Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s, which was inspired by a blog post I wrote last week.

In San Francisco, many formerly happy children are now very sad. A few months ago, the Board of Supervisors decided to ban Happy Meals, because they offer toys to entice children to eat something unhealthy (never mind the fact that McDonald’s offers milk and fruit as an option). All restaurants that offer toys as incentives for unhealthy meals must now cease and desist.

Personally, I don’t think Happy Meals are great nutritional choices for children, either, though the occasional one will do no harm. Nevertheless, what concerns me more is this propensity of government to step into what is essentially a
parent’s job.

Society works best when the family is the main social unit. Even dictators across the ages have known this, since one of the first things they do to increase their control is to weaken the family. In Mao Zedong’s Great March across China, female soldiers who gave birth on the 6000 mile trek were encouraged to leave their babies with peasants, for the good of the revolution. Today China forces women to abort second and third children, for the good of the country. In the Southern United States, during slavery, children were sold away from their parents to sever bonds. Dictators hate the family, because families form allegiances tighter than the ones we have to the state. And then we’re less likely to listen to what the state tells us to do.

For a society to be strong and free, then, the family has to be strong. But the more society starts doing parents’ jobs, the less parents will feel the need to do them.

To use another example, Michelle Obama, in her quest to slim the waistlines of America’s children, has expanded lunch programs for poor children, so that now up to 2,000,000 children will be eligible not just for school breakfasts or lunches, but for three meals a day, 365 days a year. The government will feed your kids!

Isn’t feeding children a rather basic responsibility of parenting? Besides, you can feed a family of four on $150 a week, if you cook from scratch, don’t buy cereal and ice cream, and plan carefully. And food banks are available to make up the difference.

Yet Ms. Obama thinks the government would do a better job. Has she considered the cost? It’s not just the people preparing the food, buying the food, and serving the food. It’s the army of nutritionists who plan the menus. The consultants hired to figure out what green vegetables kids will eat. The commodity experts hired to give their opinion on what prices will be in a few months. The state bureaucrats hired to lobby the federal government for a greater share of the pie. The federal bureaucrats hired to oversee the budget and decide what states get it.

Or we could just ask parents to feed their kids.

Lest you think this is just an American phenomenon, our own premiere is expanding kindergarten so that parents don’t have to care for their children barely out of toddlerhood, either.

Some parents are really and truly awful. But the more the government steps in, the more we tell those parents, “You don’t even need to try.” More and more, governments are doing what parents should do. They are teaching kids about sex. They are teaching them values. They are baby-sitting them. And yes, they are feeding them. And then we wonder why parents don’t step up to the plate.

We can’t afford a society where parents aren’t responsible. We can’t afford it fiscally, and we can’t afford it morally or socially. So I think it’s time we say to parents, “You’re the parent. Act like it.” I wish some politician would say that. That would be a politician I could get behind.

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