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Obstacles to Raising Children: A First Time Father’s Reflections

My first year with my first born daughter has been an occasion for both personal joy and melancholy public reflection. Governments, both state and federal, created an obstacle course for raising our child. And for many other children the natural obstacles have been exacerbated by bad social norms, most particularly norms against rendering judgments about how people’s living arrangements affect children.

To begin on a happy note, however, the first year has reminded me once again of the transcendence of individual genius. The classics of children’s literature are antic marvels of cheer and cleverness. Reading the best of them allows for adult pleasures as well, because like all great works they offer different line readings and different interpretations. For instance, if one gives Sam the resonant voice of God, Green Eggs and Ham becomes a parable of reconciling man to God’s creation.

But the government has been a constant frustration, making it difficult for a working couple to comply with its laws while also providing personal care for their child. Hiring a nanny requires one to calculate social security, withholding, buy unemployment and workman’s compensation insurance, and obey various federal and state regulations. Quite apart from the absurd nature of some these laws, their intricacy defeated this lawyer from doing the compliance work himself and required the additional expense of hiring an outside service. No wonder the agencies referring nannies all told me that very few of their clients even attempt to follow the law. In this context, complexity makes the law self-defeating.

And some of the rules are ridiculous. Illinois workmen’s compensation charged us almost $1,000 for such insurance, as if being a nanny entailed a serious risk of injury. And although we were staying in Illinois for only 15 weeks, it imposed a yearly fee, refusing to rebate most of what we paid. Regulations about overtime made it too expensive to use our daytime nanny (who knew our child almost as well as we did) to baby sit for the occasional evening.  The government thus discourages parents and nannies, even those, like ours, who were earning multiples of the minimum wage, from making deals that make both of them, not to mention a child, better off.

It will not come as news that the first year of parenting is a challenge. It tested my wife and me as we have been never been tested before. But it also constantly reminded me of the plight of the third of all children who live in single-parent households, because it became obvious why children raised in such households are not likely to do as well as those with two parents. Even with two people, we struggled to give our daughter all the attention she needed. And while advanced thinkers suggest that my wife’s and my own attention should be interchangeable  for some reason our daughter has not yet accepted modern gender theory and demanded at times her mother’s unique comfort.

The rise of single-parent households has many causes, but one of them has been that so many of people in our society are unwilling to support norms that criticize out-of-wedlock birth and divorces by parents with children. I have argued that the lack of sound judgmentalism is in part related to the crowding out of private welfare associations by the state. But whatever the causes, my experience of the first year makes me even surer that it creates massive social tragedy. A free society flourishes only when it embraces private norms of strict personal responsibility in family life.

Reader Discussion

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on October 24, 2016 at 08:01:05 am

My mind told me to avoid this post, but "children" drew my heart. I celebrate your family and extol your private integrity. Please offer solutions to the public problems you perceive.

I hope you will use your political power to help the children you write about. You touch two major points of gross federal failure in the USA: approving same-sex marriage and funding single-parenthood.

First, "our daughter has not yet accepted modern gender theory and demanded at times her mother’s unique comfort," could be expanded into at treatise on Justice Kennedy's self-appointed lordship of dignity and equality. He and his fellow-opinion-voters overlook the dignity of a child to 1) stay with the couple whose genes the child carries and 2) have a-mother-and-father rather than a father-and-father or a-mother-and-mother.

Second, "the lack of sound judgementalism is in part related to the crowding out of private welfare associations by the state," seems vague, without the reader actually reviewing your earlier post about the value of religion, traditionally, factional-Christianity. It has long since been obvious that religion is a dismal failure in the teaching of the first principle of success in human life: fidelity to the indisputable facts of reality.

Our library meetings since June 21, 2014 have morphed from urging the public to use rather than vainly cite the civic sentence that is the preamble to the constitution for the USA, to a proposal for at least 65% participation in public-integrity as private-liberty-with-civic-morality. With civic-morality, every real-no-harm religion could flourish in privacy according to believers desires. Moreover, in an overarching, civic culture, every citizen is encouraged to understand and practice fidelity: fidelity to the facts, self, immediate family, extended family, the people, the nation, the world, and the universe, both respectively and collectively.

One other point you raised, "earning [excess] multiples of the minimum wage," abuses the nation's poor children when people are free to irresponsibly procreate. Irresponsible procreation produces abused and neglected victims. The USA must reform both free-procreation and distribution of GDP. A father in a family of four, who works full-time in a needed service or production of goods, must receive enough to pay the family's costs of living. The cost of living includes at least 15% after-tax funding for investment in assets so as to build financial security. Fidelity to family continues unto grandchildren and beyond---lasts a lifetime.

Public-integrity or its synonym private-liberty-with-civic-morality seems like proposing the impossible. However, with practice, public-integrity would prove to be a way of living that makes children prosperous. When a nation's children are prosperous, the nation's adults, childless or not, are happy.

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Phil Beaver
on October 24, 2016 at 10:25:16 am

How do you get the little picture besides your name?

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Devin Watkins
on October 24, 2016 at 10:40:41 am
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gabe
on October 24, 2016 at 10:49:31 am

John:

Happy to see you are enjoying parenthood. It gets both better and worse in time.

Re: State interference:

I would look to SEIU for some of the barriers. If i recall, SEIU caused the Legislature to impose certain requirements upon *caregivers*, favorable, of course, to union membership / enrollment, in Illinois as they did in Washington State.

At first view, I was going to argue that the problems you confront are one result of the modern day "diaspora" of the extended family; BUT, in Washington, even family members, to include Grandparents must be considered State beneficiaries of services and must also be deemed de facto members of SEIU. Of course, that little benefit comes with the privilege of paying dues to the Union.

"Illegetimi non carborundum!

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gabe
on October 24, 2016 at 15:09:18 pm

Devin, I forgot. But click on your icon and see what you learn. I clicked on mine and it seems like the pic is furnished by wordpress.com. I registered there, perhaps when I was considering where to blog and uploaded my pic, made better than I looked then by Mari Presedo, photographer, Baton Rouge.

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Phil Beaver
on October 25, 2016 at 00:44:29 am

I'm quite stunned by the delusions at work in this article. Sir, you and your wife have a stranger raise your child for the majority of her waking hours per week. If you are both working full-time, you cannot possibly spend more than 2-3 hours per day with your own child before she goes to sleep, save the weekends. While single motherhood and divorce are very damaging for children, having daycares and nannies raise children is also a pathological social trend. There should be more judgment for this kind of family "living arrangement," which puts parents' selfish career wants over the needs of children.

It's always something when conservatives lament the decline of the traditional family and extoll its benefits for children -- and then get divorces, have affairs or, in this case, farm out the responsibilities of raising their own children to paid employees and scarcely see their own children on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps also consider your own role in the decline of healthy family norms.

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Anne
on October 25, 2016 at 10:23:05 am

Professor McGinnis:

I am not a parent and cannot speak to the costs of childcare, but I can speak to your rather scathing rebuke of single parents. My mother was a single parent, not by choice but by circumstances. She divorced my father when she was pregnant with me, and she received an avalanche of criticism. She worked two jobs to put me through private school, private college and law school. She lived with my grandparents who raised me. I can assure you and your fellow readers who extol the virtues of "traditional families" that I am more successful and well-adjusted than most of my peers from two-parent homes (this may come as a great shock, but there many two-parent homes are dysfunctional.) There are also those who choose to be single parents, having not found a suitable mate. I have friends who have made this brave decision and while it is difficult, I am certain that they are loving parents and will raise bright, talented and well-adjusted children. You are very new to parenthood and have a great deal to learn. I have the privilege of being surrounded by very diverse friends and seeing many different types of families, and I know that the most important thing for a child is to grow up in a home where he or she is loved and well-cared. One or two parents can do the job, and if there are two parents, whether they be gay or straight, what matters most is that they have a stable marriage or partnership. If children see that their parents love, respect and honor each other, they will seek the same when they want to start a family. You seem to assume that "traditional" families by definition consist of loving and stable marriages -- that is, unfortunately, not the case, and where it isn't, divorce is necessary to ensure that the children from that marriage grow up with some semblance of stability instead of seeing their parents constantly fighting. Being less judgmental and more open-minded would serve you well in life, not just your scholarship.

Sincerely,
Annie Ugurlayan

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Annie Ugurlayan
on November 02, 2016 at 14:48:49 pm

The brevity of your post enhances the excellence of the points you make. People don't seem to realize that fidelity begins at home, and family members in the home are persons. Thank you.

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Phil Beaver
on November 02, 2016 at 15:49:15 pm

You post influences me very much, and being an engineer who was responsible for designing reactors that before my work could have blown up, I am always looking for certain safety.

With such goal in mind for civic influence, my logic follows this path. The human animal is special in that he or she may be more cognizant of experiences and observations than the other animals. On the one hand, he or she may control appetites and on the other, apply psychological powers to make the most of the appetites---far more than the other animals may.

Humans are naturally attracted to other humans, and many forces are involved in attraction. Attraction can turn to interest, familiarity, friendship, commitment, bonding and fidelity. Fidelity for life leads to monogamy. In monogamy for life a couple possesses the fidelity for procreation. Series monogamy provides male and female role models for the stages of life: courting, bonding, procreation, grand-parenting, great grand-parenting, and passing.

When the vagaries of life, including egocentric appetites, bring deviations from the above formula, be it an ideal or not, a person may deal with what's happened in a physically and psychologically mature way. Plato considered possibilities in Symposium some 2500 years ago and had one person express that a man who loves a boy has civic responsibility to care for the boy for life. This one point by Plato encourages me to think that fidelity is the key to human success in these matters.

Therefore, my thinking is that a civic culture may encourage members to manage life for fidelity to the facts of reality, self, immediate family, extended family, the people, the world, and the universe, both respectively and collectively. In your life experience, some people worked well. It's not always that way. I think our culture should try to influence success every way it can.

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Phil Beaver

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