Big Families Are a Snap


When it comes to journalism, the Washington Post usually does a pretty good job.1 Their reporting on climate change over the past few years has been especially good (this story on The Drowning South is a recent example)

But that doesn’t carry over into the opinion section, where I’m pretty sure editors don’t live in the same world as the rest of us.

Take for example the recent decision to publish a guest column from a writer with a book to sell entitled “The ideal number of kids in a family: Four (at a minimum)”.

Based on his experience with six children, the writer tries to argue that managing a large family is doable when you accept that the “demands of modern parenthood are really just the demands of a misguided culture”.

Economists have a charming name for this approach: the quantity-quality trade-off. I chuckle that my wife and I (and our parents before us) obviously chose the “quantity” option. But I also know this framing is a lie.

There’s nothing high-quality about the intensive parenting that is typical in today’s middle and upper-middle classes. Racing your kid from school to tutoring session to a travel tournament robs them of crucial elements of childhood: independence, self-determination and some salutary boredom. This rat race might increase your kids’ odds of an Ivy League acceptance or a Division I scholarship, but it almost certainly deprives them of some of the habits, experiences and virtues that make happy adults.

That’s pretty much representative of his approach in the rest of the column: let the kids fend for themselves and build the habits that force them to be independent.

He also ignores the fact that most families, even in “today’s middle and upper-middle classes”, don’t have the resources to support a half-dozen children. Not to mention the time and energy.

Despite my feeling that the writer is very out of touch with real life (along with the editor who approved the column), I can completely relate to growing up in a large family.

My parents also had six children. And we grew up in a very middle class household.2

The difference, however, was that my father was an officer in the Air Force during the Cold War.

In addition to a good income, he received free housing, free medical care for everyone, a heavily subsidized grocery store, lots of cheap recreational activities for us kids, and, most importantly, a tight-knit, very supportive community. The village they say it takes to raise a child.  

On top of that, in the 70’s an undergraduate public college education was dirt cheap, especially when many of them made it even less expensive for children from military families. Ask me sometime about being able to graduate with no school debts.

That kind of support for a large family just does not exist in today’s world, not even in the military.

It only exists in the mind of a writer for a large conservative DC think tank (the American Enterprise Institute). One that pushes small government, big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and “rugged individualism” for everyone else. They also hate anything to do with fighting climate change, something that large families only makes worse.

Having a larger supply of workers to keep wages down and profits up just fits with their agenda.

The photo has nothing to do with this post. It shows an item for sale at the recent Smithsonian Craft Show. It was outside of my budget.

1. On national and international stories. Their local news coverage has always been spotty at best.

2. My only deprivation was not being able to get my driver’s license until I turned 17. That saved my dad a year of an expensive boost in his auto insurance bill. I also had to share a car. :)

2 Comments Big Families Are a Snap

  1. Doug Johnson

    Hmmm, has the column writer ever watched the beginning of the movie Idiocracy?

    I wonder if this is not a push to retain “white supremecy” in the face of growing minority populations. More white children are needed to “balance” the population. Certainly an approach the Catholic church has used in the past to increase its power.

    Thanks for sharing this column. I read three newspapers, but I am afraid the Post isn’t one of them.

    1. tim

      Considering the writer works for the American Enterprise Institute, which supports very strict immigration policy, the whole we need more “native-born” children reason for the argument did cross my mind.

      As to your news sources, you are probably more informed than most Americans. I’m not sure the Post is a must-read for anyone outside the Washington area (or outside the politics business).


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