The Politics of Parenthood

In an interview conducted by Rachel Maddow, John Stewart once suggested that the media exaggerates the centrality of the Republican/Democratic divide in America. Looking surprised, Maddow asked what he meant. As an example, Stewart suggested that the difference between people with children and those without was much more significant.

At the time I thought it was a good point. Now I’m seeing how really true it is. Being a father has shaped even my political priorities. I’m much more concerned about economic matters and much more aware of the way in which government choices shape my family’s choices. This hasn’t made me more conservative (as I think some conservative family members expected would happen) – in some ways, quite the opposite.

I was reminded about this in reading an excellent article from Al Jazeera about the “choices” facing mothers in America. The points the author makes have certainly proven true for my own family, and not just for my wife. Especially challenging is the cost of day care. Right now it’s out of our budget. And I can see clearly the ways in which that not only limits our current earning capacity but our long term earning potential.

I grow so frustrated now with articles¬†and conversations that argue endlessly about the quality of day care and whether government intervention would diminish that quality while ignoring the huge crisis in quantity and cost. I am firmly convinced that day care would be better for my family: my son would get more of the social interaction he needs and we would be able to better provide for him now and in the future. But we live in a society where that’s just out of our reach.

From the outside, I think that’s easy to imagine as an individual challenge: we made a choice to have children and these are the consequences. But when I think about this challenge being repeated on a national scale, I’m struck by the volume of wasted potential: economic, cultural,¬†social, political, etc. Do we really want to live in a society where people can either participate in civil society (including the workplace) or have children? That’s a social divide I don’t think we should be increasing.

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