Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The cost of not having babies

Home Front
Catholic Herald
2 December 2005

“Ten great things about having a baby” according to a current pregnancy magazine includes this one: “You can spend lots of money – without feeling guilty!”

This must be true, because last week the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, which has made the collecting of gloomy statistics into an art-form, informed us that “the cost of having a child” is now up to an average of £166,000, the value of a medium-sized family home, over a family’s life time.

The rate at which this total rises outstrips rises in prices and wages. Well, you hardly expected it to rise more slowly than prices and wages, did you? And does it mean that if I had not had children, I would now be the proud landlord of a row of medium-sized family homes? Would I get one every time I did not have a baby? Somehow, I think not.

But here’s the chirpy author of the “ten great things about having a baby” again: Reason Four – “Talking shop - it’s great fun planning what to buy for your new arrival”.

The remainder of the “ten great things” raise some doubt regarding exactly who is the baby in this relationship. Check out Thing Number One: “As soon as you announce you’re pregnant you are the centre of attention”.

It’s all “me, me, me”: “Pregnancy is a great excuse for putting your feet up and watching endless episodes of Friends” (Thing Three). “Just think how great it will be being able to act like a kid again” (Thing Seven)

Towards the end, it dawned on the compiler that a mum’s needs might not be entirely fulfilled by shopping so she added: “Having a baby can bring you closer to your own mum” and “You make new friends who will completely understand your hopes and fears”.

As far as I can see, a “Great Thing” is defined as anything which makes you, the pregnant mum, feel cheerful, skittish or adored. Does bringing a new human being into the world not rate as a bigger deal than a shopping opportunity?

The compiler ends, rather vaguely, with: “having your own family is a wonderful feeling” and “nothing can beat having a cuddle with your baby”. I feel she was aware that something in this set of “great things about having a baby” was terribly missing – she just couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

Having a baby is regarded as an indulgence like having a weakness for expensive shoes. Those parents who rush out and get themselves these luxury pets just because they want a cuddle have to be warned by the sober aldermen of Liverpool Victoria Friendly society: it’ll cost you! That money could be spent on a medium sized family home!

Demographic changes are spoken of in circuitous and hushed tones. So, in view of the fact that twenty years ago there were ten working people for every retired person and that this has slipped to four, soon to be down to two, I suggest that we rename the whole pensions debate: “Ten Awful Things about Not Having Enough Children.”

I think I have found the answer to juvenile crime. My father in law has just received an unusual gift from his Catholic boarding school – the same one where, he always claims, he suffered anti-redhead prejudice from his very first day when an older boy punched him for being a carrot-top, and a monk dragged them apart with the words, “Ah, Johnson! Fighting already!” – has presented him with a piece of his old desk. The tradition in his day was to allocate a boy with a desk with his name on it when he arrived. As the boy moved up through the school, so did the desk, a chunk of which is now sitting in my father-in-law’s study.
What a wonderful solution to school graffiti. Give the kids their own property and they will look after it.
In fact, by a simple act of loving generosity we could end mobile phone thefts overnight. Why don’t we extend the Stonyhurst Principle and give every 14-year-old in the land his or her very own 3 generation mobile phone?