Got kids: where should I live?
Just spent the weekend looking after my two daughters (12 and 9) and their two cousins, Jago, just 4, and Rose, 11 months.
I may have written a book about raising thrifty, creative and eco-friendly children but having to look after four children in a strange house with an Aga to cook on (never done it before) in the middle of the countryside (well, 2 miles from the nearest bus stop) is a baby-care reality check. Although I loathe routines I suspect the easiest way of coping with under 3s in a very rural place on your own is to have a routine so you can ensure other people (family? friends? childcarers?) can help sometimes.
Does it taste good?
Watching baby Rose studying a leaf, I was entranced. I loved the way she spun 360 degrees round on her bum inbetween crawls and liked being in a sling as much as a buggy when we went out for walks. But when she crawled off the rug to perfect her pincer grip by placing rabbit poo after rabbit poo in her mouth, up her nose … I started wondering just why so many people long for the countrylife dream. I think what they mean is a detached house, a garden big enough to plant veg, flowers and maybe even space for a trampoline. This is where they imagine raising a family…
It’s quiet outside
We went for a few walks to pick blackberries, measure rabbit holes or coo at grazing ponies and were also out in the garden for most of the day on friday, saturday and sunday but amazingly spoke to no one. Not because we’re unfriendly, but because no one else ever seemed to be outside. It felt astonishingly lonely, and a very easy space to struggle with postnatal depression or recession angst, or whatever is bothering you. Luckily for me the children all got on very well and the older ones helped me out so at least I did have company! Best of all my mum (granny) came over and helped me for an hour each day.
My own experience of raising little kids in the countryside (and also being housebound in that dream as a teenager) is country living is a nightmare location. No distractions when the baby is fractious, requirement for mum (or dad) to be a taxi driver even for what would be a capable 12 year old wanting to go to footie training or ballet classes on a Saturday, the need for a car (maybe two!). Nowadays there’s also the reliance on supermarkets, perhaps a crowded commutes in the dark for a third of the year.
Even if the countryside has better views and is less polluted, the speed people drive on narrow country lanes makes me very anxious about willingly letting a child or young teen cycle alone on them. Which is strange as I was allowed to do this from age 8, and most days actually rode a tractor-hating pony around the lanes.
What to do? Well as the song says, “If you don’t have a dream, you can’t have a dream come true.” Perhaps another dream is to make the places we live right now better for us all. We need safe play spaces, Sustrans tracks, footpaths, child-friendly policies (including different school start times), and so many other things. People constantly tell me that schools are better in X, Y or Z spot, and maybe their results are, but the sacrifices in freedom our children have to make for the country dream involves a lot of being strapped into car seats as adults race off on the school run or just pop out to stock up on butter at the Co-op. And as a teenager it is horrid to be dependent on parents/carers for lifts just to see a friend or get another book/DVD out of the library.
Of course I don’t mind where you live: infact I’ve just spent the summer in rural Yorkshire, a very isolated part of the Lake District, house sitting in a Wiltshire hamlet and this last 3 days at my childhood home, and I’ve enjoyed the break from big city living. But I’ve no regrets about not living in the countryside – the rural dream just doesn’t make life with children the pleasure it should be for them, or us adults.
No moaning allowed! So what are the top 3 things you’d like to do to make where you live a better place to raise children, can you try and do any of them? Think as local or global as you like. I’ll send a free signed copy of my book Homemade Kids to the most inspiring suggestions… which could sort out at least one of your Christmas presents.