Helicopter parents crushed by the costs of their own suspiciousness... uh I mean of finding "quality child care centers"
Here is an NYT article in a series about rising inequality in America. The gist is that the wealth gap between men and women is increasing due to mothers choosing to spend so much of their incomes on child care.
I guess the male-female gap is a form of inequality, though the article gives the impression that mothers of all social classes are behaving this way, so it wouldn't appear to widen what we normally think of as inequality. In fact, since the higher-class mothers are spending more than it costs to send a kid to college for the same length of time, while poor mothers are not (and are getting government subsidies to boot), you'd figure this might actually reduce wealth inequality between classes.
In any case, the author does not bother looking into why it's so expensive these days to send your kids to a childcare center. She and all the women interviewed come from Generation X, so they have direct personal memories of how affordable it used to be when their mothers were mothering them. Or not-so-mothering them, as the case may be -- back in the '70s and '80s, your mom dropped you off at the nearest daycare center.
It was run by 30 and 40-something women who needed no special training or certification, going simply on female maternal instinct, and going with the common sense of the time, which recognized that children have their own internal developmental guidance systems that allow them to adapt to and master their environments without constant direction by grown-ups, as though they were merely a fleet of remote-control cars. All the workers were required to have was a reliable work ethic, but that's not so hard to come by.
Education in daycare centers was minimal since kids will absorb whatever they need to when they begin grade school, and it doesn't take very long to teach them the basics like the alphabet, arithmetic, and so on. The focus was more on enculturation -- learning the childhood songs of your folk, the games they play, and what kinds of tales they tell -- as well as on socialization through peer interactions. All of that is incredibly cheap -- for socialization, just throw the kids together and let them run loose, and make enculturation from adults interesting by reading them stories in the right kind of voice, playing melodic music to sing along to, and so on.
Parents in those days did no research and relied on no academic studies to ground their choices. They just responded to their intuition which told them that it's not something you, the children, or the daycare workers need to obsess over in order for the kids to grow up normal. And sure enough, we grew up into socialized and enculturated adults.
In contrast, kids these days grow up socially awkward and ignorant of the tales, songs, dances, jokes, and games of their people's culture. Even worse, they're not inventing their own to replace the old ones, but rather aging without a strong sense of cultural belonging at all. Including in all-white areas, where there is zero competition from alien cultures. *
What makes the costs of child care so astronomical these days is the profound paranoia that parents have toward the Outside World, i.e. every individual or group outside of the nuclear family.
If only their distrust were focused on certain individuals or certain groups, then they could just avoid them and go with those they trust. But their suspicion is so broad-brush that only one out of a million people will be so trustworthy to put their anxieties to rest (...or, to rest enough to not be in a constant state of panic).
And if only a tiny handful of parents were so paranoid, they wouldn't face much competition over the supernannies.
But econ 101 says that a soaring demand for an increasingly minuscule resource will send prices through the roof. The simple solution is for mothers to get a hold of themselves, drop their paranoia, and send their kids to the kind of daycare centers that they themselves got dropped off at, and that led to their own healthy and normal development. Suddenly the supply of trusted caregivers expands to include any 30 or 40-something woman who hasn't been to prison and can hold down a steady job.
The same goes for their individual caregivers like babysitters. If nobody trusts anybody, then mainstream babysitters will vanish -- "I'm not going to trust some perfect stranger, a 16 year-old girl no less, with the care of my special little snowflakes." Well then have fun shelling out 50% of your income to hire a supernanny, you dingbat old broad.
Back in the good old Reagan years, any middle or high school girl who was minimally responsible could get a job watching the neighborhood kids. Not because sixth-grade girls used to take advanced child care classes as part of their schooling, but simply because people were more willing to trust strangers, to give young workers the benefit of the doubt when it came to their lack of work experience, and in general to just take a chance on people from your community.
The same goes for trusting other mothers to look after your children. That went without question in the '80s -- innocent until proven guilty. That's why we spent so much time at our friends' houses, during the day and at sleepovers. That's an everyday form of someone else's mother looking after you. Now, even if you do eventually set up a mothering "co-op," you spend two years vetting the potential allomothers. They're assumed to be ruinous influences on your child until they can clear themselves of the charges.
Again, this costly and stressful state of affairs is entirely caused by the mothers' own paranoia about the Outside World. So they are in no position to complain, let alone to demand that taxpayers begin subsidizing child care centers -- particularly when those centers will cost a fortune -- more than college -- from only being staffed by a thin supply of the supernanny elite.
You'd think this would be the obvious conclusion from the Gen X author who grew up just fine herself without enrolling in Harvard for Half-pints. But no:
The most radical solution of all is the most obvious: we need high-quality, universal, subsidized day care. And we should not be ashamed to ask for it.
Lord knows that mothers in the Millennial era are shameless about their helicopter parenting. And in typical nuclear-family-centric fashion, they don't care about demanding that the rest of society pick up the tab for their little dears attending pointless, frivolous "high-quality" daycare. Next up: mandatory Priuses for new mothers, mandatory child safety seats by IKEA, and mandatory MacBook Junior laptops for early educational enrichment.
Society, are you still sure you want to prize mothering as our most valuable source of moral guidance and community cohesion? Flush all of this amoral, neo-Dr. Spock bullshit back down the mid-century toilet where it belongs. Get a grip, as young people used to say. Strange how teenagers in the '80s had more common sense than parents do today -- sadly, often the same individuals.
* Folks who live in heavily diverse areas should spend some time in Vermont, West Virginia, Utah, or wherever, and see just how awkward and culture-less the young people are there too. Just because they aren't getting picked on by ghetto blacks at school doesn't mean they have the sense of belonging that young people used to when you were growing up. When you were largely unsupervised and trusted by adults to make your own decisions, learn from your mistakes, and grow stronger bones from taking the occasional hard fall.
Social and cultural membership does require a basic feeling of group security, but that's just the bare minimum. When parents keep their children isolated from one another, the more important parts of membership, beyond security, fail to thrive.