Son #1 (aged 3.5 years) has recently caught on to our society’s strange way of attaching value to things and activities.
He knows that if he gives a yellow coin and a silver coin to the people in the tent out the front of Bunnings he will receive a sausage in bread with sauce in return. He knows that we don’t eat mangoes every day because they are too expensive, but that he is rarely refused a banana or an apple.
He accepts (albeit begrudgingly) that Mummy and Daddy have to go to work to earn money so that we can pay for things like food and electricity so we can turn lights on and watch television (he has his priorities).
The other day he started putting all this together and became a little worried:
Son #1: Are houses ‘pensive?
Son #1: Is ‘lectricity ‘pensive?
Me: Not as expensive as houses, but yes, it is reasonably expensive.
Son #1: Are they not going to turn our lights off?
Me: No, honey, why would they turn our lights off?
Son #1: Do we have ‘nough money to pay for our ‘lectricity?
Me: Yes, sweetheart, we have enough money.
When I was seventeen I decided that I would be earning “enough” when I could afford to pay my bills and buy a new book every time I finished one (I was a voracious reader so this seemed fairly ambitious). I achieved this goal by the time I was in third year university, working two part time jobs and living at home.
Obviously my bills have increased over the years with a marriage, mortgage and two kids, but I’ve always been fortunate enough to maintain a sufficient income to pass the New Book Test.
I have morning tea with a friend whose household income is nearly three times that of mine and I wonder, do I have enough? Do I need more?
I have a passing chat with someone who has four children and a household income barely more than a third of mine and I think, don’t be so greedy, you have plenty.
I read about the extreme poverty, war and violence suffered in so many parts of the world and I scold myself, first world problems.
I want the best for my boys but, apart from the intangible and invaluable love and support of their family and friends, I haven’t figured out what “the best” means in material terms.
Sometimes I think it means a private school education, an inner city house, educational overseas holidays, music lessons and trips to the museum/theatre/zoo.
Then I worry that maybe a privileged life will rob them of the resilience and appreciation of hard-won achievement which is born of financial struggle. That a cushioned existence may blind them to the many layers which make up our society and wider world.
Of course, there is the minor issue of available revenue.
In order to a achieve a level of financial privilege which would see the boys living a cushioned life of inner city luxury, I would have to do one of four things:
1) Inherit a very substantial sum; or
2) Commence a successful life of crime; or
3) Win the lottery; or
4) Get a job which pays a whole lot more than my current one.
Being a fairly risk-averse and law-abiding citizen, I’ll opt out of Option Two. As far as I am aware the odds of Option One are zero and Option Three’s likelihood is cuddling up very closely with Option One. That leaves us with Option Four.
I could work full time and work my way up to a job which pays a whole lot more money and requires me to be in the office seventy hours a week. I could pay a cleaner to clean the house and a nanny to keep the boys.
Of course, then I would wonder what the point of having children was if I never saw them and they were raised by somebody else? Is that the best for them?
Then again, if I ride that train of thought all the way to the end of the line, maybe ‘the best’ for the boys is that I stay home with them full time and give them my full attention. I don’t consider that to be the ideal option for my family for a number of reasons (but that’s a whole other blog).
The thing is, I actually enjoy my job. I think it is worthwhile, interesting and intellectually stimulating. I enjoy the balance that working part time gives me between professional, personal and parental fulfilment (not to mention the comfortable balance it provides to my bank account). I don’t want to do another job just because it earns me more money.
Does that make me a bad parent? Should I seek to earn more money so that we have “enough“?
It’s an argument that sends me around in circles and I don’t have a clear answer.
What I do have is the choice to keep my heart and head firmly in the present, which is where small children always live. I can choose to make a few decisions to keep our future options open, like keeping my foot in the door of a professional career by working, at least, part time, and putting the boys’ names down for a couple of select private schools, should that be the right choice when the time comes.
I can also make the choice not to worry about it so much and be oh-so-very-grateful for what we have now. I can choose to stop looking over the fence where the grass will always seem greener (and also in need of constant mowing). I can live my life for myself and my family, together making the choices along the way that are the right for us and crossing my fingers that we don’t get side-swiped by circumstances beyond our control and wind up struggling to afford the basics in life.
Money can’t buy love (or happy, well-adjusted children), but at the same time, love won’t pay the rent (or the mortgage, food, clothing and utilities bills).
How much is enough? Perhaps a more useful question is: At what point during the inevitable trade between time and money do we decide that time becomes more valuable than money, that children are not forever, and that all the money in the world cannot buy back their childhood?