The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

17 May 2006

The decline of the parental unit

Having children buys you no social status these days, says the Professor:

My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she was married in 1959) you weren't seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn't prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.

How did we get to this parlous state? There are plenty of obvious answers, most of them wrong. In terms of cultural phenomena, I'd think the most likely might be the general refusal of my generation (yes, Virginia, I am one of those hated baby-boomers) to let go of its adolescence, thereby providing a Bad Example for the generations to come. But it might be as simple as this:

Parenting was always hard work, of course. But aside from the economic payoffs, parents used to get a lot of social benefits, too. But in recent decades, a collection of parenting "experts" and safety-fascist types have extinguished some of the benefits while raising the costs, to the point where what's amazing isn't that people are having fewer kids, but that people are having kids at all.

Think of that high-zoot car seat (which you'll have to replace two or three times as the youngster grows) as an unfunded mandate.

Posted at 9:20 AM to Next Generation

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Parenting was always hard work, of course. But aside from the economic payoffs, parents used to get a lot of social benefits, too.

That was back when they knew how to keep their kids quiet in restaurants.

Posted by: McGehee at 12:40 PM on 17 May 2006

I guess I don't have the spirit anymore. I don't even yell at kids to get off my damn lawn.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:25 PM on 17 May 2006

I am now convinced that kayaking is a form of birth control, wherein those who engage in this activity are hurled into the torrent and drowned, thereby depriving the gene pool of this particular set of retrograde DNA and preventing their stupidity from infecting another generation. Parenting, on the other hand, has been going downhill ever since Leave it to Beaver was cancelled.

Posted by: akaky at 8:53 AM on 18 May 2006

all I know is that I grew up riding in the back of pickup trucks, sometimes out of necessity, but almost everytime fun. Now though as my children beg to ride in the back of mine I have to decline, partially out of my indoctrination into safety society, but mainly the fear of law enforcement seeing the incident and punishing me in front of my children for allowing them to do so. Some of my most important memories are those of a risk taken. We're making it hard for children to take any risks.

Posted by: Joe at 10:51 PM on 18 May 2006

I don't even yell at kids to get off my damn lawn.

Do they ever actually intrude on your lawn? The Surlywood sign over your porch may be discouraging them.

Posted by: McGehee at 10:53 AM on 19 May 2006

I suppose they are talking about their yuppie friends.
I get annoyed when yuppies generalize and assume everyone thinks and acts like they do.

Posted by: Nancy Reyes at 6:00 AM on 20 May 2006

Actually, the only two kids I ever see on the lawn are the teenagers from next door, and it's only because they're in transit to some unspecified Point B. I don't consider them at all troublesome.

A lot of this has to do with the neighborhood demographics, which have some sort of double-bell curve: there's a fair number of young couples who have yet to start a family, and there's a larger number of old farts doing the empty-nest thing, and there's not a whole lot in between. Given my not-quite-inner-city, not-quite-suburban location, this doesn't surprise me.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:54 AM on 20 May 2006