Universal daycare. Universal preschool. Regulations on school lunches. Bans on bake sales. Don’t bring ibuprofen to school. The government knows all about keeping your kids safe and educated. (And the underlying note is that you don’t know enough.)
In yesterday’s New York Times, law professor Clare Huntington extols the virtues of government child-rearing. While she does acknowledge that families are the “ultimate” preschool, she quickly recovers by adding that our society just makes things too darn hard for parents to do this job.
Our public policies, however, make it much harder for families, especially families living in poverty, to lay this foundation.In my research, I have cataloged government policies that undermine parent-child relationships during early childhood. Our legal system, for example, destabilizes low-income, unmarried families, distracting them from parenting. Forty-one percent of children are born to unmarried parents. These parents are usually romantically involved when the child is born, but these relationships often end. Rather than help these ex-partners make the transition into co-parenting relationships, the legal system exacerbates acrimony between them. States impose child support orders that many low-income fathers are unable to pay, creating tremendous resentment for both parents. And courts are not a realistic resource for many unmarried parents, leaving them to work out problems on their own.