In 1981, then-Senator Joe Biden penned an op-ed headlined “Congress Is Subsidizing the Deterioration of the Family” for a Maryland newspaper. It was Biden’s take on kind of help the government should provide to families of moderate means.
Child-rearing was an important part of the piece, and Biden made some observations about day care for children that now sound prophetic.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, another 2020 presidential candidate, brought up the op-ed recently, lobbing what she assumed was a grenade at Biden. Gillibrand asked, “Am I, serving in Congress, resulting in the deterioration of the family because I had access to quality affordable day care?”
Erica Komisar, a psychoanalyst and expert on parenting issues, calls this a cheap shot. But good for Gillibrand it calling our attention to Biden’s thoughts on day care. Komisar writes:
“I do not believe,” Mr. Biden wrote, “that the federal government should be a party to a system which encourages couples to place their children in day-care centers in order to acquire material possessions that go far beyond any family basic necessities.”
Family—including extended family—is the best way to care for children. Day care is the least healthy option, especially in the first three years. It leaves children bereft, anxious and depressed. Mr. Biden was right to suggest that parents who can afford it shouldn’t farm out the care of their children to others—especially if those of modest means have to subsidize it.
Instead, why not provide all parents with tax credits or Social Security benefits so they can stay with their children longer after they are born? Such an approach would recognize the importance of parents bonding with children, laying the foundation for sustainable mental health, and encourage parents to pause or slow their careers when their children are very young rather than pursue wealth and career advancement at full speed.
“It’s a sad commentary on our society,” Mr. Biden wrote in 1981, “when the Senate of the United States says, as a matter of social policy, that we should make it easier for people who have neither the financial necessity nor the personal need to forsake their responsibility to care for their own children.” He stood alone against a measure to expand a child-care tax credit, which passed 94-1.
The young Mr. Biden wasn’t spouting an outdated philosophy. He was concerned that the devaluation of motherhood, caregiving and family would be harmful to society. He was right—and prescient.
The idea of using Social Security for paid family leave which Komisar mentions is one developed and proposed by IWF. If you would like to know more, go to our Earned Leave Information Center.
Families do have to use day care. That is simply a fact, and the goal should be to make it affordable and ensure a safe and beneficial atmosphere for children. But we should be aware that day care for children under three poses special problem