Monday, 11 February 2013

What is the optimum number of children?

I'm in a life conundrum at the moment. Having been brought up to believe that I can do anything, be anyone I want to be, I'm stuck being a mum. I quite literally cannot go back out to work. The reason isn't lack of enthusiasm, lack of passion, lack of ability or even lack of jobs I could apply for. It's childcare costs, quite simply, I'd need to earn at least £50,000 to cover childcare costs for my children at the moment. The flat rate for care of my children would be £6 per hour, by the time I've multiplied that by number of children and hours and taken off my National Insurance contributions and tax I probably wouldn't even be able to afford the travel to the job even on that salary.

In my sector what is considered a good job would command a salary of about £28,000. I saw a curators position at a local museum advertised this week at a starting salary of £17,000. This is to work some weekends and demands a lot of experience, skills and involves managing people. A barista in the coffee shop at the Houses of Parliament earns more. Laughable, if this wasn't peoples lives and to a degree their self respect we are talking about. I spend a lot of time wondering about the point of it all.

Fortunately I've found a small niche where I can make a little bit of money from my blog and doing a little bit of freelance work. I also work as a childminder. It's not much and not my dream at all, but at least I can feel like I am contributing to my family. I need to accept that my dreams were dashed the moment I fell pregnant.

It seems that for the next few *several* years I am marooned at home, chained to the endless round of baby groups, school runs, dishwasher loading and never managing a warm uninterrupted cup of tea. It crossed my mind in a moment of madness that I would have nothing to lose in having a fourth baby. Why not? I'm at home anyway and I'm really enjoying having a big family. In reality, it would probably kill me, I'm really struggling these days with the sleepless nights, endless nappies and constant demands on me. But, a younger woman could probably manage. I think this may be a personal failing. I really ache for another little girl. I must cut my losses and enjoy what I have. But for some people I can see that this would be a perfectly reasonable course of action.

The odd thing about children is that when you have just one and no experience you feel run off your feet. Its genuinely difficult to cope. Then another comes along and it seems about 30 % harder as opposed to 100%. I think maybe you're used to it. When baby number 3 comes along its pretty much a doddle, the problem is dealing with the endless monotony of nappy changes. By this stage you've become so expert at them, people with one child marvel at your abilities to do it whilst the child is running away and you're talking on the phone and writing an article all at the same time. I'm always amazed at how easy it seems when I'm left with one child.

This leads me to wonder what the optimum number of children might actually be, in terms of going to work and having a nice life I would suggest that its actually one child or dare I say it, even less than that. For the children themselves I would suggest that the more the better, my children thrive when they are together. In the past, it would have been important to have a big family, the offspring helping to bring income into the home.

I don't for one minute regret my family, but I do regret the decisions I made earlier on in life in terms of career choice because in choosing a vocation instead of a job for the money I ruled out my chances of doing that job beyond my childbearing years. Even with just one child to pay for it was quite a stretch financially to work.

So what is the optimum number of children? It's a really difficult and  emotive question. I think at the moment for many families it is all about economics. Should this be the case? Should it be more about personal choice and emotions or just chance?

7 comments:

Ross Mountney said...

There can't be an optimum number surely, it can only be subjective. And don't underestimate the value you bring to raising and educating the next members of the human race. That's no small job you do! x Nice blog!

Isabel said...

I completely identify with the contradictory pulls of a large family (I have three) and a career that you love (I'm a writer). Like you, I'm preserving my sanity by fitting in as much freelance work as I can. My eldest starts school in September, and I am banking on life becoming a bit easier when they are all at school (2016, eek!).

If nothing else, having lots of siblings means that they can better entertain themselves at home during weekends and holidays, so there is a chance of getting freelance work done without paying for childcare (or activities!) in the primary years. I totally agree that when you have one child it seems easy peasy, but at the same time I wouldn't have the patience to entertain one child all the time. They can entertain themselves like my sisters and I did, by fighting!

solveig said...

I have three as well and my two older ones (7 and 4)are now at school but it's a way until my little one starts and I am really feeling that! My childcare costs for the bigger ones have dropped considerably but the little one still costs a lot. My entire salary goes on my childcare - and even then that is because I arranged to work longer days so I only pay for 2 days childcare but I work the equivalent of almost 3 in terms of hours. If I didn't have 2 at school it wouldn't really work.

I tell myself to focus on the long term, that once the littlest one gets his free hours, and then is at school, I will start earning a bit of money again.

Having said all that, it is not in a job I love and I feel I would prefer to have found something I loved, even if I had to put in hold for a while for motherhood.

cartside said...

I think there's no definite answer. We have 2, I feel too old for another one (last pregnancy was rough and I do look forward to some less attention seeking behaviour in years to come) but in theory 3 would be nice. My vocation is also a job in the same pay bracket as yours. I don't regret having made the choice - I've worked in lots of jobs for the money only and could only ever cope for a few months max. I need purpose to stay motivated and my current job has that. Having said that, being a parent is undervalued, you are raising the next generation and that's the most important job anyone can have, shame we've been raised to believe it can't be fulfilling (I have for sure, and for all I've considered taking a break to stay at home, I'm happier to spend some time at work)

Danny Smith said...

As long as the answer isn't one LESS than you currently have, I wouldn't worry too much! ;)

Harrovian Mama said...

Just found your blog-wonderful. I am a fellow archaeologist turned classicist and I was talking to my husband about this very issue the other day. I am currently a SAHM and love it but when my children start school, I will be starting on the lowest rung of the career ladder after years of being out the loop. Even then I will be paying for after-school care, summer camps-my post-expenses salary will be none-existent. I really wish I'd done a 'sensible' course that would allow me to look after my children and work. Do we have a duty to encourage our daughters to think sensibly instead of choose careers they love?

Tough.

Fellow blogger at www.samandasha2.blogspot.com

Mirka @Kahanka said...

I have alwasy wanted two, nd finally have two. I have to say, that i always knew it would be about money too, if you want to provide tyour children with everything they need, and some good education, it is alwasy very expensive. So for me it is less children, mean more, but that is just me...also looking after two was a huge jump for me...cannot imagine looking after morethan two....;)

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