It's half term and, while giving my kitchen a bit of a spring clean, I listened to Vanessa Feltz standing in for Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2. The premise of the show, for those not familiar with it, is that listeners call in to respond to one of the advertised questions of the day.
One of today's questions was 'Can we afford to have children?' (or something along those lines). I was frankly appalled, and genuinely saddened, by some of the comments. A number of women phoned in to say that they could not afford a second, or third child, but there were a few who said that, having done their sums, they had decided that they could not even afford one. The most tragic was a woman who admitted to having aborted her second child for financial reasons.
I really and truly didn't get it. It would be foolish to suggest that children don't cost money, and irresponsible of prospective parents not to give any thought as to to how they could be afforded. But surely couples in a first world country cannot seriously be claiming that they cannot afford to have a family? Or can they? Vanessa referred to a recent Aviva survey which estimates the cost of bringing a child up (to 21 years) at £271,449. It goes on to claim that some parents spend, on average, £1,000 per month on each of their children! I'd be interested to examine the breakdown of these figures as I'm certain we don't spend anything like that amount on our two girls.
Our decision to have children was not taken lightly. We lived in London for the first 6 years of our married life. When we decided to start a family we knew that, although we were comfortably off as a couple, we couldn't afford to have a child in London, given my desire to give up work until they reached school age. We could have moved elsewhere in London but we eventually landed up in Bristol where my husband was fortunate enough to find another job and where we bought a house for less than the sale price of our London flat. Our first child was followed two years later by a second. If we have made sacrifices I am not aware of them, nor would they matter in comparison with the returns. Our house is small but perfectly adequate. We do not own a car. We have one TV. We bought the girls laptops for their school work but they've never had X Boxes or Wiis. We go on a fortnight's holiday every summer, usually to a cottage in Cornwall, but we've also been to France, Italy, Majorca and Greece. We visit family and friends in Scotland. We take day trips to London. We eat well at home and go out for the occasional meal. The girls have instrumental lessons and get to go on school trips. We are careful with what we have. I don't know how we stand against the national average. Perhaps I'm one of the lucky ones and should stop lecturing people less well off than myself. But then again, perhaps I'm justified in advocating an achievable simpler lifestyle Happiness cannot be measured in terms of our material possessions and instilling this truth in our children is worth more than any expensive toy.
I am therefore puzzled by the women who called in to speak to Vanessa. It is, of course, impossible to judge them without knowing their personal circumstances, but from what they said I gather that, for some of them, their jobs are the stumbling block. To return to work would mean having to shell out hundred of pounds a month in childcare costs, but to stay at home would either put paid to their careers or drive them insane. I guess I have difficulty understanding someone who claims to want a child but is not prepared to make the necessary adjustments to do so. It hasn't always been easy but when I look at my two daughters I have absolutely no doubt that they are the best thing I have ever done, and there is nothing I would trade for the experience of bringing them up.
This is obviously a very emotive issue and one which I may regret having broached. However I was disturbed by the notion of a price being put on a child.
Please feel free to comment. I'd really like to know what you think.