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Family or Marriage Finances & Money Taxes

Parenting classes before you can take tax deductions and credits?

I’m not a parent. I don’t claim to know how someone should be a parent. However, I do know when I see something I don’t like, and many times I’ve wondered “Why don’t people need a license to be a parent?”.  This question has a complicated answer that involves more questions like “What happens if they fail the license test?” and “Who determines the criteria?”. But perhaps licensing is stretching it too far. Perhaps we have a better way to encourage new moms and dads to be more educated.

Restricting Tax Benefits for Parents

For you parents out there, you know there are tax benefits for having kids (aka “dependents”). Generally, they come in the form of deductions, and sometimes credits, that can save $thousands at year-end.

Well, what if you had to go to classes before you could claim those tax deductions and credits?

Here’s my idea of a very basic curriculum for classes. I don’t have a method or structure for how to dole out money, but that’s why we pay our legislators $millions every year to come up with this, right? (*snicker*).

Some of these items come from my wife who is a pediatric dietitian and sees tons of families who simply don’t know where to get started with their children:

  • Feeding your infant/child: breastfeeding (and alternatives), switching to solids, feeding complications
  • Caring for your child: bathing, illnesses (when to call physician), basic needs (sleep, attention, discipline)
  • Safety: child-proofing your home, CPR, car safety, etc.
  • Finances: this is where it gets complicated because you’ll have students of all ages and income levels (including no income), but there are basic principals every person should know, especially those with dependents as the kids can’t fend for themselves. I would want to be careful not to teach people to manipulate the system (welfare and food stamps), but to educate enough to know what’s available and how to access it. Even middle-income parents can benefit knowing what programs are available to help them.
    • Budgeting for your child (what to consider and average costs)
    • Banking (interest, types of accounts)
    • Handling credit and debt
    • Government and local programs to help new parents

This is just my own short list of need-to-knows for any parent, without getting too much into interfering with religious or cultural issues. Keep it simple to the things that are common knowledge across most doctors, nurses, dietitians, certified financial planners, safety groups (fire, police, etc.) and, this is the tricky part, child psychologists. I say this last part because no, your kid probably isn’t ADD, ADHD or bi-polar, and trying to blame a mental or physical disorder on their behavior is avoiding the bigger issues of being a good parent. But that’s an argument for another time and place.

You’re not going to please everyone. You’ll have many people against parts of the curriculum, against the government “enforcing” a curriculum, or just the fact that we made it harder to get tax deductions. I’m sorry, but I know one too many people in my life (one is enough) who simply pops out kids to stay on welfare and get as much tax lenience as possible.

I’m not proposing making it impossible to get tax leniency when you’re having a child; rather, I’d like to know that the people at most need of this information (parents) have access AND incentive to get it.

Auditing the Process

How can we ensure parents are truly earning their deductions/credits? We certify educators and require proof of identity at class registration AND attendance. The educators submit the attendance roles through an electronic system straight to the IRS.

There’s always room for fraud with any system, and again, it’s not my call on the best way to implement these ideas; it’s for the legislators (and lobbyists I guess). Ultimately my goal is to educate parents (of your first, second or tenth child), and provide an incentive to learn basic topics. You can go to class, sit in the back and tune out the teacher, but you can’t catch ’em all, right?

Your Thoughts?

About the author

Clever Dude

13 Comments

  • First thing to came to mind: Who would pay for these classes? If they are to be paid for by the parents, the people who need it the most would be the least likely to benefit. (i.e., those in low socioeconomic status, who might need the most help learning about feeding etc., would be the least likely to be able for afford to shell out for the class, even if it resulted in a tax benefit later…)

  • @Traciatim: Good comeback. Like I didn’t think of that and write it in the first sentence. Being a parent doesn’t automatically qualify you as an all-knowing god who can do no wrong, so I don’t really see much of a difference between someone doing versus observing, except I have the luxury of time and objectivity in my analysis of the situations.

    @Psychsarah: It would be a socialist government program funded the same way all the other programs like social security, welfare, and the new health plan programs: fake money and heavier taxes on our children. However, those children will be smarter and healthier because we helped the parents 🙂

  • Maybe you should have wrote the first sentence and then thought “Hey wait a sec, I have no freaking clue what it’s like to be a parent, maybe I should get a parent to write this?”.

    The ideas are fairly sound, in a utopian world. Did you know that when you have a kid they offer you a breast feeding classes and support groups out the yin-yang, they show you how to bath the baby, they inspect your car seat and your ability to put the child in it before you leave, and you get packets and flyers galore for services and programs that offer assistance in pretty much everything you listed. It’s working really well apparently.

    Also, if you keep it to things that are common knowledge then wouldn’t everyone know the stuff already? Isn’t that the point of common knowledge?

  • Then why does my wife see dozens of patients a week with absolutely no knowledge of “common knowledge”? Just because the local firehouse offers a weekend where you can take your car seat to be fitted doesn’t mean that most parents take advantage of it. Did you ever think most parents are inundated with information, and that providing an incentive to be educated in a closed environment and be rewarded for it would be helpful?

    And as far as getting a parent to write the article, why don’t you submit one and see how well you do? If you’re a parent, I want you to show how knowledgeable you are about all the things other parents should know. Maybe you should start a blog on it (or do you have one already?).

    Moreover, what do you do for a living? Are you a doctor, nurse, dietitian, social worker, EMT, psychologist, psychiatrist? Anything on the front lines of seeing how more than just your own little household handles the shit that life throws at them? At least I admitted I’m halfway clueless, but being a parent of ONE kid doesn’t help even YOU to know how the other billions of kids or parents handle life.

  • Would this be required course or just an alternative with an incentive? How would the government ensure people are signing up for the course before getting pregnant or before the baby comes? What about making it a requirement for those who are “at risk” of being “bad” parents? Still seems like a stretch…

  • I guess I just live in a place that cares about their families instead. When you leave the hospital here they have someone escort you outside and have you put your newborn in their car seat, and then mount the seat and they make you do it over until you get it right. Most parents are inundated with information? So your solution is more information in state run brain washing sessions or no assistance from government? Real smart. China called, they want their government system back.

    You need examples of common knowledge, handling credit cards and debt? Not only parents mess that one up, and not only us poor uneducated parents that need ‘retraining’ at your government facilities either. It’s obviously not common knowledge if generally people don’t know it. Just because you got hit in the ankle by a kid in the grocery store doesn’t mean you get to dictate what government assistance people get.

    I don’t work in social work at all. I see a pile of parents in lots of different groups interact with kids and other parents, and now that I have kids let me tell you I’ve got a lot more lenient on what’s acceptable and what’s not. I’ve even had helicopter parents call social services on me before, and got a visit from your friendly neighbourhood social services goon.

    I take it your also supporting financial audits of all social assistance recipients too? I mean really, why do they get to smoke and drink and go to the beach all day while everyone else is working? Why aren’t they in mandatory training on how to be the army of parental adjusters your going to need?

    P.S. I’m much more a fan of the parenting style offered here:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids.html . . . Also kind of like the free range parenting, but I was brought up by and English dad so we’re big on the discipline. Of course, none of that would fit in with your one size fits everyone ‘or else’ mentality.

  • An original, but horrible, horrible idea!

    Besides, why stop at parenting? Why not voting? Why not health management?

    Yes – some people will do a horrible job of parenting their kids, but parenting is one of those rare activities in which the incentive to do the right job is strong enough as it is – if evolution hasn’t taught you to take good care of your off-spring, nothing will.

    I have so many other objections, I guess i’ll stop here.

  • Calm down, Traciatim. Dude indicates in the article that it wouldn’t be mandatory and wouldn’t be a pass/fail type of thing. You’d be free to attend, reap the benefits and parent your own way. I find the term “brainwashing sessions” a little strong, considering the basic nature of the course outlined.

    You’ve admitted that the information all already exists, so what’s the problem with putting it all in one place (for areas where it is not already organised this way) and including an incentive? Personally, I found myself chasing down information all over the place and would have appreciated it if my prenatal classes also covered some parenting topics. I would still make my own decisions, but it’s nice to have somewhere to start.

    My problem with this idea is that anytime you add a restriction to an existing benefit, it is perceived as an obstacle or a cut instead of an incentive, casting the whole program under a negative light. It would be better if came with a *new* incentive, such as free baby products, food discounts or a new tax deduction/credit. On another note, tax benefits are of limited value to the very low-income earners, which is why I’d support a variety of incentives to attract the most people.

  • Why are there so many people out there with no common sense? Because there are stupid people, immature people, child people having children. Not a good idea for any of them but not something anyone else has a right to legislate. We need to move away from the idea that “someone” should be in charge of everything.

  • While I realize there are always people who want to cheat the system, I truly doubt that anybody intentionally pops out more kids just to get the tax deductions or welfare. The cost of raising kids far surpasses any tax deductions you would get. Also, what about people who don’t pay any taxes in the first place? They would have no incentive to go to these classes — and they are arguably the ones most in need of parenting classes. Instead, how about requiring classes for people getting public assistance?

    I don’t have kids either, but I think I would be mad if I had to take classes on basic personal finance just to get my tax deduction. Don’t you think it would be a waste of time for your wife to take classes on feeding? I’m sure I don’t know everything about parenting, but if I got pregnant, I would read up on parenting myself.

  • This is very close to the idea I’ve been stewing over and writing my state politicians about for years. Yes, I’m a parent, been married for over 16 years now and have 2 children ages 13 and 15. I am a public school teacher and have been teaching for some 14 years.
    When I was going to school for my degree in teaching my new bride and I was able to take a parenting class together. We didn’t have to, but we thought it would be a good idea. Over the years we have found ourselves using the information that we learned there with our own children and my in my classroom. It didn’t just deal with taking care of little children. It dealt with having a family in all of its stages of life.

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    I feel that many of the responses have a valid concern or comment and a bunch are rantings of people who have no idea of the social problems we live in that stem from generations of parenting mistakes.

    I do not believe that this is a quick fix. However, over several generations I feel that it would make a huge difference.

    One of the problems is that we live a totally different world than our parents and grandparents. Things that our kids have to deal with are very different, and parenting needs to keep up with those needs. Much of it is (or should be) age old common sense.

    I want to make respectable responses to comments presented above but I shall have to do that over time.

    Thank you for the tread, I fully support the idea.

  • Yes, I’m a teacher, and yes even I make mistakes in my writing and typing. If you have a problem with that, I respectfully say, “GET OVER IT” and have a nice day. 🙂

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