But there are costs to the European approach. Government-guaranteed leave often gives less financial relief to a mother or father who is already at home full time. And Europe’s overall web of regulations and job protections makes the labor market more rigid and less accommodating to part-time work — which is the kind of work that mothers, especially, tend to want. (A recent survey of American parents found that 58 percent of married women with children preferred part-time to full-time work, compared with 20 percent of husbands.)
A more flexible alternative, championed by the conservative writers Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein, would change the way we tax families, dramatically expanding the child tax credit in order to ease the burden on parents with young children. Their proposal would leave contemporary Baileys and Cratchits with more disposable income and more options without favoring one approach to parenting over another.
Obviously, neither generous parental leave nor an expanded child tax credit is a magic bullet for the problem of family breakdown. But if Democrats were championing the first idea and Republicans were championing the second, we would at least have the beginnings of a healthy conversation about family policy, instead of the conspicuous silence that surrounds the country’s biggest social crisis. And it’s hard to imagine a policy debate that’s better suited to the season.