In Plato’s perfect republic, children would be “taken to a pen or fold and raised by nurses … the process of suckling shall not be protracted too long; and the mothers will have no getting up at night or other trouble.” Plato’s Republic had parents without parenthood.
Israeli Zionists in the early 20th century thought the burden of child rearing and homemaking was the cause of gender inequality. They emulated Plato’s utopian form of child rearing in their communes and tried to eliminate parenthood. Similarly, royalty and the wealthy usually have hired others to care for their children.
The motif of delegating parenting now permeates the United States, although it is encountering resistance from those who prize close relationships with their children. This resistance by parents and grandparents led to abolishing the separation of parents and children in kibbutzim.
Today kibbutzim supports parenthood with long parental leaves and accommodation of the workplace to family living. The society that once attempted to abolish parenthood became a strong advocate of parenthood because, after decades, it saw that the lack of attachment bonding during early life produced adults who lacked empathy for — and the ability to sustain committed relationships with — others.
Parenthood generally is not accorded a high value in the United States.Unlike other Western nations, the United States does not recognize the economic value of parenthood. Many parents are diverted from child rearing to paid employment either by choice or by necessity in welfare-to-work programs. In fact, competent parents contribute $1.4 million to our economy for each of their children who becomes a productive worker. Incompetent parents cost our economy $2.8 million for each child they damage by neglect and/or abuse.
The disparagement of parenthood is felt particularly strongly by adults who place parenthood above employment away from home during their children’s early lives. The term “working women and men” refers to people who are employed away from home and implies that homemaking is not work or is less important than paid work.
Our society also is imbued with materialistic beliefs that encourage parents to seek alternatives to caring for their children. Most importantly, our society doesn’t recognize parenthood as a career. It doesn’t formally acknowledge that child rearing is skilled, hands-on work in which parents and children bond and grow together. It automatically awards full parental rights to any genetic parent regardless of age or ability until the child is damaged by the parent’s neglect or abuse and parental rights are terminated by a court.
Nonetheless, parenthood is a lifelong career. For most parents, parenthood is just as important as a paid career, if not more so.
Our society doesn’t formally articulate parenthood standards except for adoptive and foster parents and for the adoption of pets. However, our culture does hold expectations for people who give birth to a child. The vast majority of children are raised by parents who fulfill these cultural expectations by building and maintaining parent-child bonds, but an increasing number are not.
In the long run, parenthood is more important to our society than paid vocations.
Competent parents produce our citizens and workers. Parenthood is the career that benefits everyone.
Parents need an effective political voice to ensure that parenthood is valued in the United States.
An American Association of Parents could be that voice.
Jack Westman, the author of “Parent Power: The Key to America’s Prosperity,” spent decades as a psychiatrist and college professor, working to strengthen families. Based in Wisconsin, but also a part-time resident of Pinellas County, Westman is a family lobbyist.