5 Insane Lies You Probably Believe About American Families
Children are important to me. Partly because harvesting and enslaving them is a big part of my long-term career goals, and partly because they're the only people who agree with me that flicking boogers is hilarious. But they're mostly important for, ya know, pragmatic reasons: Kids are the future, and if we want our species to prosper, we gotta take care of them. So, naturally, I'm going to use my column today to talk about the wrong kinds of families, and make those people feel bad about the terrible, terrible job they're doing raising their kids.
No, obviously I'm not going to do that, because generalizing about different kinds of family structures almost always backfires -- especially if you refuse to do any research first. Because as much as we hear about how shitty single parents are, how modern kids are all disrespectful murder-hooligans, and how absent black fathers are ruining a generation of youth, the truth is ...
You Don't Need Stay-At-Home Parents To Raise Kids Properly
Working moms are the favorite punching bag of people who don't understand that it's not cool to punch moms. Mothers are 79 percent less likely to be hired than non-mothers are, and while childless women make 90 percent of a man's salary, women with children make only 73 percent. You might say, "Well, of course! That's because they can't focus on their career, what with all the baby-raisin' that they gotta get up to!" Except employed fathers are actually treated favorably over non-fathers in the workplace -- so while it's a good career decision for a man to have a baby (or, ya know, convince a woman to have a baby for him), it's a terrible career decision for a woman in the exact same position. It really seems like everyone is assuming that women are supposed to stay home and look after their kids and punishing them for not doing it. And while that's dickish, do they at least have a point? Would America's kids be better off if their moms didn't have to get jobs?
"You can either have a healthy upbringing or an Xbox, but not both."
Nope! First off, dads are just as capable of being good parents as moms are, so it's absurd to have that double standard. But, more importantly -- and kind of impossibly -- modern families are actually spending more time with their kids than ever, even when both parents work.
So, what's going on? Is it parent cloning? It's parent cloning facilities, isn't it, you crazy bastards? You can't even begin to understand the- oh wait, no, sorry. I misread my source: It turns out that (according to the historians) the modern, non-traditional family setup is just more efficient. First of all, people are more likely to marry other people that they actually want to hang out with, so when they have time off from work, family is the obvious destination. Also, when both parents are working, that means both parents are dividing the housework -- which means it gets done more efficiently.
Finally, hanging out with your kid is more important than it ever has been, so parents are more concerned with setting their kid down the right path by, ya know, reading them magazines and watching Aliens together or whatever. It should be pretty obvious at this point that I do not have kids.
No, There's Not A Crisis Of Absent Black Fathers
Presidential candidate Rand Paul recently mentioned on a radio show that the Baltimore protests were the result of absent fathers. Then he insisted that it "isn't just a racial thing," but come on. Come on.
Maybe Paul was just projecting his resentment that Papa Ronny couldn't join him on his road trip. Or maybe he was just doing his part to make sure the "absent black father" stereotype continues to be absolutely freaking everywhere. And, at first glance, it seems like the statistics support it. Journalists love to point out that 72 percent of black kids are born to unwed mothers, which raises the question: Are all the black dads too busy at Dave Matthews concerts? Wait, no, that's white guys. Is it that they can't stop doing illegal drugs? Shit, that's white guys again. I'm so bad at this.
See, when you see a racial disparity in a statistic like that and immediately your explanation is that one skin color must be less good at a thing than another skin color, well, you're not just being racist, you're being lazy. It turns out that "unwed mother" doesn't automatically mean "absent father," particularly since black fathers are more likely to be involved in their kids' lives than any other dad race. See, in this country, black families live in poverty at the highest rate, money problems are one of the biggest things that families fight about, and separate studies have found that poverty has a negative impact on a family's structure. If there isn't enough money for everyone to survive, people aren't going to be as happy, and the family is going to be in trouble. They'll be more compelled to try different things.
Basically, these dads are are dealing with a situation that's just a tad more complicated than the statistic implies. Because our assumptions paint a certain type of picture that really looks nothing like anyone's life. Because no one statistic tells the whole story. It's just like Mark Twain said: "There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and then people who falsely credit this quote to me, Mark Twain. Thanks for coming to visit me in the past with your time machine, Sarge. We had a great time together. Bye now."
Troublemaker Kids Aren't Doomed To Be Criminals
Everyone from parents to anybody who's ever spent some time around children knows that obedience is the best trait a kid can have. Real talk: I once spent 45 minutes trying to put a sweatshirt on my cousin's 2-year-old, and by the end she was somehow wearing fewer clothes, and I was crying on the floor in a fetal position. If those little brats would just do what we say, all the time, then most of the problems in the world would be solved, and I wouldn't feel stressed out, like, ever. Seriously, this doesn't seem controversial at all: Obedient children are better. In fact, I think obedient anything is better.
"NAME ME YOUR KING, AND NEVER GO HUNGRY AGAIN," I screamed at the intersection.
Nope! Ignoring the rules and forging your own path is actually the best way to be successful, from a very early age. Kids who are called "troubled" in kindergarten actually do just as well as their peers in school. When they get a little older, teens that have a smart mouth on them and are constantly talking back to their parents actually tend to be more resistant to negative peer pressure, because they're talking back to everyone, not just their parents.
Finally, a study in Sweden showed that entrepreneurs were more likely to have a criminal record, and studies in America found that successful entrepreneurs were more likely to have engaged in "aggressive, illicit, and risky behavior" in high school." Basically, the bigger a shit you are as a kid, the better you are at contributing to society as an adult. Being a troublemaker doesn't turn you into one of society's problems; it turns you into one of our greatest assets.
But you know what does turn a troublemaker into society's problem? Throwing it in prison. Putting kids in baby jail or, even worse, charging them as adults and putting them in adult jail doesn't scare them straight; it just traumatizes the ever-loving shit out of them and robs them of key coming-of-age experiences, making it harder for them to fit in society as adults and increasing the chances that they'll turn to crime again -- not because they're Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man but because they're fucking hungry.
Demolition Man is a movie about ... ya know what? Let's just leave it at that picture.
If you're lucky enough to have avoided the big house until now, take a minute with me here and pretend that you hadn't. Imagine if, as a kid, you got caught committing one of the several crimes that you probably committed (Illegal drugs? Shoplifting? Trespassing? I did all that!). Then imagine the cops were like, "OK, you know the entire age of 16? You're going to spend it in a box." How would that have changed your life? Maybe you would've had to put off getting that first job. Maybe you never would've met that crazy girl/guy who taught you how to fuck in a tree/bathtub/Ferris wheel (I don't know your life). The point is, key moments in your psychosocial development would never have happened, and on top of that, you'd have to deal with all the baggage that comes with being a felon. Think you would've made it to college after that? Think you'd be where you are now, or someplace way worse?
The point is, shitty kids can actually turn out pretty great if we don't overreact like a bunch of small-minded assholes. They turn into, like I said, entrepreneurs. And I think this is a pretty important lesson for us all to learn, because Steve Jobs is dead and my cellphone kinda blows.
Just as a warning, the next page is where this article gets kinda dark.
"Traditional" Families Are No Better Than Any Other Type Of Family
As fellow columnist Kathy Benjamin pointed out last week, nuclear families have never been the norm in all of history. Probably because they would've been laughably impractical in olden times, when everything was covered in measles and Pa's gun couldn't reload fast enough to kill all the rampaging packs of werewolves. But there's a reason it caught on, right? Like, it has to be the best way to raise a child, right? We wouldn't pick that structure totally arbitrarily, would we?
Yes, we kinda did, since studies consistently find that the mama/papa/baby-bear family structure is no better than any other type. In fact, it's "non-traditional" family "styles" that seem to have the best luck: One study found that children of single mothers in multi-generational homes tend to be the best at not drinking and smoking in high school (which is another reason Rand Paul's weird comment about absent fathers is super wrong), while the children of parents in a homosexual relationship tend to get the best grades and have fewer behavior problems -- that is, once you control for financial disparity. Because, once you really start digging, you realize that your parents' income is a bigger indicator of your future success than anyone wants to admit.
We only like it when this stuff is important in a good way.
Because even though there's nothing wrong with "non-traditional" family structures, they end up disadvantaged anyway because of all the ways society is trying to screw them. According to a study by the Department Of Housing And Urban Development, nuclear families built around heterosexual relationships are more likely to receive favorable treatment when searching for housing, which is an indicator of the types of struggles that "non-traditional" families face. And people tend to assume that single parents can only fuck up their kids, partly because people on the news keep saying it's true -- even though it's super, super not.
Basically, we all decided that there was one "good" type of family, and then put up huge roadblocks to sabotage the success of other, "alternative" family structures. Which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. And speaking of self-fulfilling prophecies ...
Your Life Is Defined More By Luck Than Hard Work
You know the American Dream: work hard, dream big, get rewarded. Or, in nerdy terms, you start out as a low-level NPC, but through hard work you keep leveling up your bank account until you reach a limit break and the law no longer applies to you. Every single argument we've talked about in this article is based on the idea that there is something of a level playing field for families. If you're a good parent to your kids and teach them the right shit, then it doesn't matter how much money you make or where you live -- they'll have the tools they need to succeed.
Ha! Wouldn't that be nice. No, it turns out that who you are is less important to your success than who your parents were: Statistically speaking, a rich kid who drops out of college is likely to end up doing better in life than a poor kid who sticks around long enough (and takes out enough predatory student loans) to graduate. A big study of over 800 kids in Baltimore, from first grade to their late 20s, found pretty much the same thing: Only 33 of the kids -- that's 4 percent -- managed to climb out of their income bracket, or get college degrees. You can work your ass off to raise kids, and you can break your spine trying to be a good and honest person, but in the end, dumb luck decides whether or not you ever claw your way out of the bottom of the poverty pit.
Luckily, cheering yourself up only costs as much as your outrageously inflated Internet bill.
As for why, I mean, there's all kinds of speculation we can do. Most jobs require extensive networking, and since low-income kids learn different social skills than kids in high-income families, they're probably finding themselves with a huge disadvantage on that front. Then there are unpaid internships, which are considered a career-necessity by rich kids and a hilarious fantasy by 20-year-olds who have to pay for their own gas and cellphone. In fact, you know those "troublemaker" entrepreneurs I mentioned a couple entries ago? They also tended to come from wealthy families.
Of course, this doesn't mean that hard work doesn't help. I don't know anyone who's doing well in life and hasn't broken their goddamn back, every day, for years. But there are a ton of other folks doing the same goddamn thing and not getting those same opportunities. Luck is just a way bigger part of it than anyone wants to admit. In fact, I think we're so addicted to this meritocracy myth that every lie in this article is just another attempt to hide the fact that the line between rich and poor has a barbwire fence built over it.
JF Sargent is an editor and columnist at Cracked with a new article every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter if you dare, and like him on Facebook if you've got the guts.
For more from Sarge, check out Why Ultron Is A Secret Criticism Of Marvel Movies and 6 Lessons You Learn On Long Road Trips.
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