When Did America Become So Hostile To Children?

I remember my first day in Cape Town, South Africa. I had just endured a 15-hour flight and a rather restless first night, so the obvious next move was to grab a coffee at the cafe down the street and get started on my work for the day.

By Alyssa Rinelli4 min read
Pexels/Marina Zvada

As I settled into a corner, a young couple entered with their infant. Immediately, I felt a pang of irritation. If the baby is loud, I thought, I’ll never be able to focus on my work.

Despite my initial concern, what unfolded next was shocking, particularly as an American who had been homebound for the last three years during the pandemic.

Over the next hour, every server and hostess in the cozy cafe made their way to the family's table, each taking a moment to engage with the baby. They made playful gestures, cooed, and even passed the child from one to another, sharing in the joy of this little life. The parents, far from being bothered, seemed delighted by the attention their child was receiving.

As I observed this scene, I realized how my initial worry was misplaced. This baby wasn't a disturbance. This baby was a source of pure joy that brightened the day for everyone present. The smiles of the patrons were genuine and contagious.

This experience wasn't isolated. I've witnessed similar acts of kindness toward children in the various countries I've traveled to. I began to wonder why I don’t see this same attitude back in the United States. Why are children often seen as an inconvenience rather than a source of joy in America?

America's Attitude Toward Children

In America, signs outside cafes asking you not to bring your kids inside are not unheard of. On TikTok, “We’re DINKs” videos are gaining popularity, reflecting the growing appeal of the child-free lifestyle. According to a recent survey from Credit Karma, 19% of 2,027 adult women surveyed aim to be DINKs – dual income, no kids. Gen Z respondents were the most likely to aspire to this lifestyle (32%), followed by millennials (18%).

The rise of these TikTok trends celebrating a child-free life, coupled with fear-mongering about the so-called "climate crisis," has convinced many young people that bringing a child into the world is wrong. Organizations advocating for free sex and a childless lifestyle argue that it's the environmentally responsible choice. This narrative has further eroded the value placed on children in America.

But where did this shift come from? Why are children now seen as burdens, not just to families, but to society at large? Where did the idea originate that marriage and family are impediments to a woman's personal goals and ambitions?

The Erosion of Family Values

A culture that worships mammon, rejects fertility, redefines marriage, devalues life, and diminishes the home draws from a text that has been lost in translation. A society that constantly bombards women with messages of "self-love" can quickly transform a biblical archetype of a loving, industrious wife into a modern, independent girlboss. This shift in values has led to a society where serving a boss in the office is seen as empowering, while serving your husband and children at home is seen as oppressive.

These ideas spread throughout popular American culture with the introduction of second-wave feminism in the mid-twentieth century, which aimed to eliminate workplace discrimination and expand educational opportunities for women. However, it soon aligned with abortion advocates and adopted a Sexual Revolution ethos that portrayed marriage and family as obstacles to women's personal goals and ambitions.

This radical departure from first-wave feminism, which fought for equality for women in the eyes of the law, has had a profound impact on how society views children. The heavy emphasis on women succeeding in the workplace, by default, means that staying home and raising a family is seen as pulling away from a woman's potential.

This has been vilified in modern American culture and promoted across college campuses. We are seeing colleges increasingly hosting and promoting events like SexCon week at Kalamazoo College, held in partnership with a local Planned Parenthood to promote “reproductive freedom” among its student body.

Each of these ideas is promoted on social media, targeted toward young women, and on college campuses where the focus is on your career and consequence-free sex. Children are, after all, what gets in the way of success.

The Consequences in Daily American Life

Not only are Americans having fewer children, but we see disdain toward children both on an individual level and a societal level. Policies and attitudes in American life are inherently anti-child. From the lack of support for parental leave to inadequate and often expensive childcare support, the system seems designed to discourage having children.

This is further exacerbated by anti-family policies that incentivize single-parent households through welfare programs, as well as the promotion of abortion, which collectively devalue traditional family structures.

This is compounded by a cultural attitude that views children as burdens that get in the way of an independent way of life. Many adults see children as obstacles to their personal freedom, career advancement, and leisure time.

This mindset is evident in the popularity of the child-free movement and the increasing number of public spaces that are unwelcoming to children. A restaurant in New Jersey went viral for banning children under the age of 10 from their restaurant, and it’s no secret that many restaurants lack child amenities, like booster seats. The societal message is clear: Children are seen as inconveniences rather than blessings, and this view is reflected in the policies and attitudes that pervade American life.

Together, these factors contribute to a culture that increasingly views children as obstacles rather than assets, leading to a societal structure that fails to support and cherish the younger generation and further excluding women and families who have children from society, especially those of a lower socioeconomic standing.

This contrasts sharply with other countries where policies and cultural attitudes emphasize the importance of children and family, demonstrating a need for a profound shift in how American society values and supports its future generations.

Lessons from Abroad

This American attitude is new and is not shared by many cultures across the world which instead view children properly as the future and treat them with love and respect. In Hungary, the government has implemented a generous program of financial incentives for families with more than three children, effectively turning around the country's long decline in fertility.

In Scandinavia, policies such as extended parental leave, subsidized childcare, and flexible working hours for parents have fostered a culture that balances career ambitions with family life. These countries understand that supporting families not only benefits children but also strengthens society as a whole.

Japan, despite its low birth rates, has been making significant efforts to create a more child-friendly society. Government initiatives focus on improving work-life balance, providing financial support for families, and ensuring quality education and healthcare for children.

These policies impact how society and people within that society view and treat children who are not their own. In countries with strong family support systems, children are seen as a collective responsibility and a vital part of the community. For example, in Scandinavian countries, it's common for neighbors and community members to help with childcare, and public spaces are designed to be child-friendly. This communal approach fosters a societal respect and care for all children, not just your own.

In Japan, the cultural emphasis on harmony and community means that children are generally treated with kindness and patience by adults in the community. Public transport, restaurants, and other public places are often accommodating to children, reflecting a societal value placed on nurturing the younger generation.

Closing Thoughts

Women do not stand to lose if they have a family and children. Instead of your career taking a hit, your sense of purpose and fulfillment can grow. Policies that support work-life balance, provide affordable childcare, and offer financial incentives for families can make a significant difference. Promoting a cultural shift toward valuing children and family life, rather than viewing them as impediments to personal success, is crucial.

By looking to these international examples, the United States can learn valuable lessons in treating children with the respect and support they deserve. Implementing similar policies can foster a society where children are seen as a shared responsibility and a source of joy, ensuring a supportive environment not only for families but for the community as a whole.

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