CHILDREN FIRST by Penelope Leach


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Branded with the emphatic subtitle ""What our society must do -- and is not doing -- for our children today,"" this bridge-burning work by the author of such respected parenting titles as Your Baby & Child, Babyhood, and The First Six Months is radical and provocative in its outlook for family and state. The premise, like the title, is simple: make children's needs the priority in most or all instances of decision-making, from the personal to the political (let children go first in lines at public bathrooms; legislate direct public funding of daycare à la Sweden's model). Lively and ever-specific, Leach provides pertinent discourse on: a sweeping redirection of a capitalist system that requires people to commute long distances, an make other sacrifices, in the name of ""materialistic"" needs; the importance of breast-feeding in a primordially nurturing environment (Norway's working mothers are allowed flexible hours and days for this activity); the reinstitution of neighborhood meeting places and cafes to make the burgeoning work-at-home (near the children) force feel less isolated. Admirably comprehensive and apparently unwilling to hedge, Leach is prone to bald or oversimplified statements (particularly on grand-scale socioeconomic restructuring), but she is ultimately more friend than foe to parents and their children; her sympathetic tone soothes even while her call to change is alarming. Not for the underconfident: the dos and don'ts may paralyze some. Still, if only half the Clinton health-care revolution is realized, why can't ""children first"" be the next frontier? Leach either has bitten off more than she -- or we -- can chew, or is simply wise beyond our era. Mild reservations aside, this is valiant and worthy and should have quite a following.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1994
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf