Work is just not happening this morning so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a bit of structured procrastination and continue my discussion about first world vs third world attitudes to money and life.
It never fails to amaze me the huge deal that is made about how much babies ‘cost’ and how everyone rushes out to spend thousands on expensive strollers, brand new clothes and other ‘must-haves’. This fairly recent article from the Guardian suggests that it costs £222,458 to raise a child to the age of 21 – 0ver £10.5k a year! Now I know that childcare isn’t usually free and there are some necessary costs in terms of clothing, food etc, but that is just ridiculous.
I know I’ve talked about this before but I was glad about living out here when I was pregnant that I wasn’t expected to buy everything on those lists that are included in every ‘preparing for baby book’ with everything from bottle warmers to baby food makers. How ridiculous. We had no cot, we had no pram, we had a cheap baby bouncer but no expensive automatic swinging contraption and I never felt for a second that our kids were deprived in any way.
Things just get worse as they get older with the pressure to buy toys, clothes and other kid junk. I’ve noticed a bit of a backlash in recent years towards this and there does seem to be an increasing trend to buy second hand clothes instead of getting everything new and focus on real play, rather than buying plastic flashing toys.
So you don’t need to be rich to raise a happy kid. On the contrary, it seems to be a trend that a lot of well-off families actually spend less quality time with their kids. Are the children impressed with the fancy clothes? I doubt it. With the fancy toys? Maybe but I’m sure they’d be just as happy with a stick and some dirt. And being on a budget forces you to be creative about the activities you do with your children. I was really inspired with Georgia’s pledge to spend nothing for a year, despite preparing for the arrival of a new baby and you don’t have to take long looking through her site to realise how happy her kids are and how they get out and about and explore and paint and do other stuff that kids should be doing. One of the major steps she took which sort of made me gasp, was getting rid of all the toys. Extreme? Maybe, but maybe not. Rather it just proves the point that anything is a toy for kids and they’re often happiest playing with things that don’t have a primary function of being a toy.
Made tells me stories of growing up in his little village in Bali which I can’t even get my head around as they are so far removed from my own experiences. Every 6 months on the Kuningan holiday, our village hosts a market on the football field next to one of the temples. This is a source of great entertainment for the kids who love shopping for new t-shirts, toys and knick knacks.
He spoke with some sadness over the fact that this event wasn’t so special for kids any more as they get so many things day to day anyway. When he was a child, he got new clothes only twice a year at this market when he was allowed to go and pick out a t-shirt. The village kids were so excited by the crowds and entertainment that they’d run around playing well into the night, whereas now they’re happier indoors playing computer games.
Another story he told me was that they had no money for toys, even a simple ball. So when Galungan came around and they slaughtered pigs for the ceremonial feasting, the village kids would blow up the pigs bladder and use it as a football, providing days of entertainment.
I’m not saying I want my kids to wear the same outfit every day for 6 months and entertain themselves playing with the internal organs of pigs but I think it’s just proof that children don’t need much to be happy.
There are a number of different world happiness indexes that are published yearly, including a few that are focused on the happiness of children. I think that the results of these surveys always need to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially when countries with extreme poverty come out on top – you need to check what data they’re using to compile their indexes, but it does provide some interesting food for thought. I found this study which seems to be a fairly well balanced view on what makes kids happy worldwide. The verdict? Family, friends and playing came out as the top three sources of happiness. No surprises there.
I think back to my own childhood and what are the most intense memories. Do I remember the clothes I wore or the toys I had? Not really (although I still have a soft spot for the magic treehouse). What I remember: picnic lunches in the garden on sunny days, yearly camping trips to France, getting to stay up late on the annual New Year’s Eve party that rotated through my parents friends, woodland walks and water fights. This is what I want for my kids, making memories, being happy, having fun. My yearning for the simple life is still pulling against my yearning for pretty things and I’m still working on balancing work with home life but we are getting there little by little.