A deliberately controversial post: The sins of the parents

should be visited on the kids.

This is a sentiment we often see on the internets.

Schools in poor neighborhoods are often terrible.  If the parents cared, they’d homeschool or move. (Because that’s totally an option for single moms on EITC working minimum wage jobs as best they can.)

We shouldn’t improve the quality of school lunches.  If parents cared, they’d be feeding their kids organic meals full of veggies made from scratch every night so one meal a day wouldn’t hurt them.

Personally we suspect a lot of this sentiment is disguised racism.  Who cares about black kids or Hispanic kids.  It’s their fault for being born something other than anglo-saxon.  But maybe not– the internet seems to think just as poorly of rural white parents from West Virginia.

We also suspect it’s a way that middle class folks feel superior.  We’re not like THOSE people.  Our kids will do just fine because we’re so wonderful.  Our schools are great not because everyone else in our neighborhood is able to pay higher property taxes, but because we made the decision to be (white and) middle class.

It’s parents’ fault is the repeated refrain.  That’s why schools are crumbling.  That’s why kids are fat.  That’s why kids are in bad schools.  Or don’t get enough to eat.  Or get kidnapped or shot.

We at Grumpy Rumblings say:  WHO CARES?

Whether it’s parents fault or not, Won’t somebody think of the children?

Kids could have crappy parents and still get a great education if all kids had access to great schools.  Sure, some kids may be too damaged to benefit from even the best interventions, but what about the bulk of kids who could benefit?  Who through no fault of their own are stuck in poverty with little way out?  Imagine if they had great preschools, safe neighborhoods, healthy food, high quality K-12… the chance to take a calculus class.  Maybe they’d have a chance to live the American Dream.

Even if their parents suck.

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36 Responses to “A deliberately controversial post: The sins of the parents”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Greed. Racism. Selfishness. Religion. Misogyny. Homophobia.

    Insane billionaires have successfully exploited these worst of human impulses that are much more prevalent in ignorant people with authoritarian follower psychopathological tendencies to convince them to vote for politicians who will enact laws that have the effect of suckeing every single f*cken penny left in this country into their insane billionaire coffers. The vicious white business douche motherf*ckers you see on teevee shouting at OWS people to “get a job” cheer this on because they think they’re gonna be able to grab more money for themselves as it gets sucked upwards than they would if it were being distributed downwards.

    This is what happens when you twist greed and viciousness into virtues, and care for one’s neighbor and the collective good into a sin.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    Middle class people who’ve never been poor make assumptions about why people are poor. Yes, some people might be poor because of laziness, but there are many other reasons for being a low income parent (like being an immigrant and getting a late start in life, or health issues, or whatnot). I wrote a post on it about a year ago when I overheard a guy talking about all poor people being on crack and his son’s college scholarships being diverted to children of crack ho’s. It’s just pure ignorance. I like having the perspective of seeing both sides (being poor and well off). Not all rich people are evil and not all poor people are lazy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I gotta say, I *greatly* prefer being well off. (To paraphrase Mae West.)

      • First Gen American Says:

        Ditto. I would never go back to that place by choice. I think I’d always prefer working and having money. The only exception is if someone in my family had a major health issue that needed my full attention…then all bets are off.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        A good reason to have a lot of savings (and insurance) though. You never know what kind of curve ball life is going to throw.

  3. becca Says:

    It’s not about feeling ‘superior’ so much as it’s about feeling different Because the reality, that *can* happen to you (and your kids) is too terrifying to face.
    We all want a society with social mobility, as long as it only works in one direction. Or at least, if we can imagine the people who get poorer are at fault somehow.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Given the research on how being on the top in income inequality makes people happy, I’m not sure that we do all want a society with social mobility. There are happiness and health benefits to being a baron in an aristocracy instead of everybody being a merchant. To having the biggest piece of pie even if the entire pie is smaller.

      But that’s a really good (and thought provoking) point, it could be fear rather than superiority for some/many people. (Not sure that explains, say, the Koch brothers.)

      • becca Says:

        Barons who hang with richer barons think themselves peasants. Some oppose mobility, but I think it’s the dominant cultural meme to celebrate upward mobility.

        I suppose I find the notion that most people are becoming increasingly fearful of being poor to be more palatable than most people becoming increasingly smug/superior. It helps me think about the question “why would a democracy get less fair over time?” a feed-forward cycle of fear of loosing what one has could be at work. Or the “why do the states whose populations rely heaviest on federal aid have the lowest opinions of it?” question. And lots of things that look like greed are actually underpinned by fear.

        Although, I generally find smugness about one’s kids to be more palatable than smugness about one’s finances.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I dunno that the comparison to richer people describes Murdoch or the Koch brothers. They really do seem to just be your standard super-villains.

        The fear argument does make sense, especially in terms of people who are near the line themselves. I’d always thought maybe it was they saw more people with moral hazard (that’s people on DI who really shouldn’t be on DI, for example), which makes the bad part of welfare more mentally available. You think of all the people who really shouldn’t be on gov’t assistance rather than the people who should, overweighting them mentally. (There’s always going to be Type 1 and Type 2 error in any program. Which is a good reason to focus on kids in a bi-partisan way– kids don’t make the decisions so they don’t have the moral hazard and they shouldn’t be punished if their parents do.)

  4. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Having been a white,. female person with status and now being a white female person who is poorer and little status except for being educated and white, I am appalled at the assumptions of others that I face each and every day. Yes, I am socially mobile but not in the right direction. My education, manner in which I present myself in speech and attire make little difference some days because I am poor. At other times, my presentation, manner of speech, and education have kept me from being stigmatized as poor or “less than.” POOR is the only thing that matters on some occasions. Oh, yeah, getting older does not help perceptions about who I really am. Thank you, Garnier for keeping part of this stigma away. I also thank my parents for genes that help me look more youthful or not so old.

    FAULT? I accept all the blame. If I had not gone to the school I did, met the man I married, believed that I would finish my education after he graduated, not had children….see, the blame is all on me. It’s my fault. Yes, if I had not had some life-changing injuries and developed fibromyalgia, I could have not been poor. That, too, is my fault, according to some people. Oooops, I forgot another thing for which I am to blame–I did not remarry and find security. Oh, right, and it’s my fault that I am picky! It is my fault that I am not willing to become half of a partnership that abuses me. People who get poorer certainly are at fault!

    See? I knuckle under quite easily…lol. NOT! That is also part of the problem–refusal to be labeled in a manner that takes away from who I am.

    My children never felt the stigma, thankfully. However, I do understand the dilemma that people with children face. Okay, rant ended.

    • Practical Parsimony Says:

      I reread my comment and it seemed totally off-the-wall. I was speaking in response to becca’s first comment that starts with “Fear.” I was speaking to social mobility in the wrong direction and blaming the person for their own downward mobility. “Fault” can not be so easily assigned unless a person knows all the facts. I obviously posted my comment under the wrong comment.

  5. Linda Says:

    “Kids could have crappy parents and still get a great education if all kids had access to great schools. Sure, some kids may be too damaged to benefit from even the best interventions, but what about the bulk of kids who could benefit?” Agreed.

    The parents and supportive family members do have quite an impact on a child’s success in school, though. Even if every kid has an awesome school to attend, when that kid leaves school who is emphasizing how important it is to complete homework and to read independently? If no one is doing so, or if the family members are actually giving the opposite message (“you won’t really get anything from school; get out as fast as possible”) then the kid won’t do very well in school.

    And those kids from such disfunctional family units that they really don’t have a true parent or support…where do they get the message that school is good and they should put effort into doing well in academics? I’m guessing this is how so many kids think they need to become rappers or professional athletes in order to have a good life.

    Can a child truly get all the support they need for success from teachers and school administrators? How do these folks combat the messages the child receives outside of school that it just isn’t worth their time and effort?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Perhaps, then, we need to funnel more resources to these folks besides just in K-12 schools. Maybe it’s time for another war on poverty. There’s been some truly great recent research coming out on what worked and didn’t work during the last war on poverty, and wouldn’t it be nice to build on that in the policy arena? No wonder my mom sincerely misses LBJ.

      Can any change happen if we just blame the parents and let things stay as they are? Should we say that we’re helpless to do anything, and that everyone is stuck in the circumstances to which they were born?

      • chacha1 Says:

        One of my favorite young-adult books is “Daddy Long Legs” and I remember the narrator – a penniless orphan being put through college by an anonymous benefactor – describing a sermon she’s just heard on the text that “the poor ye have always with ye; ‘ they were put here in order to keep us charitable.’ ”

        A lot of people, me included, think that there will ALWAYS be poverty. Some people think poverty is a judgement. Some people (me included) think for many people it’s a phase.

        However, I agree entirely with N&M that children of poverty should NOT be discriminated against in any sense, and particularly in the sense of being obliged to attend schools that get 20% of the *public* resources available to children of the well-off.

      • Linda Says:

        Oh, I’m not advocating we “blame the parent,” I just have some first hand experience with this. My stepfather was functionally illiterate when he met my mother. He was in his late 30s and couldn’t even read a menu at a restaurant. He went to school, of course, but only through the sixth grade. He dropped out because he could and his family didn’t see any reason to direct him back to school because they saw no value in it. These were people who did repair work and odd jobs for a living; they didn’t think there was a need for schooling.

        My stepfather finally did improve his reading. He wanted to learn to read the bible so he took adult literacy classes. Obviously there were many fail points here (why did he get to sixth grade and not know how to read something as simple as a restaurant menu?), but the fact that his family didn’t see the value him continuing his education is stunning to me. This feeling about education continues through his family to this day. His nephew didn’t graduate from high school and none of his three children did very well academically, although they did graduate high school.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I guess another point is, with any intervention there will be:
        “always takers”: people who would have succeeded anyway
        “never takers”: people who are never going to succeed no matter what
        (Yes, these are the technical jargon terms.)

        What we care about are the people on the margin… the ones who are affected by the intervention. Who without the intervention would be less likely to succeed and with the intervention are more likely to succeed.

        The fact that always takers and never takers exist don’t mean that we should give up any and all interventions. Just so long as they aren’t everybody in the group. And being born in bad circumstances doesn’t automatically make a person a never-taker, just like being born in good circumstances doesn’t automatically make someone and always-taker, though it sure helps (as there are so many more second chances).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      And what if there had been a stronger safety net in place? Perhaps the generational trends could have been interrupted. We don’t know the counterfactual. I’ve spent a lot of time with people who have succeeded despite their parents or despite the system (and in part because of their parents), and I’ve seen promising people who have dropped out and disappeared. People who escape poverty generally don’t do it completely on their own.

      We can’t help everyone, and not everyone wants to be helped, but we shouldn’t use those people as an excuse not to try, because there are a lot of people who could benefit from having opportunities. And a priori, we don’t know which people are the ones who aren’t going benefit… we won’t know until we give everyone equality of opportunity.

  6. Cloud Says:

    As you know, the refusal of some people to SEE how unfair our education system is, and how it skews things against some kids and works against class mobility is one of the things that drives me nuts.

    So I completely agree with your last paragraph!

  7. addvodka Says:

    I mentioned on Twitter awhile ago about how crazy people get over parenting issues. Mommy bloggers are ripped apart for doing EVERYTHING. It’s insane. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but if we’re putting all of the pressure on the parents even though kids are not even with their parents during the day while they are in school, then we are failing somehow.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It does seem a bit odd how the village is perfectly happy to rip apart women for decisions that probably will not have long-term consequences… but when it comes to really helping kids with real change, with real sacrifice… making sure food is available, policing, funneling money to crumbling schools etc. that concern seems to go away for the same people.

      I bet they disappear the same place that pro-lifers go after the baby is born.

  8. J Liedl Says:

    Our region doesn’t have massive differentiation from one neighbourhood to another in terms of school quality but we’ve noticed that barriers to access persist and they’re definitely related to socio-economic class. Parents who aren’t well-off and well-informed don’t know about many of the special programs open to any student in the district. They don’t have the free time to attend open houses, parent-teacher meetings or research information about schools. And a kid who has to work after school might not be able to afford the 45-minute longer bus ride back and forth to the STEM or performing arts school. It’s definitely tough for poor families, even when the deck isn’t punitively stacked against them in other ways.

  9. April Nelson Says:

    Excellent post. “Won’t someone think of the children?” That should be tattooed onto our national conscience.

  10. Funny about Money Says:


    And won’t someone think of the children? No. Truth to tell, America is not a child-friendly country. A large family is regarded as a “litter” (no joke! Just heard that term — again! — the other day), parents are given little or no leave either after childbirth or during the difficult early years when kids are often sick and frequently need a parent’s special attention, teachers are grossly underpaid, schools are underfunded, classes are huge no matter what school district you’re in, single mothers (whether they started out single or not) are reviled…it goes on and on and on.

    My father’s (mercifully deceased) third wife felt that no food should be served in public schools at all, it not being the taxpayer’s duty to support low-income kids. By that term, she meant “brown” kids, tho’ she didn’t have much truck with white trash, either. Believe it or not, she was a schoolteacher.

    She also was one of the early right-wing crazies; you can see how her ilk have thrived in recent years. These attitudes are widespread in America; they’re grounded in racism, xenophobia, and a variety of “I’ve got mine” thinking. What, if anything, can be done about it escapes me.

  11. MutantSupermodel Says:

    This is something I just can’t wrap my head around. Why aren’t we thinking about the children? Even when we fight and bicker amongst ourselves about parenting styles– the arguments seem more to be about what’s a better parent than what’s truly better for the kids. Like that Time magazine cover “Are you MOM enough?”. People who get wrapped up in this sort of crap don’t think about the children because they aren’t the children. They can’t get past themselves, they’re all that matters, and that’s that.

  12. oilandgarlic Says:

    I always thought the mom competition (and dad competition) was ridiculous. The debaters are usually parents with small kids. You really don’t know how “well” you did until the kids are grown-up and a contributing member of society, or not. Plus I do think factors beyond nurturing (nature) also comes into play as well as non-parental influences from siblings, extended family, friends, media, etc..

    My mom (parents) really didn’t do any of the Baby Einstein/intellectual stimulation/gymboree stuff. Yet my siblings and I all went to good schools and are more of less contributing to society. I know many people who had more “involved” parents who can’t find a job and are really not driven at all.

  13. oilandgarlic Says:

    Oh – my earlier comment was in relation to Mutant Supermodel’s comment about Time Magazine. Anyway I always thought that it’s a no-brainer that access to better resources for all, regardless of income, would benefit society more. I think there’s a lot of untapped human potential out there.

  14. mareserinitatis Says:

    Just scanned the above comments, so forgive me if I’m repetitive. My observation, having been a welfare brat myself, was that people thought my parents were either lazy or stupid. It seems to obvious that the way not to be poor is to do A, B, C…etc. So to not have done that implies they don’t care or have no brain cells. There is no room for people to have bad luck, bad business partners, medical disasters, -isms that one deals with in the workplace, etc. And the more money one has, the more delusional they become about the roles of hard work and luck respectively.

    But that’s just what I gathered from the glares we got when my mom paid for things with food stamps (and later on as a single mom on welfare myself). Might have a skewed perspective.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It is true that there is a large stigma to welfare. And much of that stigma is completely undeserved– I don’t have the exact statistics on me, but most people who use our social safety net do use it temporarily as it was intended to be used. There are some people who abuse it, there are some people who should be using it but aren’t (type one and type two errors), and there are some people who truly aren’t worth much in the labor market for whatever reason.

      But the point is, whether or not the parents are awesome or suck is irrelevant when it comes to whether or not children should be allowed a chance at moving forward. People shouldn’t keep poor kids down even if people think their parents somehow deserve to be poor.

      • mareserinitatis Says:

        Agreed. But I guess with the whole “they’re on welfare because they’re stupid,” there is the assumption that the kids must also be stupid and therefore aren’t any better. (The lazy bit is a bit more questionable.) Definitely not right, but that’s where it is. That same argument was indirectly used by the schools to keep me out of advanced classes when I was in high school. A lot of people can’t break out of their perceptions of how things ought to be, and so they do their best to maintain the social order as is. It’s easier to know that this kid is going to be dumb than to let them surprise you and be wrong, facing the fact that maybe you’re wrong about the parents, too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        But… the dad is totally missing. He could totes have been a rich white supergenius spreading his seed. (I need one of those sarcasm emoticons here.)

  15. Louise Says:

    It’s so easy to ‘blame the victim’ by only looking at individual factors and not sociological ones. As someone who grew up poor on the wrong side of the tracks and is now a respected ‘professional middle class person’ I am appalled at how ignorant and lacking in compassion a lot of my friends and colleagues are. Great post!

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