The new American Compass “Home Building” blueprint on policies for buttressing the American family was thrilling to read, and it reminded me of the earnestness and passion of me and my friends 35 years ago. I sense a reawakening of that same youthful excitement and energy for supporting families from writers like Lyman Stone, Patrick Brown, and Helen Andrews. Yet my initial reaction is to say, “proceed with great caution.”
I remember when we first had kids, a lot of us new parents would have discussions about “What kind of diet are you feeding your kids? Which toys or movies do you allow them to play with or watch? How are you disciplining that strong-willed child?” And there was always a tone of subconscious judgment that would go through the air, as somebody would imply that you weren’t doing “family” right, that you were out of step with today’s world. Most of us just wanted to find a good spouse, earn an honest living, have children, and lead a godly life. But the culture was moving further and further from a traditional view of marriage and family. By the 2000s, it felt like every aspect of American culture was going down the tubes, and fast.
There were fewer intact families, neighborhoods were empty because of smaller families, and every child was treated as “gifted,” so organized sports or academic tutoring consumed the family’s every waking minute. You had to live in a “McMansion” and own an SUV (or two), and make sure both parents were working to be able to afford it. People were running themselves ragged, but they didn’t have relationships – discussions were always on the superficial, happy-talk level. For a while, we too bought into the lie that busyness will make you happy, and got sucked into volunteering and organizing and letting ourselves be taken away from time with the family. But after that we were treated as “that homeschooling family,” the “weirdos” with five kids.
Without changing the culture, you’ll only see more of that attitude. You have to help people be willing to stand up and opt out. Looking back, an attitude that pushed both parents into the workforce meant that there were no strong mothers at home to help provide that good example to the young ones. There was no overall sense of guidance by our parents or the mainstream society. (And outside the mainstream, there were different problems—even though five kids was normal in homeschooling communities, we’d still get treated as outsiders because we allowed our kids to eat McDonald’s and read Harry Potter.)
In fact, more government involvement in raising kids opens the door to even worse problems. The State yearns to control every aspect of your family and everybody just goes along with the program. We all have dreams and notions of what we think we want for a family, yet we don’t have a clue of how to achieve them, and the State is happy to take over. Without a cultural reawakening you’ll just arouse that judgement over how to “parent” the “right way” that seems to pervade from all angles of society for anyone who does not fit into the right political, educational, economic, or religious category.
I remember my first well-check after giving birth. The nurse informed me how I needed help parenting (despite there being no need or signs of distress) and was quick to promote formula when I initially had some difficulty breastfeeding. Later, I continued to receive postcards from the Health Department for parenting classes. My husband and I didn’t need help parenting or financial assistance. We just need politicians to stay out of the way. Even in our divided, stressful times, community and church need to be there to help guide and support families. We don’t need, and don’t want, government to step in.
Having many children today is extremely difficult. It is a continuous battle of dying to self. One never arrives at the destination but has to continue along the journey, and everyone’s will be different. We shouldn’t dictate the A-B-Cs of family life. We need to give space for families to grow in their own ways.
This is why I would tell writers and politicians interested in families to proceed with great caution. Be extremely careful when saying things like “help families have more children not only in our national interest, but in families’ personal interest.” Politics doesn’t change people’s hearts. And changing people’s hearts is the only way for them to be more open to families with more children.
Edgerton Essays feature the perspectives of working-class Americans on the challenges facing their communities and families and the debates central to the nation’s politics. If you or someone you know might be interested in contributing to the series, click here for more information.
Oren Cass on Fox Business’s Making Money with Charles Payne
Oren Cass joins Fox Business’s Charles Payne to discuss the Cost-of-Thriving Index and economic pressure on American families
Family Affordability Survey
American families, across parties and classes, broadly share a definition of the middle class and concern with how the economy has made middle-class life harder.
In Post-Roe World, These Conservatives Embrace a New Kind of Welfare
The New York Times features American Compass’s work leading the development of a conservative family policy.