“I never thought it would be this hard,” Polly said one night, standing by the kitchen counter on the verge of tears. “I thought when I had children, I would have this great thing in common with everyone else. When my first child was born, I went out and bought a Disney video, because I thought that’s what you do. Now I feel like I spend my whole life protecting my children from the culture. It shouldn’t be this hard.”
Probably no one in history has ever been fully prepared for how hard it is to raise children. But a consensus is growing among parents and students of family life that, in the past two decades, child rearing in the United States has become a more difficult and undervalued vocation.
“It shouldn’t be this hard.” That cry can be heard from parents outraged by an invasive, hyper-sexualized popular culture and from those struggling to find time for their children when both parents work full-time jobs. It can be heard from parents who have seen their children carried away to the Neverland of a youth culture created by and for advertisers.
In The War Against Parents, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West observe a general trend in which “nonmarket work” is being marginalized by the profit-driven work of the market. “Parenting,” they point out, “is the ultimate nonmarket activity.”
Every parent knows that child rearing requires time, personal sacrifice, and economic expense. But changes in American society over the past 30 years have rendered many parents less able, and sometimes less willing, to offer those resources to their children.