The petitioning has started in earnest. Candidates are making their pitches, pointing out the flaws in the arguments of rivals. It’s not the general election campaign, but the contest to secure occupancy of our eldest daughter’s bedroom. In September, God willing, she will be off to university. Her five younger siblings all believe this sought-after space – complete with en-suite bathroom – should be theirs.
Early polling favours our two youngest, nine-year-old Katharine and seven-year-old John. Their bunk bed sails in a sea of domestic chaos. Too many clothes chasing too few drawers. Surely the vacant room should go to one of them? But wait a minute. Here’s Gwendolyn mounting a persuasive case that she will need a room of sepulchral calm for all the homework she will get in September, once she starts at grammar school. If anyone deserves a garret it’s me, says Agnes, for whom the autumn term means the start of the two-year slog to GCSE exams. Enter Constance. It’s about time, she notes, that someone else had the bedroom next to the boiler.
I will notify readers when the people – well, Mum and Dad – reach a decision. In the meantime, a reflection. Having a large family has always meant our children have shared bedrooms. Three-to-a-room at one stage. There is a constant upward pressure on space as children grow, their wardrobes swell and possessions multiply. Does this act as a disincentive to so-called “boomerang” children? Edith will be welcome to share a room when she comes home during college vacations. But her friends who do not have siblings – a rapidly growing societal cohort – are unlikely to encounter this problem.
The unrecognised impact of family size was also on my mind as the political parties slugged it out over social care. Regardless of whether you think it’s fair to make people pay for their own eldercare, it seems probable that more children might now take an active role in providing it, if the alternative is the disappearance of a substantial inheritance. In effect, the money saved by not paying the state to care for our parents in their dotage could provide a de facto wage for a child.
This is a Hobbesian way of looking at things. But whatever motivation lies behind a child’s decision to quit a job or give up time to look after ageing parents – love or lucre – it will be easier if the burden can be shared. I think of friends from large South Asian sibling groups who follow a rota of eldercare. Culturally, they find the idea of warehousing old folk anathema. Economically, the case for caring might now be changing too.
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