‘Family Unfriendly’: American Culture Is Failing Parents — Here Are Some Cures

Put some of journalist Tim Carney’s best advice to use: ‘Send the kids outside, grab a drink, and don’t stop reading until someone comes back starving or bleeding …’

Cover of Tim Carney's new book available now.
Cover of Tim Carney's new book available now. (photo: Courtesy photos / Harper Collins )

Car seats as contraception? In an academic article published in 2020, researchers found that American car-seat regulations work as a form of contraception. Yes, you read that right. The researchers found that U.S. laws raising the age at which kids must ride in a car seat have made it significantly harder for some families to have a third child, since your typical car can only fit two car seats in the back. Car-seat mandates, the researchers concluded, have led to 145,000 fewer births since 1980.

This study is just one phenomenon explored in journalist Tim Carney’s new book, Family Unfriendly. Carney sets out to explain how American law and culture have failed parents who want to have kids and raise them well. The long and short of it, as many parents already know: “American culture is a suboptimal habitat for the human family.”

Diagnosing problems is one thing; finding the cure is another. Family Unfriendly does both. With chapter titles like “Leave Your Kids Alone” and “Have Lower Ambitions for Your Kids,” Carney has plenty of practical advice for parents and policymakers alike. His analysis and advice are backed by data (for those who enjoy detailed footnotes) and common sense. 

Family Unfriendly sifts through social science, policy analysis, polling data, personal interviews, and pop culture (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Gwen Stefani and Jim Gaffigan all receive honorable mentions; Miley Cyrus gets a dishonorable mention). New York Times columnist David Brooks and economist-turned-pregnancy-guru Emily Oster make appearances. Carney also draws on personal experience. Carney, a veteran father of six, is Catholic, but the book explores family culture from Protestant, Jewish, Mormon, Amish and secular perspectives too.

Two typically insightful discussions in the book are worth highlighting. The first is our demographic decline. In a chapter on the current “Baby Bust,” Carney emphasizes the dangers of our society’s ‘anti-natalist’ mindset. He discusses the views of Thomas Malthus, the 18th-century British economist who popularized population control and warned that too many births would lead to resource depletion. Malthus’ theory, of course, has been shown to be dark-age voodoo science, even as it continues to hold sway in some corners today. As Carney puts it: 

“Malthus’s model, however, omits the ultimate resource, to use the term of environmental economist Julian Simon. The ultimate resource, of course, is the human mind. More people, in the long run, makes us wealthier, because more people means more creativity and innovation. … History has proven this again and again.”

Here, Carney echoes the sentiments of Elon Musk, who in characteristic fashion saw into the future and predicted the current Baby Bust. Musk has been warning for years about the dire nature of impending global population collapse. Family Unfriendly expands on this theme and provides a new context for the Baby Bust. It’s not that we can’t afford to have more babies; we can’t afford not to have more babies.

Second, Carney devotes time to the problem of fatherhood. He writes:

“Some readers may roll their eyes at the notion of a mere dad spouting off about parenting and birthrates. I assure you that in these pages, plenty of women — moms and not-moms — will do the talking. But more important, the very attitude that dads don’t have much of a say in childbearing and child-rearing is at the heart of our cultural problems. Humans aren’t made to raise kids alone. Marriage is part of this story. If we view pregnancy and kid-raising as a ‘woman’s issue,’ we’ve already lost and let men off the hook.”

The importance of dads is a theme woven throughout the book. Carney provides a fresh opportunity to reflect on it. His personal tales of fatherly adventures are inspiring (look for the description of his heroic climb at the National Zoo with six kids in tow), making the book a great Father’s Day gift.

Parents of all kinds — current parents, expecting parents, aspiring parents, grandparents, godparents — should read Family Unfriendly. And while you read it, put some of Carney’s best advice to use: “Send the kids outside, grab a drink, and don’t stop reading until someone comes back starving or bleeding.”

Stained-glass window depicting St. Benedict of Nursia

Raising a Benedict

Benedict is our first child, and he was named on purpose. In a world that is increasingly anti-God and anti-religion, my wife and I desire Ben, and all of our children, to stand against the curve and proclaim Christ above everything else.