The Staggering Price of Giving Kids the 'Perfect' Life — and the Toll it Takes on Your Marriage

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According to a new survey, 44 percent of moms say they argue with their partner over money — a percentage that jumps to nearly 50 percent in households with two or more children. (Photo: Getty Images) 

It’s a given that parents want the best for their children. But a new survey reveals that many moms are actually going overboard — to a degree that can be damaging to their finances and their family. 

Shelling out an average of $1,391 a year on extracurricular activities for their kids, the majority of mothers (53 percent) surveyed by BabyCenter for their 2015 Cost of Raising a Child survey report that they feel overwhelmed trying to create the “perfect” life for their children. 

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Of the 1,100 mothers age 25 to 49 polled in June, a whopping 56 percent are spending extra on their kids — all age 8 and under — because of pressure that they feel to keep their kids’ days filled with activities. “That’s probably the biggest expense now, aside from food — the things they do extracurricularly,” Carol Holyoke, a mother of two, told BabyCenter. She added, “You get to see them becoming enriched human beings, and you hope that will fulfill them.“

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BabyCenter’s financial contributor, consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch tells Yahoo Parenting, “Basically the moms surveyed are feeling overwhelmed to create this perfect life for their kids, no matter what the price is.” Calling out pricey big birthday parties as an example, she says, “They see other parents taking their kids on vacations to Disney World and to activities like dance or club volleyball, on top of the activities that they’re already doing in school, so the pressure is put on other moms to do the same. I’ve even heard about mothers feeling in competition now to create the best school lunch for their kids.” 

And the rub, Woroch says, is that “the more money the parents make, the more they spend.” She notes that moms who earned at least $100,000 a year splashed out $2,600 more per child, adding, “They’re giving in to lifestyle inflation.” 

Indeed, 47 percent of the mothers polled — whose median household income is $78,000, significantly higher than the national $51,939 median — say that they are willing to stretch beyond their comfort zone to pay for vacations and experiences. Thirty-five percent do the same for entertainment, and a third say that they’d extend their expenditures for organic foods, education, and clothes or accessories. 

Yet it’s all coming at a steep price. A whopping 46 percent confess that they have gone into debt as a result of childrearing bills, and one in three are working longer hours to pay for it all. “Pretty much every woman I know works, whether part-time or full-time, in order to provide all this,” Jenny Cohen, a mother of two in Washington, D.C., tells BabyCenter: "But it’s a constant struggle, and there’s very little fat, financial or emotional, in our lives. There’s very little wiggle room.” 

And the price of this “perfection” is taking a toll on more than just bank accounts. Forty-four percent of moms say they argue with their partner over money at least some of the time. This percentage jumps to nearly 50 percent in households with two or more children. So what are they fighting about, exactly? The cost of living, lack of financial support, savings, daycare, education and bills. 

“It’s not that dads don’t want to be supportive, but they don’t [understand the pressure to spend] on these extras,” says Woroch. “Moms are the ones on social media where lives are under a microscope, and it makes it easy for them to draw comparisons between their life and what is portrayed on others people’s social channels.” 

Kids feel the stress, too. According to the report, 47 percent of children whose parents have finance-related friction in their relationship are somewhat affected by these issues. “Creating the ‘perfect’ life,” says Woroch, “is not necessarily creating the perfect scenario. It puts a strain on kids when their parents are fighting, so it’s really important for moms and dads to realize, ‘We might have these issues, but we really need to keep it away from the kids and deal with it before we blow up.’” 

And when parents sit down to talk about their spending, Woroch advises taking a big-picture view. “Parents have to realize that putting themselves in debt now puts them in a worse position down the road. Of course it’s easier to think in the short term, but you have to understand that funding a child’s 529 college savings account now, instead of throwing that perfect birthday party when he or she is young, is going to have a bigger impact on the child’s life later.” 

Kids, after all, don’t need this extra spending, she adds. “The pressure to create a ‘perfect’ life is all self-inflicted by parents. Kids are just as happy playing in the yard in a tent as long as everybody is happy. Spending time together and love is what they really want.” 

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