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 really bad jokes? Maybe tween snark? Or possibly teenage know-it-all assholery?

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

What are the Wallet Years? Well, they are exactly what they sound like. The years where the main reasons 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 literally 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 license.

It is then that you realize they were hustling you all along. Henceforth 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 off 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.

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 magically multiple. 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, really. An absolute shock to the financial system that 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 have any idea how much it costs to sit for the SAT? And now it’s the ACT too. And there’s classes and tutoring. Oh, you’re down the rabbit hole. You’re doing things you swore you’d never do. You’re totally using your wallet to game 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 just 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 of this money, why weren’t you driving a Lamborghini? I mean 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 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. First rule of The Wallet Years? Don’t do the math.

But fine. Whatever. Somehow you find the money. And their independence brings you 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 a normal 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 are spending 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 that for the first time in any parenting stage you are finally able to grasp the truth that as fast as your Benjamins are slipping away, so are you kids. And that is harder than you can possibly imagine.

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

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  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself!!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, it makes me feel so much better to know someone else shares “my pain” and understands…
    Hurray to you!!! We want more posts!!!

  2. Well put Mer. It’s like the tears and cheers of the first day of school. It’s great and horrible; it’s a scam all the way around. Ya gotta just eat the sandwich, I guess.

  3. Keep writing! You have a gift. Thank you for relating and embracing all the good and bad struggles of parenting in this one article.
    The raw honesty hit home in a way that made me feel as if every other caring, hardworking, loving committed parent feels. Impressively written.

  4. Thanks for making it clear that I would “die on that mountain” ??? I’ve been trying and trying to make her see things my way – time to give up! LOL ?

  5. I had never heard of you before today, but now I want to live next door to you. We survived the Wallet Years with 4 sons, but I could never have summarized it as perfectly as you did here. Thank you for making me laugh and cry at the same time!

  6. Oh how true. My “baby” will be attending school out of state and besides the money aspect, my heart is being slowly ripped out. She’s slipping away and every night that she spends with friends is one less for me to spend with her. Sigh. I’ve survived twice and my mom tells me I’ll survive the final one as wel. I’m not so sure.

    At least her chic didn’t charge me to park!!

  7. Just couldn’t do it. Still paying back my grad school student loans, so our daughter had to be an RC and get a tuition scholarship and pay for her own grad school. Son went into the military, he will use his benefits to get an engineering degree. It sucks that we couldn’t help them, and they had to figure it out for themselves. Why is all of this stuff so freaking more expensive than when we were in?

    1. But you did it! You found the ways to get them where they needed to be. We are all just doing as much as we can to help them find their ways. Congrats on your grad school, your daughter’s tuition scholarship and your son’s military education to come! You are a great parent!! oxox M.

  8. My daughter’s name is Mer…from a poem Sur La Mer….we love the sea and it fit..also an acronym for grandmothers…miriam elizabeth rose….just found your blogs and OMG….my life to a tee….thanks for adding humor and making us all feel normal in this rollercoaster of a ride we are on! Mother of a 16, 11, and 8…I already feel the weight of my eldest leaving for college and its 2 yrs away…..aaaah!

  9. I was guffawing with laughter , until I realized , oh shoot ! Our daughter is a junior , and then that cold hand of fear gripped my spine ? Is this what I have to look forward to next year ? I am already on her case , every time she misses a ballet class , reminding her “ these classes cost money , you know “ . Yikes ! ?

  10. Funny piece—until you used mental illness as the butt of a joke. Please reconsider “psychotic meltdown”. While your teen needed money for college, mine needed institutional safe-keeping for psychosis. This is how we spent his college fund—keeping him alive.

    1. Hi Gina,

      I saw your comment on my FB account too. First of all, I’m so sorry this happened to your teenager. What a real and terrible thing. But, I’m sure you know that I did not use “psychotic meltdown” in any real sense of the term the same way I don’t mean “insanity” “crazy” or any other hyperbolic word I might choose to create a humorous picture. I’ve found as a writer that people are very sensitive to words, especially when connected to something as real and awful as what they’ve experienced. It is impossible to see it as light and funny, as intended. That said, there was no intent to treat mental illness lightly or any malice at all. While I don’t expect you to find it funny, I certainly think it’s reasonable for you to see the difference between calling something “insane” for effect vs. talking about people who suffer from actual insanity. This is how I write and I don’t apologize for it, and I’m not going to change it. Wishing you the best.

  11. I am in the middle of the wallet years with my last one. You have summed it up. I laughed knowingly while reading your piece, and then the teary eyes at the end as I feel the exact same way. Fortunately my dauighter secured scholarships, fellowships, grants and work study to cover this year (Junior) costs (out of state tuition to boot!) I am forever thankful grateful and blessed to be raising and guiding this humans as they are practicing adulthood!

  12. The last paragraph resonated the most with me. Every stage carries with it for me a reminder of the passage of time – how much time has gone by and how much remains until the nest is empty. Bittersweet, for sure.

  13. Finally reading this and of course at the end the tears start. To be fair that seems to be my response to a lot of stuff I read lately, but you always remind us of the crux of the issue: they are less and less “ours,” while becoming more and more “theirs.” I’ve only got one, so every experience is first, middle and last combined.

    The license may happen tomorrow. Oh for the love.

  14. I hollered when I read this. My wife and I have one in grad school, one about to graduate college this spring, and the youngest graduating high school this year and applying to colleges as we speak. This was hilarious and perfectly summed up where we are in life right now. Perfectly named the ‘Wallet Years’.

  15. T-minus one week until our oldest leaves for college. Such a mixture of emotions. I absolutely loved your blog and found every bit so true. Especially the part about parking for a college tour. Our family flew to travel to an unnamed big Florida school for a registered college tour and they charged us to park!! My husband and I could not believe it !

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