The Book Club

A Surplus of Pro-Child Issues

Dear Barbara,

OK, so now you’re suggesting story ideas … what, are you after my job or something? Actually, it’s a pretty good idea for a piece. I might even do it myself. Thanks for the tip.

I’m looking forward to your next entry, for I, too, have thought about why pro-child liberalism doesn’t thrive. And part of the problem, I fear, is a lack of available money. A colleague of mine recently related to me the story of Senator Paul Simon’s retirement a few years back. Asked why he was stepping down, Simon replied that between the deficit, monies set aside for entitlements, and a political prohibition on taxes, there just wasn’t anything to do anymore. And remember, Simon’s a good old-fashioned liberal.

Now, I’m not sure I agree such thinking is quite as applicable today. After all, we suddenly have a budget surplus. And there are some problems–like the vast number of children without health insurance, one of my pet issues–that could galvanize sufficient public opinion to warrant (gasp) a tax increase. But realistically speaking, vast programs like that are not on the political radar screen right now, much as it breaks my bleeding heart. And if we can’t scrape together the money to finance something as apple pie as health insurance for kids, it’s going to be awfully hard to find the financing for the kind of comprehensive juvenile court system Mason envisions–no matter how many articles on the subject the New Republic decides to publish.

In the meantime, and in the spirit of sparking some lively debate (we’re so agreeable so far, don’t you think?), I wanted to ask you about something else in the Mason book. Remember how Mason explicitly called for recognizing that children may often belong with caregivers who are not biological parents? This would vastly expand the group of people with legal standing–not just to grandparents, distant relatives, and gay parents, but to live-in heterosexual partners as well. Given your recent work on cohabitation, and your concern for the erosion of marriage as an institution, I’m surprised you didn’t seize on this as problematic. After all, wouldn’t such a scheme implicitly give legal recognition to live-in couples, thus encouraging such arrangements and further weakening the institution of marriage? (I don’t happen to agree with your take on that issue, as you may have guessed, but we can go into that some other time.)

While you ponder that, I want to return to one other topic–something that came up in the Deutsch book: the fact that the circumstances of parenting are so different for people of different means. Deutsch acknowledges this quite explicitly. Still, reading her book, it often seemed as if half the population consisted of professors teaching at rustic New England colleges. (Perish the thought!) Of course, most people don’t have the luxury of flexible schedules, sabbaticals, and the ability to work from home. And one result of this, as you noted, is that couples of more modest means looking to share parenting (whether out of grand ideological commitments or simply a sense of fairness and joy at being a parent) must do it by working alternating shifts outside the home, meaning they don’t spend much time together. I expect this is generally good for the kids, since they get round-the-clock parental attention, or something approaching it. But what, I wonder, does it do to these couples–and their marriages? It has to be a strain, doesn’t it? I expect that we will see more and more of these arrangements in the future, and I wonder what the social fallout will be.

Apologies for loading you up with so many questions, and scattershot thoughts. That’s what you get for being so helpful and thoughtful. I’m going to go back to editing now. Let me know if you’d like me to send some copy your way …