I don’t read House Beautiful for deep social commentary. I read it for, well, house porn, if you’ll excuse the term. I read it because when it comes to decorating my home, I have no idea what I’m doing, and looking at photos of rooms put together by trained designers helps me learn, even if they do it with more taste or cash than I’ll probably ever have.
That’s why I was surprised over the weekend when a blog post from the magazine’s website went viral on my social media feed not as fodder for inspiration, but as fodder for debate. “I Made a Huge Sacrifice to Buy My Dream Home,” screamed the headline followed by the teaser: “Luxury living comes at a premium. Here’s what one woman was willing to give up to afford it.”
What did author Sarah Scott sacrifice in order to buy her dream home? I was surprised as anyone when I read that she had “sacrificed” a child.
First things first: Despite the clickbait-y headline, no, Scott didn’t toss her firstborn on an altar and perform a ritual slaughter in exchange for a down payment. That might have gotten her arrested. What she did do was agree to contracept any children after her second, so that her husband could comfortably afford the mortgage on the “fully-loaded luxury home” they built together – “comfortably” meaning he can cover the dream home, their vacation timeshare, a yearly vacation to said timeshare, and all the household expenses, while she stays at home with the kids.
Scott speaks of “a certain sense of pride” she and her husband enjoy with regard to living such a luxurious lifestyle at an early age – the couple are in their early thirties – to which she credits the “carefully premeditated financial choices we have made.”
“None of this just happens,” Scott writes, with all the hubris of a young and privileged woman who was neither born into true hardship nor has, as yet, faced any unforeseen setbacks. (Ask the young military widow or the mother stricken by stage IV cancer about “carefully premeditated choices,” Ms. Scott.) “We prioritize, stick to our plans, and are teaching our young children about self-control by living as their example,” she writes.
Those are all great lessons to teach your kids, but sometimes life doesn’t neatly line up with our plans … and sometimes, neither do our deepest desires. Scott is discovering this the hard way, now that she has what she thought she wanted.
“[O]ur story comes with a deeply rooted secret,” Scott confesses. “We weren’t planning on this change of heart when we purchased our home but we would like to have one more child.”
“My uterus literally aches despite the fact that logic suggests we can’t afford it right now. After talking it over, and trying to adjust the budget, we have come to the conclusion that the decision to buy our dream home last year has eliminated the possibility of having any more children. Unless circumstances suddenly change, in order to have one more child, we would need to downsize.”
Scott claims that not only would another pregnancy mean selling their dream home and moving to a smaller house, she would probably have to go back to work as a teacher, losing valuable time with her kids. Meanwhile, she writes, “Our annual vacation would disappear because we would need to sell the timeshare to make up the difference.”
Since Scott does not back up her assertions with any facts or figures, I can’t say whether her assessment of the situation is accurate. Having had two children of my own – both in private school, no less – I know how expensive they can be. Still, I find it difficult to believe a single baby’s monthly expenses would so far exceed the cost of the mortgage and upkeep on a “fully-loaded luxury home” and the total value of a timeshare that Scott would have to sell everything and still go back to work. Then again, I’m not nearly as meticulous a financial planner as Scott and her husband apparently are, so maybe there’s something I’ve overlooked. But when I see Scott trying to convince herself to deny her own maternal urges, I can’t help but feel that something in her thought process has gone terribly awry:
“Understandably, something has to give and unfortunately, in this case, it’s our mutual dream of having another child,” Scott writes. “My husband is able to accept this, I am not, and to be honest, this has caused some heartache.”
“I have begun to resent the dream house and our decision to buy it,” confesses Scott. She admits that it’s a first-world problem, one she hesitates to discuss with her real life friends and family, but describes it as a “mourning process,” and says that every time she thinks she’s gotten past it, “a beautiful newborn is set in my arms and I have to start the process all over again.”
“Sometimes, I can see us living in a smaller, older home somewhere, selling this one, and adjusting to accommodate life with a third child in a home that is definitely anything but a dream,” Scott writes, but quickly adds: “then I overhear our boys having a blast playing in our big, beautiful, safe backyard, or listen to their laughter billowing out of the colorful playroom space we have created and designed just for them, and I know this was always meant to be our forever home.”
“This is the American dream and we are in it, living it, every day, just the four of us,” Scott writes. “With that said, the sacrifice has been made. Because we live in this dream home, we can only afford to have two children. It’s our quiet sacrifice but it’s also our beautiful life, well-earned and fully-lived.”
Not unexpectedly, Scott is excoriated in the comments below her piece by readers with far fewer resources at their disposal who are nonetheless raising families with three, four or even more kids, and by infertile readers attacking what they see as insufficient gratitude for the children she already has.
“Spoilt rich brat,” one (presumably British) reader described her, while another suggested she “dry [her] tears with big piles of money.”
But I can’t be angry at Scott. I just feel sorry for her.
American dream or not, Scott’s essay is not comprised of the words of a woman at peace with her choices. She sounds as if she is trying to convince herself that the ache in her womb, the hole in her heart, and the empty space in her life are acceptable prices to pay for convenience and material comforts. Deep down, I suspect she knows they’re not. I can only hope that her marriage survives her unmet longing, because somehow I don’t think her dream house will survive a divorce.
In the end, I agree with commenter Katie Allison Johnson, who wrote the following in response to Scott’s piece:
“It’s nice to see someone living within their means but a house is just house [sic], a child is infinitely more valuable and priceless. Surround yourself with family and not stuff (a house). When you are on your deathbed, will you regret this choice? I know I would. You can always buy another house but you can’t always have another child. Center your life on your family, not your house.”