Monday, 21 February 2011

A Far Far Better Thing!

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.


  1. I certainly think our three daughters are the best thing we ever did. Like yours, they didn't always have as much "stuff" as their school friends, but they learnt the value of money and that other things like love and friendship have more importance in the long run.

  2. Hi Gai,

    We agree with you!

    We have friends who decided to put off having children until they could afford them. The right time never happened & now they regret it...

    We struggled financially when our kids were young, but we wouldn't have had it any other way & they've grown up appreciating every little thing. They have never been showered with gifts, but what we have offered (& still do) is lots of love & security. They've never asked for anything & are all content to live quite frugally.

    Not sure how these surveys come up with such figures - our kids haven't even seen £1000 a month between them, let alone each of them!

    We always adapted our lives to accommodate each of the kids. They were all very much wanted (although our youngest was a very nice surprise)! We were prepared to make changes so we could just about get by. We don't feel they've suffered in any way, they continue to be happy in their lives & we all remain really close.

    We feel very lucky to be parents to such great kids. How sad that some folks will miss out on one of life's most wonderful experiences...

    Kay :)

  3. Maybe this is why I don't listen to radio phone-ins!
    I was going to write a comment (no doubt, long-winded and full of waffle) but then saw that Moira had already posted something - and that she'd expressed it much better than I could (as usual!). hugs x

  4. Hi blue hands. You've every right to be proud of your three and it's great to see them bringing up their children in the same way.

    Hello again The Smiths. The figures are staggering. I'm tempted to contact Aviva and ask for a breakdown.

    Hi Steve. There are phone-ins and phone-ins. Jeremy Vine's is one of the better ones, but I only get to listen to it during the holidays. Maybe just as well, if it gets me so worked up!

  5. Young people of child-rearing age have student loans/debt, no homes of their own, poor wages and living standards so of course it is not surprising some people say they can't afford children. Education no longer buys you a good job either. It's not about having a small car. Most will not have one at all. Rents are sky high - in some cases more than a mortgage. (But you will be turned down for a mortgage on the grounds that you can't afford it, plus you need a massive deposit). Mine is £800 a month for a small 2 bedroom flat and that is cheaper than average. Wages are nowhere near enough to cover costs of transport to work, work clothing etc. I don't own a mobile, buy newspapers or go out as I can't afford it. Plus I am in debt - I stayed warmish this winter thanks to my credit card (while wearing five 2nd hand jumpers) I can’t remember when I even had a trip to the cinema. It's not about making sacrifices, they are already being made. Any one middle-aged knows nothing of the hardship now, a few years saving 20 or 15 years ago got a deposit on a house, that is a pipe dream now. To pretend it is the same, is not comparing like with like. Your children will be poorer than you were. People in their twenties and thirties are struggling to stay afloat - how can you not know this? Your children are unlikely to own a house; they will have debt most of their working lives and be lucky if they have a job at all. Yes it is that bleak - don't you watch the news? Bringing up children does not cost what they say, no, but you do need some spare money. I would suggest that your experience is not universal and that there are many working, well educated people (qualifications do not necessarily guarantee well paid work - or even a job at all)who are struggling right now. You and your family are some of the lucky ones - living modestly maybe, but coping and managing comfortably, nevertheless.

  6. Jane. Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry if I sounded unsympathetic. It was not intentional. I do realise how lucky I am and am aware that there are a great number of people in this country who live in poverty traps from which they are unable to free themselves.

    However my post was in response to a radio programme featuring women who, unless I'm very mistaken, did not fit into this category. They appeared to be women who were at least as comfortably off as I am, and who were weighing up the benefits of a career (with the independence, stimulation and income it offered) over those of a family. My remarks were intended to be taken in that context alone.