What costs should we bear for kids?

ANNETTE PEREIRA
Last updated 07:53 31/07/2012

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OPINION: Do we prefer coal or children? This was the question Labour MP Jacinda Ardern asked in Parliament last week.

MPs were in the midst of a debate about paid parental leave, and Ardern was essentially arguing that if the Government doesn't increase the length of paid parental leave, it mustn't care about children as much as it cares about other things it spends money on.

But contrary to what Ardern's question implies, it is possible to value children and still be opposed to an increase in the funding of parental leave.

Even if we boasted the world's richest economy, I would still not be convinced that we should increase the amount of parental leave given to all parents.

Why?

Because I don't necessarily think the best way to value something is for the Government to pay for it.

Caring for children requires that we sacrifice some of the things our individualistic culture thinks is precious, such as money, opportunities, career progression and autonomy.

Those costs are part of the responsibility of parenting and we show how much we value children every time we are willing to pay them.

As we become reliant on paid parental leave to sustain our standards of living, we end up at the Government's mercy for our parenting decisions.

If the Government gives three months' leave, we take three months, If it was to give six months, presumably we would take that time off work.

But what if our children need us at home longer?

What if we wanted to take a year or three off work?

The best interests of our families aren't purely economic decisions.

Sure, there are some families who genuinely can't afford to lose an income, and in such situations, income-tested benefits have an important place.

But most working parents have a standard of living today that would have been the envy of parents a couple of generations ago.

Perhaps it is time for us to examine exactly what we value, rather than asking the Government to alleviate the costs for us. As the parental leave debate begins to take shape, we need to go wider than just questions relating to government budgets and the public purse.

At some point, we also need to ask: Do we prefer our high living standards or children? What costs are we personally willing to face, for the privilege of raising children?

* The Maxim Institute is an independent research and public policy think tank, incorporated as a charitable trust.

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