Having more children than you can afford is neglect

Having more children than you can afford is neglect

Having more children than you can afford is neglect

Barbara McCarthy

PUBLISHED27/01/2015 | 02:30

The high cost of childcare is preventing parents returning to work - Getty Images/Hemera

The high cost of childcare is preventing parents returning to work – Getty Images/Hemera

A survey out this week states that 32pc of women in their 30s are postponing having children due to monetary factors. Yet despite the high creche fees, which stand at almost €594 in Dublin and €379 nationally per month, coupled with unfavourable maternity entitlements, we still have the second-highest birth rate in Europe – standing at 1.99 children per woman.

In Denmark you pay a maximum of €100 per child for childcare if you are in the low-income bracket and fathers get up to three months off work among other things. In Germany women get a year’s paid maternity’s leave, heavily-subsidised creches, free schooling and excellent facilities for children in general – and yet it has the lowest birth rate in Europe at just 1.36 children per woman.

Despite numerous incentives the population in Germany continues to fall. The government is throwing the kitchen sink at potential parents to encourage them to procreate.

It’s not much different in the rest of Europe, where the average birth rate is 1.6 children. When you look at Mediterranean countries, where children grow up surrounded by family, enviable outdoor lifestyles, great food and community, you can’t but be upset by the situation here in Ireland. Here childcare costs very often usurp a massive chunk of your income and many families often have to forego mortgage repayments or other bills in order to pay for their children.

In Dublin a couple need to earn €30,000 a year to cover full-time creche costs for two children. It’s enough to drive you to despair.

And yet, it hasn’t stopped the baby train. We’re even known for it around the world. The popular US talk show Saturday Night Live last weekend poked fun at our propensity for reproducing. A news segment on the show stated the following: “Ireland’s Minster of Health this week announced he was gay, becoming the first openly gay government figure in Irish history. Of course, in Ireland ‘gay’ just means you have less than eight kids.”

It’s a somewhat dated view and not a particularly funny joke, but there is still a certain recklessness amongst people when it comes to having children here.

In many large American cities like New York or San Francisco so many things need to be in place in order for someone to reproduce. But back home in Ireland I know a few people who are having children, despite the fact that they simply can’t afford them either emotionally or financially.

I was chatting to someone the other day who told me he was having his fifth child. He said his first two children from a previous relationship were no longer speaking to him. He hadn’t seen them in two years and couldn’t afford any kind of maintenance. He seemed almost proud of this fact, which made me extremely angry. Another man informed me that he couldn’t pay for his children either and owed his ex-wife €25,000 in maintenance.

I can’t get my head around such negligence. Having children you cannot afford is a form of neglect.

Even the Pope himself recently advocated “responsible parenting” and urged Catholics the world over not to “breed like rabbits”.

Luckily, the influence of the Catholic Church has waned as far as reproduction is concerned. When I met someone’s pocket-sized Irish mammy recently, she informed me that she was “grand” about having eight children. “Sure they were only small,” she said. Back then, the most important thing about having loads of children was making sure they went to Mass.

Whatever about their emotional well-being, it was more important for children to go to confession or do the rosary. Just because someone is from a big family doesn’t mean they always get on either. Someone I met recently told me he was from a family of 10 and described vividly how badly they got on. Another woman from a family of six told me she and her sister were the only family members to turn up at their mother’s funeral.

Another story I heard involved a woman who had eight children with someone and then ran off with someone else and had another eight with them, leaving the others behind.

Family members fall out with each other and people are dysfunctional whether you have one child or 10, but what’s important is that children get enough love and encouragement.

Any of the screwed-up people I know are thus because they were emotionally neglected when they were young for whatever reason – and the damage is difficult, almost impossible to reverse as people get older.

The Pope himself suggests that having three children is “plenty”. I wouldn’t agree or disagree with him. What’s important is that children don’t grow up impoverished.

According to Unicef there are 130,000 more poor children in Ireland than there were five years ago. When I chatted to three homeless women recently, bizarrely each of them had five children. None of them had seen the children in months and they were mostly in care. I remember reading about a 23-year-old mother of four who spent Christmas in a hostel because she was evicted. The State was paying her support each week, but it wasn’t enough. It makes me so sad to think of what a life these children will have.

After all, our children are still our own responsibility and no one else’s.

Irish Independent