Sue Arnold: Kids may be treasures but not without price

'My fourth child but first son glumly recalls being dresed in pink until he was five'
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The Independent Online

A couple I know, admittedly not very well, told me they were moving house because they had run out of space for the children's shoes.

I've been to their house. It's a huge five-storey Georgian terrace job within walking distance of Harrods, which would be useful if either Henry or Isabella actually walked anywhere. They don't, though I suppose their children must, hence the need for all that shoe leather. "How many shoes exactly are you talking about?" I asked Isabella, visions of Imelda Marcos's famous collection swimming before my eyes.

"Well, let's see," said Isabella, counting them up on perfectly manicured fingers. "At least three pairs of trainers each, then there's football boots, rugby boots, school lace-ups, loafers, golf shoes, ski boots, roller-blades, riding boots, gun-boots – how many is that?"

I mention this exchange only because, having read the report about how much it costs to bring up children these days, I reckon that, compared with Henry and Isabella, I've been pretty lucky. For those of you who missed it, or, more likely, deliberately ignored it (for this was an unashamedly middle-class exercise in home economics based on a child's inalienable and axiomatic right to piano lessons, golf shoes and a nanny), the final tally was approximately £220,000 to bring up a child from nought to 18 and half as much again if you include Mary Poppins.

Everything that the well-mannered, nicely spoken, sensitive middle-class child requires has been accounted for – private education, of course, at least one foreign holiday a year, toys from the Early Learning Centre, family membership of your local leisure centre and gym. I forget what the pocket money allowance was but, like so many other things pertaining to child-rearing, the amount of pocket money is very much a personal thing.

Five shillings a week, I vaguely remember getting as a child, but then five shillings in those far-off days would have bought me afternoon tea at a Lyons Corner House, a Raleigh bicycle and a pair of golf shoes.

I remember arguing with one of my children about pocket money when he was at primary school. The local state primary down the road, I hasten to say, not the fashionable private kindergarten next door whose pupils wear brown corduroy knickerbockers and yellow Barbours.

"It's not fair, everyone gets more pocket money than me," complained James when I picked him up one afternoon. "Luke gets £20 a week."

I gasped: "£20 a week for an eight-year-old." That was ridiculous. Which one was Luke anyway?

"The one whose dad is a drug dealer in Brixton and drives a purple Lamborghini," said my son.

Here's where I'm supposed to say something sanctimonious like "You can't put a value on a child" or "Children are treasures beyond price", which is true until they ask for £700 to go on the school ski trip or crash your car without being insured.

In any case, I think the fellow who drew up that baby budget got it wrong. When parents put their children down for Eton, like Henry and Isabella, they do it as much for themselves as for Harry and Archie and Giles, so that £12,000 a year should be cut by half.

And what about the economy of scale that makes one child expensive but six a downright bargain if you take into account all those hand-me-downs and shared toys?

My fourth child, but first son, glumly recalls being dressed in pink till he was five, a fate that his two younger brothers escaped because by the time they arrived all the pink shorts, T-shirts and socks had worn out.

As for moving to a larger house to accommodate children's shoes – we didn't even move to a larger flat to accommodate six children.

"I can't believe the boys have their own rooms," said my youngest daughter, who has left home. "I shared a room with all three till I was 14."

It isn't cash you need to have kids, it's the time to enjoy them which, in retrospect, is the best time in the world.

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