Is Travelling to work hurting your kids?

Train commuters

It’s an unfortunate necessity that we have to make money in order to survive in life.  But how, where, and under what circumstances we make that money is something within our control.

As my kids are away on holiday with their mom, I’ve had a chance to do a few things that are a bit out of the ordinary for me. The other day took me in to London for a days work with a client.  This happens very infrequently, and as that day proved to me, that suits me just fine.

I live in a small town on the outskirts of London, and I’m lucky enough to work and live in the same town.  My daily commute consists of a brisk 5 minutes from home to work.  On the days I take my kids to school, this is a not so brisk (but still refreshing) 20 minute round trip from home-to-school-to-work.  I count myself lucky that my commute is so condensed – and I’m well aware this isn’t the average.

According to several sources on this subject, the average daily commute to work in the UK is 50 minutes.   That’s almost 2 hours a day where we have no choice but to be bottled up in a moving thing with little ability to do anything productive.  Of course, there are things that we can do like read a book, get some work done on a laptop, or (as I saw the mid-40s man do on my commute that day) play video games!  All in all, it’s a pretty dismal way to spend 2 hours a day.

It’s a really difficult reality that many of us face.  According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the average salary in London is £34,473 as opposed to £22,044 for the UK as a whole.  Those in close proximity (but not actually in) London may see wages above the national average, but it’s still well below the salaries earned by those going in to the capital.

This puts big pressure on the choices that parents need to make.  As a really crude example, I’m aware that a train season ticket in to London from my local station is about £3,000.  All things being equal, this means that, even after paying for the train, I’d be about £8,000 better off to go in to London – actually this equates to about £5,440 in your pocket.

We’re speaking averages and generalisations here, but £5,440 in your pocket a year is a big chunk of change.  This is some serious money and serious considerations have to be made around choices to either take or abandon that type of money.

Here’s what an extra £5,440 can buy you in the UK:

  • 2.5 Holidays to Europe for a family of four.
  • 136 meals out at a local restaurant (I’d say £40 for a family of four is fair).
  • A Deposit on a decent 5 Door BMW Sporty looking thing (I’m not a car man).
  • 54 trips to Thorpe Park.
  • 4.5 months rent on a 3 bedroom house (at least in my part of the world).

OK, you get the point.  The money could be very useful to the average family.  I could go for that, and in fact, I’ve had some serious discussions with my partner about commuting in to London for work (in actuality, for me, a commute would take about 2.5 hours out of my day – and that sucks)!

However, the biggest discussion point for us as a family has been how much that commute costs?  I’m not talking about the price the train ticket, the petrol to the station, and the parking.  What interests me is how much of a toll the 2 hours of commuting costs the average parent emotionally, physically and psychologically?

During my most recent commuting experience I saw a group of tired, depressed, angry looking people.  There were no smiles, there was no human interaction, it looked like a train full of zombies.  Now, I have no idea if these people, once through their front door, were able to re-awaken in to the land of the living and be upbeat and excited about life, but I imagine this isn’t the case.  I imagine that the drain of the commute, and the resulting slumber extends in to the family home.  How does this translate to that commuter’s ability to parent?

From my experience, having the ability to be home with my children, sat at the dinner table by 5:30, with energy enough for a kick about at the park afterwards, is worth more than those extra few pounds the commute would bring.  No fancy holidays this year, but at least when I see my kids, I’m fresh and able to give them my best.

The decision is an easy for the moment – stay put, earn a bit less, live a bit more!

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