Never has it been more unpopular to marry and have children in America. Unmarried adults now outnumber married ones, and birth rates are lower than ever. Unsurprisingly, loneliness has become widespread.
To respond to these issues, Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro advocates a policy that would cost billions of dollars and only worsen the situation: more government-funded childcare. As she sees it, what holds people back from marrying and having children are the mounting costs of daycare centers and preschools, not the active effort of modern culture to disparage marriage, motherhood, and homemaking.
Childcare as a Solution Suggests Children are the Problem
Since the government subsidized childcare for women during World War II, DeLauro thinks it should do so again today. She doesn’t seem to realize these two situations are incomparable. In the 1940s, working-age men were drafted to fight fascists across the world, requiring women left at home to work on the assembly lines and keep up production. Today, women compete with men for jobs, drawn to the workforce either by career aspirations or simply by social and financial pressures.
But DeLauro (like her fellow Democrat who popularized the saying), knows to “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” She reasons, “the COVID-19 pandemic created the greatest health and economic crisis since World War II.” As with any crisis, she looks for the answer in more government spending, declaring: “It is time to build a permanent child care infrastructure that respects and values women in the workforce.”
DeLauro cites crisis and opportunity as reasons to provide government-funded daycare (sorry, “child care infrastructure”), instead of considering the far more relevant crisis of Americans not having children. She insists American taxpayers should fund working mothers’ childcare, without stopping to consider what most women actually want for their families.
Like most modern feminists, DeLauro frames the childcare issue as a choice between joyful freedom and miserable drudgery. Work presumably confers all kinds of benefits, and motherhood is a necessary evil at best. Therefore, women in DeLauro’s ideal world work full-time and outsource their children’s care to someone else. According to DeLauro, “it is unconscionable that hard-working women, mothers, and families have to make a choice between going to work and ensuring that their kids are properly cared for.”
It doesn’t seem to occur to DeLauro that people make this choice all the time. Indeed, weighing priorities and responsibilities is a marker of adulthood. Anyone has experienced weighing one purchase over another, one job over another, or one person to spend time with over another. Yes, this means some people choose to raise children over a full-time job. Making this choice isn’t an example of injustice, but maturity.
What Most Women (Actually) Want
Contrary to the feminist myth that women (or anyone) can have it all, most women (and men) know what handful of priorities are dearest to them. A healthy work-life balance often doesn’t mean a 50-50 split. For some women, it means devoting their lives to a rich and fulfilling career. For others, it’s fully focusing on raising their children. Relatively few women desire having to work a full-time job while leaving their children with strangers.
This is probably why most women don’t actually clamor for free childcare, but desire more freedom in general. They want the workplace to accommodate mothers with more flexible schedules and options to work remotely. They want spouses who can support them and their children, and a society that won’t judge them for choosing family life.
Most lower, middle, and working-class Americans say they want their young children to have a parent staying home. This opinion is especially strong among both single and married mothers.
More importantly, children would be far better off at home with their mothers than at a daycare. As The Federalist’s Joy Pullmann explains, children are happier and more capable when raised full-time by their mothers. Therefore, she recommends the traditional marital arrangement: “One person works to provide for the family, and one person works to nurture the family. Both occupations are needed, and both are full-time jobs.”
America Needs More Families, Not More Government Programs
Universal daycare is a step backward for a country that needs more families. By prioritizing work above all, the federal government puts pressure on adults to not have children, or be less involved in raising the children they do have. Government-sponsored childcare is a condescending carrot prodding women to work and be “useful,” underestimating the great value and satisfaction of raising a family.
On a deeper level, DeLauro’s push for government-funded daycare confuses a critical distinction between having children and having a family. One is portrayed as accidental and something to be avoided; the other is deliberate and something to cultivate. Through the lens of a self-interested career, having children is a burden that robs the individual of opportunities. Having a family is a blessing that gives the individual meaning and joy. One concerns population; the other concerns community.
People want families, and this causes them to have children. Parents want the relationships, fun, and even sacrifices that come with having a family. They don’t need government to make this more compatible with working full-time jobs. If anything, they need jobs to be more compatible with full-time parenting. If government can’t do this, it would do well to simply keep out of the way before it makes things even worse than it already has.