Responsible parenting

Conventional wisdom holds that Americans possess an innate right to bear children, no matter how ill-equipped would-be parents are to raise those children. No matter how immature, no matter how uneducated, no matter how impoverished, no matter how psychologically unbalanced and no matter the ultimate cost to society of one’s decision, the right to procreate is seen as inviolable.

We all agree kids are wonderful. They are our future. But kids brought into homes with two loving, emotionally stable, financially self-sufficient parents fare much better in life, on average, and contribute greater benefits to society than children reared by parents lacking those basics. The right to bear children cannot and should not be legislated, of course. But it’s time to address and change societal attitudes toward these costs.

This week a press release with the following headline wended its way across my desk (or rather, into my e-mail inbox and onto my laptop): “A new national poll finds that the high cost of quality preschool and child care is causing women of childbearing age to decide against having a baby or delay having one.”

From the point of view of the collective well-being of this country, the poll’s results are clearly good news. They show Americans finally taking stock of their ability to be responsible parents before willy-nilly producing children. Instead, the poll’s promoters portrayed the results as fearful. We should all be horrified, the press release implied, that young American women are cowed by economic realities into reducing or forbearing childbearing.

What poppycock!

The poll was commissioned by the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which describes itself as an anti-crime organization. Fair enough. We’re all for less crime. But the press release “spun” the results of the poll as negative and used the “bad news” as ammunition for yet another call to boost federal investment in children. The press release went on to suggest restoring “Head Start funding to (its) 2002 service levels. This would require an additional $750 million for Head Start and $720 million for the Child Care and Development Block Grants.”

The poll’s other findings are also revelatory. Twenty-three percent of women between the ages of 18 to 40 told pollsters they have delayed starting families or decided not to have more than one child, due to the rising cost of child care. The figure rose to 28 percent for women ages 25 to 34.

We should celebrate the fact more would-be parents are calculating the costs of parenthood before having kids. We should encourage parents to consider whether they can cover those costs before having kids, rather than having kids regardless and trying to pass the costs along to other taxpayers. To have a child one cannot afford to raise is the functional equivalent of tapping one’s neighbor on the shoulder and saying, “I can’t afford a child, but I’m going to have one anyway and you’re going to pay for it.”

Head Start is a wonderful program. But it should be reserved for emergency poverty cases, not for masses of American children brought purposefully into poverty by parents who knew in advance they could not raise their children without support from Uncle Sam.

This is not to say poor women or poor parents should not have children. But they should get themselves educated and wait to have children until they have the financial means to raise them. Society should encourage this attitude. If it means they have fewer children, so be it. America’s population is rising regardless and at historic levels, due to immigration. We as a nation are hardly in need of increased population.

Nonetheless, with the Democratic takeover of Congress, the chorus of liberal groups calling for expansion of social-service programs, whether for health care or child care or whatever, has crescendoed to dangerous levels. These calls are stoking class warfare, the likes of which we have not witnessed since the ’60s.

Let’s not go back there. The best anti-poverty movement is one that teaches young Americans to delay parenting until they have the financial wherewithal to raise kids without government assistance. To do otherwise is to rev up the historic cycle of poverty that all the best-intentioned social-service programs have yet to stem.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)


  1. JoyfulC

    Being financially capable of raising the children you bring into this world is only part of the overall responsibility. Many affluent parents do as poor or worse job of raising their children — which, in turn, are inflicted on the rest of us through drunk driving, criminal and anti-social behaviour, drug use, etc. — as welfare parents.

    Parents need to take stock of the amount of time and attention they’re prepared to give to their children too, in addition to money. No one in their right mind would expect to have a decent career without expecting to invest significant time and focus in it. Even a hobby involves sacrifice and commitment. So why do people have children with seemingly no realization that, to do a quality job as a parent is going to require more time, more work, more patience, more sacrifice, more effort than anything else they’ll ever do?

    Too many people believe that children will make them happy. Children are viewed as life accessories by too many people. Back when having children wasn’t exactly optional, people dealt — but now that it is optional, we need to be very clear-eyed about the realities of parenting. Not everyone needs to do it.

  2. Steve Horn

    The Hiltons had the financial base to afford a child, is Paris Hilton the shining example you’d like to parade before us?

    As the father of three reasonably well adjusted children, I understand and accept the responsibility of parenting. Some of our friends who are childless wing off to exotic lands for vaction, we’re lucky to get a week at the beach. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I cannot see any job that’s more important and more rewarding than parenting. The wife and I have been through ups and downs, we’ve had children get in trouble and we’ve explained the consequences associated with continuing to get into trouble. We’re currently paying college tuition for two of them, our youngest is still in high school. Wnen our middle child got accepted to the university of her choice in pursuit of a BFA I popped three buttons off my vest, the other three went missing when our eldest did the same. I suppose I better get a new vest before our youngest heads off to school!

    The vast majority of humans are able to procreate – that does not make them parents – and their socio-economic status does not change this fact one iota. Parenting requires personal maturity, the foundation of which is the ability and willingness to accept responsibility for your actions and understand and embrace the concept of sacrificing now for a better future. Perhaps that’s what we need to instill in our children more than anything else, so that they can be good parents when they’re of age.

    Through the example of friends parents who are not willing to accept these sacrifices my kids have been witness to the results of bad or absent parenting – drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, irresponsible behavior and death.

    Wealth is not a measure of parenting – being “able to afford” a child is not like being able to afford an Audi or being able to afford some other material thing. Being a parent is keeping the childs needs above all other, of nurturing a young mind, of leading by example through an ethical and honest life. The children of this world deserve no less of us – after all – if a kid ends up all f*cked up – it’s generally the parents fault.



  3. JoshuasGrandma

    Most people who grow up in poor but loving families turn out just fine because they usually learn self-worth, see sacrifice for their sake, and acquire values of hard work, self-discipline and perseverance through adversity. It’s not the money, it’s the love.

  4. rickh1954

    Who decides on a family’s ability to have children?

    I like to believe that if it were my decision, I would decide purely on the best interests of the parents, children and general well-being of society.

    However, I know I’d be swayed by my personal prejudices of good and bad characteristics. Should children be born only to two parent, economically stable families? Should they be:
    • “good Bushies”
    • of the right religion
    • of the right IQ
    • speak the right language
    • ad infinitum?

    I have opinions on all those things. I know I don’t want to make those calls. I certainly don’t want bureaucrats or politicians to make them.

  5. lindaj

    Some religious communities require the willingness to have children if one wishes to have sex. The communities where people wait entirely for mature decisionmaking and financial security –one example is Sweden– do not produce enough children to keep their population stable. Given that and all the above (column and comments) I have to say one thing about population stability, sex, and children: I believe that every child born should be fed decently, cared for so as to be in the best possible health, and become a person with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is criminal, in my mind, to bring children into the world and not feed or care for them. It is criminal to prevent people from having birth control information and supplies and then later refuse a hungry child food via food stamps or other method. Et cetera.

  6. BeeJay

    If people have a “right” to have children, don’t they also have a responsibility to take care of them? Seems to me many believe that their work is done as soon as the child is born. There are generations of welfare folks who don’t, won’t and will never work for a living. Don’t I have a right not to be burdened with people who not only won’t work but continue to exercise their “right” to have as many kids as they want?