Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Rewards of Parenting and the Decline in the Birthrate

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting post today pontificating on the possible connection between the declining birthrates in this and other industrialized countries and the increasing burdens of parenthood. He doesn’t mean that parents have suddenly acquired real responsibilities that previous generations did not have--but our collective psyche has willingly taken on burdens that our grandparents would have repudiated.

Think especially, of the safety craze--you know that tendency to want to encase your precious charges in bubble wrap? Everything from car seats, to hyper "parental involvement" in the schools, to organized "play dates", to chaperoned after-school activities that require chauferring--all these things whether for the ultimate good or ill of the children--have undoubtedly added to the social cost of raising children. Unless you are a celebrity and can give your kid a completely wierd name like "Apple" and wear them like an accessory, there is little social prestige associated with being a parent these days. Reynolds argues that the trend away from minivans to SUVs is a small piece of the evidence supporting that claim. If it were considered more prestigious to be a parent than it is to be an outdoorsman, people would put their kayaks on top of their minivans rather than pack their kids into an SUV.

Having said all of that, I have to plead guilty to alot of the new parenting sins Reynolds spells out. My kids have play dates; they are in (some, but not too many) organized activities; they cannot roam the neighborhood without adult supervision; I’m very involved in their schools; I drive an SUV (though we actually do use it for towing); and I generally wouldn’t think of putting them in a car without a carseat. Why? I think it come down to a fundamental issue of trust. It’s not so much a question of trust for our children (though I acknowledge that can sometimes be a problem) but trust for other adults. It is particularly difficult to trust adults who are supposed to be in charge. Again, why? I think it is because unlike my parents or my grandparents’ generations, it is not safe to assume that most other adults (even adults with children) are coming at life from the same basic moral outlook. I think parents "hover" (as our principal likes to say) these days because they don’t really believe that they safely can do otherwise. I think there is a real sense in which parents these days know how precious their children are but no longer believe (or have much reason to believe) that the rest of society shares in that opinion. The safety craze, in my view, is the natural and loving reaction of good parents to a society that is indifferent (at best) and sometimes openly hostile to the best interests of children. A small example of this: Driving home from a field trip to the Long Beach Aquarium last week another mother and I with our two 6 year-olds in the back seat, were astonished by the question from one of them, "What is ’better than sex’?" Until we realized that they were reading a billboard on the freeway advertising for a radio station! You can’t even drive in your own car for an innocent 1st grade field trip without these kind of assaults on decent sensibilities!

Hat tip: Richard Samuelson at The Remedy.

Discussions - 36 Comments

Our daughters Current and Sangfroidia have gone to an exclusive ninjutsu summer camp ever since little Sangfroidia demonstrated a precocious interest in assassination. Sangfroidia can levitate, but not for strangers. The girls sleep in an oxygen chamber at home and have never seen a cigarette. Current is devoted to Lakshmi and Ganesh and reads Sanskrit, albeit with an accent. Sangfroidia prefers the early Marx and Gramsci. Neither will ride in a Hummer, on principle. Both enjoy soccer.

Hottest personal ad ever.

People like Merv are why Current is taking advanced shuriken lessons on Thursdays.

As a relatively new (4 months and change) parent, I cannot help but wonder if the safety-craze doesn’t stem from some fascination with self-esteem.

Not only can little Johnny no longer receive bumps and bruises from his day-to-day boisterousness, but we’ve also got to protect him from the disappointment of, sometimes, failing at certain tasks.

The world isn’t so friendly, I’ll grant. But we’re talking chicken-egg here. Did parents get overprotective because of an increasingly indifferent world, or did the world get nasty because parents are so pushy in regards to the successes of their children?

I agree with your comments.

I have found the explaination with the greatest scope to be delocalization, and I suspect the greatest driver to be not globalization, but a centralizing government.

I think Americans had more leisure time on their hands and gradually filled with the hyper-safety causes (among other pet causes).

Factor in the creeping nanny-state and neighbors who always seem more interested in your life over their own and you get the feeling that you better be on top of your kid or the neighbors will dime you out for "abandonment."

Regarding parents and the successes of the children, my buddy noted the absence of the "C" student in today’s schools. Parents either have "gifted" children or the kid has "learning disabilities." No middle ground, it seems.

I agree with Julie’s explanation for parental "hovering": there’s good reason not to trust folks in the public schools to support parental moral education efforts. Consider, in this connection, these three op-eds, all written since last November.

But there’s another consideration as well: I can’t give my kids the run of the neighborhood because there are predators out there, even in my relatively placid suburban neighborhood. When I was growing up, the relatively substantial presence of adults (stay-at-home moms, mostly) served as a deterrent. Now....

Nice Joe,

So now it’s the faminists’ fault that pedophiles attack children? Very enlightened...

"feminists’", of course

Glass half empty, VOR!

Moms deter crime!

If I run for president, I promise a Mom on every corner.

Another factor to consider is the impact of technology on our own personal image repertoires. Note, this is not a blame-the-media-rant, but rather an observation that incidents that were once isolated geographically are now capable of invading the living rooms of people across the globe. So, when child is abducted in Montana, I see the child’s image (and perhaps that of the suspect) in my home 2000 miles away, and that image is added to my growing collection of horrible things that can happen to my sons.

Images are worth 1000 statistics, and so many of us are fooled by the availability heuristic into thinking that abduction rivals bike accidents in likelihood. We can see the Amber alerts, and the crying parents, and forget how much more dangerous our trampolines and shopping carts can be.

The thing is, we can TRUST ourselves as parents by preventing trampoline accidents, and by using car seats, and by teaching about bike helmets, and so on. But, we can rarely feel competent to prevent those televized and fictionalzed images from disturbing our sleep.

Trust in the world is the flip side of perceived competence in the person (or the self). If we focus on the low probability events that we cannot manage, then we will feel incompetent, and will feel (and teach) that the world is a dangerous place. If we focus on the events that we CAN control, then we can both have and teach competence, and hence trust.

I’ve been ranting about this whole business for a while now (having a 4 and 7 year old) and am kicking myself for not having written something like Glenn. On the other hand, I Am Fighting Back! I am doing my best to be a slacker parent. I let the kids watch TV, eat junk food, not clean up their rooms, and don’t insist they play soccer. I make them listen to my degenerate rock and roll. I rebel against the car seat Nazis, too. We’re slowly getting a bad reputation in the neighborhood (our big flat screen TV can be seen from one side street street--we live on a corner--and I’ve actually had one parent tell me they drive a different route with their kids so they don’t see our TV on and ask why they can’t have theirs on as much as we do.)

televised and fictional. sorry.

Please, please, please use car seats for your kids! During my post-doc days, one of my jobs was to contact the families of children who had sustained brain damage (we wanted them for research: frontal cortex damage from car accidents, and occipital damage from shopping carts).

I cannot tell you how emotional those calls were for all involved. Parents of children whose memories never had a chance to form because "no government is gonna tell me what to do," or some other excuse for laziness, expressed their grief and their guilt and their anger. Roughly half of the parents told me to F off, and leave them alone. The other half often broke down in tears, and offered any help they could to other families suffering the same heartbreak.

Paradoxically, when we take care of the preventable accidents, we worry less about those we can’t control, and seatbelts and car seats are very easy.

As for soccer, I am developing a hypothesis about organized team sports, mainstream culture, and antisocial behavior. Better let them watch TV, or swim, or skateboard, or learn karate than play soccer, football or..... lacrosse. The results are pending!

One last observation: My wife and I have made many sacrifices so that she could be an at-home mom for the past 15 years. (We are not perfect lefties, I guess). We didn’t realize then that pursuing that particular tradition was to pursue an alternative lifestyle. The realization hit when our kids asked to be allowed to attend daycare. There was no one to play with, since all the other kids in the neighborhood were in day care!

Fung has a point! Actually, a couple of points. I think he’s right about the exaggerated effect that media plays on our imaginations--particularly the imaginations of mothers. It is still true, for example, that most sexual predators know their victims. Nevertheless, Joe has a point too. We don’t have the advantage our parents and grandparents had of knowing that the neighborhood had "eyes" so to speak, in the form of other mothers watching.

As for the part kids begging to go to daycare--I know what he means there too. I had the same problem with my kids when they got to be around age 3 because of the lack of other kids at home in the neighborhood. I had to join a Mothers’ Club (again, an organized activity) with a play-group so that they could have other kids around to play with. So there we were, driving around on a schedule again! But there was no natural alternative to this synthetic and antiseptic world we’ve created. Perhaps I should have called Steve first, got his advice, and just turned on the tube! Except . . . we still don’t have cable (don’t ask!) . . . and then they’d have had to watch PBS and Mr. Rogers will ever be considered a mild form of punishment in my book.

Still Steve, I’ll risk being the fingerwagger here and agree with Fung (yet again!) that carseats are--on the whole--a wonderful innovation. Not only do they keep kids safe, they keep them CONTAINED!!!!

A high level public school educator of my acquaintance hopes her kids remain childless because the future is so bleak, and she doesn’t mean global warming. She sees unionized teachers who hate kids, can’t be fired, harm kids year after year, and cites data that kids exposed to harmful elementary teachers for just one year NEVER recover from that injurious exposure.

TV in and of itself isn’t bad, but when you have toddlers mezmorized by a rated R movie playing on the TV or the softcore that passes as entertainment on regular channels, then that is bad.

And, yes, I have been in homes that have done this.

Interestingly, the grandparents wonder why they are raising the grandkids while the grandparents daughters/sons are in jail/high on some drug/or out partying.

And the world goes on.

In regards to car seats ...

There are normally two standards: the law and the manufacturers recommendations.

Follow the law, please, otherwise you risk of not only getting a ticket, but of possibly getting thrown in jail for reckless endangerment or some other such charge. The manufactures recommendations normally, if not always, far exceed what the law sets as a standard.

And, most importantly, it is one thing for you to willfully put yourself at risk, but it is another thing entirely to put another a risk for harm, especially if that other person is totally, or even partially, dependent upon you for ensuring their safety.

People who don’t put their kids in car seats and don’t secure the seats in the vehicles are keeping people like my wife, a special education teacher, employed and also keep therapists employed for helping keep the first responders, police and medical, sane after seeing all the destruction to the human body.

This issue is discussed some in my STUCK WITH VIRTUE. Buy it! I must applaud Steve Hayward’s stalward countercultural efforts.

Wellll, I have two kids that homeschool, we never have owned an suv, they have never been to camp or socialized in a school. we hardly drive our toyota sedan. we always go in pairs or carry a cell phone; more for the parents who are getting older now. my daughter and son take off for walks sometimes but I am never allowed out of the house unaccompanied. my kids won’t let me waste money and make me spend it on stuff that will promote our family business. however I am succeeding in convincing them the need for travel. haha

Mark in comment 6 mentioned the troublesome "nanny state." There’s a GREAT new book about this here, check it out:

As regards, music, television watching etc., I’m just as bad. My daughter is only 11, and we are working our way through the 3rd season of the X-Files.

However, I wouldn’t let her ride in the car without her safety belt, and when she was under 6 we always used a child seat.

I rebel against the car seat Nazis, too.

I have to say I was fairly appalled by that comment.

My own laziness, ambivalence and apathy is doing enough damage, I don’t have to work at it!!!

"What is ’better than sex’?" Until we realized that they were reading a billboard on the freeway advertising for a radio station! You can’t even drive in your own car for an innocent 1st grade field trip without these kind of assaults on decent sensibilities!

I don’t consider discussions about sex with children old enough to read particularly burdensome. I certainly wouldn’t class it under "dangers" to be avoided at all costs. That’s just wierd.

My nightmares involve abduction, car accidents and lately cycling accidents, not perfectly reasonable questions about bodily functions.

We have always been completely honest with Malin, and when she was about six she asked the "where do babies come from?" question. So, we told her.

Specifically, what I said was : "The Daddy plants a seed in the mommies tummy, and that grows into the baby.".

A few days later we were driving along, and she pops out, "but how does the seed get into the mommies tummy?" .... "through her mouth?"

So we told her, in detail, exactly how it works. That was the last we heard about it.

Was I wrong?

Mother of six; the first five boys. I was in nthe local ER once a quarter for years. They knew me. I promise; I was watching. I attended to things, but you can not be looking all the time, nor everywhere at once. Incidents mentionable; the toddler figured out to unfasten the buckles on the car seat, did so unobserved, sitting calmly, unbuckled for God only knows how long. On a sudden stop, flew to hit her head on the base of the front console of the van. Another, I was making the bed, heard scrabbling noises on the roof, looked out the second story window in time to see my 12 yr. old son fall past the window. He’d wanted to see the view from the roof? His hand caught an unknown something and broke his fall. He bruised his knees, but I thought something worse had to have happened and took him to ER. Nope. He bruised his knees. Another toddler figured out how to open the garage door and found a jelly jar in make-shift pantry I had, smashed it on the floor and was scooping jelly seeded with glass shards into his mouth by the time I got there. His lips were bleeding, but he was happy.
"Look how high I can climb this tree!" and watch the seven year old fall 10 feet down on his head. Dizziness, ER again, but nothing, happily, that time.

Bubble wrap! You could have sold me some. The family who locked their kids in cages had my subvert sympathy. Stitches for all sorts of reasons, small objects stuck up the nose, broken bones from absurd as well as serious falls. I tell you, it was always something.

How does anyone keep their children from harm? As soon as you turn your back, they remove the view-obscuring helmet, unfasten the restraint (yearning to be free?) leave your side to dance in the shoe department to the Muzak, poke at the skunk hiding under the car.

Then they grow up and do life-changing stupid things for which there is no band-aid big enough.

I would do it all again in a heart-beat, and know I would probably do no better the second time around.

"They should look at ways of making parenting more rewarding, and less burdensome, in social as well as economic terms. "

Simplified source of this problem "They". It is sad we have become so self absorbed with our own needs, desires, goals, careers -you name it, that we miss the point of parenting. Look at some of the greats from the 19th century and you will find that depite their public successes they found their true happiness in family life.

Back when seat belts were being made mandatory, a great teacher of mine said that he wished the government would pay a little less attention to the body and a little more to the soul. Hence we find ourselves and our kids’ bodies wrapped in bubble wrap but forced to see sexual vulgarity everywhere. Is this a strange contradiction or is it deliberate? I am convinced it is deliberate -- based on a Cartesian duality principle that the body is the instrument of the soul. Thus the body is valuable and must be protected against all conceivable injuries and at the same time "liberated" to satisfy all the soul’s (or "self’s") appetites. The protection is for the liberation. The nanny state knows what it is doing here. I could wish our citizens understood the insidiousness of the nanny state’s enforcement of the culture of death, which is the consequence of Cartesian dualism.

On the excellent comment of Dennis, see chapter 5 of my STUCK WITH VIRTUE. I don’t exactly agree with his interpretation, but close enough...
I’ve received three tickets over the last couple of years for not wearing my seatbelt. In each case, THAT and nothing else is what I was stopped for.
It’s true enough that morality or virtue
has been reduced to safety--as in safe sex. You can do whatever you want as long as you can disconnect it from birth and death--or real thought about human greatness and misery--the soul.

Brian, was part of your discussion with your daughter about sex an explanation of why some people consider listening to a radio station more stimulating? It’s no wonder to me that they do if sex is now so trivial a thing that it is this easily and unsubtly used as the subject Madison Avenue advertising. Sex is now for thinking about everything from sports talk radio to cheeseburgers. Yawn!! I was hoping to point to something a bit more sublime in my discussions about sex with my daughter--it didn’t seem like the right time just then, no. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with your discussion with your daughter about the mechanics of sex --it very closely mirrors the same discussion I had with mine. But apart from the procreative aspect of sex, it does not begin to address the "why" of sex. Why is it good? So the message your daughter must take away from a sign like that is that it is better to listen to the radio than to make children? Cheeseburgers are just as interesting as sex? Or is it cheeseburgers will get you sex? Here’s my "why?": Why should little kids be thinking about that at all right now? It’s taking something so far out of context that it’s almost impossible to put it back into context later on.

If you want to be truly free, move to the country. I’ve lived in rural settings my whole life and my family can basically do whatever it wants. Want to ride a dirtbike really fast? Want to build a bonfire every day? Want to shoot lots of guns? Want to mow the lawn naked? Want to play your music as loud as possible? Move to the country. In my opinion,the cities, and all of their stupid, pansy laws, are what have made Americans too protective of their children.

Was I wrong?

Brian, no you weren’t wrong. Some need the information sooner, some later, but, the key here is that parents should know their child far better than an outsider and they should be pro-active and nuturing in their child’s life. A loving parent should be very concerned about what their children are hearing and seeing.

You can cover and hover in the area of virtue, and just as in the physical, somehow kids find a way. We did not have TV, except hooked to the VCR for carefully vetted movies. They found what they wanted at friend’s houses whose parents thought all such material was safely locked up. Like child-proof caps, the kids had no problem opening the cupboard lock. Even living rurally, as soon as they could drive, they were off in search of someplace else to get hurt.

Which sounds discouraging, but I still keep at it with the two left at home. My oldest says that when you are trained to know right and wrong, you have to make the choice to do wrong. Everyone else just falls in. You find yourself considering the consequences. I think he never considered them seriously enough. He does seem to be approaching maturity in his late 20’s.

To have children is to become vulnerable in ways people are not willing to do any more. Maybe there are issues of self-image, or maybe it is just the self-defensive modes everyone takes so seriously anymore. No parent can be right anymore - every time you lose your temper it is abuse - and if you take time to think about a response the problem is "old news"

Does anyone remember the news a few years back that children raised in germ-free homes were more likely to have allergic reactions than those in less pristine environs? Well, I saw it and it was a tremendous comfort. We can’t protect them from everything and it may not even be healthy to do so.

Kate--you are very wise. I find your posts compelling and reassuring. But I think you are most spot-on when you point out that you continue to fight the good fight even as you understand that you cannot really "win" it. "Winning" it is really just in fighting it, isn’t it? Too many folks are willing to quit because they think they don’t matter enough to their children. If they think that, then they are probably right. I can see that you are the kind of parent who does matter to her children and that what you have taught them will be of some benefit to them in the long run. I know it was so with my own parents--though I didn’t always give them the satisfaction of affirming it either. Still, I did have more room to fail on my own--and consequently to succeed on my own--than I think I (sometimes) and certainly many of my peers allow for our own children. But they are still very young. Perhaps the kind of wisdom you have can only be acquired with age and experience? I will certainly pray for it!

was part of your discussion with your daughter about sex an explanation of why some people consider listening to a radio station more stimulating?

Hmmmmm ... you do have a point.

We were watching something recently and the word prostitute came up. So Malin wanted a definition of that, which I dutifully gave.

So she says ... "Oh, you mean a whore?. I was less amused that time.

The issue of protective parents is easy to understand. We live in a society that is much more harmful to children in many ways that did not exist before. Some examples;

1. Information exposure means there is much more to explain early in life if you can not filter the adult content, which is increasingly not possible. TV advertisments that warn of "erections lasting more than 4 hours" comes to mind.

2. There are few remaining informatl social rules in place that would have other adults and older children behave with some level of control of what they say and do in public. Just look at what teachers are doing openly now days, let along the streets of a major city.

3. People we would have classified as "evil" are now free to do as they please and some will go out of their way to "educate" other people’s children on their evil beliefs. They seem to delite in trying to force other people’s children to undergo sex eductation or exposure to "alternate lifestyles" at a young age where they can demonstrate putting a condom on a cucumber or discuss oral sex.

4. There are people who openly hate kids, and do not feel constrainted from communicating that and even angerly make threats that if someone does not control their kids they will.

5. It is actively encouraged to have other people take care of your kids for you. Drop them off with some institution every day so you can carry on with your "real" life. Of course, if you have children they should be your real life. It is that nonsense of "it takes a village" when it actually just takes a present and caring mom and dad.

The backlash to all of this is to watch your kids even more when they are with you to ensure they are not being harmed when they are away. It is a society with fewer morals and more evil.

LOL, OT, and now it is in Spanish.

Julie, I do not generally feel very wise, just well worked-over. Or is that what you meant by age and experience?

Trying to do what is right: It is really hard to imagine not trying to do what is right. It’s like saying you are not doing the dishes because they just get dirty again. Considered the alternative?

To give children some basis, some foundation, so they can handle what comes is the point of parenting. You give them some moral framework so they have a place to put the things that come at them. You help them to see the ends, the logical conclusions of poor judgement - like that you get sick from eating off of dirty dishes, maybe not this time, and maybe not the next, but it happens and sometimes it kills you. Is that ethics? Teaching children ethics without its being a grand thing, but rather a practical thing is, maybe, my point. Then even you fail in other ways as a parent or as a person, there is a hope that you have given them something lasting.

but wouldnt he find it easier to buy FHI straighteners at

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