July 19, 2019

Modern Parenting Is a Scam

“Long a noun, “parent” didn’t become the English language verb “parenting” until 1956. Even then it didn’t enter common usage until the late 1970s. Some 50 years later, the word is ubiquitous. But if “parenting” is a poster child for linguistic flux, its proliferation is also indicative of massive cultural changes and the shift of economic burdens from the government and corporations onto mothers and fathers. The word was popularized by religious zealots like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, author of the Old Testament-inspired, spare-the-rod parenting book Dare to Discipline, and well-meaning educators like Penelope Leach, author of the 1977 blockbuster Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five. But ultimately the idea of parenting — the notion that mom and dad are uniquely responsible for their child’s care and outcomes and that this should make them very nervous indeed — was made trenchant to Americans by economic instability.

A graph of usage of the word “parenting” over time looks like a steep slope moving up and to the right from the 1960s through the early part of the 2000s before plateauing. Lay that slope over a graph American income inequality over the same period and you’ll be looking at an almost perfect X. This inverse correlation indicates — though causality is obviously difficult to pin down — the degree to which modern notions of parenting were popularized in the context of a widening gap between the middle and upper classes. The bigger that gap gets, the more relevant parenting seems to be. And this is unlikely to be a coincidence. There’s plenty of reason to believe parenting and income inequality are inextricably linked.

And this evidence suggests not only that modern parenting has evolved represents a reaction to inequality, but also that it is, in the broadest sense possible, a scam on the middle class.”

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