Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Lifestyle Choice

I don't often read Peter Hitchens (or indeed anything in the Mail or Mail on Sunday, you will be shocked to learn) but somebody pointed me at this column and it set me thinking.

I am not sure precisely what the Chancellor meant in calling full-time motherhood 'a lifestyle choice'; but then I suspect that he wasn't sure either, so that's OK.  It sounded, at least, somewhat disapproving.

Antonia was born some 22 years ago, and we were younger and (a little) more in tune with the spirit of the age. Anna (Mrs T.) was a successful professional: a Finance Director at the age of 30. She earned about the same (on a regular basis) as I earned erratically from my freelance work.  So it seemed sensible for her to keep working (she enjoyed her work) and arrange for childcare for Ant.  We did that: it was a bit stressful taking her to a nursery which she clearly enjoyed less than our company, and it was hard for Anna, who felt guilty when at work, thinking about her baby, and guilty when at home, thinking about her work...

Then Bernadette arrived, a couple of years later.  Anna decided to go part-time, and we got a nanny for the girls.

It didn't work. Her employer was very supportive, but nonetheless, Anna was expected to do exactly the same in part-time hours as she had been doing in full-time hours, for rather less pay.  The nanny, though a delightful girl, was not as intelligent or as stimulating, or as fun for the girls to be with, and certainly was not passing on the kinds of values and lifestyle (there's that word again) that we wished. A simple example was that she rarely read them any stories...

So Anna quit, and has been a full-time mother (more or less) ever since.  I say more or less, as she has done some part-time short-term jobs, and also a significant amount of voluntary work, once all the kids were at school - but nearly all during school hours.

The benefits have been significant: her relationship with all of the children is excellent; they have all grown up happy, healthy, confident and secure.  They all practice their Faith.

But of course there has been a cost. Whilst we are not impoverished, we have an income of about 50% of that which we would have had if she had stayed in employment, and with no security attached to it either (and indeed it has fluctuated fairly dramatically over the years: it can be feast or famine here...) She has no pension of course (and as the one I have paid into for three decades is worth almost nothing, that is significant).

As a result, we tend to go easy on things like holidays: for many years, camping in Scotland was the family holiday. Last year and this, we have pushed the boat out and hired a cottage for a week. But it is a long time - more than a decade - since we had a holiday abroad as a family.

That, I think, is a lifestyle choice; though in fact we see it more as living our vocation. It is a choice we made about how we thought we should live our lives. It was not without costs, including a certain amount of social disapprobation,  but it is one we are both happy with; and we appreciate that it is a choice that we were lucky to be able to make.

But why the Chancellor should look down his nose at it, which seems to be the drift of his remarks, is a mystery to me.

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