The Best Way to Raise Children

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Yesterday was Father’s Day. And although our culture makes a big deal these days about Father’s Day, the role and importance of a father in the American family appears to shrink more each year.  In 1940, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 4 percent of children in America were born out of wedlock. In other words, 96 percent of the children born in 1940 were born in families with a mother and a father. Fast forward to the 21st century. According to the CDC, in each of the last eight years, more than 40 percent of the children born in the United States have been born to unmarried mothers.

This is cultural suicide. We have become a narcissistic society focused so much on self-actualization that we have little regard to what it means to raise a child without a father at home. While courageous and often heroic efforts are often made by single mothers raising their children, there is an overwhelming body of empirical evidence that shows that the majority of children raised without a dad at home grow up facing grave disadvantages.

Unfortunately, the media and the progressive elites have relentlessly put forth the harebrained propaganda that deliberately raising a child with only one parent is just fine and often noble. Vice President Dan Quayle was attacked savagely in 1992 for his Commonwealth Club of California Speech criticizing the TV character Murphy Brown (played by Candace Bergen) for choosing to raise a child without a father and calling it just a lifestyle choice.

Another example of this witless approach to child rearing was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, published in 1996. The title of the book and its theme was taken from an African proverb. Its message was that positive influences from parents, grandparents, the broader family, and the community are helpful, and even critical, to a child’s development into a strong and productive adult. While altogether true, the real message for Americans in the 21st century was that a child doesn’t need a mother and father at home because a caring village (in other words, the state) will take the place of one or both parents. 

Contrast this approach with the Chinese worldview about parenting. The Confucian perspective about the importance of strong families is one of the prime reasons why the Chinese culture has remained strong and vital for 4,000 years. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore prime minister from 1959 to 1990 and one of the greatest statesman of the 20th century, wrote:  “Confucian societies believe that the individual exists in the context of the family, extended family, friends, and the wider society, and that the government cannot and should not take over the role of the family. Many in the West believe that the government is capable of fulfilling the obligations of the family when it fails, as with single mothers. East Asians shy away from this approach. Singapore depends on the strength and influence of family to keep society orderly and maintain a culture of thrift, hard work, filial piety, and respect for elders and for scholarship and learning. These values make for a productive people and help economic growth.”

Lee Kuan Yew knew what he was writing about. Under his leadership and the policies he developed that reflected this Confucian worldview, Singapore’s per capita Gross Domestic Product has increased more than tenfold since 1981 and now exceeds that of the United States. The trajectory of economic growth in Hong Kong, with per capita GDP approaching that of the United States, reflects the same worldview about the importance of fathers and bringing up children with both a mother and father living together at home.

From the liberal media in the Commonwealth led by the Boston Globe, we receive a constant drumbeat about the tragedy of income inequality both here in Massachusetts and throughout the United States. But the facts show that the fault line between economic wellbeing and poverty in this country is marriage. In Massachusetts, over 50 percent of children raised by a never-married mother live below the official federal poverty line. In contrast, only 5 percent of children raised in a household with married parents fall under the official federal poverty line. Poverty has everything to do with the makeup of the household.

By now, almost everyone who studies income inequality in the United States knows that one only has to do three things in America to escape poverty:  finish high school, get a job, and get married (and stay married). In Massachusetts, finishing high school is especially important, as the economy here requires educational achievement to get a good job. Those who drop out of high school have little chance for economic success. A recent publication from Massachusetts Family Institute provided data that showed that students from fatherlessness families have twice the risk of becoming high school dropouts as students from married-couple households. And the percentage of fatherless families in major cities in Massachusetts runs from 45 percent to 65 percent.

Yes, the best way to raise children is to ignore what the cultural elites preach about doing your own thing and focusing on self-fulfillment.  Instead give your children the benefit of growing up in a two-parent family.  A belated happy Father’s Day to all the fathers in the Commonwealth!


Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $3 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut, and Wellesley, Massachusetts. This column represents his personal views and does not represent the views of the firm.