Does Your Child Belong To You?

Responding to Melissa Harris-Perry’s TV spot for MSNBC (seen above), Friedersdorf pushes back against the idea of collective or communal responsibility for children:

Parents raising their own children as they see fit can disagree vehemently, even on deeply held values, and coexist with nothing more dramatic than incredulous bitching to their spouses about other nearby parents. Conceive of the community as ultimately responsible for raising kids and see how suddenly, intractably contentious and upsetting a formerly thriving place becomes. A secular progressive parent put in a small town of devout Mormons would be the first to tell you that he gets to decide how to raise his kids, not the community. He would be exactly right. Parents get to decide how to raise their kids. Their neighbors ought to help them succeed, but have no claim to the kids.

Harris-Perry responds to critics here. Update from a reader:

I saw the criticisms of this video making the rounds on my conservative in-laws’ facebook pages, and their angry rants about how no else can make decisions about their children, a more vitriolic version of Friedersdorf’s comments. Their interpretation of Harris-Perry’s video is entirely misguided. She is not saying that anyone has a LEGAL interest in your kids.

Look, none of us want your kids, okay? None of us want to take them away from you, or force you to make certain decisions. She is saying that we all need to think of children as a collective asset of our society. I don’t want your kids, but I do want your kids to grow up educated, productive, and thoughtful members of society. That’s good for me, for my kids, and everyone else. That’s why we need to vote to fund schools, to keep funding for school lunches and other programs that benefit less well-off kids, not mention public preschools and all-day kindergartens, programs that are proven effective.

My in-laws would probably vote to cut funding for public education because their kids don’t go to public schools, and anyway they think the curriculum is extremely suspect because it doesn’t involve enough Christian(ist!) values. They think that raising their kids is a private endeavor, and increasingly try to do it away from society. This intensely private mindset is what Harris-Perry is railing against. Society has an interest in the welfare of our kids, and we should continue to try to support them as best we can. It’s called a civilization. Everybody should try it.


Conor thinks communal parenting is a nonstarter. I believe this is because he has not raised kids yet. We were fortunate to move to a great neighborhood when our kids were young and we are still there. All of our kids are grown and we are so glad we had all the help we did raising them. Our educational, career and religious backgrounds were all over the place. We were Catholic, Jewish, black, Hispanic, blue and white collar. We helped raise each other’s kids in the sense that we made the neighborhood safe, we participated in Scouts, baseball and the PTA. When we saw our kids out in public acting like fools we admonished them and then called their parents. We put them in our cars with wet swim suits and bloody noses. They slept on our floors and cried on our shoulders.

We didn’t interfere with the parenting of other houses nor them ours. The values each parent imparted were theirs alone. No one criticized or belittled anyone. That is your prerogative as a parent and we were not intent on sabotaging that.

As a result our kids are all grown. When they came home from college or the Army they reveled in being in the neighborhood where everyone knew and loved them. When a set of parents died we unofficially adopted the three kids (all in their 20s) so they would have Christmas, birthdays etc. Last weekend we went to a wedding of one of the neighborhood kids. It was a lot of fun as we don’t see each other as often. What touched me the most was all of our kids said to us and each other that they hope when they get married and have kids they will end up in a neighborhood like ours. They want help raising their kids just like we had.


Don’t feed the trolls. Friedersdorf is placing himself as one among many of the continually offended wing-nuts. This is just a retread of the “you didn’t build that” bullshit taken completely out of context and spun to put the perpetually panicked pundits into overdrive. “OUTRAGE!™”

The reader you quote is 100% correct in their assessment. Even when I was in my early 30s and wasn’t sure if I’d marry much less ever have kids, I recognized the importance of a well-funded school system even while many around me had determined that since they had no kids (or they had already completed their public education), they shouldn’t have to pay taxes for schools. I recognized how a knowledgable, educated, well-rounded citizenry benefits everyone in the society. Lacking any real semblance of empathy or even the ability to see beyond their noses is the hallmark of today’s Republicans and libertarians. Their childish and simplistic policy proposals stem from their childish and simplistic views of life.