Government Should Not Step In to Make Us “Perfect” Parents

Readers — I am honored to present this brilliant piece by Jan Macvarish, a research fellow at the University of Kent and co-author of the book Parenting Culture Studies, which asks how come the way we feed, talk to, and play with our kids has become the stuff of public debate and government policy? (Boldface is mine.) – L

Babies’ Brains and Intensive Parenting by Jan Macvarish

Last week, a Free Range Kids’ post, We Cannot Mold Kids Into Exactly Who We Want Them to Be, kindly drew attention to our latest report. Now I’d like to say a little more about our analysis of the adoption of ‘brain claims’ by British politicians in recent years.

UK parents have become accustomed to hearing that they need to be more involved in their children’s homework, to monitor screen time more closely, to second-guess the school’s latest rules for what constitutes a healthy lunchbox, to ensure that little girls don’t dress in ways which might be construed as ‘sexualised’, not to mention the overwhelming admonition, from conception onwards, that  ‘breast is best’.

From the late 1990s, British politicians of all shades have talked of parenting as a problem.

Amongst other social problems, parents have been blamed for poverty and lack of social mobility, physical and mental health problems, obesity, crime and violence. And so the everyday choices of family life are said to be significant not only for individual children and their families, but to be the very stuff which determines society’s future. A growing feature of policy directed at improving parenting has been the incorporation of ‘brain claims’: citations of neuroscientific studies, dramatic statements from child neuro-psychologists and images of brains, apparently atrophied by parental neglect:

This is your brain on imperfect parenting.

This is your brain on imperfect parenting.

US parents will already be familiar with brain-based parenting expertise, advising parents to maximise their babies’ cognitive development from gestation onwards, to fully exploit the 0-3-year-old window of the ‘amazing’ infant brain. Many UK parents, too, will have bought into the brain-stimulation trend, playing Mozart CDs to their bumps, sitting their babies in front of Baby Einstein DVDs and hanging black and white toys above the crib.

But what is noticeable in policy’s use of neuroscience is that it never speaks of maximising chlidren’s intelligence but rather employs the authority of scientific ‘evidence’ to make doom-laden ‘now or never’ pronouncements on the need for ever earlier state intervention into the lives of families. If parents are not trained to attune to their baby’s neurological development, it is argued, their offspring will not develop emotionally and socially, this will, in turn, impede their intellectual development when it is time for formal school. Ultimately this will impede social mobility and reproduce current social inequalities.

Although brain advocates argue that novel insights from neuroscience mean that ‘we now know’ what babies require and what kind of training parents need, in fact, brain claims entered a culture in which there is already a strong presumption that ‘something must be done’ about parenting.

The images and vocabulary of the brain are used to strengthen an imperative for particular interventions with parents assumed to lack the skills or emotional sophistication, to relate to their babies in ways that will secure their development.

As readers of this blog will be well aware, the idea that the early years have lifelong consequences because of their significance to brain development places incredible pressures on parents to get it right. This applies to the twenty-something with a surprise pregnancy, who worries how her partying might have affected the fetal brain, to the thirty-something professional mother worried about achieving a sufficiently strong attachment before the end of her maternity leave, and to the poorer young mother, assigned a specialist nurse practitioner as part of the Nurse Family Partnership, to school her in ways of singing, reading, touching and talking to the baby that will ‘fire up the neurons’.

Concerns are also being raised by scholars of social work that ‘neurotrash’ [shoddy or mis-interpreted brain research] is being used to argue for increasing numbers of forced adoptions, with birth parents prejudged as inadequate, having their babies removed by social services and placed in adoptive families, before irreparable harm can be done to their neurological development.

As respondents to Lenore’s post about our study clearly illustrate, thinking through the prism of the infant brain unhelpfully reinforces parental determinism — the idea that parents are the ultimate ‘architects’ of the grown child’s life — and reinterprets family practices of love and care as socially significant, therefore meriting external evaluation and improvement from experts, whether commercial or state-led.

Further information about the project and its findings can be found here.

Project findings are also discussed in more detail in the book Parenting Culture Studies. – JM

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57 Responses to Government Should Not Step In to Make Us “Perfect” Parents

  1. SOA April 23, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    I don’t have a problem with parental education. There is a program in my state that is very beneficial. It is voluntary. You sign up for a parent educator to come in to your home twice a month and they teach your games and ways to play with your children to advance their development. It is aimed at lower income at risk families but anyone can sign up for it. We found it fun. I signed up for it mostly because they also evaluate the children for any delays and refer them to early intervention if needed and I knew my son needed that.

    The truth is some parents do need help. And I can’t get behind getting mad that we provide them help. I am always saying we need to support parents more. Maybe some of you scoff at thinking it might help to learn something about parenting through education, but I found it quite helpful. She did not teach me much I did not know already, but I was open to it. I am sure there are some parents out there it can really help who don’t have backgrounds in early childhood education like I did.

    If parenting was something everyone knew exactly what to do all the time, there would not be 10000000 parenting message boards where people go for advice and ideas and help. I am smart enough to admit I don’t know everything and learning more is always a good thing.

    So I don’t have a problem with programs that try to promote education that will help the child and ultimately help our society improve educationally and developmentally. However, there is a big difference between not being the most educational parent and being neglectful. So you can’t take away people’s kids just because they don’t ever read to their kids. Maybe you should (people that never read to their kids are like WTF to me) but you still can’t morally or ethically.

  2. lollipoplover April 23, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    “…the idea that the early years have lifelong consequences because of their significance to brain development places incredible pressures on parents to get it right.”

    I finally got it right with the third baby by not inducing anxiety over every choice or family decision and letting the baby lead me to what she liked (sleeping on stomach, eating table food not baby food, breast and formula)and enjoying the wonder of raising babies.

    I didn’t take parenting classes but called my sisters for advice or help and having coffee with neighbors and friends to compare parenting dilemnas. The most sage advice I received was from grandmoms of neighbors who told me to stop worrying and enjoy them while they’re little. The days are long but the years are short.

  3. Buffy April 23, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    And yet, kids from previous generations grew up to be competent functioning adults. How did THAT happen?

  4. Beth April 23, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    “Maybe you should” take kids away from parents who don’t read to them?

    Dolly, your narcissism really knows no bounds, does it?

  5. Jen (P.) April 23, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    I feel like I’m living in a dystopian novel.

    @SOA – You seem to be missing the point. The concern is that our reverence to the “latest” research about how to raise the perfect child and society’s increasing willingness to allow the government to interfere with our private lives (as evidenced by countless stories reported here – the woman arrested for having a couple of beers before nursing her baby, the child stopped by police while walking to the post office, and on and on and on) is a dangerous combination. I doubt many people have a problem with a voluntary program like the one you describe. But what happens when they identify your child with some issue and you want to deviate from the state-prescribed formula for dealing with it? Or you don’t agree that there is an issue?

  6. Jen (P.) April 23, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    I guess I didn’t read all the way to the end of Dolly’s comment. Seems her answer to my questions is maybe the state should take the kids? Wow.

  7. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    I just think we need to recognize that we keep privatizing social problems. The problem is not parenting, but poverty. Living in poverty during ages 0-3 is going to have, in many cases, very negative outcomes, for a variety of reasons, some involving environmental factors that are, on some level, within the parents control, and many things that aren’t. But, instead of addressing the real, root issue–rampant poverty, especially among minorities–we want to pretend that the problem is how people parent their kids, and expect people to change how they parent without lifting them out of the conditions that are why they are parenting that way in the first place.

    It’s the same with education. We do not have an educational problem in the U.S. (and I know the U.K. and Australia tend to follow similar trends, with their framing of and response to problems); we have a poverty problem. If you take out the large number of children living in poverty, suddenly our students do as well or better as students anywhere else in the world. We don’t need new or better curriculum or teachers, but we need families lifted out of poverty by being able to access jobs that pay a real living wage for those who can work and real material support provided to those who can’t.

    Instead, we have governments failing to or refusing to do what they should be doing–dealing with social and economic issues like poverty–and instead turning their focus to what is not their business–how people parent their kids.

  8. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    The other issue is that we have known this for decades, and the changes we’ve tried haven’t worked.

    Head Start is a direct outcome of research about early childhood development–things like how being exposed early to a language-rich environment will improve academic outcomes. So, hey, instead of actually dealing with poverty, let’s take kids living in poverty and put them in preschool at 3, so they can be talked to a lot and learn their letters and hear lots of stories read. And, after doing this for decades, it isn’t working. The kids who attend Head Start do outperform their peers who didn’t attend head start in K-2, but any gains are lost after that, and by 4th and 5th grade, the two groups are performing identically.

    All we are doing now is trying to push this down from the 3-5 range to the 0-3 range, and it’s going to work just as well, which is to say, not at all. We might see that kids living in poverty who are exposed to a “language-rich” environment when they are 0-3 outperform their peers for a short period, but those gains will soon be lost. Because, they are still living in and dealing with the effects and stresses of poverty. The only way to make real changes in an impoverished child’s life is to lift them and their family out of poverty.

  9. Jen (P.) April 23, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    @anonymous mom – I absolutely agree that our “education” problem is really a societal one. But how do you suggest we “lift people out of poverty”? It’s not as if there aren’t many programs in place designed to do just that. Your assumption that the conditions in which they are living is why most of these people are parenting badly seems a bit facile. I’m not into blaming the victim, but I think it’s a more of a vicious circle than you suggest.

  10. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Dolly, you can’t honestly believe that not reading to your children should be grounds for having a child removed from your home, can you?

    I have a master’s degree in English literature. I teach writing. I love books. But I do not think that reading to your kids is the big deal we make it out to be.

    Reading stories to your kids for a minimum of 20 minutes a day is a new thing. My husband’s parents (neither of whom went to college) rarely read to him, because their parents NEVER read to them. My husband has a doctorate. My father’s parents never read to him. But, his mother was a reader herself, and he ended up loving to read and being an English major.

    I have friends who rarely read to their kids whose kids nevertheless learned to read early. (Confession: I read to my third far less often than I read to his siblings. Usually he just gets a couple of books at bedtime. This kid knew all of his letters and letter sounds at 1-1/2, and at 2-1/2 can sound out CVC words. His sister, who enjoys listening to stories a lot more than he does and who I read to a lot more, still struggles with those things at 4–which is totally developmentally normal!) I also have friends who read tons to their kids who have children who were still struggling with reading at 5 and 6. Which, again, is totally developmentally normal, and not a big deal. But, this idea that we are making or breaking our kids based on how often we read to them is simply not true.

    It’s kind of funny. I was just talking about this with my husband. If the ages of 0-3 are so critical, you’d think we’d have known this. I mean, is there any ancient religion that talks about how you should raise 0-3 year olds? Is there any ancient wisdom addressing this? As far as I know, no. For most of history, you kept your kids alive until they were useful, and people turned out just fine. This idea that 0-3 is so critical is completely new, and it flies in the face of pretty much all collective human wisdom.

  11. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    @Jen P., most of our programs in the U.S. are designed to allow people to continue living in poverty but with food and a roof.

    I agree it’s complicated. That’s probably why we aren’t tackling it. We need, mostly, jobs that pay a decent wage, even for people who don’t go to college. Everybody is not going to be an engineer or a doctor. That should be okay. You should still be able to find work that pays you enough to provide for a family.

    And it certainly wouldn’t be an overnight change. You aren’t going to take families who have been living in poverty for ten generations and suddenly have them parenting the way the neuroscientists say they should (and maybe we shouldn’t even want that). But, if you remove a lot of the immediate stresses and dangers, you will see very positive changes. A lot of parenting choices are made based on necessity or out of stress, and we know that reducing parental stress–and poverty and much that comes along with it is a huge stressor–leads to better parenting and safer, happier kids.

  12. Wendy W April 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    My exposure and experience with true poverty is extremely limited, bordering on non-existent. But what experience I do have leads to the belief that it is a self replicating cycle that is based NOT on anything for 0-3’s but on the types of decisions that boil down to delayed gratification.

    We spent this winter with a 20yo friend of my son’s living in our basement. She grew up in relative poverty with an extremely unstable life- constant moves and changes of school, parents who couldn’t pay the rent and were unemployed due to their own choices (quit in a temper tantrum, etc.) Though it was obvious in conversation that this girl was NOT dumb, her choices were. She got a part-time job at minimum wage and was getting @ $200/wk. Her goal when she moved in with us was to get her own place, a car, and to further her education (not available in our small town.) Her paycheck every time was spent on junk food, presents for others, cell phone, cheap trinkets, or given to her mother. At the end of 6mo she was ABSOLUTELY NO FURTHER AHEAD than when she started. She was not willing to move to a larger town where she could get FREE training that would have gotten her a $15/hr job. She would not save money. She would not eat the free food offered her in our house because she preferred her junk food. All of this is life choices based on a very faulty world-view, and that is not learned at ages 0-3.

  13. Stacy April 23, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    A lot of things are being lumped in together here. There’s junk science (e.g. Baby Mozart) versus real science (e.g. medical benefits of breastfeeding). There’s educating parents (which is a good thing) versus pressuring parents to meet one vision of “perfect” parenting (which may actually be bad for the kids and, regardless, isn’t necessary). There’s also unnecessary state intervention in parenting versus needed intervention. Through my job, I have been exposed to many parents who truly cannot parent small children safely, often because of drug and alcohol use, along with mental illness and the abusive parenting they suffered from themselves. Children deserve a home safe from abuse, where their basic needs are met and they are not exposed to violent crime. Unfortunately, the problems in their homes and neighborhoods can’t be easily solved by offering jobs.

  14. Warren April 23, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    Take all the courses you want, read all the books you want and attend all the lectures you want. That is your choice, but the minute the gov’t starts making these things mandatory is where we have to draw the line.

    Why on earth would anyone want more gov’t interference. Isn’t it bad enough as is?

  15. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Is it as simple as giving people jobs? No. But creating real, accessible ways for people to get out of poverty is a start.

    The thing is, the reason a lot of these parenting practices–like not talking much to your child in the early years–are seen as problematic is because they are associated with poverty. We know that the two factors most correlated with how much a child is spoken to are socio-economic status and mother’s educational level. We have NO evidence that simply instructing parents to talk to their children more–or forcing them to attend classes that will tell them to, or punishing them if they don’t–will cause parents to do so. If we actually want parents to talk to their children more, instead of just wanting to TELL them to do so, we would focus on raising the SES of families and increasing women’s educational attainment.

    But you can’t expect people to change long-standing, often generationally-ingrained behaviors just because you tell them to, especially if you don’t take any steps to address the environment and circumstance in which they are engaging in those behaviors. People don’t make choices about anything, including parenting, in a vacuum, but in the midst of their real-life circumstances. I think we made a huge attribution error when we think the fundamental problems is the choices they are making, as opposed to the environment and circumstances in which they are making those choices.

    Not to mention, one is, in my opinion, a valid site for government interference, the other is not. The government SHOULD be concerned with the environment its citizens live in and the opportunities available to them; it should NOT be concerned with their individual parenting practices (unless they truly endangering the health or life of the child).

  16. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    @Wendy, I think you are missing that poor people don’t make more stupid economic choices than more affluent people (do you think privileged 20-somethings don’t blow their money on stupid crap?–at some level, our entire consumer-goods-based economy only keeps chugging along because of people making stupid choices), but that their stupid choices hurt them a whole lot more. When you are in poverty, you have no room for error.

    We have a somewhat variable income. When we have more money coming in, I can make a number of impulse or unnecessary purchases during the month and we’re just fine. When we have less money coming in, even one stupid impulse buy can mean we’re in a hole it’s going to take months to get out of. It’s not that my stupid choices cause us to have less money, but that having less money means that any stupid choices I do make financially will have a far, far greater impact than they’d have if we had more money coming in.

  17. Donna April 23, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    “The problem is not parenting, but poverty.”

    No, the problem is both poverty and parenting. The culture of poverty has lead to the development of a very negative parenting. The fact is that children of impoverished people who live outside the culture of poverty – 1st generation poor, 1st generation immigrants, people who choose to be poor (counterculture, artists, etc.) – tend to be stable and see that stability improve with each subsequent generation.

    Head Start is not failing to work because of the stresses of poverty. The gains of Head Start fail to hold because these children are being raised in homes and communities that, at best fail to provide any encouragement, and predominantly ACTIVELY DISCOURAGE them from wanting to do well. If the parents encouraged education, the kids would improve on the early gains. But the parents use Head Start, all of school actually, as nothing more than free child care. Would you be able to keep up with your middle class peers who are encouraged to study hard and succeed if you, not only could find no quiet place to do homework, but were also being ridiculed by your peers, parents, and community for even wanting to do it?

    I am not saying that poverty isn’t a part of this. I called it the culture of poverty for a reason. The stresses of poverty have brought on the development of this culture, but it is the CULTURE that is impacting most severely, not the poverty itself.

  18. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    @Donna, but you don’t cause a problem that is ultimately caused by poverty–because what we see culturally are responses to generation after generation of poverty–by telling parents to parent differently. That is not going to happen.

    If anything, this push to basically shame the poor into parenting better by telling them everything they are doing wrong is going to further entrench the problem. Why wouldn’t you feel animosity toward a system that disdains everything about your lifestyle and parenting choices?

  19. lollipoplover April 23, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    @anonymous mom- the problems facing children, including the complexities of poverty, unfortunately cannot be solved by simply getting someone a job. Or using a flow chart of “Respond · Cuddle · Relax · Play · Talk” from the government to improve parenting.

    I wish it were so simple. Sometimes parenting means *Scream *Cry * Dream of bolting out of house* and Call a Sister. It’s not perfect and it’s exhausting. You know how I like to relax? In a hot bath with quiet music. With 3 little kids that never happened. I used to lock myself in the bathroom and put myself in time out, eat my secret stash of chocolate, and call a sister or friend to talk me off the ledge.

  20. Powers April 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Wendy: “All of this is life choices based on a very faulty world-view, and that is not learned at ages 0-3.”

    Actually, delayed gratification, as a life skill, is indeed often inculcated in a child’s formative years. A child whose wants are immediately attended to never learns that delayed gratification can bring a larger reward in the end.

  21. Donna April 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    “poor people don’t make more stupid economic choices than more affluent people ”

    Oh yes they do. There was a blog recently (by recently I mean within the last year) circling the internet from a woman living in poverty in response to all the people who complain about the poor having cell phones, cable TV, manicures, junk food, etc. She details the stupid financial choices made by the poor, acknowledges that they are stupid financially and then goes onto explain in very raw terms why the poor tend to make those choices. It basically boiled down to “they can see no way out of their life so they make no attempt to save to dig themselves out and instead spend their money frivolously because they are at least happy in that moment” or something like that.

  22. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    And, again, I’m not saying it’s simple, or as simple as handing people jobs or money (although access to jobs is certainly something).

    There’s lots of factors. I live in an economically- and racially-diverse neighborhood in the inner city. Right outside of our neighborhood are two housing projects. The kids who live in poverty in our neighborhood–and some of them are, by U.S. standards, extremely impoverished–often do much better than their peers just across the street in the housing project. They have neighbors of all races who are teachers and doctors and city council members and librarians and students and scientists. Kids have access to people and opportunities and just different ways of living that many of their peers lack. And the only difference is that they are not living in a neighborhood that is entirely poor, as so many urban poor do.

    Our pattern in this country of isolating the poor, especially the urban poor, into housing projects or low-income communities where nobody who can afford to live elsewhere to live is a huge factor in creating a culture of poverty, but it’s not the fault of the individual poor, who often don’t have much choice as to where they can afford to live.

    Again, there is no easy solution to these problems. But, we need to recognize that they are problems that are larger than individual parenting choices, and that they will not be solved at the level of individual parenting choices.

  23. Papilio April 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    @Donna: Yes, I’ve read something like that too. They also smoke and drink more (often) for those reasons.
    Also a woman who bought books whenever she had a little money, because ‘other people can buy books too and I want to feel normal and this makes me happy’. I remember thinking normal people go to the library…

  24. Jenny Islander April 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    @Donna: It’s also been observed that even the “responsible” poor eventually break down because if you have $500 worth of problems split up 11 ways and $15 in your pocket, and this goes on day after day, trying to figure out where to put the money will simply wear out your brain. And then it’s “Eff it, no matter what I do I end up in the hole, I’m going to do [enjoyable thing that somebody with a comfortable income wouldn’t think twice about doing with $15, but when a poor person does it they get loads of crap for being so irresponsible with their money].

  25. Donna April 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    @anonymous mom – You don’t change generations of detrimental culture by giving someone a job or money. Yes, jobs need to be available, but you have to dismantle the culture before they will be able to succeed in them.

  26. anonymous mom April 23, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    @Donna, I’m just saying that nearly everybody spends money frivolously. I have an uncle and aunt who have a high six figure income who were unable many times to help their much less affluent siblings help provide for their elderly parents, because they were so overextended. We were there one Christmas when they bought three large flat-screen TVs (back before everybody had them). People of all economic classes make stupid choices, and buy things they don’t need, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much if you have enough base income to provide a cushion.

    It’s hard to make good economic choices if you are making minimum wage, because you probably won’t have enough to cover your basic living expenses no matter how smartly you budget. It’s hard to make a choice that isn’t stupid when you are in that situation.

    Choices are not made in vacuums. That’s all I’m saying. Just because it’s easier to point to the choices people make, rather than the circumstances they make them in, doesn’t mean that’s an effective way to make changes.

    I live in Detroit (the actual city, not the surrounding suburbs that get lumped in). I do not have a romanticized view of the poor, at all. I just don’t have a romanticized view of the middle- or upper-classes. I saw just as much stupid, frivolous spending when I was in grad school (in a program with people who, in many cases, grew up in affluence that made my own solidly middle-class upbringing seem incredibly deprived) as I do living in Detroit. It’s just that stupid choices matter more when you have less money, and are much, much, much harder to recover from.

  27. Wendy W April 23, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    My previous post was cut short due to having to make an appointment, so I wasn’t able to fully say what I meant. My purpose in posting was to point out that the circumstances of the poor are often due -at least in part- to choices of their own making, and that the mental skills needed to make good choices are learned throughout our lives, usually from our parents. Those types of skills are higher-level thinking skills that have very little to do with our toddler years, and the issues that result from poor choices are not going to be “cured” by Perfect-Parenting Lessons from some bureaucracy.

    I know the choices of the poor have a larger impact. That is a topic I gave some thought to during her stay here. She really has no room for error in her life, and that is something that carries a lot of pressure. In letting her stay we were hoping that we could relieve some of that pressure and help her to improve her situation.

    We have had periods in our life where money was extremely tight, and during those times we did not spend on “extras” but paid bills and bought basic food ingredients, not junk. She came here with stated (by her) goals, and all her physical needs (food, shelter, transportation) were provided by us, yet she still was unable to save any money. She told me quite a bit about her upbringing, and I have no doubt that her decision-making skills are a result of the kinds of decisions her parents make.

    My son is also 20. He has an Assoc. Degree and is job hunting for that career field while working part-time in fast food. We still have to guide him to make good choices and evaluate options. That kind of parental guidance is severely lacking in our young friend’s life, and she wasn’t very receptive to getting it from us.

    I think one of the biggest unlearned lessons that contributes to poor choices is the concept of “cause and effect.” This is a very basic concept that is learned and relearned throughout childhood, starting with the word “no” and a swat when they don’t comply, and progressing through the loss of privileges when teens act out. This particular lesson is one that is LESS likely to be learned when Perfect Parenting Lessons have been given, because the current trend is to protect our kids from all consequences of their choices, and to prevent them from ever making choices that might result in negative consequences. When not learned young, it seems that the connection between choice and consequence is never made

  28. BL April 23, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Since this thread was originally about government “stepping in” but has become more about “financial responsibility”, the absurdity of looking to any branch of government for financial responsibility is just … well, too absurd.

    Especially Detroit’s city government, which is the hometown of one of our posters.

  29. Alex April 23, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    A government that has the power to give you money/stuff to “protect the children” from property os not far removed from a government with the power to take away children of the poor to “protect taxpayers from welfare.”

  30. Donna April 23, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    “and that the mental skills needed to make good choices are learned throughout our lives, usually from our parents.”

    Exactly. That is the cycle of poverty.

    “Those types of skills are higher-level thinking skills that have very little to do with our toddler years”

    I disagree completely. They are skills we learn our entire lives, including the toddler years. It started from the first moment my daughter whined for a toy and I told her it is too expensive (as opposed to the “I ain’t buying you that shit, now shut up” that my clients’ children get).

    But, no, I don’t think Perfect Parenting Class is the answer.

  31. SOA April 23, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Donna is on to something about poor not encouraging doing well academically. My friend was raised in poverty. Her parents never encouraged education even though she liked school and was smart. Once she turned 15 they immediately told her to get a job and they did not care if her studies suffered, they just wanted to be able to take that money she earned from her to buy cigarettes and soda. This is from her own mouth. She went from being a good student to a failing student to dropping out. It is a shame.

  32. SOA April 23, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    I can’t believe anyone is going to argue not reading to your kids is a good thing. Plenty of studies have been done about the importance of early reading to children. Heck our state through Dolly’s Imagination Library sends every kid one free book a month through the mail. Because reading to your kids is important!

  33. lollipoplover April 23, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

    “I can’t believe anyone is going to argue not reading to your kids is a good thing.”

    Can you stop with your sanctomommy act? Reading is good it’s not a magic bullet. I read all the time with my oldest but had to stop when he started having seizures. For my middle child, who was smart but lazy, I would put her in her room to make her read and set the oven timer. The cats would come down in costumes from her room (she wants to be a fashion designer) with notes attached asking if she was done yet. I gave up with my youngest and she learned to read on her own at 4. She reads chapter books now at 7 and is my best reader.

  34. Jessica April 23, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    Two things: Firstly, I’ve always felt that reading to your kids is significantly less important than simply sharing your love of reading. My parents never read to me that I can remember (yes, I know, anecdote coming) but they were always reading. I learned to read at an early age and still love to read. Besides, is it better to show you love to read by reading yourself, or to involve yourself in what some may consider drudgery and read to your kids (and for the record, yes, a lot of nights I read to my kids because they ask, not because I want to)? Kids can sense when we’re not being sincere.

    Also, as far as the discussion on poverty goes, part of the reason some don’t manage their finances so as to get out of poverty, is because the government programs in place actively discourage saving or improving your income. In order to qualify for food stamps, you can’t have more than $5000 in the bank, and just like the subsidies under the ACA, one dollar over a certain income level can completely dsqualify you from them. If the system were more gradual, like benefits decreased by x amount when your income increased by the same amount, that would be less intimidating, but if you suddenly get $15 an hour instead of $14 and lose $500/month in benefits, where’s the incentive? The programs are already in place, they just need a major overhaul.

  35. Reziac April 23, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    Kids of we old fogies’ generation didn’t get any special “neural stimulation” or whatever is this week’s fad for preschool-aged kids… most of us were just allowed to BE KIDS.

    But as a group we’re much better-educated than today’s kids.

    So… THAT evidence indicates that just being allowed to BE KIDS *IS* the optimal parenting technique for making us be our best when we reach formal education.

  36. LTMG April 23, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

    Any government unable to balance a budget, unable to broadly identify and eliminate wasteful spending has absolutely no business meddling with parents.

  37. anonymous April 23, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    This blog post was originally about government over stepping its bounds into our private lives. Some of you have made it a rant about poor people.None of you have ever been poor or home less.You have no idea how close each of you really are to this. Being suddenly disabled or having a natural disaster that your insurance carrier decides not to pay for can happen to anyone. My family had both of these. We were homeless. The social safety net is truly meant to keep the poor exactly where they are. Our public schools do not teach financial literacy so poor people don’t know how to work their way out of poverty. We home schooled through all of this and so much more. My oldest daughter is 20 with a traumatic brain injury and was raised by a single mother well below the poverty line. She is a college student at the top Art college in the country. Her little sister has never missed a question on her standardized end of year test and she is 13. I grew up poor with a disabled father. My parents grew up poor. Our education came first always as it has for my kids. My children always come first just as I did. I was raised by a tiger mom. My disability happened young at just 22 in the military. Don’t you dare attack the poor for making bad choices we do the best we can with what little we have. We worked our way out of homelessness. So many intelligent poor families have no way to overcome their circumstances but love and home school their kids to help them have a better future. And as a side note most middle class parents i know should not be parents they seem not to care at all about their kids. The government has no place telling parents how to be parents. If you love your kids you will learn what you must to raise great kids!

  38. anon for once April 24, 2014 at 12:23 am #

    Presumptuous that others on here have not experienced poverty, homelessness and the like.
    I am a semi-regular contributor, but remain anon for this time.
    I have been homeless, both as a child and an adult. I have wondered where my next meal will be. I lived for months on plain pasta (because plain rice, the cheaper option, made me feel sick).

    In my case I was “saved” by having rich friends in highschool and early adulthood. I could see how they and their families did things, how delayed gratification etc works. My siblings did not have this input, and they continue to struggle financially.

    The thing is, we were all read to and the like. Our parents had little formal education, but are smart cookies, self-educated ones. They can hold their own, conversation wise, amongst the more educated ones, but poor financial decisions are always made.

  39. Donna April 24, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    I also grew up poor. My mother got pregnant with me right around her 17th birthday to escape her abusive household. That marriage lasted as long as most shot-gun teenage weddings. We then lived in the ‘hood and on welfare. My mother, however, did graduate from high school after I was born, got an associates degree and remarried a decent guy. Then they decided to become full time artists with all the riches that entails. At one point in my childhood, I even lived in a former chicken coop in an artist commune.

    I now work exclusively with impoverished people and spend a considerable amount of time volunteering with them as well.

    The largest difference between me and most of them is that my family was poor but never part of the culture of poverty. Their overall decision to pursue art full time may have been financially suspect, but they made reasonable choices otherwise, properly budgeted what little they had decently, worked hard, discouraged teenage pregnancy and encouraged education. Their friends were all middle class or fellow artists and not criminals or other negative people. Normal morality was lived and taught so I didn’t grow up in a world where prison, dropping out of school and getting knocked up at 13 was the norm.

    But, yes, it is possible to break out of the culture of poverty. It takes actually having brains and drive. You have to have the inner strength to ignore the ridicule and discouragement of people who want you to fail and seek out the education or skills that will allow you to escape. You have to find people to actively mentor you or who you can emulate like anon for once did. It also often requires completely breaking away from your family, community and everything you have ever known because they will pull you back in. Some of my saddest cases involve people who have gotten out and then give a childhood friend, or brother, or cousin a ride or a place to crash and it ends up destroying their lives. The reality is that it is extremely difficult and very few succeed.

  40. Andy April 24, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    @Donna I think that what you describes is called learned helplessness. Basically, humans, rats and other similar creatures tend to give up trying after a while. They tend not to see the chance to get better, even if it is present.

    It is much different the counterculture and artists who decided to live as poor, most of those could lift themselves out if they wanted. To use analogy, it is a difference between not having money and deciding not to spend them. Your shopping basked is the same, situation different.

    I do not think there is a silver bullet that would solve poverty in one day. Cultures change slowly. However, they do not change at all as long as outside conditions remain the same.

    The more obstacles one need to dodge to lift himself out of poverty, the less likely he is to succeed. The less likely is he to succeed, the less likely is he to try. So, the goal should be to make it as easy as possible to get out. The culture can change only if people see significant amount of success stories around.

    Not everybody will use that chance to get better (as stories here show), so the strategy should be to make it as easy as possible for those who do.

    Side note: a lot of things are more complicated for poor people. If I forget to pay bill, there is no big deal. I pay it later along with fine which is unpleasant, but I can afford it. The fine alone may be a big deal for poor person. If I would be fired, I have enough savings to live for a while. Not so much most poor people.

    What I’m trying to say is that my margin for error is much bigger. I can keep making mistakes and learn from them without getting much frustrated and discouraged. I do not have to decide between yogurt and fruit, I can buy both and then throw them away and still be fine financially.

  41. pentamom April 24, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    Nobody is saying that “not reading to your kids is good.” But while it is generally a good thing to do, it’s not the be all and end all of good parenting. Even illiterate parents have raised intelligent, well-adjusted, and academically successful kids throughout history. My parents, though very serious about making sure we did well in school and got an education, only read the occasional story to us when we were too young to read, and after that, almost never. We read to our own kids a lot more — but it’s something we enjoy.

    There’s a difference between “this is a good thing to do” and “anyone who does not do this is unworthy of raising their own kids.”

  42. lollipoplover April 24, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    @pentamom- I was the youngest of 10 and my only memory of childrens books in our house was in the family room with the other toys. There were a few Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry (I used to lick the scratch and sniff page my siblings told me). I also learned to read on my own at 4 and never attended preschool. My house was the school, there were always so many kids around to play.

    I find the “A good parent reads to their child 20 minutes a day!” highly offensive. There are many different types of good parents. Not everyone has to check off this box to raise a decent kid. Some kids would prefer to have a baseball catch instead. Building bonds with your children isn’t only accomplished by reading to them.

    My kids can read recipes, how-to’s, cable box programming (thank God), and books they choose about their own unique interests. Our library has an amazing variety- the DIY section for sewing and upcycle projects blows me away. And honestly, I cannot read another Junie B.Jones book with the grammar errors. I want to red pen the whole thing. The youngest can read to herself while I read my own books. (I’m reading “The Invention of Wings” now by Sue Monk Kid and it’s VERY good.) Actions speak louder than words. If I want my kids to be lifelong readers I will role model sitting and reading a book as an enjoyable activity or tackle a new recipe with them, not chasing after them to check off the box of “reading” each night.

  43. pentamom April 24, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    “If I want my kids to be lifelong readers I will role model sitting and reading a book as an enjoyable activity or tackle a new recipe with them, not chasing after them to check off the box of “reading” each night.”

    Yep. As I said, we did read to them a lot (though I doubt we averaged 20 minutes a night even when we did it — more like half an hour most nights while working through a particular book, and then maybe nothing for months) because WE enjoyed it. I will occasionally even read a humorous short story to them now when they’re 13-23 because it’s fun and they consider me good at reading out loud. But once they were able to manage even simple books, they took off and did it on their own (except for a few special books we wanted to share the reading experience with them like LOTR, Narnia, and a couple others) and I can’t imagine what they would really have lost out on had we not read to them out loud any more, other than the modeling of reading to their own kids someday, which is a neat family experience if the parents and kids like it but is not an essential part of learning or literacy.

  44. pentamom April 24, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    Actually, I’ll take that back. I think they would have missed out on something worth having had we never done the reading aloud thing with them after they were old enough to read themselves. But no family can give their kids every experience worth having, even every easy and cheap experience worth having — different families pursue different interests. So I think that reading out loud to your kids is good and I will always promote it but I would never suggest that failure to do is deeply depriving them in any way. It’s not THAT basic, and certainly not basic enough to make an unfit parent.

  45. Beth April 24, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    “I can’t believe anyone is going to argue not reading to your kids is a good thing.”

    Dolly, are you completely dense? No one is arguing this. What should be argued, at length, is your assertion that “maybe we should” take away kids from parents who don’t read to them, but darn those morals and ethics for keeping kids with their families.

  46. SOA April 24, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Once kids are old enough to read to themselves, you no longer have to read aloud to them, Just make sure they have books they can read independently and encourage that. I was referring to little kids who cannot read on their own yet. The only way to start them on the right path for a love of reading and books and literacy is to introduce them to books by reading to them and giving them board books to look at and chew on even and then graduate to Dr Seuss books where you read them together.

    But if a child literally never sees a book until they are 5 and go to Kindergarten then there is a pretty good chance it is already too late. Several studies back up how important early literacy is to kids. Thus why many programs and charities are set up to promote that like story time at the library, Dolly’s Imagination Library, etc.

  47. Buffy April 24, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    I think the answer is yes, completely dense.

  48. pentamom April 24, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    “The only way to start them on the right path for a love of reading and books and literacy is to introduce them to books by reading to them and giving them board books to look at and chew on even and then graduate to Dr Seuss books where you read them together. ”

    See, it’s over the top assertions like “the only way…” that make you sound silly, Dolly. Yes, it’s good to read to your kids before and after they’re able to read. No, Abraham Lincoln did not somehow do the impossible becoming highly educated and literate with no one to read books to him and no one books to read. It is NOT the only way and it is NOT grounds for violating people’s human rights.

  49. pentamom April 24, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    Let me clarify: it IS not, should not be, and is not a shame that it is not, grounds for violating human rights.

  50. Donna April 24, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    “The only way to start them on the right path for a love of reading and books and literacy is to introduce them to books by reading to them and giving them board books to look at and chew on even and then graduate to Dr Seuss books where you read them together.”

    Actually studies have shown that reading yourself is the best way to get your kids on the right path for a love of reading, not reading to them.

    I was never a big fan of reading to my daughter. We did some, some days more than others, but rarely for 20 minutes and definitely not 20 minutes every day. My kid is in the highest reading group in her grade and reads non-stop.

  51. Ann April 24, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    Reading to a child is more about spending some quality time together bonding than making sure your child is ahead in his or her reading skills. My child is 10, has been able to read himself since preschool, and does read voraciously, yet still loves our special time together reading long books. We read a chapter together a night, right now we’re working our way through Harry Potter, him often begging for more at the end. I’ll tell him, well, go on and read ahead if you want, but he declines, waiting for us to share the adventure together. I LOVE that he still enjoys this together time, because soon enough he probably will not. Parents who say reading to your child is not important, or that children’s books are too boring, or that you’re too busy with all your other kids’ needs or housework are missing the point and missing some very nice one-on-one time.

  52. BL April 24, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    “Actually studies have shown that reading yourself is the best way to get your kids on the right path for a love of reading, not reading to them.”

    Probably true.

    On the other hand, if you watch television …


  53. lollipoplover April 24, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    “Several studies back up how important early literacy is to kids.”

    Studies also show that breast milk is best. Dolly, just out of curiosity, did you breastfeed your twins? Or did you give them the less optimal choice of formula? Just because you don’t make the perfect choice every time does not make for a bad outcome.

  54. CrazyCatLady April 25, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Aside from a family in poverty emphasizing the importance of education for a family to break out of poverty, there is another factor.

    You also need a school district that absolutely encourages the most from its students. And not just some of its students….all of the students.

    I went to high school in a small county, with one high school. Students were put in tracks at an early age and expected to stay there. Kids of professionals (lawyers, doctors, etc.,) they went into the gifted program with a token minority for each grade who was not from a professional household. Kids of farmers were expected to be in FFA and classes related to that. Kids of white parents were put in tracks that would lead to retail and work at one factory that required a bit of math. African American kids were put in a track that led to working in that soup factory picking chicken off the bones. Or, being janitors.

    Some students broke from this mold, and did go to college, but they were never encourage by counseling staff at the high school. Students who were poor, but excellent athletes were never encouraged to get scholarships to colleges except by other students.

    The culture of poor is not always just a family system of dealing with life. It can also be a school or community system that encourages everyone to stay in their “place.” If you need a movie example, think of the movie “October Skies” where the teacher is encouraging the boys to enter the science competition and the principal is telling her to not get their hopes up. No, that is not an attitude of the past – you will find it in many communities today.

  55. SOA April 25, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    I planned on breastfeeding and tried to with even getting help from lactation consultants but was not able to. So I acknowledged how important and optimal it was and did all I could to make it work. Just like I would expect a parent to do all they can to promote early literacy especially since reading a book to your kid is a lot easier than breastfeeding with hormone issues.

  56. SOA April 25, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    You are right I have heard that info too about reading yourself a lot is another good way to promote literacy. I do both, read to my kids and let them see me reading and get them to read on their own as well.

  57. Steve April 25, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    I read this blog periodically and agree with the vast majority of the posts. Sometimes, I get a bit angry. Often, I laugh. I think Lenore is a genuinely original thinker, makes up her own mind about topics and has a unique voice. The one area where I tend to disagree with Lenore is over homeschooling, and this article hints at why homeschooling might be a better option for free range parents.

    I am not afraid of the bogeyman. I’m not afraid of my kids playing with tools. Heaven knows I’m not afraid of germs. But I am afraid of the government. My biggest fear is the government stepping in and telling me how to raise my kids, especially against my better judgment. I am scared to death of Big Brother.

    Was it Lenin who said, “Give me a child until age seven, and I will show you the man.”? That really is the goal. Modern educational objectives really are designed to socially engineer the populace. And now the thrust to get children under their umbrella from zero to three is just a way to catch them even earlier.

    Don’t believe me. Read some the the comments in this thread. Once you know what the groupthink mentality is, then it is fairly easy to spot. I am incredibly suspicious that all programs in “early childhood development” serve a heavy dose of kool-aid, some of it in the form of pseudo-brain-science. These “early childhood development” folks have brain damage far exceeding even the worst glue-sniffing lotus-eaters.

    For them, it all started in public school, where they were routinely told that their own thinking was “weird,” and they were taught what to think. A few kids survive this process. Most become mindless bureaucrats. Many of them go on to repeat from rote the talking points of public education.

    Sorry, Lenore, but you and my wife and I are all old. We survived to be independent thinkers. Nowadays, surviving public education with a brain still intact is a near impossibility. As the indoctrination process starts at younger and younger ages, and the school has more and more power, the future is bleak for raising independent thinkers without going outside the grid.