Did Baby On Board signs wreck parenting?

Cristen Conger

Ironically, the inventor of the Baby On Board car sign was childless when his multimillion dollar idea came to him. In 1984, Michael Lerner came up with the yellow placards after nervously driving around his 18-month-old nephew. Although the signs might do little to actually keep babies safer from car accidents, Baby On Board nonetheless made Lerner wealthy -- and perhaps steered Americans toward a modern era of hyper-parenting.

In a co-written post at Quartz, Astro and Danielle Teller contend that American parenting panic has reached a fever pitch detrimental to marriages. Today's husbands and wives, the Tellers argue, are neglecting spousal responsibilities in the quest to become gold star dads and moms. And where did parenting begin to take this perilously overprotective turn? They point to the driveway:

The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the "baby on board" placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter. A toddler is almost as precious as a baby, but a teenager less so, and by the time that baby turns fifty, it seems that nobody cares much anymore if someone crashes into her car. You don't see a lot of vehicles with placards that read, "Middle-aged accountant on board."

Considering the sign's origin, the Tellers' thesis is as dubious as Baby On Board's effectiveness. That said, the proliferation of family stick figure bumper stickers these days does suggest the Tellers are on point about the current "religion of parenting," as they call it. Above the Jesus fish on the back of the minivan, stick figure parents, kids and pets wave maddeningly to the cars behind. No longer are new parents alerting other drivers to precious cargo in the back seat with a sign they retired along with the car seat. Now, many parents are compelled to let the whole world know their entire familial lineup (marital status sometimes included) through the secondary school years.

And in a hilarious twist, some fear stick figure bumper stickers may actually endanger families because murderers and pedophiles might be lured to target a family based on their stick figure demographics. Anecdotally, however, the only negative impact those stickers have is enraging other (and probably childless) drivers who couldn't care less about whether your kid plays soccer or if there's a family dog at home. But now I'm just left wondering which needs a bigger tune-up: parenting or our tacky and dangerous automotive habits?