The Party of Parents
There’s a line that’s been thrown around by Republicans ever since the Loudon County school-board saga that lost Terry McAuliffe the Virginia governorship. It’s that the Republican Party is the “party of parents,” since parents fought and won the first major battle against critical race theory in public education.
Good. We should take it further. The conservative movement must become the movement of parents, not just on school boards, but at work and at home. Less caring about the family in the abstract, more paying employees enough to have children themselves—and raising our own.
The central moment in the Virginia gubernatorial election occurred when parents loudly reminded “educators” that they act as agents of parental authority, not of their own. Parents learned in the process that the only way to maintain that authority is to be in schools—that is, to be involved. And parents should be in schools, but they shouldn’t stop at school board meetings. They should be in all of it, from preschool, aftercare, and lunchroom duty, to helping with homework, grading, and everything in between. If you think this is a veiled argument for homeschooling, allow me to remove the veil. If your child spends more hours of the day with someone outside your family than he does with you, you aren’t parenting. You’re delegating.
We become the party of parents when we become parents, which means doing the work of raising children ourselves. Which means, for those who can, actually having children.
If you believe think-tank conservatism is doing well at this, think again. The Reaganite crowd can speed through talking points about preserving marriage and the family faster than a Catholic at confession, but they’re rarely living it out. They worked in the White House, on the Hill, at the leading pro-life, conservative think tanks, and all the right newspapers; prestige demands they follow the very rules (career first, kids second) they rail against in their op-eds. It’s not that having a family is unacceptable in these circles, but that it is only acceptable at a certain phase of life, and in the right (read: small) numbers. If you’re married and pregnant with your first child before the age of 25, polite eyebrows will raise.
The old right hasn’t just failed to win hearts and minds, it has failed to do one of the most basic things that could have helped it succeed: paying marriage-age men a better salary. For the ambitious young conservative, the job options are plentiful but the wages are slim. Most men under 35 are not making enough to support a wife and baby without a second income; the average national salary for a man between the ages of 25 and 35 is around $46,000 per year. In conservative circles, even in one of the wealthiest and most expensive cities in the nation, this average holds true. I know high-school teachers who make more than my friends on the Hill or at popular right-of-center news outlets, some by large margins. Could a young dad make ends meet so his wife could stay home with their child, if needed? Maybe, but most aren’t too eager to try.
Meanwhile, the op-eds aren’t working. The number of U.S. households with a married couple and children under 18 years old fell to 17.8 percent in 2021, a record low. We could blame this on the pandemic postponing marriages, but the reality is that the cake was baked before 2020: In 1970, that number was above 40 percent, and has steadily declined since. We are living in an age which looks frighteningly close to P.D. James’s Children of Men. If this is the best the old conservatism could do, it’s time to change our tune.
We, as a nation, need children—and not just to repopulate our land, as the argument from utility goes. If that were all, we could fill the gaps with the unfettered migration we’ve already permitted to stream across our borders. Certainly, this would be more efficient. But meeting the replacement rate is not why we need children. We need children because we need to be reminded—locally, personally, and repeatedly—of the precious, beautiful fragility that is human life.
Anyone who has seen a father regard his infant son understands this. Children have a gentling effect on man, without which we are certainly worse human beings. Some of the most aggressive specimens of liberalism are childless women, whose lack of empathy seems to sketch a clean inverse correlation with the number of kids they could, but didn’t, have. The most fearsome king of Roman Judea, Herod, was cowed by the birth of a child (albeit, the most important child in world history). Men are bent, men are humbled, and men are redeemed through the impact of children, to the glory of God.
But then we have pedophilia pushing its way into acceptability. Is it any wonder that the same culture that normalized pre-born genocide would develop strange fetishes around children? This is as clear a sign as any that we are a people with an unhealthy relationship to children.
When we relegated parenthood to the gross and the strange, we invited this kind of culture that at worst perverts parenthood and at best denies many the most purposeful job. The natural and beautiful act of love multiplying the human race should be celebrated, but instead, we have celebrated its extinction; we rejoiced in the victory of “science”—not true science, which is worshipful, but the kind that bends nature to man’s will—over male and female; we cheered as the individual trounced the familial. We are all culpable for allowing this to continue.
So no, it is not enough to call ourselves “pro-family” without taking action for families to flourish—including our own. It is not enough to support the causes while saying “kids aren’t for me,” as though it were a matter of preference or taste. Not for politics, but for the sake of our better human nature, which left politics long ago, it is past time for conservatives to become the party of parents for real—whether through employers paying young men enough to start a family, or young men and women doing the thing itself, marrying and begetting and forgetting the opinions of the old guard.
My husband and I are thrilled to welcome our first baby next summer. Let us be fruitful and multiply.