. While I did spend most of my liquid savings, I didn't have to touch retirement savings or the equity in my house, which I know many women do.”
“We did use a huge amount of (both of our) family savings to adopt our first two girls,” said 56-year-old Hanni Beyer Lee, mom to four children, 16-32. “At this later stage, I have no financial picture to speak of… No retirement plan - yet.”
For others, especially those who are self-employed, the lack of paid family leave further impacts savings and retirement funds:
“When I lived in Ohio, I took the usual FMLA leave,” said Andrea. “My company paid me a few extra weeks, and I added vacation time to get a total of 13 weeks off work after Claire was born. When I moved to Toronto, I took the entire 52 weeks I was entitled to under Canada's maternity leave benefit. It was not at full pay -- far from it -- so I burned through about $20,000 in savings staying home that year, which I felt was worth it to be home with my two little ones.”
“Yes, (I took a) non-paid leave, which stunk,” said 50-year-old Barbara Herel, mom to a five year old. “I was able to use vacation and personal days. It got our budget in place for living on one salary rather quickly.”
“I had no Family Leave, I no longer have any retirement plans,” said 49-year-old Ellie Stoneley, mom to a two year old. “I will be a (working) mom forever.”’
Echoing these same sentiments is 46-year-old Joely Mork Johnson, mom to a three year old. “I had no family leave,” said Joely Mork Johnson, 45, mom to a 3-year-old. “Having a child in midlife, and me not only leaving the fulltime workforce but curtailing my freelance work, has definitely limited the amount of money that I have put aside for my own personal retirement,” she said. “I do feel more broke than I have in years. We have opted for me to be the primary caregiver, so while I do try to work on freelance gigs as possible, I mostly have no money of my own. This is a problem, in a number of ways. “
And, this from 46-year-old DeAnna Scott, mom to nine-month-old twins born by surrogacy (after more than 10 years of trying). “We used all our life savings ($50,000)…and now I work part-time, so it was a double whammy!” she said. “I utilized the maximum FMLA benefits, too. California also has insurance of sorts that pays you 60% of your salary for six weeks. Since it was through surrogacy, I didn’t qualify for disability (of course), but what I did qualify for was “bonding” time. Ok with me!
For many, the expectation of an adoption tax credit (up to nearly $13,000), helps recoup a portion of the outlay:
“As adoptive parents, all of us are extremely fortunate that we get to write off adoption-related expenses for adoption attempts and receive tax credits for the adoption process,” said Barbara.
With the knowledge of living a finite amount of time, there is an urgency and reality to parenting in mid-life.
Annie Worshoufsky Macauley, 51-year-old mom to five children ranging in age from 4 – 27, notes that she immediately bought life insurance, for the first time, after the birth of her youngest son. She adds that everything in her life is now viewed through the lens of the future.
Among other necessities for this group: creating a will, designating a caretaker/guardian and shoring up life insurance.
“Creating an estate plan to protect your child's future should be a priority,” said Attorney David Baram, who specializes in estate planning and family law. “For midlife parents, it is especially important to provide for the well-being of your minor children in the event of an untimely death or incapacity. Your Will should not only identify those who will be beneficiaries of your estate, but also consider creation of a Trust to ensure that resources are protected and available for your children's support, medical care, education and general welfare. Additionally,” he said, “your Will should (also) name a Guardian for your minor children…and you should have a Power of Attorney to care for your child(ren)'s needs…”
But, despite the economic hardship that new older parenting often creates – eliminating savings and/or retirement funds, and ensuring the necessity to continue working far into older age, getting/having/adopting children later in life seems to outweigh the costs.
“The financial impact is (often) not going to outweigh the emotional piece,” said Wealth Manager, Mark Briggs of Briggs Wealth Management, LLC. “We all know that emotions often outweigh finances. People are often willing to accept the financial setback and impact that it will have on them,” he said.
“Ultimately, happiness is more important than new clothes, fancy hair-dos, manicures or meals out ...This has been a serious reality check,” said Ellie. “Just having my baby has been that much more real and meaningful.”
"As Emily, our oldest, came home, the costs to get her help FAR exceeded what it cost us to adopt her. It was worth every penny. If I had it to do over, I would need a minute to sit on the grass and cry. Then I would get up, fly to Russia and do it all over again, said John Simmons, 51-year-old passionately devoted father of eight children (five adopted). “When Amy and I first began our adventure to adopt from Russia, it was all about us and what we wanted (adding girls to our family). It didn’t take us long to figure out that it was about the kids. The re-focus on the kids really took the money situation out of view for us.”
“Yes – I sold my Lexus and now drive a (much lesser-priced car),” said DeAnna.”My husband sold his Corvette. I work part-time and have to be much more careful with nonessential spending. As for retirement? What’s that?” But, she added, “It’s all well worth it!”
“I could not have afforded single momma-hood until this time of my life,” said 47-year-old Michele Whipple, single mom to an eight year old. “Has it impacted my economic life? Yes, yes, and yes!” she said. “I don't have disposable income that I can spend (or save) on myself for vacations. I do use my savings more frequently than I would like.” “But, she added, “I wouldn't trade any of it…”
In the end, the cost/benefit equation pares down to simplicity of this: the joy of achieving motherhood, the ability to nurture and love, and the pursuit and achievement of obtaining a family.
The result? Priceless.
Have you chosen new older parenting? If so, have you paid “the price” for your life choices? We’d love to hear from you!
Cyma Shapiro, 56, is the writer/creator of NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers, (www.MidlifeMothers.org) the first art gallery show dedicated to women choosing motherhood over 40, and the blogsite, www.MotheringintheMiddle.com, for all-things midlife mothers. A Huffington Post contributor, writer, and speaker, whose work has been featured in numerous entities including NPR and on Psychology Today (online), Cyma is passionate about supporting women who choose later motherhood, and giving them a face, voice, and forum. She is the mother of 9 and 11-year-old children and 28 and 30-year-old stepchildren. She just recently published The Zen of Midlife Mothering – the first anthology written by and for midlife mothers (and fathers) on the market.
Thank you, Cyma, for sharing your stories here at my blog. Happy springtime, everyone!
'Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington