When I was 18, I had an life plan. I wanted to have found ‘the one’, get married, and be in a position to start having a family by age 30 at the very latest. All after having a grand old time in my 20s, of course.
However, when I was 18, I had no idea about the ins and outs of mortgage repayments and eligibility. Or recessions. Or the fact that condoms are most definitely NOT 100% reliable (even though, YES, I had seen that episode of Friends a fair few times).
And then I became a parent at 25. And had very generous parental help to buy our first property. So, I guess I am pretty much the demographic that Kirstie Allsop is extolling in her recent idealized advice to young women to buy a flat and start a family early.
There is a lot that I haven’t experienced in my twenties. There was no wedding. Sam and I didn’t even live together before getting pregnant, let alone holiday together, and that vague plan we had to go travelling together never happened in time.
Perhaps we will do some of this later in life. After all, we should still be ‘young’ when our children reach 18.
But at the moment I am finding it hard to imagine that time. I find certain things have become very hard because we started young, and it’s difficult to see through the fog of the financial restrictions of being a young(ish) parent today.
It’s not as simple as just ‘getting on the property ladder’ and you’re on your way these days. Upsizing is TOUGH when house prices are not rising at the insane rate that generations a decade above us experienced, and many jobs do not have as clear-cut a pay progression as we were led to expect by those touting a ‘go to uni, get a career job, and work your way up’ ideology when we were teenagers. It just doesn’t work like that any more.
Kirstie’s advice reads:
“I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying ‘Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”
The idea of getting the flat, the steady boyfriend, and the baby all when you are ready at 27 is a lovely one. But it’s romanticising young parenting just a bit, and makes this point in life seem like the ‘happy ending’, when it is only just the beginning of a whole bunch of restrictive decisions on childcare, work, and living costs that women in their twenties and thirties all have to make.
The glaringly obvious omission in Kirstie’s comment about buying a flat and having a baby is what happens after that?
What kind of flat is it? A 2 bed in an ‘up and coming’ part of London? Nice.
So, the couple want children. Of course, before they even reach this point, they will have already had to make their decisions mortgage-wise. Do they need both their salaries to make the repayments work? Or do they have a bit of financial leeway should mum or dad decide they’d like to be a stay at home parent for a while?
Oh, she’s going to be a stay at home mum. How on earth were they able to swing it so that they can afford repayments on a single salary, despite being relatively early on in their careers and mortgages being astronomically expensive??
Have they researched childcare costs in their local area? Yeah. I know. It’s always a killer the first time you hear those figures.
What about when they want to upsize? Is she still a stay at home mum? What are their chances of being approved for a bigger mortgage, let alone being able to pay bigger mortgage repayments on a single salary? Better hope her young partner has landed a job with good career progression.
If they can’t afford to move, will they decide to keep their family small, will they contemplate fitting their ideal number of children into their current flat? Or, will they decide to space their children out over a long time, as and when they can afford to have more, thus buggering up the whole ‘start early, finish early’ idea?
Will she wish she was with her children more whilst they were young, and that work wasn’t a necessity? Will she wish she could go back to work and afford childcare?
Maybe when I’m 50 and my children are 18 and older, when I’m out the other side, maybe then I will appreciate having my children young. When I’m far removed from the stress of financial immobility and the isolation of financial insecurity, and I’m no longer pulling my hair out living in cramped quarters with a gaggle of young children (because I want 3, and we aren’t moving from our 2 bed any time soon), I will have the same romanticised view as Kirstie. Maybe I will realise that I did have it all.
I’ve read the comments and reactions to Kirstie’s piece with interest. It’s been good to hear other people’s experiences, and it’s great that it’s brought the conversation to the forefront. Choosing when or if to start a family will always be a personal decision, but provoking widespread discussion on the pros and cons of starting early VS starting later and arming young women with realistic scenarios of the two is never a bad thing.
At the very least, it provides a good way to once again highlight the bigger issue here, that children and career are not very compatible things, according to our society and our extortionate childcare costs. That so many women are facing a catch 22.
And I will take any excuse I get to shout that it needs to change.