It’s environmentally friendly, cheap and healthy but also incredibly limiting. For my first year as a stay-at-home dad I’ve had no car during school term time (around 200 days of the year). That’s all about to change so I’m reflecting on the pros and cons of having no car as a parent in a small town and then looking ahead to what having my own transport will mean.
The title stay-at-home parent would seem to indicate a fixed domestic setting but it’s vital to get children out and about to provide a rich variety of experiences and interactions. I have established a routine of daily activities within walking distance of the house, ranging from a 10 to 25 minute walk with the pram. It’s worked pretty well to date, offering Tilly daily contact with other children and a range of activities. Being without a car has however restricted us to a very confined area unless we wanted to rely on the vagaries of the local bus service, which with a toddler adds a whole dimension of complexity.
Having no car in this area of affluent commuter belt is nearly as unusual as being a dad at playgroup. The majority of people drive to toddler groups even in the middle of town and car use is all but universal in the winter months. Nevertheless I have braved all weathers to ensure Tilly gets to her activities each day, using a second-hand all-terrain pram to make the most of footpaths and shortcuts. It has done me good, too; much of the two and a half stone of weight I’ve lost in the past year must be attributed to the amount of walking done.
We have, however, now reached a point where Tilly can and should be doing more but we’re stuck with the admittedly decent but limited range of options available. For instance I’m desperate to take her swimming but using public transport to reach the nearest infant pool is simply impractical. We’ve just bought ourselves a second car now, so it seems a timely moment to look back on being a foot-bound parent.
Advantages of being a pram-pushing parent
Hitting the streets everyday with the pram does have some positives:
- Your child gets to interact with the environment around them
- It’s healthy for you, providing daily exercise
- You get to know other parents you bump into on the street (in summer at least)
- It’s cheap with no cost other than your shoe leather and no parking to worry about
Disadvantages of being a stay-at-home parent without a car
- Going to any activity more than a mile away is either impossible or requires a masterclass is logistics
- It can be utterly miserable trudging in the rain or along busy roads
- You’re limited to the shops and services available in your immediate vicinity (unless you order online)
- A toddler’s energy and patience can be sapped by trying to get to and from places, making them grumpier for the session. We tried a toddler group in the next village for a term but the half-hour walk each way took too much of a toll.
- When cross, you can have a long walk with an unhappy infant and as the pram falls out of favour every trip becomes a challenge
- Most rural areas are simply unreachable as can be neighbouring towns without a frequent bus or train service
Justifying the cost
Shelling out more money when you’re a cash-strapped single-income household isn’t easy but through careful choice of the second car we’ve decided it’s worthwhile. My wife will continue to do the lion’s share of mileage so we’ve opted for a small and economical car (similar to that pictured) that could potentially save us a couple of hundred pounds in petrol each year and with near zero road tax. The fuel saving should largely offset the insurance of the new car. I’ll be using our existing car but only lightly, to enhance rather than replace Tilly’s activities. It will all cost a little more but we have to prioritise what’s important and Tilly’s quality of life comes at the top of the list.
What we’ll do differently with a car
The structure of what we do will remain the same but it’ll give us many more options, alternatives and the ability to be much more productive in our day. These include:
- A greater range of activities. This is primarily for Tilly’s benefit so swimming and activities available only in neighbouring towns will now be on the cards. We’ll be dumping the mediocre classes that we attend through lack of any alternative and focusing on what will benefit Tilly the most.
- Getting into nature. Although our town is surrounded by countryside, we can currently only visit a tiny part of it that’s accessible from home. In the future we’ll drive straight to the best of the outdoors spaces in our area and spend all of our time enjoying it.
- Museum season passes. We can make unlimited trips to the local open air museum with a season pass, which we’ll be able to make use of during the week when the museum is quiet. It’s a great space, encouraging physical activity, imagination and interaction. Other families we know make use of National Trust and zoo season passes and this is something we can look at for the future.
- Weekday shopping. It’s bonkers for the whole family struggling around heaving shops on a weekend when Tilly and I could often pop into empty shops during the week. It’s a waste of precious family together time. Getting to the supermarket will take 5 or 10 minutes rather than a taxing 45 minute epic bus trip.
- Emergencies. We had a panicked trip to the minor injury unit the other week and without family having been on hand this would have been a good deal trickier without access to a car.
An essential or a luxury?
Whether you need a car very much depends on your situation. The more urban an area the easier it normally is to get around using public transport, whereas in the countryside a car is essential to avoid isolation. We’re somewhere between the two, in a modest market town.
My experience is that you can manage without a car if you’ve got a good crop of local toddler groups to rely on but it does mean your life exists pretty much entirely in that limited area. It can be a good thing, to get to know people and places but on balance the benefits afforded by having transport is the winner.
We’re fortunate that we now get our family finances to stretch to accommodate the second car but even on a limited budget older cars can be bought relatively inexpensively. We focused on getting something as modern as our money would stretch to that brought maximum fuel economy for my wife as the main driver. Being able to cut existing fuel costs is an important part of making the arrangement work. A hybrid car was out of our budget but if you’ve able to stump up the cash it can really help cut the ongoing cost of motoring.
What are your experiences of being a parent and using transport every day? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
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