Counting Children: How Many is Too Many?

With mega-stars making their fame through reproducing nowadays, many people have begun to argue about how many children is enough for one family. Are Jon and Kate of the "Kate Plus Eight" family terrible people because they chose to go through with a sextuplet pregnancy? Are the Duggars crazy because of their "19 Kids and Counting"? Where on the spectrum does Octo-mom lie? Since this is a finance website, let's look at this social issue solely by finances. Then feel free to weigh in with your thoughts!

Choice and Pre-Planning

I truly believe that every family has a right to choose their family dynamic. But I also believe that families have a social obligation to ensure that they can financially support their children without relying on public assistance, whenever possible. That is to say: when a family decides to have a child, they should ideally at that time be able to support the kid without relying on food stamps or other government programs.

Before anyone jumps down my throat, let me clarify: I know that things come up. I know that you cannot plan around unforeseen circumstances like job loss or divorce. Okay, you can plan to an extent, but sometimes things just happen. Like my mom; she never planned to be on government assistance. It just happened that my father left her high and dry with no other option available beyond food stamps. In her case and in other emergency situations, it is entirely okay to depend on government assistance programs. That's what they are there for.

Government programs in the United States, however, are not a means that should be relied on for family planning. I know that there are people who begin families solely to receive the government assistance and who continue to have children to collect more. I think this is a terrible abuse of the system.

Connecting to Reality Stars

So where does that leave Kate, the Duggars and Octo-mom? Each of these families consists of way more than the average 1.9 kids per family. Are they irresponsible? No, not all of them.

Jon and Kate planned their finances around the birth of their sextuplets. To my knowledge, they never abused any government programs. The Duggars, too, counted their pennies and made ends meet, to the best of my knowledge. Neither of these families were financially irresponsible in that regard. (I don't watch either show; if I'm mistaken, please correct me!).

Octo-mom, however, was out of work and receiving government assistance when she was impregnated with eight embryos by choice, according to one source (according to another, she had a job and was not on public assistance). Let's go with the first source and assume that she did not have the means to support these children on her own. In that case, everything that I know about Octo-mom's finances points to a financial irresponsibility on her part.

Of course, I don't know for sure if any of these families had a plan in place for retirement. Now, perhaps, after their dips into fame, Jon, Kate and the Duggars may be able to retire responsibly, but was it the case beforehand? That brings up another point of financial responsibility; would they have needed to lean on the government in their golden years?

I suppose my case in this entire *personal opinion* post is that everyone has a right to form the families they wish in whatever size they wish. Big families, little families, families without children; our differences are welcome! However, each family should ideally be financially responsible in supporting their families, whatever the size, without the need to tax taxpayers.

What are your opinions? Weigh in below!

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Anonymous's picture

Melissa wrote:

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 14:53 Comment #: 1

Yeah, I'm totally with you. Have as many kids as you want, as long as you can afford to feed them yourself. Now, if something happens and you end up needing government assistance down the road, that's just life, and it's totally different from being on welfare and food stamps and then choosing to have a couple of kids.

My one big exception to that, though, is with regards to childcare and childcare subsidies. I live in an area where infant care for one kid costs more than a mortgage payment (and a big one, like, $2,000 a month for basic YMCA daycare). No one can afford that, especially if you start having kids in your mid-late 20s and your career is just getting started. In that case, I'd say go ahead and have your kids, and take advantage of the subsidies for the short-term, rather than waiting until you're forty to have kids, just so you can afford to send them to daycare when you go back to work. Without subsidies (there's still a waiting list for these spots, so not everyone who needs it can get it), many women just end up staying home, since childcare costs more than they make, and honestly, it's not benefiting anyone to force women out of the economy. (Of course, if they choose to stay home, then that's a different story.)

Anonymous's picture

AverageJoe wrote:

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 15:10 Comment #: 2

Wow! Great post, and a topic I think about often.

Too many babies are born to people who live a life off someone else and haven't learned responsibility. It seems that my friends who are responsible have FEWER children while I look around and see people with so source of income with seven kids. This means that there are more people learning life lessons from people that might be fun at a party but who can't manage their affairs directly.

My mom enjoys the Duggar's show. In many ways (the two times I've watched it), I do, too. These are responsible people who can afford to have a bazillion kids and have made a choice to do so. Their kids seem to have learned that choices come with responsibility.Jon & Kate's kids? Maybe notsomuch.

Anonymous's picture

This Aggie Saves wrote:

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 17:10 Comment #: 3

People shouldn't have more kids than they can afford. Public assistance is there for a reason, not to let someone have 10 kids and be paid for it.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 21:19 Comment #: 4

Melissa, that's crazy to pay $2,000 a month per kid in your area for a simple daycare! In your case (in Canada), the pricing of daycare leaves little choice and even encourages the usage of the childcare public assistance -- by all means, it's a necessity! Here in the Midwestern US, daycare is somewhat affordable, but I choose to work from home for a number of reasons, one of which is that the cost of daycare and working my former job would leave me at the same income level as working from home. Plus working from home is so much more pleasurable to me than working my former job (but for others the reclusive nature of the work and taking care of a baby would drive them insane!). Anyway, I think public assistance for Canadian daycare is a necessity.

Average Joe, this article was sparked in part by Octomom coming back into the limelight when she went on public assistance for the 8 babies, but it also related in part to a former co-worker who structured his life around getting public assistance. They had five children and tons of public assistance, and they decided to have a sixth child when he left his job. Talk about not taking responsibility! On the same topic, I agree that the Duggars are responsible (judging by the little bits and pieces I have caught of the show), and I understand that Kate may have let fame go to her head (I only saw parts of it when the show was young and they were pretty responsible). In any case, you're totally right: if having children equals responsibility, then having a ton of kids should equal mega-responsibility!

Aggie, agreed! My point exactly!

Further points on my own after reading this over again (and catching some wording that may be cringe-worthy...): I'm not saying that happy accidents never happen and that public assistance should never be used. I understand situations where birth control fails, etc., etc. My big point is simply that having children to collect more public assistance and having more children than is sustainable for parents is abuse of the United States system.

Keep the comments coming, even if you disagree!

Anonymous's picture

Michelle wrote:

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 00:11 Comment #: 5

Hi Christa! I wasn't going to comment yesterday, but stopped by to read through the comments and am now ready! It was what you said in your last comment that made me feel better about speaking my mind; "I'm not saying that happy accidents never happen and that public assistance should never be used. I understand situations where birth control fails, etc., etc. My big point is simply that having children to collect more public assistance and having more children than is sustainable for parents is abuse of the United States system."

Before you'd written that, I was afraid that I might be one of the people you were talking about. I'm not on government assistance and don't ever plan to be, but I do have 3 children....and debt. If you knew my story though, you would know that my husband and I planned to have our third child after we were in a stable financial place. We had almost completely paid off all debt, and everything was great financially. We had waited YEARS to have her and we were so happy when we were told we were finally going to have a little girl. I wouldn't change anything about the way we did things, but unfortunately we did fall into some financial pitfalls after I became pregnant, including my pregnancy itself. I was put on bed rest, which meant the loss of my salary, and I was put on medication to keep my pregnancy and needed 7 ultrasounds instead of the usual 1 or 2. Also, my daughter had to be born by c-section, which isn't paid for. These blows coupled with some other unforeseen financial stresses found us in debt with 3 children and 1 income.

I do not feel that your post (or your opinion on the subject) is offensive in any way! I guess because of what happened to us, though, I'm a little less likely to give a definitive opinion on the subject. I know that my husband and I are resourceful, hard working, and....proud, so we would rather chew off an arm than to have to accept government assistance, but I also know that I'd do it in a heartbeat if it were the difference between letting my kids go hungry and swallowing my pride to apply for food stamps.

Anonymous's picture

Susanna wrote:

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 18:06 Comment #: 6

The Duggars having all those kids doesn't bother me much - I do feel they're isolated and protected from a lot and are pretty much going to be forced to live that kind of life for themselves as well as the older kids practically raising the younger ones but they seem to love their family and the kids seem happy for the most part.
Jon and Kate - I think they may have started ok but she went whacky I think and I feel for the kids but none so much as they octomom - she's beyond ridiculous IMO - probably all those kids will have learning disabilities and medical issues nto to mention I think she's plain crazy and unfit as a mother.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 23:38 Comment #: 7

Michelle, I think everyone has debt! I have debt myself, and I have a complicated pregnancy as well (with the whole 7 ultrasound thing...yuck!). I knew this would be the case going into this (what with my pre-existing condition), but know that others run into complications and that even happy surprises can be expensive. Glad to hear your daughter was delivered fine and doing well!

I definitely feel that financial responsibility and debt are not exclusive. Usually, we need to take on debt to get ahead. Debt is definitely not the issue that got me going. It's planning to keep having kids when public assistance is a must. (When I read over the post, this wasn't clear, and this is what made me cringe and add the comment that helped you feel comfortable commenting -- maybe I should add a disclaimer in the article?).

In any case, Michelle, I agree: in times of need, I would never deny my kids access to public assistance food, no matter how proud I was -- assistance is there for times of need, and I wouldn't hesitate to apply if that was the case!

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 23:42 Comment #: 8

Susanna, I agree that the Duggars are responsible and that their choice to have 19 kids is great...for them! I can't imagine having that many children -- four would be my absolute limit if somehow it came to that!

I kind of feel bad for Kate that things fell apart so much after all the fame and change, but I'm in the same boat as you with Octomom -- how unfortunate for her children!

Anonymous's picture

Money Infographics wrote:

Mon, 04/16/2012 - 21:09 Comment #: 9

Personally I think 2 is plenty!

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Mon, 04/16/2012 - 21:35 Comment #: 10

Money Infographics, two is a good number, but I can see how it could be fun to have a large family!

Anonymous's picture

Family Planning: Our Social Obligations | MomVesting wrote:

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 11:15 Comment #: 11

[...] while back, I wrote an opinion article "Counting Children: How Many is Too Many?" In it, I discussed reality stars who are having large numbers of children. Some responsibly, some [...]

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