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  • It seems that as the government aspires to be more things to more individuals, it becomes less helpful to families.  Tweet This
  • Parents make up the most stable and trustworthy demographic of the American population, and the character of their present political activities suggests that they believe firmly in lawful protest and democratic institutions. Tweet This

In late May, 19 fourth graders and two teachers were murdered in classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. For almost an hour, according to various reports, well-armed police officers stood just outside the scene of the crime in the hallways, where they could clearly hear sporadic gunfire and the cries of victims who were bleeding out. Yet, they hesitated to act. Frantic mothers and fathers waited outside the building, begging officers there to confront the active shooter. But instead of comforting parents and maintaining order, police apparently fought them off with pepper spray and even handcuffs.

It remains to be seen whether a Department of Justice investigation will ever piece together a complete narrative of the tragic Uvalde massacre response. But one thing is abundantly clear: There was gross dereliction of duty on the part of local law enforcement. And it exposed not only serious institutional dysfunction but profound callousness toward the bonds between parents and their children. 

The Uvalde mass shooting is not the only recent crisis that has left American families feeling abandoned and betrayed by authorities. Consider the baby formula debacle. It seems unthinkable that infants might be consigned to starvation in the American heartland. But several early June news reports, appearing at the height of the formula shortage, focused on the desperation of new mothers in the Midwest who were turned away at municipal distribution centers for milk. In Southern California, many new parents facing empty shelves at their neighborhood markets and even big box stores, found themselves lining up at the border to Tijuana, Mexico, where pharmacies were, thankfully, well stocked with what they needed. 

America is ostensibly a First World country. Why did it take months for our government officials to move on a supply chain stoppage they knew was coming, and also knew could be fatal to children? And why is it that even after several emergency airlifts from around the globe, the national baby formula stock is still at insufficient levels? Why, indeed, having finally taken hold of the problem many weeks ago, is our expansive federal bureaucracy still incapable of getting enough milk into the stomachs of America’s bottle-fed babies?

It seems that as the government aspires to be more things to more individuals, it becomes less helpful to families. Twenty-five years ago, I published a book entitled, The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family. Based on focus group interviews with median-income urban parents, my book resulted in a compendium of observations on the failure of American institutional life to support parents in their childrearing work. When asked how their children’s childhoods differed from their own, parents, at the time, noted they felt downwardly mobile, and that the economic cards were stacked against them. They further pointed to a growing rift between the needs of families and the ability of public safety, educational, legal, and child welfare systems to respond to these needs. A precipitous rise in crime was only the most salient of parental concerns. Parents also mentioned the unchecked coarseness of the entertainment media; the increasing imposition of homework and school-based activities on precious family time; the failure of schools to give kids a solid grounding in the  "three R's;" and, most alarmingly, an increase in baseless child abuse investigations that tore loving families apart.

Looking into the rise of homeschooling and parental rights groups, I predicted a coming mass political awakening—a movement directed by parents to reshape our government and society into a more family-supportive mold. Unfortunately, that broader movement never came into being. Parents were so busy working and raising their kids that treading the hard road of political activism was rarely on their daily agendas. Fast forward to a generation later, and the situation is worse. Today's parents face a number of new economic hurdles, of which recent runaway inflation and supply chain failures are just the most prominent. The contemporary trials of urban life—rife with violence, vagrancy, and drugs—make it tougher than ever for city-dwelling families. And parents can no longer seek refuge from dysfunctional urban schools in the suburbs. Indeed, families in ex-urban communities have come to loggerheads with educators over pandemic closures and ideologically-imbued curricula

The extent to which parents are feeling under siege today can be witnessed in the various locally-based political action groups they have formed of late around the country. It is perhaps not a surprise that these groups have received a generally hostile reception from government entities. Attorney General Merrick Garland, last October, even directed the FBI to investigate parents who showed up at local school board meetings to protest controversial curricula. He ordered the FBI to coordinate with local law enforcement in countering what the National School Board Association had alleged were increasing threats of "domestic terrorism" from parents.   

It shouldn't need to be said that government suspicions of parents are sorely misplaced. America's moms and dads are hardly seditious guerillas bearing Molotov cocktails. Rather, parents make up the most stable and trustworthy demographic of the American population, and the character of their present political activities suggests that they believe firmly in lawful protest and democratic institutions. In fact, they are the foundation of civil society, and should be treated as such; they care about the future more than any other citizenry group—because they are raising the future. 

Instead of continuing to dismiss and even victimize parents, it would be nice if people in government resolved to respect and help them. Public policy researchers and analysts need to shape public debate on the family in ways that bring the most pressing priorities of parents and families to the attention of politicians. We need to hear the voices of parents in the public square. More importantly, we need to answer their calls.

Dana Mack is the author of The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family (Simon & Schuster, 1997; Encounter Paperbacks, 2000) and c0-editor of The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions (Eerdmans, 2001).  Her articles have appeared in many publications, including Commentary Magazine, The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.