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Parenting and Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Deitchman
April 28, 2017

Two of the great joys in my life are parenting and public administrating. Fourteen months into my time as a father I am recognizing how my most important job is impacting my perspectives and approaches to my paying job. It is a cliché, but raising a child changes everything, including a career in the public service and a parent’s relationship with government and society.

I began in my current position after my son was born, but it is the first time I plan to stay at a workplace indefinitely. As a former stereotypical millennial, unready to commit to an organization or agency for the long term, and who wanted to pursue additional higher education, this was both a substantial change and easy transition. The conventional wisdom is members of my generation will avoid settling in with a traditional career trajectory, but as this cohort begins to rear children the desire for steadiness and stability could represent a sea change for those of us who choose to have kids. For all the effort devoted to innovating the field of public administration into a more millennial friendly industry in employment, its inherent durability and predictability could still serve as a strength for attracted talented and maturing young adults.

It is not only the career itself, but also the progress and completion of the tasks themselves that changes with parenthood. Having primarily worked in or around sustainability and related issues, I am well versed in theories about holistic considerations and the importance of a long term perspective on policy decisions. In A Sand County Almanac Aldo Leopold used the phrase to “think like a mountain” to describe this strategy for contemplation. Thinking like a mountain is also thinking like a parent. We do not credit our most enduring institutions and policies to the founding politicians, bureaucrats or scholars, but rather the Founding Fathers due to their desire to improve both their present and our future. I do not draft constitutions or anything attempting to have centuries of durability, but with my son in mind it is easier for me to comprehend policy proposals and decisions for 2020, 2030, 2040 and other far off dates.

My relationship with government as a citizen has also changed. My new personal interests have yet to alter my partisan perspectives, but I am more engaged on education and early childhood issues. Hillary Clinton as the First Lady in 1996 titled her book about children It Takes a Village because our children need their community. This is not just the proverbial village’s resources, but also the broad desire to support the hopes and dreams of the next generation. Erecting and maintaining clean and safe playgrounds, for example, is a simple and cost effective action local governmental entities use to provide recreation and integrate the youngest amongst us into our society and culture. It is not the responsibility of the state to raise children, but to provide the environment to protect their needs and foster their development into our integrated world.IMG_1377

Children need special attention and a special place in our world, but being a parent has also opened my eyes to the privileged position parents occupy in this country. I had the benefit of two weeks of paid parental leave at the time of my son’s birth. We really needed that time together and policies to promote and expand paid leave for new mothers and fathers are long overdue in the United States. Babies are expensive and tax credits and other discounts for dependents are also useful for parents. Parents, however, are not the only demographic that require additional time or financial resources to care for family or friends. In expanding benefits for parents, policymakers must consider the fairness and unintended consequences of such actions. It is kind of the government to reduce taxes for parents, but that means nonparents are paying more into public services that provide for parents and children into the future, which is not necessarily the most appropriate tax incidence. In 2017 family structures, roles and responsibilities are diverse and there is not a one-sized-fits-all design to care for children at the policy level without unduly harming individuals for personal decisions or circumstances.

As my son grows up, I look forward to sharing with him the lessons of the public service and the importance of not just doing what benefits oneself, but working for the greater public interest. Whether or not he grows up and desires a career in the public sector, the values and core tenants of public administration and practice are not just good workplace habits, but passing on aspects of this knowledge and worldview to my son will hopefully help him grow into a good, productive and happy citizen. A future with good, productive, and happy citizens is a future I want and strive to build and protect for my child and all our children.

Author: Benjamin H. Deitchman is a policy practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia. His recently published book is Climate and Clean Energy Policy: State Institutions and Economic Implications. Dr. Deitchman’s email is [email protected]. His son, Isaac, was born in 2016.

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