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)