Saturday, July 11, 2015

Family Policy Musings

I've been thinking a little about what types of societal and governmental policies or norms I would like to see to best support healthy families--which I believe best support our growing children. What would I focus on to help the most children, both now and long term? I'm not a practiced or informed strategic planner on this, but here are some things on my wish list:
  • Do everything possible to reduce childhood poverty, illness, and malnutrition.
  • Create workforce support and expectations for parents (particularly of young children) to be involved with their children more--both mothers and fathers.
  • Support the autonomy and health of mothers throughout their lives.
I guess that's my list. I see lots of programs aimed at the first, but many of them also put pressures on parents to be away from their children in order to pay for the programs.

I don't see the second happening anywhere, really. Parenting takes second place to moneymaking in pretty much every economic policy I've seen--even the ones that require mandatory time off work for new parents. Those primarily exist in the same countries that have big incentives for both parents to work--no ideal of stay at home moms or dads. The current norm is workforce pressures for parents of young children to be away from their children, since early career typically accompanies young children and also greater time demands and anxiety--that is at least for (potentially) middle class and upper class jobs and job training. Many other jobs simply don't leave time, energy, or resources for parents to ever spend large amounts of involved, waking time with their young children. I hope we can head in this direction as we move further from a scarcity economy to an abundance economy.

I had a couple of friends recently say that they would ideally go back and get rid of no fault divorce laws--friends who differed significantly on other views regarding family law. I would have agreed with them just a couple of years ago. It seems from some pretty big studies I've perused that intact families are good for kids (at least as long as the parents are faithful to each other) even if the parents aren't happy together. But then I read Sex and World Peace and Poor Women in Rich Countries, and another book I'd rather forget, and I understood that family law has long privileged men--not children, and especially not women. This has functioned pretty well for humanity for millennia, but besides the fact that I think it is failing in several ways as we advance technologically, I can't stomach it. We can protect (and empower to do good) women and children without protecting the rights of fathers to rule--just like we now know how to protect citizens without protecting the rights of kings. So now I think no fault divorce, while it can be painted as irresponsible parenting, primarily has functioned to empower women that in the past would have been forced by law to remain in oppressive relationships. I don't like all the negatives that have correlated with changes toward more personal liberty in family law, but I don't think I want to go backwards. I'm all for new solutions that focus more specifically on what we value. I suspect the ideal will have lots of shifting compromises between the conservative and the radical without either dominating completely.

I value my marriage staying together. I want to make choices that foster that. I value children being cared for. I value working through difficulties rather than running from them--even if the law permits running. I hope we can find ever improved solutions to care for children and to help people form and maintain healthy, happy, family bonds. I'm not so sure what all our choices should be in this regard, but I'm inclined to see many of the changes in how I and my fellow humans are understanding family as fumbling progress--not a fall from grace.

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