The agenda of child well-being policies

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 19, 2006

There has been already quite a lot of discussion about children’s well-being on CT in recent years, but not so much in political circles in most countries. But this might be changing, after the “open letter on childhood”: about which “Chris Bertram wrote”: last week. In the UK there is now the “Archbishop of Canterbury”: warning about a child crisis, and “the children’s society”: asking children, young people, parents, professionals and other adults “to submit their own views”: about what makes for a good childhood.

I think all this debate is great, and I don’t know any country where it’s not at least somewhat needed (the Nordic countries, perhaps?). But here are three thoughts about this debate. First, the social conditions of children vary drastically between countries: for example, in some countries there are concerns that children spend too much time at school, but this is not the case in other countries. Thus, what is an urgent problem in one country might not be an issue at all in another. Second, many of the issues relevant for children’s well-being cannot be discussed in a gender-neutral framework. I don’t want mothers to bear all or most costs for the social changes that are needed for the well-being of children. Thus, the debate on children’s well-being policies needs to be gender-sensitive, and we need to discuss who will bear the ‘costs’ (broadly defined, of course) related to the well-being of children. In fact, these distributive justice issues are not just between fathers and mothers, or men and women, but also between parents and non-parents. Third, rather than moving forward with a haphazard agenda, shouldn’t we first debate what kind of issues need to be discussed? I have my own idiosyncratic list of issues (which includes, among other things, breastfeeding policies, parental leave, parenting classes, urban planning issues, and the inevitable child care question); what issues do you think should be on the agenda of child well-being policies?

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09.19.06 at 6:27 am



Gareth Wilson 09.19.06 at 2:29 am

As far as child-care goes, the common practice of state subsidies for both child care and stay-at-home parents seems odd to me. If one child-raising stategy is best, the state should be funding it exclusively. And if it all depends on the individual circumstances, why have subsidies at all?


magistra 09.19.06 at 2:29 am

Quick resposnse, as I have three year old with me in computer room. Discussion of the purposes of education – at least in Britain, one of the big problems with currebt education policies are their considering children only as future workers to be trained, with ever narrower curriculum. Don’t know if this is the same in other countries.


joel turnipseed 09.19.06 at 2:44 am

Ingrid, this seems like a good start to a fantastic discussion. In the meantime, I’d like to point out that one concern I have, as father of two-year-old daughter, with a lot of discussions around child welfare/parenting: and that has to do with distribution of positional goods. As it happens, my wife and I are in a fair position w/r/t to passing a significant positional advantage off to our daughter (who will be an only child). Should we?

That is, how should upper-middle-class, well-educated people w/sense of social justice raise their children? Should we deprive our children of certain advantages (hide books? move to lesser neighborhoods with poorer schools? not teach languages we know? sell our piano? or…what)? It seems inhuman to think that we wouldn’t pass on every advantage possible. And yet, if we did so, what would be the point of most social programs, since there’s no conceivable advantage the state could provide to which we couldn’t raise the ante?

Whenever I see discussions that abjure distributive justice for systematic changes to the meritocracy, I’m reminded of the old joke my grandfather, an economist, once told me to illustrate the idea of marginal utility: “Two guys were getting chased by a bear. One stops to change into running shoes and the other says, ‘Hey, you can’t outrun a bear!’ The man wearing freshly donned joggers shouts, ‘I don’t have to–I only need to outrun YOU!'” As my grandmother and I reminisced the other day about my recently-deceased grandfather: “So few people had the advantage of knowing him, much less spending their lives around him.”

For those of us (the vast majority of CT readers, I’m sure) who make up the upper crust of the meritocracy, isn’t there a little bit of two-facedness going on when we stump for better daycares, longer maternal leaves, ECFE, etcetera? Surely our kids won’t require those things–much less cede advantage to those who do. If so: what’s the point again, absent large-scale restructuring of our wage/tax system?


djw 09.19.06 at 2:46 am

The status and availability of meaningful, career-advancing part-time work.


Cirkux 09.19.06 at 3:10 am

My wife and I are Swedish citizens living in the U.K. and I can say that we would never raise a child here. The points raised in that open letter in the Torygraph I find mainly silly (what, you say it’s not good for kids to sit in front of the telly too much?), but there are several other issues. Junk food is a problem, not only because brits live on a diet of greasy chips and sugary fizzy drinks, but because so much of the food on the supermarket shelves in this country is processed and has added sugar. The schools are, unless you can afford to put your child in a private one, substandard (bullying in school is a big problem in most areas), and the approach to parenting and children so backward that there was enormous controversy when the new law was passed saying you cannot strike your child so hard that it leaves a mark. Listen, if you need to use force you’ve already failed. Maybe it’s just the lower middle class area where we live, maybe there are british kids that aren’t sugar fuelled asbo rockets. I’m just saying I haven’t seen them. This said, the urge to raise a child in Sweden also decreases for every year, but there is no way we would ever consider having children here, however much we as adults love living in the U.K.


Z 09.19.06 at 3:18 am

That is, how should upper-middle-class, well-educated people w/sense of social justice raise their children?

The best you can. While at the same time fighting as fiercely as you can for a social system in which well-being is not contingent in one’s social position at birth.
My home country (France) has comparatively generous child-care and parent-friendly policies, something which is reflected in its (comparatively) high fertility rate. However, the educational system is generally considered as excessively meritocratic and hierarchical. I remember being very much impressed by Dubet’s assessment that in contemporary middle-class France, the sole social exigence that parents have towards their children is that they work in school. A reasonable case can be made that this induces intense suffering. Relieving that pressure would be on my childhood policy agenda.


Cirkux 09.19.06 at 3:28 am

And the more I think about it…
With Swedish eyes it seemed like a laughing matter with overbearing parents who insist that their children only be fed organic produce – we could laugh, because we had Swedish food standards to compare with. Since moving here we have realized that you actually _have_ to look for the organic section, merely to avoid heapfuls of harmful chemicals and additives. Despite trying to keep our diet similar to that we had in Sweden, we have realized that everything not found in the organic section is so packed with these posions that organic is the only way to avoid them. We have noticed some distinct changes in our bodies since we started eating british – non organic – produce that scare us quite a lot. We are grown ups, and have a choice, but children have no choice and no instruments to make healthy choices, unless their parents start out making them for them. We gained ridiculous amounts of weight despite not eating more or changing our habits, from a size 8 to a size 14 and from a large to a an XXL in six months, despite decreasing the intake when we noticed the change. Increased body and facial hair, lower resistance to infections and in my wifes case, increasingly difficult menstruations and PMT-discomfort paired with bad skin problems.

In Sweden we were able to go to a shop and buy our food without having to worry about harmful ingredients or hidden sugar – as long as we stayed away from “bad” food, we knew we had good nourishment in our basket. Here, you have to be so vigilant that shopping has turned into an irksome task.

So, to be even remotely on topic, britons should probably get their food industry regulated a bit, and then go on from there in order to raise their kids as well as possible.


bad Jim 09.19.06 at 4:23 am

How about just giving kids plenty of time away from their parents, unsupervised, unstructured time, and access to more or less natural environments?

I’m 55 and American. My fondest memories of elementary school lunch and recess are of the hilly woods on the school grounds, where fantasy could be given free reign. After school wasn’t much different; we’d be out of our parents’ view in the fields and woods in our neighborhood.

In adolescence, after the move to California and having to adapt to a more arid climate, but with even more expansive access to wilderness, and both parents working, we managed to enjoy ourselves. Sure, we tried to manufacture explosives, we experimented with mind-altering substances, we groomed ourselves in ways our elders found disturbing, but eventually we co-opted our parents, shared our music (and the odd joint) and wound up succeeding on their terms as well as ours.

Perhaps that’s impossible now. (In most places and most families it probably never has been and never will be.) If so, it’s too bad, because parts of it were excellent.


Nick L 09.19.06 at 4:26 am

To follow up and to strongly disagree with cirkux without trolling, upper-middle class children should be free from their parents health-fads (which some psychologists have linked to eating disorders). If you want to eat a vegan, organic, wheat free gluten free, atkins diet then fine, but don’t force it on your children. The rise in modern allergies is thought be some to come, not just from pollution and car fumes, but from the lack of exposure to allergens at an early age.

So I don’t sound like a mouthpiece of Spiked! I’ll conceded that children probably need to eat better on the whole, but that can be acheived without health fads and ‘organic’ food (the term ‘organic’ is pure PR, petrol is organic for crying out loud).


Gareth Wilson 09.19.06 at 5:00 am

“That is, how should upper-middle-class, well-educated people w/sense of social justice raise their children?”

In such a way as to ensure they grow up to be rich and powerful adults who share your sense of social justice, I’d think.


aaron_m 09.19.06 at 6:47 am

I am a Canadian living in Sweden and would like to note what I found to be the main benefits of the Swedish model; generous state financed parental leave and generous day-care subsidisation. Both of these policies encourage couples to have children and greatly improve women’s career options and positions in the labour market. Paid parental leave is something between 12-14 months, and is sharable between the parents. When I read debates on these issues from other countries I find that people WILDLY under estimate the effect such policies can have on gender equality. Growing up in more gender equal families were the core of child rearing work is shared more between parents and in a less patriarchal society must certainly have enormously positive effects on children (note that the claim is not that Sweden has achieved gender equality, the claim is only a relative one based on my experiences from other countries).

Spanking children is illegal in Sweden and I found this a little difficult to fully support at first, but kids are not running wild and parents are observably able to deal with there children (of course there are bad parents with out of control kids, but lack of spanking is hardly the problem in such circumstances). Given the empirical reality I can think of no argument for sanctioning parental violence against children.

I would, however, be surprised if differences between raw produce sold in the UK and Sweden is causing major increases in body hair. In general I have found Swedes to be bit naïve about how much better and safer their own food is. I have seen my Swedish friends eating raw ground beef claiming that there is no risk of salmonella with Swedish ground beef. Nuts and not true (I looked it up).


leederick 09.19.06 at 6:54 am

“I don’t want mothers to bear all or most costs for the social changes that are needed for the well-being of children.”

I know this will be inflamatory, but why not? I’d suggest that women tend to want children more than men, and that if someone wants something more than someone else, then why shouldn’t they pay more of the costs?

I think there are two main grounds for suspecting gender differences in wanted parenthood. The first is that in surveys, when asked “Do you want children?” women generally want more children than men and desire children more than men. The second is that abortion probably does more to reduce unwanted motherhood than unwanted fatherhood.

But I can’t help think it’s strange to think about gender differences in terms of the costs of children without thinking about whether there are gender difference in desires for children. Surely that’s a very relevant in deciding who pays the costs.


harry b 09.19.06 at 7:39 am

I was involved in a series of seminars on The Good Childhood that the Children’s Society ran a few years ago, and I can say that if that was any guide that their main focus will not be on upper and middle class children. Most of their work is with children who are in or near poverty, and that will inevitably influence hwo they go about their inquiry. And quite right too.

I’d put planning issues very high on the agenda, in those countries with high levels of child poverty (the UK, the US, not the Scandanavian countries), because economically integrated neighbourhoods are a key issue for poor children. I’d also, however, put labour market flexibility on the table. It has some great effects on the economy, but frequent moving from house to house and neighbourhood to neighbourhood is unsettling, makes it harder for kids to engage with the academic and social sides of school, and, of course, means that kids are much less likely to have adults other than their parents in their lives throughout their childhoods. Perhaps nothing much can be done about this, or perhaps the economic benefits are so wonderful that they outwiegh the costs to children, but that’s something it would be worth finding out, as opposed to assuming.

Should people pay the costs of their preferences? Or should they be reimbursed for their contributions? In so far as you have the first thoguht (and you agree with leederick’s assumption about the gendered nature of preferences for kids, about which I’m secptical) you’ll want to penalise women; in so far as you think the latter you’ll want to reward them.


dave heasman 09.19.06 at 8:05 am

This response presses most of my (positive) buttons : –

It manages to avoid the class war too. Should it?


harry b 09.19.06 at 8:12 am

Dave — I have one reservation, which is about testing under-11s. I like the sentiment. but I think there’s a case for testing that is actually hard to get around (but I could only make it by being very longwinded, and my wife is having a kid tomorrow, so I need to get other things done. Later, I promise). Otherwise I thought it was just about spot on, and it avoids class war by being suficiently general in the places where class matters that what she says applies across classes. I plan a submission myself, and she has just set the bar that little bit higher…


Chris Williams 09.19.06 at 8:15 am

But the Children Society surely ought to understand that if you only look at the poor kids in isolation, you’re in trouble, because the middle-class parents will move the goalposts on you. See: 1997-2006. The key problem is that social mobility inevitably involves downward mobility, and that’s a concept which Thatcherites equate with personal and social failure, and thus want to happen to other people. Nulab have done nothing to challenge this state of affairs.

On the agenda: planning; commuting distances; green spaces; safe transport; cycling culture (lack of); bombsites (need for).


harry b 09.19.06 at 8:38 am

Chris, they understand all that, I promise you! Apart from the bombsites bit (was that a joke? I loved running around in the pill boxes etc in Lowestoft as a kid)


Z 09.19.06 at 8:49 am

Women tend to want children more than men, and that if someone wants something more than someone else, then why shouldn’t they pay more of the costs?

This is maybe a reasonable approach if what you want is a material good, but when applied to children, it is a quite absurd position.

On the moral side, conceiving a child is creating a new life. Doing so implies in my opinion accepting duties toward that human being which cannot be put away by saying “someone else wanted you more than I did”.

On the political side, even granting leederick’s point that women tend to want children more than men, it seems grossly unfair to deduce anything from it. Suppose persons named leederick tend to like to give everything they own to people named Z, am I then justified in trying to exhort anything from one particular leederick on the ground that leedericks have to pay the costs of their preference?

Coming back to the real world, it is obvious and easily demonstrable that contingent social choices passed on from an horrifyingly anti-feminist past have the consequences that women’s choices are crucially curtailed with respect to child-care (and as a consequence, so are men’s choice). It is only fair to ask what can be done to readdress the situation.

Generous (and perhaps mandatory) paternal leave could be an interesting step in this direction.


leederick 09.19.06 at 10:35 am

Harry, can I ask why you’re sceptical about the existence of gender differences in unwanted parenthood and preferences for kids?

People have tended to take that view when I’ve talked about this before. And I’ve found it hard to get past. To me it seems strange. If I talk about gendered preferences regarding doing maths degrees, or becoming nurses, or playing rugby, or wearing high heels, people aren’t at all sceptical as to whether these differences exist and they propose lots of social reasons why they do. But when talk shifts to babies people’s preferences suddenly become impervious to those sorts of influences, we enter a patriachy free zone, and everyone agrees that men and women both want babies just as much.

Every survey I’ve seen on the subject says otherwise. I’m bewildered why people who’d be receptive to that sort of idea in any other context suddenly become sceptics.


HK 09.19.06 at 10:57 am

“But I can’t help think it’s strange to think about gender differences in terms of the costs of children without thinking about whether there are gender difference in desires for children. Surely that’s a very relevant in deciding who pays the costs.”

Surely the rapidly falling birth rate in western countries where women have choices other than being mothers is proof enough that even if there is a difference in desire for children between the sexes, that desire in women is still not enough to willingly take on the responsibility for childcare alone and at the expense of a career to replacement levels. If, as nations, we want to sustain our numbers in order to support our ageing populations, then we need to make having and raising children easier for women. Of course we could just keep on pouring in immigrants from more populace nations to plug the gap, but how long until their women also find that keeping house and raising six children isn’t all they want out of life?


Walt 09.19.06 at 12:01 pm

Ingrid, your post is the kind of even-handed, judicious, level-headed sentiment that has no place on the Internet. Please replace with something more inflammatory.


Kenny Easwaran 09.19.06 at 12:05 pm

Leederik – if you have links to any of those surveys proving that women generally want children more than men, that would be interesting. Also, if anyone has links to surveys showing the opposite. Perhaps even more interesting would be a survey among both members of couples that haven’t yet had children but eventually will (this would need to be a longitudinal study or whatever), those that don’t, and those that already have had children.


ingrid 09.19.06 at 2:15 pm

Leederick may well be right about gender differences in preferences, I don’t know. My hunch is that _on average_ women want children earlier in life than men, which weakens their bargaining position in terms of the distribution of burdens of childrearing in the couple. In addition, in hetero couples women are generally a few years younger than men, which doesn’t help in this respect. But I have not (yet) gathered any systematic evidence on reproductive preferences, so I don’t know (I guess it would be quite hard to get reliable evidence, though; this is more something for etnographers, not for quantitative social scientists).

I am not claiming that women and men should always bear equal costs of their procreative decisions; I am only saying that at the moment women bear already a very large cost of childrearing, if child policies increase the burdens of childrearing on parents, we should not shift all these additional burdens onto women, _precisely because they already are carying an unequal burden_. There is a real risk of _increasing_ gender inequality if we discuss child well-being policies in a gender neutral way; and that I wish to avoid. Of course, this leaves many things open, such as what gender inequality is, but the main point is to have it as part of the debate.

Qualification: the only case of parenting were you might argue that all things considered, men systematically lose out, in my view, is upon divorce (again, this depends on the legal practice in the different countries, but there are a number of countries where motherhood ideologies not only give mothers disproportionate shares of costs of raising children, but also give them whatever they ask in terms of custody when they divorce. But this surely needs another post, some other day).


VinaigretteGirl 09.19.06 at 2:51 pm

As a footnote: class is irrelevant to children, in their own terms, until and unless it is imposed on them by grownups. Good Childhood is about making this day, this night, this NOW as replete with the fullness of life, the abundance, as possible. Every day, this day. Children live in the now. Class is part of their fictionalised future. My views on Good Childhood start from where children are; and I do believe that the things I argue for, including in education, also transcend class, as far as the children themselves go. They need to be given this day their daily bread, to borrow a phrase. The fact that some children may get stuffed with cake as well is a different issue altogether.


harry b 09.19.06 at 2:57 pm

Leederik — just to second ingrid, I mispoke when I said I was sceptical of the phenomenon — what I meant was I’m sceptical f the evidence I’ve seen (unrepresentative surveys) and am open to the idea that there’s an inequality one way or the other. I also think that the tednency to want to have children is highly sensitive to social context (for both men and women), so whatever inequality you observe would be manipulable, but of course may not be eradicable (at least by legitimate means). I’m not sure its so different for high heels, btw.


grad03 09.19.06 at 4:38 pm

A question raised in the post but left untouched so far by commenters is the parent/ non-parent cost distribution of solutions. In blog discussions of societal solutions to parenting problems in the U.S., it is inevitable that a single person will troll with accusations that parenting is a choice and that since she didn’t choose it she shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s brats. Needless to say this rarely leads to fruitful discussion of the responsibilities of an individual to their larger society. Any real changes in parenting burdens will have to address this philosophical divide between valuing parenting and valuing other types of individual contributions to society. (Think of it as the “If you take a month of paid maternity leave, why can’t I take a month of paid leave to write a book in Paris?” debate.)


minneapolitan 09.19.06 at 5:40 pm

I am a bit confused by Joel’s point, but maybe I’m missing something. Doesn’t the ultimate rationale for social action include the possible benefits to society as a whole as well as to each individual? So can’t we argue that the relative position of upper-middle kids who have access to free daycare and working-class kids who have the same access, (but not the other advantages conferred upon the upper-middles) is irrelevant, since the goal is to benefit society by making life better for the working-class kids?

On another tack, isn’t it possible to argue that there are certain thresholds (not developing rickets, being literate, having shoes etc.) which we should, as a society, attempt to make possible for as many individual children as possible to reach? Furthermore, mightn’t other individual and societal benefits be dependent on as many children as possible reaching those thresholds? (E.g. the fewer illiterate, malnourished, angry children there are, the fewer anti-social, violent, Republican-voting adults there will be in the future.)

Of course, I support leveling actions too, but in the context of a discussion about social reforms rather than social revolution, I don’t think it is essential that all proposals result in some kind of objective class leveling.


lillemask 09.19.06 at 5:50 pm

Vinaigrettegirl, class may be irrelevant to children, but it is certainly relevant to their parents when it comes to their ability to give their children “this day their daily bread”.

This wouldn’t be much of a problem if it was only a matter of bread or cake, but it is in fact more of a question of bread or no bread. Rich parents may neglect their children too, but poor parents are forced to.


dave heasman 09.19.06 at 7:18 pm

“Rich parents may neglect their children too, but poor parents are forced to.”

Yes, but poor parents have big families, vertically and horizontally; care is shared, or at least it was in my corner of the gutter back in the early 50s. And then neglect was no big deal. We’ve lost that.


Rebecca Allen, PhD, ARNP 09.19.06 at 7:28 pm

I’m sorry, but your list reveals your utter cluenessless on this issue. Not that you’re atypical: it’s a very upper class list (breastfeeding policies??). I’m a child psychologist and a child/family psychiatric nurse practitioner, so this is my area of expertise. I don’t know why so many smart, knowledgeable people can’t seem to grasp the obvious here, but the overwhelming problem for children the world over is POVERTY. NOTHING else matters in comparison to that. You’re right that children are probably better off in the Nordic countries than elsewhere, but that’s mostly due to the lack of severe poverty in those countries. (See Matt Yglesias and the Prospect re how socioeconomic factors overwhelm every other predictor of school achievement, making most academic policies utterly irrelevant.) If you want to help children, help their parents’ economic condition. It’s as simple as that.


Henry 09.19.06 at 7:39 pm

Ummm nope. I don’t think that Ingrid is at all unaware of the issues of class and poverty involved here – we’ve had extensive discussion in previous CT posts. And to say that breastfeeding is an “upper class” issue is quite silly. It’s a serious class issue – the New York Times had an excellent “article”: a few weeks ago about the ways in which class and ability of women to breastfeed at work intersect. Some professional women can breastfeed at work. Very few working class women can. And this has substantial impact on the children’s later health. To quote the article:

But as pressure to breast-feed increases, a two-class system is emerging for working mothers. For those with autonomy in their jobs — generally, well-paid professionals — breast-feeding, and the pumping it requires, is a matter of choice. It is usually an inconvenience, and it may be an embarrassing comedy of manners, involving leaky bottles tucked into briefcases and brown paper bags in the office refrigerator. But for lower-income mothers — including many who work in restaurants, factories, call centers and the military — pumping at work is close to impossible, causing many women to decline to breast-feed at all, and others to quit after a short time.

It is a particularly literal case of how well-being tends to beget further well-being, and disadvantage tends to create disadvantage — passed down in a mother’s milk, or lack thereof.

I’m rather surprised that you should come into this thread swinging accusations of cluelessness around as you have – these aren’t “academic” policies but serious issues for working class women (and more so than for middle class or professional women, because the former don’t have as much bargaining power). They intersect with class and poverty in some very important and complicated ways.


leederick 09.19.06 at 8:45 pm

I do think the class aspect is important and is shot through this whole debate (at least from a UK perspective). Take testing in schools, the government introduced it to prevent poor kids leaving school unable to read or write. The backlash is from middle classes who aren’t bothered about this, have treated it as a competitive sport, and are upset that it is making little Hermione cry.

I am completely in sympathy with reducing poverty and its effects. But I can’t help but think much of this is an excuse for featherbedding the middle classes. What gets me is that most of the proposals seem to miss the poor, but would be very handy for a pair of middle class parents in full-time jobs. I think the focus on employment in particular is great for middle class, but the people with real problems – the unemployed – seem to be ignored.

Perhaps I’m just a bastard, but ensuring the wellbeing of middle class children doesn’t really strike me as a priority. So perhaps I’m advocating something that should be off the agenda. I’m fine with cheap gestures like banning junk food advertising, but my challenge would be to persuade me this isn’t just about expensive perks for people who are comparatively well off.


dave heasman 09.20.06 at 6:07 am

I do think the class aspect is important and is shot through this whole debate (at least from a UK perspective) too. But not from the child’s perspective. The child lives in the day and her environment should keep her healthy and happy and lively. This can be organised irrespective of class, and this is why I love VG’s points – they’re genuinely child-centred.


Cirkux 09.20.06 at 6:31 am

Reply to aaron_m
What you have to remember is that raw ground beef with egg yolk and beetroot is a traditional Swedish dish, and people are probably prepared to rationalize a bit in order to eat what they like.
That said I thjink you’ll find that there are very few cases of salmonella in Sweden and they are almost exclusively caused by imported foodstuffs.
So there. :)


McDuff 09.21.06 at 9:55 pm

As well as the simple and basic [i]address poverty[/i] point made by Rebecca Allen, I’d like to make a serious case for the return of the village.

That is to say, the eradication of “pro-family” policies geared towards encouraging the conception of the two-parent family as the ideal. Which is not to say we want to encourage people to raise children on their own. Quite the opposite, we want to realise that children require a strong network of adults around them apart from the two hypothetical adults in the family. We also need to realise that, for myriad reasons, probably the majority of children will have the hypothetical “ideal” nuclear family disrupted at some stage of their upbringing. (right wingers push “pro family” policies emphasising marriage and frowning on divorce, but also push wars which create widows and orphans, because it’s apparently better to have your father killed in a foreign land than to be able to see him every weekend, for example).

What I’m talking about isn’t any specific economic policy, but rather a complete rethinking of the way we view childrearing in the 20th century, and an eradication of the conservative-religious inspired moralising which pushes policy down narrow and often disastrous pathways, as well as helping to keep the tone of our society set to “disapproval” for every woman who has a child out of wedlock. If we could get parents of young mothers to consider what’s best for the child, rather than some outdated conception of shame and sinfulness that the poor girl has brought on the family, we’d be doing almost infinite good in the working-class areas in Britain and America.

Of course, such a move, being sensible, pro-woman, pro-child, workable and plain common sense will never happen, because “pro-family” interest groups aren’t pro-family at all. If they were, they’d recognise that “it takes a village to raise a child” is more than just idle words, and is far more effective than their own policies even though they don’t support the idea that the final word on what is absolutely right was decided in a desert four thousand years ago by a man with a long beard talking to God up a mountain. Those are the ideas that we have to support in our society, therefore moving away from the emphasis on marriage and towards actually looking after children whatever the circumstances of the parents is hardly likely to happen.

So, sure, let’s talk about breast-feeding and paternal leave.

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