How Parents Are Ruining America

Parents are ruining America according to NY Times columnist David Brooks. His new column is entitled How We Are Ruining America. It could have been entitled “How Moms Are Ruining America.” The opening salvo targets parents, well-educated parents to be precise.

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How simple. Parents are plotting and scheming to keep their kids on the pedestal and pushing others off. If it sounds dramatic and slightly absurd to blame our huge economic gap on parents, then you likely won’t be happy about how Mr. Brooks explains it happens. Behavior codes. If you think this sounds like something out of a pop psychology book, then you are not alone. If you're envisioning a cult with secret ceremonies, then you are not alone. 

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Mr. Brooks, call me and we can discuss why it is that children of well-educated folks tend to have well-educated kids, and it is not solely or even largely due to parents wanting to kick the crap out of other kids. Yes, it has to do with a ton of factors, some genetic, some cultural, and yes, some of these are under the control of parents. Some are not. We could begin with a discussion of why college-educated people tend to marry or procreate with with a college-educated partner. I assure you it is not because they want to keep everybody else out of their club. 

We can also discuss why and how parents in affluent schools and towns lead so-called kid-centered lives. I could go on and on for hours. Trust me. We could start with how schools, from preschools to colleges, have upped the ante for families, requiring more and more from kids and parents, to say nothing of sports, which gobble up considerable amounts of family time and resources. 

It is not fair or reasonable to blame the present inequity in wealth and education on parents, namely, mothers who stay home, even if they tend to shower their children with attention, resources and breast milk. 

Seriously, breastfeeding is just one of several specific maternal behavior codes Mr. Brooks blames for massive social inequality.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.

As if it is up to well-off moms whether or not their workplaces offer maternity leave. As if upper middle class moms are the ones who decided not to give other moms maternity leave. As if maternity leave is not an enormous issue of national importance. What would you have them do, Mr. Brooks? Yes it is not fair that every woman does not have maternity leave. Do you really mean to blame women who have maternity leave for the lack of a national policy? This makes no sense. 

Apparently in his view breastfeeding has become a tool, a weapon for maintaining a a wealth gap. Never mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization has been avidly, feverishly, working to make mothers breastfeed for years, and feel guilty and ashamed if they can’t and god forbid, don’t. Never mind that it can be difficult for working moms to breastfeed. Never mind that breastfeeding does not have any rigorously supported long-term “effects.” Never mind that it doesn’t make kids smarter. 

Mr. Brooks could have started off his column with a nuanced discussion of larger societal forces, even perhaps a discussion of maternal and child healthcare. Or lack thereof. Maternity leave. Paternity leave. High quality childcare. High quality preschool. Educational inequalities. Free preschool. Free college. Any of these would have been a far more nuanced examination of the issue at hand. 

If Mr. Brooks were really interested in examining upper-middle class moms who don’t work, he could have addressed how to keep moms working. If that's what he'd like affluent moms to do. Or maybe he doesn't want them to work. I'm not sure what he wants them to do with their time, maybe volunteer to tutor? Go find and marry fathers of lower socio-economic status? I doubt he is interested in the many reasons why they do not work outside the home. Hint, it's not just because they are too busy keeping their kids on track for suppressing the lower classes. He could have written about work-life balance issues, and yes, they are real. Mr. Brooks, do you have an opening for a well-educated mother whose been out of the work force for 5, 10 or 25 years? Please, email me, I can hook you up with a lot of over-qualified under-employed women who would like to work but to do so have to basically start over in a new profession in a new economy. Maybe you could hire them and have them reveal all their behavior codes. 

It's so much easier to pick on moms instead. Parents have become an easy target. Especially moms who dare to invest money in their children's lives – spending money on their kids not in a thoughtful, reasonable manner but “as soon as they get it.” As if moms are watching funds enter their bank account before rushing off to sign up for math tutoring and violin lessons. How dare they. Invest in their children’s future. How dare they breastfeed. Which we know they all do to get their kids into college. And not because the AAP and their family pediatricians have bullied and scared them into doing it for the health and well-being of their kids.

Once again it is the fault of parents. College-educated, hyper, helicoptering parents who breastfeed and maneuver to get their kids onto the Ivy League track. Who read to their kids. Sing to them. Talk to them. Take them to soccer and piano lessons. How dare they. It is so much easier to mock them and not talk about the constant stream of dos and don'ts they receive in the news, the pediatrician's office and elsewhere that make it seem like they can and should do more to ensure their children's health. Social inequality is a bigger puzzle than mothers who want the best for their children. 

Mr. Brooks, when you are ready to discuss the larger and more significant social, political, cultural, historical factors that have led to the present inequalities, and also to the current intense parenting environment, I am ready to listen and talk. Wait, what? So you aren't interested in that discussion? You don't think these larger forces are as impactful as "informal forces" that keep people down? Do you realize this opinion has not been supported in large scale studies? It's absurd to discount and neglect those other forces. I would take quality preschool and maternity health care over knowing the right baby carrier or even breastfeeding in a second. I bet most mothers would. In a second. 

Yes, the US has by some accounts an unprecedented economic gap. To overlook the significant factors involved (e.g., upheavals created by automation and global economy, for starters) - and point a finger at affluent mothers - just does not make sense. 

PS: I can't even begin to take on the rest of your unsupported assertions. I get it, some moms spend a lot of time and money on their kids. But you drank the Kool Aid this time. Believe me, being educated is not a cult. I don't have the secret password or hand shake. 

Speaking of mysterious codes, um, I don't know all of them that you mention. So what the heck is intersectionality? As this is one of the many "codes" that well-educated elitists know and use to oppress others - in addition to pilates, the right baby carrier and David Foster Wallace - and thus keep the hoi polloi locked out, than I am locked out with "the rest of America (that) can’t name them, can’t understand them. They just know they’re there." 

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