The Wallet Years: The Worst Stage of Parenting?

There is much debate about the worst stage of parenting. Is it when they are newborns and don’t sleep? Is it when they are toddlers, and you can’t leave them alone for a second? Perhaps all of those blurry elementary school years where they tell terrible jokes? Maybe tween snark? Or possibly teenage know-it-all assholery?

While each offers its challenges, and by challenges, I mean moments where you want to claw the skin off your face, I’d like to provide you with another lesser-known stage of parenting to consider — the Wallet Years.

family at graduation
Teens are the most expensive age group to parent. (Photo by Meredith Trotta)

The “Wallet Years:” When we spend the most money as parents

What are the Wallet Years? Well, they are exactly what they sound like. The years when the main reason your kids need you is for your wallet.

I will be honest. When I was dealing with three tiny humans who couldn’t fend for themselves…feeding them, bathing them, getting them all dressed, and hauling their helpless lumps into car seats, I would have been very, very interested to hear about the Wallet Years. “They only need me for my money? Go on. I’m listening.”

The thing about the Wallet Years is you can’t see them coming. You are so distracted with the years it feels like your kids are growing from your body, hanging on you, lurking everywhere like a 1980s horror movie bad guy, that you start to buy into the fear they will never have a life outside of you.

And then, they will get their driver’s licenses.

It is then that you realize they were hustling you all along. Hereafter you will only see the back of their heads and come to understand that your big contribution to their well-being is forking over the cash.

The Wallet Years start with the shock of car insurance. You will have to be revived with smelling salts when you see how much it costs to add a sixteen-year-old to your policy. When you come to, they explain that now that you have a teen driver, you need an umbrella policy. The minute you hear “umbrella policy,” you are officially past middle-aged. Past! Whatever shreds of your youth you were desperately braiding together to stay relevant disintegrate instantly. Try being cool while knowing you have an umbrella policy. It’s humanly impossible.

College is a shock to a family’s financial system

Next up in the massive money hemorrhaging? College. You’ll foolishly cling to the fantasy there’s enough time for the sad amount of money you socked away to multiply magically. It won’t. But don’t worry. You’ve got other, more immediate, problems. You’re such a rookie you don’t even know what “college” triggers in terms of the wallet. It’s stunning. An absolute shock to the financial system is fragile already, at best.

I have two words for you that should terrify you — standardized Testing. Holy hell, buckle up, Wallet Parents…here comes Johnny.

Do you know how much it costs to sit for the SAT? And now it’s the ACT too. And there are classes and tutoring. Oh, you’re down the rabbit hole. You’re doing things you swore you’d never do. You’re using your wallet for gaming the system, and while you are disgusted with yourself, you are doing it nonetheless. You start to wonder how you are affording all of this nonsense. No. One. Knows.

Look, the Hair Pulling Madness of the College Tour is too much to get into here. Let’s say, aside from it being a comedy of wild inconvenience; it’s also a flipping fortune. Hotels, gas, flights, the bookstore visit!?! But the thing that put me over the edge? The ten bucks Blankety-Blank University charged me to park. Really? You can’t spring for parking when I’m looking to drop a couple hundred thousand in your school? Mortal enemies.

All of this will have you asking yourself, if we had all this money, why weren’t you driving a Lamborghini? Aside from the fact that they are douchey cars that I’d never drive, you get the point. How is this math working out? Is it the new math I don’t understand? The Wallet Years will defy every law of finances you’ve ever understood.

And all of this spending is a petty prelude to the cost of actually applying to college. You will laugh about that $10 parking charge. (No. I will never laugh about it.) Every school they apply to is like $75. That shit adds up. And sending those standardized test scores? A goddamn racket, I tell you! I’d get into the specifics, but I don’t think you can handle it. The first rule of The Wallet Years? Don’t do the math.

But fine. Whatever. Somehow you find the money. And their independence brings you the more free time you claim you’ve wanted. You aren’t wiping anyone’s nose or butt. You never hear a knock-knock joke that makes you question your child’s intelligence. There is no way The Wallet Years are the worst stage of parenting.

Not so fast.

While the early parenting years are physically exhausting, at least the lumps of mush love you beyond love. The Wallet Years? Not so much.

Look, I have a great kid. But dammit to hell if, during these Wallet Years, she was not master of a special kind of snark that took us by surprise, impressing us, if we are honest, with the commitment to it. Then again, it was probably an average amount of developmentally appropriate attitude toward parents, but couple it with nonstop spending, and, wow, it’s sandpaper on your very souls.

A common theme of the Wallet Years is reiterating to your child how much money you spend on them. This lecture will become the very thing that defines your middle-age breakdown and makes you realize that there’s no such thing as not becoming a complete parental cliché. You don’t even care. The Wallet lectures are your Mt. Everest now. Intellectually you know it will be years until they understand your sacrifices. Emotionally? You are blinded by your determination to be the first parent ever to breakthrough. I’m here to tell you, you will die on this mountain.

There is some good news about the Wallet Years. Once the college tuition bill arrives, the world will go still. It will make every expense you’ve ever had for your kids seem like a joke. That bad boy staring you in the face will rightfully scare the crap out of you. After a few psychotic meltdowns about the cost, both in private with your spouse and misguidedly in front of your child, destroying a part of her you vowed you’d never harm, you will find a surprising place of acceptance.

Yes, you will make peace with the Wallet Years because you will remember that this was what it was always about. This dream you had when your kids were born that you could get them through their childhood in one piece, survive it yourself, and help them out as best as possible with the college stuff so that they can go forth and manifest their destiny that YOU put in motion when you decided to bring them into this world.

So, are the Wallet Years the worst parenting years? Without a doubt. But not because of the money. It’s because, for the first time in any parenting stage, you can finally grasp the truth that as fast as your Benjamins are slipping away, so are your kids. And that is harder than you can imagine.

Still…Blankety-Blank University. $10 to park? Screw you.

Related Posts:

An Open Letter to My Kids About Summer

The Hidden Costs of Applying To College Can Be Surprising

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