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Square Peg in a Round Hole: Parenting Policies and Liberal Theory

52 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2012  

Maxine Eichner

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 1998


This article reconsiders the way in which conflicts between parenting responsibilities and work are treated within the United States. It argues that the two different legal models applied to this conflict – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Family and Medical Leave Act – too narrowly define the interests at stake in parenting. Under Title Vii, parenting protections arise only insofar as their absence can be linked to sex discrimination, while under the FMLA, parenting protections arise only in response to medical needs or crisis situations. Neither framework considers the needs of the employee, as a parent and as a person, the needs of children, and the interests of communities.

The article seeks to explain the divergence between the current legal framework and the widespread public support for strong parenting protections. It argues that prevailing tenets of liberalism – exaltation of independence, a firm demarcation between public and private, and a neutral state – preclude more robust parenting protections. It further contends that even feminist theory, from which extensive critiques of existing parenting protections have issued, has failed to contest many of these liberal tenets. Feminist theory, while rightly arguing that parenting supports are needed for women to achieve equality, has generally failed to support parenting for the other goods realized through it, as well. This article then urges a broader, community-oriented treatment of parenting, one that actively promotes the welfare of parents, children, and the relationships between them as collective societal goals.

Suggested Citation

Eichner, Maxine, Square Peg in a Round Hole: Parenting Policies and Liberal Theory (January 1, 1998). Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 59, No. 1, 1998; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2129752. Available at SSRN:

Maxine Eichner (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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