Raising Cain: Parenting for the 99%

I have exactly one cat, one partner and one child.  The first two numbers are subject to change, the last—no way.  On a Monday morning, as the work week begins, if you asked me about having more kids, I would probably say: “no f***ing way”. Raising a child is relentless.  The particularly difficult age, I think, is between 0-18 years.  After that it tapers off into sleepless nights, general mind-numbing worry and screaming at them over a long distance line, while they say they have a bad connection and need to hang up.

If you are feeling beleaguered…well then you just don’t love your child/children enough.

Look at Sarah Palin.  At Thanksgiving last year she said that for her, all of “America’s goodness” and “greatness” is manifest through her son.  And look at Michelle Obama.  During the 2008 presidential campaign she said “[my daughters] are the first things I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about before I go to bed at night. Their future, and all our children's future, is my stake in this election."  And all the while they say these wonderful things their hair stays in place, their lipstick sparkle and their eyes mist over reflecting on the glories and joys of motherhood.

And all you can think of is the dirty diaper, the unpaid bill, the uncooked dinner and later on—the joys of paying or not being able to pay for rising college costs.

Clearly there is something wrong with you and the way you are going about doing this parenting thing, ‘cause Michelle and Sarah seems to be having a great time.  Is there something they have that you don’t?

One reason that you may seem to be doing child-care all the time is perhaps because, you are.  Can it be because day care costs in America are becoming less affordable than college costs? According to the National Association for Child Care Resources the average annual cost of full time day care in America today is between $5000 (Mississippi) and $18,200 (District of Columbia).  This is actually more than college tuition in a lot of public universities.

In some parts of the industrial world childcare costs are subsidized by the government. Almost all of French toddlers (3-5 year olds) are in the full-day, free écoles maternelles.  They are all part of the same national system, sharing the same curriculum, staffed by teachers who are paid good wages by the same national ministry. In France child care costs are considered to be a social responsibility and are publicly funded. In Sweden pre-school places are available from the age of one, and no one pays more than 3 per cent of their monthly income per child.  Keep that figure 3% in mind when you consider the fact that in America parents pay 90% of preschool or day care costs.

$10 billion of government money is spent annually on child care.  It seems a lot, $10 billion, till you think that in 2008 only one bank J. P. Morgan Chase got $29 billion of the tax payer’s money to help get its financial house in order.  I am not even counting all the other banks.  After studying the childcare policies and resources the National Association for Child Care Resources was forced to conclude that “we still cannot say with confidence that America’s children are protected by state licensing regulations and oversight systems. Nor can we say that child care policies are in place to help young children learn and be ready for school”.

People who have lots of money will always tell you that it is terrible to spend your tax dollars on things that you need such as health care, education or childcare.  Rather your dollars would be much better spent by paying bankers because presumably the rich look much better with your money than you do.  But sometimes even the rich slip up and use public funding for parenting like the hated French.  Take Sarah for instance.  Sarah travels a lot with her children.  Undoubtedly so that she can feel all those motherhood joys at different time zones.  Between 2006 -2008 Palin charged the state of Alaska $21,012 for her three daughters' 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights.  Wouldn’t you agree that your tax dollars should be spent on the $707.29-per-night Essex House hotel, overlooking Central Park where Bristol Palin spent four nights in 2007 than on some mad socialist scheme of subsidized childcare for your babies?

Some people with money are even more child-friendly than others.  They will tell you that only lazy people send their children to day care.  So the famous talk show host Dr. Laura, whose net worth is a mere $40 million, writes that “Child-care facilities are a necessity when mothers and fathers (when they exist at all) are unwilling or incapable of caring for their offspring”.

Well there you have it.  Not only will your tax dollars not be spent on caring for your child, to even think about sending your child to a day care is a reflection of how lazy you are.  I had always suspected this about ordinary non-monied parents like you: you send your children to day care so that you can indulge in that classically lazy past time called “going to work”.  And to do that everyday from 9 to 5 and frequently for even longer--Shame on you!

If you are not worth $40 million and still have a job in this economy then you are probably looking at two options: one: how to pay for day care; or two: can I get a family member to help out while I go on my shift. According to the most recent census data 30 percent of preschool children with employed mothers are cared for by a grandparent, while 21 percent attend a day-care center. According to Donna Butts from the non-profit Generations United, who works with seniors and children in multigenerational settings, the current economy--with its twin pressures of unemployment and high day care costs--is forcing more and more parents to seek help from extended family, often grandparents.

According to Barbara Easterling an advocate for senior rights, if the proposed drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare go through then these grandparents between watching their grandkids can also look forward to “[working] until the day they died or [living] out their final years in pain and poverty”.  Maybe Newt Gingrich, who has already suggested child labor, can also suggest how grandparents can make money from babysitting instead of depending on ‘handouts’ from the government like Social Security.  And if grandma or grandpa is looking a little tired from babysitting, then Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago says that it is because she/he is suffering from substitute parent syndrome.  Her study found that Grandmothers who become substitute parents, see immediate increases in depression and obesity, they exercise less and report worse health.  What does this tell you about these terrible grandmothers?

But what if there is another explanation? What if there is another solution?

What if we acknowledge that parenting these amazing creatures called “children” require the skills, support, and historical experience of more than one or two people? Raising happy healthy and creative children needs a “village”: which in our society translate as collective and democratic participation of real parents in policy making that will affect our own and our children’s lives.  It means public funding of strong welfare programs.

Most of all today--when 25% of children in America live below the federal poverty level and only 400 of the richest people have more wealth than the bottom 50%--it means it’s time to tax the rich.

If we acknowledge that in order to reach their full potential our children need more than television, deep fried potatoes and the “freedom” to be unemployed when they grow up, then you and I need to talk about changing things ‘round here.

Come again, and bring your children.