Overall then, it’s probably a good thing that most Americans view parenthood as a major life project calling for real sacrifice and personal growth. The burdens are a little too heavy sometimes, but let’s not kid ourselves. If parents give themselves permission to take it easy, the long-term consequences might be grim.

Perhaps Bruenig and others are unworried about the possibility that lavish family benefits might undercut parental investment. Won’t parents always be deeply interested in their own offspring? Don’t be too sure. There have been many cultures in which children were packed off to boarding schools, apprenticeships, factories, or even military service from the age of 7 or 8. High-intensive parenting is really a very recent phenomenon. Consider too that a few decades ago, demographers were mostly working on the assumption that people would always be extremely interested in having babies. Apparently not! Family patterns often turn out to be more elastic than we suppose, and even though Bruenig terms his plan a “family fun pack,” it’s clear enough that the proposal would actually shift the focus away from family as the expected source of support for children.