What Can I Do to Stop My Child from Imitating Inappropriate Behavior

Last month, I decided to outline all my family’s debts on a spreadsheet, a sobering activity which showed us owing a total of $131,985.17. This stemmed from school bills, a credit card, a car payment, and some home repairs. While this financial situation is a mix of better and worse than anticipated, it’s also brought a new challenge to light. It’s raised the question, what to stop my child from imitating? especially in regards to our current financial struggle and the potentially inappropriate behavior they might see and mimic from us during this stressful period.

My husband and I are both making more money than we ever have, but we’re barely getting by. Our income should be enough for anyone to live a good life (I lived in New York City when I was in my early 20s on less than $30,000 a year), but we are currently broke because of our student loan debt and rising child care costs. We’re not the only ones, though.

The Department of Education says that one out of every eight Americans will have student loan debt in 2021. And more than 40% of American homes include children younger than 18 years old. We belong to both sides.

Having a DINK way of life

When my husband and I met for the first time, he had $100,000 in college loans. I also had a lot of credit card debt from the year before when I got clean. Soon after that, I had to buy my first car as an adult, which cost me another $25,000 in household debt. Still, we were DINKs or people with two incomes but no children, and we liked the life that gave us.

We paid our bills on time and still went on a lot of trips, both in and out of Florida, where we lived. We went to Chicago five times, New York City three times, Mexico for a week, and New Orleans for my brother’s birthday in the first few years we were together. We spent two weeks in The Netherlands and Germany, flew to Los Angeles to see friends, went on a ship for our honeymoon to Havana, and spent Thanksgiving in Denver. We also took many small trips to Florida, where we live. We went to Orlando three times, the Florida Keys twice, Miami Beach, Saint Augustine, and Sarasota.

We had a lot of debt, but with our joint six-figure income, we were able to pay it off and still have a good life. We were able to buy a house and put some money away before we had our first child in March 2020, mostly because my parents gave us money.

Giving Birth During a Pandemic

When my husband and I chose to start a family at the beginning of 2019, we made a firm plan to pay off our credit card debt. We didn’t go on as many trips and put all our extra money into paying our bills. In six months, we were able to pay off our credit card debt, which was $15,000.

We were proud of what we had done, and after a miscarriage, I was finally pregnant. We saved money for our son’s birth for the rest of 2019. By the time 2020 started, I finally felt like we had enough money, so we decided to upgrade my car so that a car seat for our new baby would fit better.

By February 2020, we were ready to have a baby. The baby shower was over, and we had everything we needed for the baby. We had put together the baby’s room over the course of several months. Even with the new car’s cost, we could still save money.

I thought my family and I were doing well, but then the plague hit. Our baby was born at the end of March 2020, right as the first lockdown was happening around the world.

I was happy to have my baby with me during those first few months of the outbreak because I was on maternity leave. And because we couldn’t go anywhere, our savings started to grow again, even though we had just had a baby, and I had to buy formula because I couldn’t breastfeed it enough. I think it’s great that we both have steady jobs that we love.

Then, when I went on maternity leave, my hours at work were cut in half, and they stayed that way for almost a whole year. Even though I got my job back in the end, we now had a lot more costs because the baby was still growing and needed more.

Increasing Income, Increasing Costs

A year into the pandemic, right after our baby turned one, my husband got a great job offer in Denver, Colorado. Since both of our families live in Florida, we chose to move there. Around the same time, things went back to normal at my job, so I thought we’d be able to pay our bills again. I was wrong, though!

Moving across the country is still expensive even if your new job helps pay for it. We chose to buy a house in our new town because, shockingly, every rental was more expensive than a monthly mortgage payment. But we had to use all of our savings to buy it. Child care was another expense we had to deal with, but it was manageable for the first year of my son’s infancy because she could stay with him while I worked.

Within a few months, we had a new mortgage, childcare costs, and credit card debt that quickly went from $0 to $15,000. This was because we had to buy a new washer and dryer for our home, which was a surprising cost. Also, we refinanced the student loan at the beginning of 2021, which cut the interest rate in half but made the payment twice as much. So, even though we were making good money at our jobs, we were worse off than ever.

I thought we’d be fine since our family makes almost $200,000 a year. But instead, we’re broke and have too much debt to pay off.

We pay $3,000 monthly for our school loans and new childcare costs. This is just a little more than our new mortgage payment. We still owe money on our cars and credit cards and have to pay for important home fixes. Every month, it seems like all we do is pay bill after bill after bill while asking when and if things will get better.

The student loan went from $100,000 to $85,000 in the past five years, but it feels like we’ll never be done with it. I know our $20,000 in daycare costs are only temporary, but it feels like we’ll be paying that much for a long time.

How Much Money It Costs American Families

I know that my family is very lucky. My parents gave us money to help us buy our first house. We both make good money, and my husband’s job is pretty solid, even though my writing isn’t. Also, our baby is healthy and safe, and we’ve all kept our mental health, if only just barely, during this plague. But it costs us a lot of money to deal with all of this. The worry about money is always there. I’ll tell you the truth: I had a nervous breakdown right before I made that debt chart.

I worry a lot about how we’ll be able to give my child a good life when we can barely afford to have any kind of life. Once we’ve paid off our own student loans, we’ll need to start saving for his college bills. And sure, he’ll go to public school someday, so we won’t have to pay for daycare anymore, but I’m sure we’ll have a lot of other new costs by then. For example, both of our parents are getting close to retirement age, and I don’t know if they’ve done anything to get ready. Will my husband and I have to help?

Unfortunately, this is how the “American Dream” looks right now for a lot of young parents. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place because of our own debt and rising childcare costs, and we live paycheck to paycheck.

According to a 2019 Child Care Aware of America study, millennials spent between 18% and 42% of their income on daycare. The Health and Human Services Department says that only 7% should be spent. I wish things would change so that my family could benefit from universal pre-K and free college tuition in the United States, but I worry that by the time it happens, it will be too late.

So, for now, I can only try to keep my family alive and hope that nothing changes with our jobs. Yet, when a family looks good on paper but is broke in real life, it can feel very hopeless. What about those who don’t have as much as us if our family is struggling?

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