Parenting when poor – unless you can afford childcare, don’t have kids…

Debra Harrell was arrested because she left her 9 year old playing in the park by herself while she was working at a South Carolina McDonald’s. Being in a fix, she left her kid at the park.

I understand the concern people have with a woman leaving her kid by herself at the park, but realistically speaking, instead of arresting the woman (and other parents who have to figure out alternatives to daycare), we should start looking at pushing for subsidized, affordable, or (let’s just say it) free daycare.

Some may grouse, “Don’t have kids if you can’t afford childcare” which essentially means, “Don’t have kids if you’re part of the working poor.” In an ideal world every parent could afford to pay for his children’s food, education, healthcare, and education. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We also live in a world (and a country) where comprehensive family planning is constantly under threat. It’s interesting that some are calling for Harrell’s arrest, when many of those same people would insist that birth control and access to abortion are both immoral.

Others point out that Harrell took an unforgivable risk: leaving her daughter in the park by herself would leave the child vulnerable to kidnappers. Even sympathetic commentators have clucked that it’s no longer the 1950s, when it was safer to leave kids out on their own. Aside from this cockeyed and incorrect nostalgia, we also have to point out that a child has a much better chance of being a victim with a family friend or relative.

Debra Harrell is just the public face of many parents who face agonizing choices when it comes to parenthood. These choices aren’t fair and are onerous. When commenting on the issue, some have said that even if it’s hard, Harrell should’ve just found someone – as if by magic, Mary Poppins would glide in to administer some top-shelf babysitting.

Harrell isn’t a criminal. She’s a victim. Her daughter is, too. They’re victims, along with thousands of other children and parents who are making do, improvising and doing what they can. Harrell’s decision to leave her kid at the park couldn’t have been an easy one, but it’s one that she felt she had to do, to ensure that she could work her shift and provide for her daughter.


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Filed under commentary, Nonfiction

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