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Not only natalists

December 13th, 2004 · 5 Comments

David Brooks essay in the New York Times earlier this week The New Red Diaper Babies [ found via Instapundit] pushed a few buttons with me. I don’t like labels and I don’t think we Leungs are necessarily natalists. We only have three children, not an entire basketball team. I don’t think I am as “red” or right as the people Brooks describes. We live on a blue island in a blue region of a blue state; in fact he mentioned Seattle as a childless place. I don’t like these types of essays in general; I find he is trying to squeeze many people into a convenient category so he can call them by one name and state some generalizations to cover a variety of family situations.

But I liked this quote

Politicians will try to pander to this group. They should know this is a spiritual movement, not a political one. …These people are saying money and ambition will not be their gods.

Of course, one doesn’t have to be a natalist or produce a small army of children in order to refuse to worship money and ambition. There are plenty of people with the same values who have smaller families or are childless by choice or infertility. Many large families move away from the coasts because the cost of living is more affordable in the “red states”. These parents often raise their children for much less than the quoted $200K per kid.

Brooks claims that natalists find their identity in parenting.

Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling.

Ted and I have made some of the same sacrifices. But I believe it is dangerous to throw one’s entire identity, as putting all eggs in one basket, into parenthood. It is important to cherish our children and to do what we can to care for their every need. Babies will break under the burden of being our identity. If we parents make sacrifices, we shouldn’t expect our children to replace them. We have to have sustaining relationships outside our family and sources of love that don’t depend on our offspring’s obedience, approval or reciprocal love of us.

The end of the essay is an enigma to me

What they cherish, like most Americans, is the self-sacrificial love shown by parents. People who have enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a culture war.

I don’t know what Brooks means by culture war. He has stated choices that natalists make, including many that could impact the economy and politics of the country. And then he says that natalists are too busy to fight a culture war? What does he think these simple daily choices are? I don’t have enough kids for basketball and I feel pretty busy with three, not five or more, but I do believe that the choices I make Saturday morning at Safeway or Saturday night at the cinema are making a statement. Culture wars can be fought in small ways by large families: anyone who is busy enough to buy something – no matter number of children at home – is a soldier.

Tags: news

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chas Redmond // Dec 13, 2004 at 7:40 pm

    I can see why this essay raised hackles – it did in me too and I’ve only got two kids (for reasons of my wife’s health, two with seven years in between was the right number). I like kids, I like the idea of parenting and so does my wife (who wrote software with our firstborn at her office and later at home and then decided it was better to take her kids and be an au pair for others – worked out fine). I take exception to this whole essay and not simply because of his broad generalizations.

    I’m not a red-state person and would never have even considered raising our kids away from the hub-bub of DC. In fact, it was having kids IN the city which was the most fun. We took them everywhere and they grew up with a level of access to information, culture and different peoples which enhanced their education beyond any measure. How could they have ever turned out so broad-minded and tolerant had they not been exposed to this level of culture?

    I almost think he’s barking up the wrong tree. Yes, there is a fertility difference in the way-suburban places he mentions – it’s been that way for over a decade so this is not a new trend. He also doesn’t delve at all into the “other” reasons for families to have more than two or three offspring – there’s a serious religious movement afoot in this country – Mormons and Southern Baptists – who believe strongly in producing a large number of offspring. In many of the places where there is this large fertility difference, these faiths are dominant. My fear, though, is that all these kids will be raised in an intolerant household and will not contribute to the overall commonweal of this country. Especially if they’re being raised at home.

  • 2 Lisa Williams // Dec 13, 2004 at 8:03 pm

    1. Brooks is kind of a hack. New information doesn’t make it through his ideological filter. 2. Articles about parenting are almost never about parenting — they’re about class war against certain “types” of parents — the ones who “rush their kids through french lessons at 3” the “ones who put them in daycare” “welfare mothers” etc. It’s just class sniping in the form of a parenting article. Note there is never any real useful parenting info for parents in this one, just sources of recrimination against or between parents.

    Ugh. Aggravating! Parents are such easy targets.

    For a more useful look at fertility trends and what it might mean for modern families and societies, there’s a great MP3 of a talk at IT Conversations. http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail236.html This looks at why people in different places have the # of children they do.

  • 3 Chris // Dec 14, 2004 at 4:51 am

    “Especially if they’re being raised at home.”

    And where exactly would you prefer that children be raised?

  • 4 Rayne // Dec 14, 2004 at 5:50 am

    This will make me no friends, but a central issue here is education. I’m fairly certain there are a number of studies that demonstrate the more educated a woman is, the fewer children she has. Brooks completely ignores this — but then I’m not surprised that he’d concentrate on fertility rather than inputs or ultimate outcomes.

  • 5 Tina // Dec 15, 2004 at 10:43 am

    Love what you shared about identity in parenthood and parental sacrifices… You have great wisdom as a mom 🙂

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