Monday a major Seattle newspaper reported on a MomsRising event on the front page. Since that article was published there has been a hot on-line discussion about whether society should share the responsibility for raising children. Some of the postings are jaw dropping. Take for example this one:
"Someone just explain to me that because I have a dog, the Seattle government charges me $25 a year for a dog license, while if I have a kid, I expect everybody else to pony up for things even though it was my choice."
Or one even more inflammatory comment.
"Cant feed 'em, dont breed 'em..."
These contributors, and many others that are less colorful, appear to believe that choosing to have a child is purely an individual act, not, as I believe, a contribution to society as a whole. And further they appear to think that anyone who makes that commitment should be ready and able to take care of their children's needs without support from society. At first blush this sounds reasonable, until you realize that with the current cost of raising an average middle class child in America -- over $200,000 dollars in direct costs and about 1,000,000 in lost income over the course of her life for a college educated woman -- only the upper middle class and wealthy would have children. And there would be no future America -- just a small group of Buffys and Tads, waiting for the help to show up. All human societies provide support for the huge investment a family makes in children. It scares me that in America we may be losing sight of that. There are many reasons why this is deeply wrong:
1. Wealth should not be the key qualifying characteristic of parenthood. Being able to have a child is a core human act, and a huge gift to society. Parents are making an unselfish investment in all our futures.
2. When children suffer because their parents don't have economic means, they are innocent victims. Taking good care of children is simply the ethical thing to do.
3. In 20 years the engine of our economy will be dependent upon today's children. If we don't invest in them, our engine will creak to a halt. Who will pay into social security and care for older Americans in 30 years?
Mostly, when we cease to see a distinction between the value of investing in children versus having pets we've lost something that's crucial to the survival of our species.
A family-friendly society is good for business and families. For example, California's paid family leave is a program that California workers pay for and are happy with, as are employers. Flexible work environments in most cases are good for everyone and that includes the employer. (Check out Best Buy's results-only workplace culture). Our modern economy means that most families (62%) must have two employed parents to stay on top of bills. Quality childcare is good for both parents and children--and its a proven longterm investment because for every $1 spent for early childhood learning, studies show a return of at least $7 over time - the investment pays off because these children simply do better in life on average. And quality childcare is best provided by workers that have a living wage! Childcare workers have some of the lowest salaries in the country. Little surprise that there is huge turn over in this field. Young children in particular benefit from stability in their care providers.
To fuel a fight between the pet owners and child raisers of America is just silly. I love my dog and my kids, there is no inherent conflict, nor is there real cause for people who choose not to have children to wrangle with those that do. If we take a long view, we find our needs are aligned. In fact more and more adults are finding they need flexibility at work to care for aging parents. As a society we want to accommodate the needs of families, and when we do this we should make sure that everyone is benefiting.
One post on the Seattle PI site said it perfectly for me:
"Moms Rising stands for the issues that should be no brainers. Healthcare for all children - who is seriously against that? Age appropriate and
healthy entertainment and afterschool activities for kids - why even bother
arguing with that? Excellent childcare for all children - does anyone really
want children to suffer inadequate care? Fair wages - why is this even
controversial? Open and flexible work - data shows that this actually
improves productivity, retains employees and saves employers money.
... While you can choose not to have children, you ought not ignore the fact
that you live and interact within a society of parents and children. Healthy
families are healthy contributors to that society. Unhealthy families become
the dysfunctional components of society that are vulnerable to illness,
crime, drug abuse and drain social services. We all pay for it one way or
another. Why not find a way to afford to pay for healthy families at the
beginning rather than once things have fallen apart?"
Happily we are not playing a zero sum game here. The present and the future is brighter when we provide common sense supports for families.