When Will Real Families Get The Help They Deserve?

Most of the groups that promote “family values” today ignore the needs of real American families, says father of five, Edwin Lyngar.

Many organizations with the word “family” in the name are filled with bigots, misogynists, and homophobes (for example: American Family Association, Focus on the Family). The favorite talking point of these groups is the “breakdown of the American Family,” a talking point that is so old and oft repeated that it’s lost all meaning. The real breakdown in the American family is that no one can afford to have kids anymore. 

Slate published a piece titled: Congratulations, America! Only the Rich Can Afford to Have Kids. It’s just one of dozens of articles I’ve read that outline the difficulty people face raising children today. America is a disgrace when it comes to day care costs, maternity leave, and the needs of regular, everyday families. For instance, America is the only industrialized country without paid maternity leave.

I’ve lived the reality. I have five kids, between the ages of 4 and 19. Before my 6-year-old started first grade just this year, our daycare bill was $1,600 a month, significantly more than my mortgage (taxes and insurance included). When my youngest two were born, I took off for paternity leave, but I received serious blowback from my employer. I ended up taking only about half of the paltry 12 weeks I was entitled by law (only because I work for a very large employer).

Still, my wife and I are luckier than the majority of the country. We’re both professionals with the best benefits America has to offer, which still suck by world standards. We were also lucky to have enough money to have had live-in child care for the first three years of my youngest child’s life. And now, we have good quality day care. We’re privileged, but we shouldn’t be considered such. Quality daycare should be the minimum for all kids in America.

That said, it wasn’t always so “easy” for me. 

During my first marriage, we were poor, and my wife worked only in fits and starts. We still needed day care, so we hobbled together neighbors and family members. We somehow made it work, but it was far from the ideal. It wasn’t fair to my children that we had to settle for much less than they deserved.  

I probably wouldn’t care so much about day care and maternity issues if my first wife hadn’t left me with the two kids. When she walked out, I bit the bullet and put my preschool-aged daughter in daycare. I drove a piece of shit car, wore crappy clothes, and squeaked by—barely. It took honest, painful sacrifice to give my daughter good day care for the first time in her life. I would have never seen parenting the way so many concerned mothers do if it hadn’t been for this experience. 

According to the latest U.S. census, the median household income in the U.S. is $52,762. If you have to pay what we did for daycare out of the median salary, you’re spending 40% of your earnings on child care. Child care in America is fourth highest of 20 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations. Yet few people talk about the struggles of regular people to find child care.

We claim so many high-handed ideals in this country of fairness, family, and “faith,” yet in practice, we’re a bunch of selfish assholes. We don’t value children in America, even as we pay lip service to family values. It’s especially hard on women who, through tradition, society, or whatever reason, are still expected to be the primary caregiver.

I’ve heard the argument that women should stay home and raise the kids. This point has been thoroughly discredited by others, but I’ll add my own example. My current wife is an accomplished professional. Do we just want to kick her back home and throw away all that experience and knowledge, because we refuse to provide quality daycare as a society? Luckily, we’ve never had to make the hard sacrifice, but too many families are left with only bad choices.

In my view, the groups who talk most about “family values” are filled with hypocrites. The most pressing issues to these groups are things like eliminating birth control for teenagers, banning abortions, and “stopping the gay agenda.” People who bemoan the breakdown of family do not in fact value real families.

I’ll be the first to offer a solution: Universal, quality preschool should be free. Call me a communist if you’d like, but if we don’t put some effort into our next generation—regardless of the salary of their parents—we’re going to end up with a society of messed up kids or even no kids for otherwise great parents.

We’re a sick society sometimes, and the way we treat families is a disgrace. And it’s not going to get any better until we address the real problems that hurt our families today.

Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.

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