Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's talk about baby fundraisers on Facebook.
Q: I've come across some Facebook posts recently and I'm not entirely sure how to feel about them. In short: one couple is asking for money to help with medical costs related to their pregnancy and the other is asking for help with funding their adoption. I certainly feel for both couples, but if you can't afford to have a child...should you?
Granted, after searching GoFundMe for a bit, there are a lot of "help with vet bills", "help send me to [place]", "help with medical bills" etc. Who am I to judge? Mostly I'm just curious and would like your opinion. Is it commonplace to ask for money this way when starting a family, and I'm just living under a rock? Maybe I'm just being a jaded hard-ass. I guess I could just go start a GoFundMe for paying off my student loans and paying for my cat's bladder surgery...
Kind Regards from an Avid Reader,
A: For most people on social media, fundraiser links have become a regular part of everyday life. It's a rare week that I don't notice a new fundraiser in my personal feed, and like you, L., I'm always scrutinizing a person's or couple's motives and asking myself philosophical questions about the role these fundraisers play in modern society. There is truly a fundraiser for everything now, and I've donated to many of them. Here are some causes I've contributed to via fundraiser pages posted on Facebook:
And this doesn't take into account the many artistic endeavors and charities I've contributed to without prompt. What's funny (or "funny") about all of these donations I've made is that not only do I not have much extra money laying around, but I've contemplated hosting my own fundraiser (when my cat's leg amputation cost me $5,000) and couldn't pull the trigger. And yet, every year I'm reminded how hard it is to make a living, to financially prepare for unanticipated scenarios like being diagnosed with a disease, losing a job or experiencing a death in the family. I've seen many fundraisers that exist for reasons that can be traced back to a person having no safety net for a particular situation. I've sympathized, even cried, at the idea that someone would lose a home, an opportunity to attend a funeral or the ability to provide for their children due to illness.
More than that, I've become angry at the status quo, in which thousands of Americans have a real need for assistance at different stages of life. We shouldn't have to lean on each other so much when we become sick, poor, old or want a higher education. These are things the government should be assisting us with, that we should all be contributing taxes to, but the reality is often bleak and leaves people broke or in severe debt. And if there's one thing we know that continues to get more expensive by the year — taking health care, education and cost of living into account — it's having kids.
We live in a time when having a child is so expensive, I feel nauseous just thinking about it. Giving birth in a hospital can cost a couple upwards of $20,000, and that's without any complications. I've known several couples whose babies were in NICU for weeks or months, and a few of them had jobs with excellent health care, and a few of them didn't. (None of them hosted a fundraiser.) Before I can ask myself if fundraising in such a scenario is appropriate, I have to acknowledge that living in a country as wealthy as the U.S. and being faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt due to a broken health care system is a problem for many Americans, and one that we have inherited. It sucks.
There's also this idea that it takes a village to raise a child, but should it take a village to have a child? That expression was rooted in the idea that if everyone in the community pitched in and helped each other out, taking an active interest in transmitting cultural history and mores to the next generation, everyone would be better off for it. The people who turn to fundraising in order to have or adopt a child are probably thinking of their Facebook friends as their village, but I would argue that your Facebook friends are not your village. An old classmate who donated to an IVF or adoption fund from across the country isn't invested in the child's future, nor should they be. And I don't get the impression that couples who are raising these funds are really looking to their friends to help them make parenting decisions. They're treating their village more like a bank, and that's why these fundraisers rub so many people, including me, the wrong way.
When you donate to a fund for a friend who needs help — not just wants it, but needs it — you can see your donation "pay off." But asking people to contribute financially to a decision to have kids is actually just asking them to give away their money. Sure, a missionary couple may be trying to adopt a baby from a poor country and that child will benefit in untold ways, but that's what a church is there for — to financially assist those couples or provide aid to children in those countries. If it's an unnecessarily tall order for me to ask my friends to help me recoup some money because my cat broke his leg, it's equally unfair for people to put their friends in the position of paying for a baby's conception, adoption, birth, schooling and so on. I chose to adopt my idiot cat, and whatever costs I incur are mine to deal with. That's life. And no couple should feel comfortable asking their friends, or the world at large, to pay their child-rearing costs for the same reasons. It's a choice. An expensive one, but that doesn't mean the costs should get outsourced to our networks of friends, family, colleagues and strangers under the guise of an online baby shower.
Do I think it's worth telling a friend that s/he is committing an internet faux pas by spamming friends on a daily basis with their fundraiser page? No. Why bother? But you're entitled to your opinion, and if your opinion on baby fundraisers is, "You should have fiscally prepared for this," or, "It's not my responsibility to cover your hospital bills, rounds of IVF or adoption fees," then that's valid. Everyone is free to create a fundraiser page and share it, but no one is required to donate to it, and it's possible that some people might have fundraiser page regrets.
Helping out friends is great, but the truth is, everyone needs a bit of financial help at some point in life, and most of us will just deal with our problems the old-fashioned way — by earning the money to pay down the costs, one annoying, astronomical bill at a time.
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