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.
What government policies keep people from getting married before they have kids? What government policies support parents who move in and out of romantic liaisons, bringing adults in and out of their kids’ lives, decreasing stability and trust in their children? Also, if you don’t want to pay child support, stay married.
Ms. Huntington’s list of issues goes on: minimum wage keeps us from raising our kids outside of poverty, no regulation of part-time work means parents can plan on daycare, and perhaps most disheartening, we don’t plan “land-use” well enough for parents to take the kids to the playground or library.
Nowhere does Ms. Huntington talk about parental responsibility. If you want to raise your child well, get educated, get married and stay married. Pass on your faith tradition to your children. Live somewhere where you can easily access things like playgrounds and libraries, if that is important to you. Play with your baby. Read to your child. Color, sing, put on plays, make finger puppets, bake cookies. It’s your family; you decide where you wish to live, how you wish to educate and entertain your kids, and what your financial priorities will be.
Ms. Huntington wants to make a preemptive strike against this whole “let me raise my own kids” idea:
Critics will dismiss these ideas as unnecessary intervention in family life, or more big government. But this is simply wrong. Our legal system is already deeply involved in every aspect of family life, from defining what a family is in the first place to subsidizing families through public education and deductions for dependents. The real question is not the magnitude of that involvement, but the ends it serves.
It will take tremendous political will to build a policy framework to improve early childhood.
“Our legal system is already deeply involved in every aspect of family life:” That may be the scariest statement in the entire article. The government wants your family; don’t let it take it away from you.