Money disagreements are often blamed as one of the top reasons people get a divorce. I find that fascinating since money is never something my husband and I have argued about. Did you know that even a relatively common diagnosis in a child such as ADHD doubles the divorce rate in parents? For some more serious special needs, the divorce rate for parents is much greater than that.
I was a young bride, married two months after turning 19. I was a kid, yes, still very much a kid who wanted to do everything well. I would drag my husband to the marriage counselor at every hint of discord, wanting to stay ahead of problems to guarantee a long, happy marriage. Lucky for me, I was a college student and received free counseling through my school. So my desire to succeed in my marriage and my desire to be a good steward of our financial resources didn’t need to compete.
As a young couple, we went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and were determined to make wise financial decisions, pay off student loans quickly, build wealth, and create a good emergency fund. My husband took to the numbers, percentages, and plans naturally. Numbers, with their precision and predictability, make as much sense to him as people with their individual nuances make to me. He enjoyed laying out our goals, calculating and analyzing our spending, and planning for our future. Keep in mind at this point, his was our only income, and we lived on about $18,000 a year. On that pittance of an income, we saved for a down payment for our first home and moved into a 900 square foot, brick ranch home that I adored.
Surviving Children Financially
We chose to grow our family through adoption. We had calculated that two babies would cost about $400 per month to feed, diaper, and thrift-store clothe. I won’t be offended if you just laughed out loud at our naivety.
Within a week of bringing our children home, our daughter spent a week in the hospital. Despite having insurance, we went through all of our savings in that one week. She was so sick when we brought her home that our visits to the pediatrician averaged one to two a week until she was seven. Our co-pays for her to see her lung specialist were $60. Just remembering this is stressing me out, and I have lost all desire to calculate how much we spent in those years on doctors’ visits and medications. I honestly don’t know how we survived. There was a lady at our church that would often drop off huge boxes of diapers at our house. Her name was Julie, and that deposit into us as young parents has never been forgotten.
At this point, Dave Ramsey’s teachings only stressed me out. The voice that used to comfort me and make me feel like everything was going to be OK now just irritated me and made me feel inadequate. The first years were consumed by our daughter’s fragile medical state, and around the time that improved, our son was diagnosed with his own special need. Our journey began of seeking out specialists that would give him the best chance at life. My instinct to meet my children’s needs was so much stronger than my instinct to prepare for our financial future. I got a job and put all of my income, every cent, toward meeting his needs. We went around the country seeing specialists for him because no one in Middle Tennessee gave us any hope. We spent and spent and spent because his life depended on it. Actually, our lives depended on it. Who can sleep if their child is despairing? Who can find peace and joy when their child is in torment? My sweet husband exchanged his precise relationship with money for a risky relational investment. He exchanged a tangible return of financial gain with an intangible return of peace and joy. For the record, we still don’t argue about money. We did have a near marriage ending argument while we were filling a beanbag with new beads. This bean bag, I am pretty certain, was created by Satan himself to end marriages. I am kidding about the argument, not the beanbag from hell.
Building a Chance Instead of a College Fund
When a child is drowning and needs a life jacket, a parent doesn’t say, “Oh, wait, can we afford that life jacket?” or “Is that life jacket a wise financial decision?” Childhood and adolescence are full of critical brain windows and sensitive brain windows. A critical brain window is one in which certain needs must be met; otherwise, the child will NEVER be able to perform a certain skill. For example, if a child hears no language in the first three years of life, then he/she will never be able to speak more than a few basic words. A sensitive window is one where, if the child gets what is needed during that sensitive period of time, it takes less input to meet that need. For example, an organized crawl is essential for all sorts of brain development. If babies crawl in the sensitive window, then less is needed to organize the brain. If we miss that window, then a child might need to crawl for two years to make up for missing those six months.
When I envisioned my financial future, I never imagined that I could be making all the right decisions and still be in a place where we are only meeting today’s needs and not our retirement needs. I never imagined having a doctorate degree and still be living in the tiny home we bought nine years ago because meeting our child’s needs is more important than living in the right neighborhood. I imagined at the age of 37, I would be building wealth just like Dave Ramsey recommended. Instead, I am building a chance for my child. I am not even building a guarantee, just a chance. That seems very abstract and unwise for a person with as much education as I have.
So in a very non-Dave Ramsey way, I want to encourage you parents who are building a chance for your child instead of wealth. You are doing the right thing. Even if things do not turn out the way we all hope and pray that they will, you will never regret trying. You can invest in your children’s future even if you can’t start investing for their college. And let’s be honest here, college isn’t for everyone. And for those of you who could invest in your children easily, but choose not to, shame on you! If you don’t think your children are worth the effort, the time, and the money, then they don’t have a chance. Our kids are worth it. I am sure Dave Ramsey is a very nice man, and he does have a wealth of wisdom. I am guessing he also doesn’t have a special needs child whose financial needs always feel so much greater than one family can provide for. When doing the right thing always feels like doing the hard thing, certainty crumbles. I am much less certain of many things at 37 than I was at 19.