Archives: Childhood

Blue State Blues: Is There a Downside to Waiting?

12.10.2012 5:52 PM

Naomi Cahn and June Carbone have written eloquently in defense of the Blue (State) Family Paradigm, which entails postponing marriage and parenthood into middle adulthood, so as to maximize the accumulation of parental education, professional experience, and income before having a child. But there are downsides to waiting until your late 30s (or later) to marry and start a family.

The Grayest Generation“, the New Republic‘s latest cover story by Judith Shulevitz, paints a textured and sobering portrait of those downsides:

  • Unrealized dreams for a child or children;
  • 40something parents sandwiched between elderly parents and young children, struggling physically and emotionally to care for two generations at the same time; and,
  • Higher rates of developmental disabilities born to children of older moms and older dads.

Money quote from Shulevitz, who has personal experience with older motherhood and a son with a mild case of “sensory-integration disorder”:

[L]earning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays increased about 17 percent between 1997 and 2008. One in six American children was reported as having a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier. Soon, I learned that medical researchers, sociologists, and demographers were more worried about the proliferation of older parents than my friends and I were. They talked to me at length about a vicious cycle of declining fertility, especially in the industrialized world, and also about the damage caused by assisted-reproductive technologies (ART) that are commonly used on people past their peak childbearing years.

Let me clear: Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Other factors could be driving trends in children’s developmental disabilities. But it’s worth thinking more about, and seriously studying, the social, developmental, and physiological consequences of waiting until your late 30s or 40s to start a family.

Abuse and Bullying for the Holidays

11.23.2012 3:18 PM

Last night, after slogging through a long afternoon of cooking and a long hour of eating, I collapsed on the sofa with my eight year old son to watch a movie while husband and daughter ventured to a neighbor’s house for dessert. We chose to watch A Christmas Story, that 1983 film featuring nine-year old “Ralphie” and his all-consuming longing for a Red Ryder BB gun.

Like most people, I’ve seen the film seemingly dozens of times and largely always enjoyed it, so it was strange last night to find myself watching it as if for the first time and feeling increasingly distraught as I did so. What a horrible depiction of abusive behavior and bullying this film offers, all bathed in light-hearted holiday cheer.

The father yells and curses constantly at his wife, at his children, at the neighbor’s dogs, and seemingly at anything that moves and even some things that don’t move, like the furnace. After years of this his wife has been reduced to a quivering, anxious mass of Jello, still bravely mothering her sons with kindness and love even as she receives next to none. The father mocks and mimics her, repeating her occasional peace-seeking phrase in a nasty falsetto. I found myself increasingly preoccupied with how she even manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less keep meeting each day with a soft touch and an earnest, open heart.

Meanwhile, the film’s depiction of the boys’ peer world could be material for a contemporary Public Service Announcement against bullying. Granted, I’ve been somewhat skeptical of our new-found penchant to see bullying everywhere we look. But whatever has changed in me or in the culture in recent years meant that I could no longer watch A Christmas Story without a sick heart.

A classmate of Ralphie’s is taunted into damaging his tongue by sticking it onto a frozen pole. He returns to class weeping and with a bandaged tongue. Another day a schoolyard bully twists the same boy’s arm behind his back and he returns to class weeping and with a black eye. The same bully and his ridiculous miniature sidekick chase and terrorize the boys to and from school every day. One day, Ralphie loses it and turns on the bully, beating him so badly that blood flows from the bully’s nose. His mother hauls him off the bully and takes care of him, but no one attends to the beaten bully. That evening, Ralphie’s little brother bawls that when their dad comes home he’s “gonna kill Ralphie.” In a light, oh-you-silly tone his mother reassures him, “Oh, Daddy’s not gonna ‘kill’ Ralphie.” But given the father’s near total lack of self-control when it comes to his own anger issues, one cannot help but wonder if the little brother has a good point.

And there’s plenty more. When Ralphie is caught uttering the “f” word he rats out a classmate rather than confessing to his mother that he learned the word from his father. His mother gets on the telephone and calls the boy’s mother. The boy’s mother starts screaming “What? What?”, then we hear the sounds of blows and a little boy yelling, “But mom, what did I do? What did I do?”

At this point we were only about halfway through the movie and my son and I agreed that we were done. We switched it off, scrolled through some channels, and found ourselves watching the last ten minutes of…Modern Family.

Origin stories, part II

11.18.2012 3:11 PM

Part I here; be sure to read the comments too.

Today’s offering:

Ezekiel 16:1-5 (NRSB)

…‘Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem, “Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

This origin story functions in the text as a metaphor for the birth of Israel, which leads to God’s claiming her and loving her, her decline into prostitution, and the angry husband-God’s vengeance and eventual forgiveness (yes, feminist theologians have done some excellent work on Biblical domestic violence imagery).

But for now, what interests me most is a powerful, tragic origin story told and retold enough that eventually it was put to writing and then eventually became part of the canon; a story so raw and real that humans apparently for thousands of years could identify with it and possibly see themselves or others in it.

What is your origin story?

Meet Me at the Moon, Maybe

11.11.2012 5:40 PM

Books like this make me want to sob…and to do anything I can to prevent such books being seemingly necessary in the first place.

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You, by Nancy Tillman

Magic pours from these pages, reassuring our children that no matter where they go or what they might do, our love will accompany them like a constant stream of nourishing, sparkling light that is always there…’And if you’re feeling lonely, or someday you’re sad…just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair, That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.’…Because it is so encompassing and universal in its message, it could be a great book to give a child who is losing someone through divorce or death.


Meet Me at the Moon, by Gianna Marino

…This oh, so lovely book honors the sweet bonds of closeness a mother and child can have together, even if the mother has to go away. It also celebrates how, no matter how far a mother has to go, the earth and elements can carry messages back through the web of life to a waiting child…’I don’t want you to go…what if I can’t hear or see you? What if you can’t find me? cries a baby elephant when his mother leaves to seek rain. ‘Listen for my sound on the wind…feel my love when you feel the warmth of the sun. Call for me, and meet me where the sky meets the earth…meet me at the moon.’

Notable, too, is the animism such books resort to when institutional structures such as family are weakened and religious metaphors are not wanted.

Origin Stories

11.01.2012 2:29 PM

I am fascinated by origin stories, why as humans and as cultures we tell them, and what they mean to us. Recently, as Amy Ziettlow and I were reading King Lear for the book we’re writing on Gen X caregiving, I underlined this:

My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon’s Tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous.

What’s your origin story?

“The vindication of Mark Regnerus”

10.31.2012 11:16 AM

Today at Witherspoon’s Public Discourse, Matthew Franck publishes the second of his two pieces on the Regnerus study, this one called “The Vindication of Mark Regnerus.”  The piece is well titled, because what Franck offers here is not an analysis of the study as much as simple, full-throated cheerleading. 

Franck does report that Regnerus has responded to his critics in the November issue of Social Science Research.  Much of Franck’s article appears to be based on this response — he purports to sumarize it and quotes from it extensively — but he doesn’t link to the article itself, and I cannot find it online.  (Does anyone out there have a copy?)   So for me it’s hard to know what to make of some of what Franck says, absent the ability to read the actual article he is discussing.

Franck stresses, as Regnerus has all along, and as he apparently does again (with some new analyses of the study’s data) in this new article, the fact that young adults who report that a parent had a same-sex romantic relationship seem to have experienced a great deal of family turmoil and instability, and appear to have suffered negative consequences as a result.  This is important.  When I first heard Mark Regnerus summarize his findings, at a luncheon when his article first appeared, that was the very thing that struck me most forcefully: These young people appear to have experienced very high and apparently harmful levels of family instability.  I believed then, and continue to believe now, that if Regnerus has built his original article around this set of findings, and had explored those findings carefully and sensitively, and had not gotten himself into the mess about calling what he was looking at a “new family structure,” he would have made a valuable contribution to the field, and would likely have avoided at least some (certainly not all, probably not even most) of the the public criticism that in fact he has endured.  He certainly would have avoided MY criticism. 

But that’s not what happened.  Instead, he did, as a centerpiece of his approach, get into the mess of labeling this phenomenon a “family structure” that can be validly  compared and contrasted to other “family structures.”  That’s the issue that’s of such concern.

Yet in Franck’s telling of the story, all of this is a complete non-issue, just one more unfair attack on bullet-proof scholarship.  In fact, it seems to me that Franck himself does not really understand what is being alleged here; in today’s article (and in yesterday’s), he, Franck, seems to think that Regnerus’ critics are mainly exercised over issues such as whether to say “lesbian mother” or “mother who had a lesbian relationship” — issues which, to me at least, hardly matter and certainly do not touch upon the real problem. 

What matters to me — the main and nearly only thing that matters to me — is whether in a study of ”new family structures,” the fact that your mother had a same-sex romantic relationship when you were growing up constitutes a “family structure.”  I (and many others) say that it absolutely does not.  Franck does not seem to recognize the question.  I’m not sure if Mark does, or does not, in his new article, which I look forward to reading as soon as it’s available.

Is Halloween good or bad for civil society?

10.30.2012 7:15 PM

My new piece at Huffington Post. I’m blogging from iPhone so please forgive lack of formatting.

Between Commodities and Rights-Holders

10.24.2012 3:21 PM

I started writing a comment to Elizabeth’s post from earlier today, but by the time I’d finished and tried posting, the 30-comment limit had been reached.1

So here’s what I want to say:

Perhaps assisted reproductive technology (“ART”) only makes overt what’s otherwise often camouflaged. We might think of the selection of gamete donors and the objectification of the surrogate2 as evidence of the commodification of the children who result from these processes, but don’t people in stable relationship pick their sexual partners (and co-parents) with those same considerations at least informing those choices? Is this the person I want to have children with? And for men: Is my wife/female partner healthy enough, young enough, etc., to bear our children?

It won’t do to try avoiding the question by saying that children are just commodities in the first place, because they have no legal rights. Because that’s just not true. Kids do have some rights, just not the full panoply of them. To use an extreme example to make the point: Whatever one thinks of abortion, infanticide is illegal. Children have a right not to be killed. They also have rights to food, adult care and (in some countries) health care. If the law is working correctly, they should have that set of rights commensurate with their emerging selves. That their rights-set isn’t yet complete isn’t to say that they’re commodities, and in fact we might be saying quite the opposite: they need protection.Many of these rights are spelled out in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children, ratified by almost all countries, with only Somalia, South Sudan and one other3 withholding approval…. Yet even in the U.S., children do have some rights.

I think some of the confusion here is understandable, though, because until quite recently kids WERE clearly property…   But now, of course, we think that’s, y’know, bad. So what, if anything, does the improved legal status of children have to say about their quasi-commodification?


Treating “small humans as fulfilling the goals of their parents, rather then as beings who are independently worthy of respect”

10.24.2012 12:38 PM

I’m still mulling over and thinking through the many thoughtful comments on my post earlier this week and the discussion that continued at John Culhane and Matt Kaal’s posts and the new contributions at Alana’s post. We are traveling east for a death in the family so I’ll be a bit slower on the blog, but in the meantime I wanted to highlight an interesting insight by commenter annajcook on the recent book Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate. I have to admit I have not read the book; it sounded like an anti-child diatribe and didn’t make it on to my reading list so far. But then annajcook writes:

For the interested, I just finished reading Christine Overall’s Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate which explores the ethics of chosen procreation, whether “naturally” through male-female unprotected intercourse or through ART. While she doesn’t tackle the ethics of ART separately from the decision to have children (or not), she directly challenges reasons for procreating that treat the potential child as a project or product. I was definitely pleased to see her challenge those elements in our culture which treat small humans as fulfilling the goals of their parents, rather then as beings who are independently worthy of respect.

I detest anything that reeks of commodification of children (and persons, for that matter), and I know that conventionally-reproducing heterosexual couples can definitely play into these attitudes– so this angle gets my attention.

What’s your take? What are ways that any of us might be treating “small humans as fulfilling the goals of their parents” and our potential child as a “project or product”? What does it mean, in practice, to treat our own and others’ children as “beings who are independently worthy of respect”?

Is caregiving gendered?

10.15.2012 11:36 AM

Not long ago as my husband and I were eating sushi I observed an extended family gather at a table near us. Their group included a number of ambulatory children not older than about age four, as well as a baby in a car seat placed on the floor, briefly facing away from the adults.

The children were circulating and gabbing, doing whatever it is three and four year olds do when they haven’t seen each other for a while, and the baby was watching them in awe. Then, the baby fussed. The boys went on hooting and hollering, seemingly unaware. But the girl dropped down on her stretchy, bendy knees and talked in a reassuring, cheerful sing-song to the baby, who instantly cheered up.

This example came to my mind as I thought about mothers, grown daughters, grandmothers, and big sisters, asking myself, is there something distinctively gendered about caregiving? While plenty of boys and men can and do provide attentive hands-on care, is there something to be said about the fact that girls and women do this far more often?

By pointing this out I don’t mean to denigrate boys and men at all. I’m reminded of recently when my husband and I had to tell our school age children that a beloved relative is very sick. Our daughter burst into tears and over the next half hour verbalized seemingly every question she had. Our son was quiet, didn’t cry, didn’t have much to say. But over the course of the day he was quietly more attentive to others around him and more generous (bringing his sister some milk at dinner when no one asked him to do it, etc.). There is definitely a need and role in the world for kind men who become stalwart and quietly generous in the face of loss. And, as I reassured a young father yesterday, working, for example, crazy 12 hour shifts is indeed a vital contribution to good husbanding and fathering.

What do you think? Is there a gendered quality to caregiving? And, if so, what are we to make of it?

Parents and Coming Out

10.09.2012 1:14 PM

The New York Times has a piece by John Schwartz entitled Helping a Child Come Out which gives a unique perspective on National Coming Out Day (October 11th) – that of the eager expectant parent. Schwartz recounts how he and his wife suspected early on that their son might be experiencing same-sex attractions, and how they eagerly (if not impatiently) waited for him to come out of the closet.  Schwartz uses his personal experience as a spring board to discuss recent findings by the Human Rights Campaign about the mental health of out and closeted LGBT teens, and to give parents who may suspect one of their children is gay some advice on how to approach the tricky business of teenage sexual identity issues  and coming out. 

I think Schwartz and his wife model some great parenting here – it is obvious from the way Schwartz describes his experience that he and his wife love their son and wanted to be affirming and encouraging of him in every way possible.  They sought out solid advice from their gay and lesbian friends about the best course of action,  and then simply provided a safe environment where their son could process his feelings and open up when he felt ready.  After some gentle nudging, their son brought it up on his own, and they were able to have a affirming conversation about it.

Talking with several of my out LGBT friends about their experiences – those with positive experiences reiterated the importance of both continual parental affirmation and enough space to allow a young LGBT teen to come to a place of self-awareness.  A couple of my friends made the point that “the first person you come out to is yourself”  and “no one wants to feel forced into a personal realization.”  But once that realization happens, what was important for my friends was the knowledge of a safe familial environment where they didn’t have to question if they were loved.  The Schwartzes nail this, and deserve a huge thumbs up.    

My only critique of the article is that I was tempted to roll my eyes at a few of Schwartz’s examples of why parents might suspect a child to be gay – in particular his aside that a toddler with a diva personality, feather boa, and burgeoning passion for rhinestone footwear might be subconsciously trying to tell us something.  I think equating a child’s expression of masculinity or femininity with their developing sexual identity oversimplifies a rather complicated growth process – even if there do seem to be some anecdotal “tells” that parents reflect back on when a child comes out.  All that to say, I still thought the article was great. 

I’d love to know your thoughts on it as well.

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¿Padres que en el siglo XXI aún esconden a sus hijos con discapacidad?… ¿Cómo orientarlos para que faciliten y promuevan la inclusión social de sus hijos?

10.01.2012 8:26 AM

Leí recientemente un escrito en de una historia vivida en México acerca de la discriminación de las personas con alguna discapacidad, y las consecuencias negativas que ésta genera para la persona. Se menciona además, que existen familiares que esconden a sus seres queridos con discapacidad, aislándolos de la sociedad.

¿Padres que en el siglo XXI aún escondan a sus hijos con discapacidad?… desafortunadamente sí. Y lo peor de la situación es que no son casos aislados, sino que todavía hay un gran número de personas con discapacidad que viven esta situación.

En este panorama desolador, se pretende dar una luz y orientar a los padres de familia para que no escondan a sus hijos, sino que por el contrario sean quienes faciliten y promuevan  la inclusión de su hijo con discapacidad en la sociedad.

¿Existen historias satisfactorias de personas con discapacidad?

Por supuesto que sí. Hace un año, por ejemplo tuve la fortuna de participar como estudiante visitante por seis meses en el Beach Center on Disability Institute de la Universidad de Kansas, donde conocí la historia de Jay Turnbull. Su padre el Dr. Rutherford Turnbull co-director del Beach Center on Disability Institute relata su historia en el libro ¨The exceptional life of Jay Turnbull¨, afirmando que Jay impactó positivamente la vida de sus familiares, amigos y conocidos, logro vivir una vida digna y demostró al mundo que tener menos habilidades no significa ser menos valioso.

Además de muchas historias personales de éxito que he conocido, a su vez, he tenido acercamientos con organizaciones que apoyan a las familias y a las personas con discapacidad buscando facilitar su inclusión social, como por ejemplo la organización del Centro Ann Sullivan del Perú (CASP) y la Corporación Trancisiones Crecer en Bogotá Colombia, las cuales buscan aportar para que las familias y las personas con discapacidad puedan hacer realidad proyectos de vida plenos, productivos y felices.

¿Cómo orientar entonces a los padres para que faciliten y promuevan la inclusión social de sus hijos?

Quiero exponer algunas ideas claves que he aprendido, desde la academia, y de las experiencias y el compartir con las familias y las personas con discapacidad.

1.Invitar Apoyos: Es fundamental que los padres inviten a otras personas a apoyar a su familia.  ¿Con qué personas ha contado su familia y están dispuestas a colaborar? En muchas ocasiones los padres se retractan de pedir ayuda por miedo a ser rechazados. Sin embargo, en muchas ocasiones este miedo impide que otros lleguen a su familia, y es mágico ver cómo en la medida que las redes de apoyo de la familia aumentan, la calidad de vida tanto de la familia como de la persona con discapacidad mejoran notablemente. Animo a los padres a invitar a otros de su familia extensa, amigos, profesionales y de la comunidad a participar con su familia y establecer redes de apoyo recíprocas.

2. Promover y fortalecer las habilidades de sus hijos con discapacidad, enfocándose en aquello que SÍ puede hacer, en lugar de aquello que no puede hacer: He visto en muchas familias que los padres tienen a enfocarse sólo en aquellas actividades que sus hijos con discapacidad tienen dificultades para llevar a cabo. ¿Por qué no centrarse en aquello que SÍ pueden hacer? Es esencial que los padres ayuden a fortalecer y a promover las habilidades que sus hijos tienen. TODOS los seres humanos sin excepción alguna tienen habilidades, por tanto, es fundamental ayudarles a promoverlas. Los padres luego van a visualizar que con el tiempo estas habilidades se van a configurar como recursos de apoyo para alcanzar nuevas metas y nuevas habilidades.

 3.Tener en cuenta las preferencias y gustos de sus hijos con discapacidad: Debido a la notable discriminación y segregación que durante la historia han vivido las personas con discapacidad, se les ha privado de expresar sus gustos y preferencias. El hecho de tener una discapacidad no impide que ellos puedan expresarse y que sea muy importante para ellos que se les pregunte por aquello que ellos desean y les sean tenidas en cuenta estas preferencias. Es importante considerar estas preferencias dentro de un amplio espectro, considerando tanto aspectos cotidianos de la vida, como a su vez, aspectos de mayor alcance para la persona.

 4.Tener altas expectativas de sus hijos con discapacidad: Las expectativas influyen considerablemente en la propia autoestima y autoconcepto, así como en la autoeficacia para alcanzar logros y metas. Como resultado, es muy importante que los padres tengan altas expectativas de sus hijos con discapacidad, y no los menosprecien ni los consideren menos que los demás hijos. Sus hijos con discapacidad tienen habilidades diferentes, pero no por esta razón son menos persona, y por tanto menos dignos de alcanzar sus sueños. No debe olvidarse que las expectativas y las habilidades no por ser diferentes son menos valiosas.

5.Felicitarlo por sus logros: Este aspecto puede resultar tan sencillo, pero he visto mucho que los padres como tienden a enfocarse sólo en las limitaciones de sus hijos con discapacidad, también olvidan felicitarlo por sus logros. Es fundamental felicitarlos y animarlos a continuar, pues los logros que vayan alcanzando, van a ser eslabones para llegar a metas más altas y a cumplir sus expectativas. Cada logro es muy importante para sus hijos y por pequeño que sea será muy valioso.

6.Darle oportunidades de elección: Darle oportunidades a los hijos con discapacidad de tomar sus propias elecciones es uno de los aspectos fundamentales que hacen una gran diferencia. Desde siempre se ha coartado los derechos de las personas con discapacidad a tomar sus propias decisiones, se ha decidido voluntariamente por ellos y se ha impuesto lo que otros desean. ¿Cómo lograr que puedan tener una mayor autodeterminación, si los padres no les dan oportunidades de elegir?  Los padres deben darle estas oportunidades a sus hijos, y poco a poco con guía y orientación ellos irán tomando el protagonismo de sus propias vidas.

No quiero terminar sin antes decir que estoy muy agradecida de poder hacer parte de este grupo maravilloso de FamilyScholars, quiero darle las gracias a mi amiga Elizabeth Marquardt por su invitación. Además estoy muy feliz de poder escribir para todos nuestros lectores de habla hispana!

New Study on Caregiving Grandparents

09.07.2012 10:57 AM

University of Chicago sociologist, Linda Waite, has authored a new report on the role of grandparents in child-rearing.

“Among the paper’s findings are:

  • African American and Hispanic grandparents are more likely than whites to begin and continue a multi-generation household or start a skipped generation household.
  • African American grandparents are more likely to start a skipped generation household. Hispanic grandparents are more likely to start a multi-generational household.
  • Grandparents with more education and better incomes were more likely to provide babysitting, Waite said.
  • Grandmothers are more likely than grandfathers to provide babysitting. Grandparents who are married are more likely to begin and continue babysitting, however.
  • Grandparents are less likely to provide care if they have minor children of their own at home.
  • Grandparents least likely to provide care are older, unmarried and less likely to be working.

The findings have implications for public policy, Waite pointed out, as child welfare agencies are increasingly depending on family members, particularly grandparents, to provide care to children when parents cannot. The Census figures show that 60 percent of the grandparents caring for their grandchildren also are in the labor force.”

Studies in childhood and religion

08.16.2012 12:10 AM

The American Academy of Religion has a relatively new group on childhood studies. Here’s a link to a great list of publications.

Thoughts on Care

08.08.2012 4:09 PM

What is care? I often think about this word’s various dimensions and representations—about how my parents cared for me as a child and still continue to as a young adult, how my grandparents were cared for by their children before they passed on. About how and why we innately care for (or desire to care for) our own friends and family members, or more generally, for humanity as a whole.  Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul somehow landed in my hands and I’ve found one of the most beautiful ways of describing care I’ve read as of yet.

The word care implies a way of responding to expressions of the soul that is not heroic and muscular.  Care is what a nurse does, and “nurse” happens to be one of the early meanings of the Greek word therapeia, or therapy. … Cura, the Latin word used originally in “care of the soul,” means several things: attention, devotion, husbandry, adorning the body, healing, managing, being anxious for, and worshiping the gods. It might be a good idea to keep all these meanings in mind as we try to see as concretely as possible how we might make the shift from psychotherapy as we know it today to care of the soul.

Personally, I very much like the spiritual dimension he adds to psychotherapy, and the homeopathic way in which he is approaching life’s challenges.  Moore writes about observing and listening to our difficulties and learning from them before neatly extricating them, and that perhaps this neatness that would be simple and convenient doesn’t actually exist.  This is novel in a culture steeped in instantaneousness.   There is something deeply and quietly human and ennobling about this kind of care.  Here, care is used as a lead into a wider discussion on psychotherapy—it’s not an exhaustive definition, but being interested in therapy and psychology, it is fascinating to examine and meditate on this particularly rich facet of care.

What words come to mind when you think about care? Do you like the excerpted definition?

‘This Child’s View of Single Motherhood’

07.18.2012 11:57 AM

At Slate, Katie Roiphe responded to the Jason DeParle’s NYT piece on Sunday. Michael Brenden Dougherty has an excellent response to Roiphe, titled “This Child’s View of Single Motherhood“:

Over the weekend, the New York Times unveiled a huge article examining how single motherhood entails tremendous financial struggle and diminished opportunities for children of fatherless homes. It causes and exacerbates America’s growing inequality.

In response, Slate’s Katie Roiphe, asks the Times to stop, just stop.

“The [NYT] piece, in tender, gloomy detail, compares the slatternly home of the single mother, all struggle and chaos, to the orderly, promising, more affluent home of her boss, who is married. The moralizing portrait that emerges is not surprising: The single mother and her children have a terrible life, and the married mother and her children have a great one.”

Roiphe is exaggerating. (“Slatternly?” Really?) Her response is harsh and nit-picky. It ignores the raft of social science data and indicts the Times for classism and moralism. She pretends that the Times is describing the single-mother as slutty. “The New York Times is recycling truly retrograde and ugly moral judgements,” Roiphe writes…

I don’t think either the Times in its obsession with socio-economic status, or Roiphe in her rearguard defense of the sexual revolution grasp with the subject at hand. And I can’t pretend to write the whole book on it here, but there are some things only a child of a single-mother could tell you about single motherhood…

As a single mother, helping to take care of her parents and her son, [my mother] wasn’t in a position to make men be courtly with her. So she stopped trying. That was the sexual revolution for her. Men willing to sleep with her, but not willing to build a family.

By financial and emotional necessity, she became wrapped in a co-dependent relationship with her parents, who relied on her in their last years. And after they died and I became a teenager, our relationship in turn became more co-dependent as well. She tried being my friend as a teenager. But as I went on to college and beyond I was her entire immediate family. And as I was trying to fly the nest, she needed my presence more than I could give it. I thought she might die when I told her I was moving to Washington D.C. and she would have to make do without me, at least during the work-week.

Obviously all the social science the Times presents in its article point to a basic truth: broken homes divide and scatter resources. My father, not a U.S. citizen, sent over some money when I was a child, but it didn’t seem like much. They were never married and eventually he had his own household to look after, so there were no obligations to her specifically. He started sending money to me directly when I was a teenager.

Not having a father around meant I took on more student debt than I would have otherwise. It meant I would be recalled from college to do things around the house on the weekend, or I would come home just to make sure she was alright and make sure she spent time with someone. Instead of her helping me start life financially, I was helping her manage her mortgage payment, or paying for a new water-heater. I was happy to do so when I could. Though I often wondered where her actual inabilities were real, or when they were manufactured (even unconsciously) to bond me with her, even in hardships. In other single-mother households I knew, things functioned much less smoothly.

Helping her meant diminished resources for starting my own family when it came time. It also meant that there was no one else to manage things when she became sick and died last year.

My young childhood and adolescence (maybe my whole life) was wrapped up in searching for substitute father figures: uncles, neighbors, teachers, professors, priests, even God. I know I’m not alone in this. This state of life makes one especially vulnerable to peers and to predators. I survived just fine, others in similar situations don’t. more

Welcoming Svetlana Goretaya

07.17.2012 6:00 PM

I want to welcome the lovely Svetlana Goretaya to FamilyScholars, where her “beat” includes Big Topics of identity, care, and play. Welcome, Svetlana, to the never-ending playdate that is FamilyScholars!

More On Play

07.17.2012 5:45 PM

Well, this isn’t the video game kind of play, but the good old fashioned stuff.  This article, written in conjunction with Harvard Medical School, enumerates the benefits of play for both kids and adults.

Play is often described as a time when we feel most alive, yet we often take it for granted and may completely forget about it. But play isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. [...] Despite the power of play, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, many of us stop playing. We exchange play for work and responsibilities. When we do have some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer than to engage in creative, brain-stimulating play. By giving ourselves permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we can continue to reap its benefits throughout life. 

The health  benefits are proven: play connects us to others, gets the creative juices flowing, lessens depression and anxiety, teaches perseverance, improves social skills and cooperation with others, and can even be healing.  Not to mention the benefits at work–the most innovative companies like Google have creativity rooms and atmospheres that foster play to garner those eureka! moments. (We have bouncy balls here at the Institute.)

The end of the article talks about psychiatrist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s thoughts on play as a flow state, when meeting certain conditions–really quite fascinating.

The benefits of play are so valuable–so, why aren’t we playing more?

How do you play? For those with children, is there any type of play or game that is really fun and rewarding for the entire family?

Penn State’s Disaster Cleanup–What the university can learn from the BP oil spill

07.10.2012 12:33 PM

Law prof and FamilyScholars guest blogger John Culhane has a very interesting new piece in Slate:

Penn State isn’t in totally uncharted waters. What the school has on its hands is a disaster—a disaster for the lives of Sandusky’s victims and a disaster for the reputation of an otherwise respected public university. Although every disaster relief initiative—from the BP oil spill fund to the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund—presents unique challenges, well-designed compensation programs have several features. They employ the services of an independent third party, have a fair and efficient hearing process, and disburse awards in a way that is consistent among similar victims. They can also offer flexible remedies. Penn State should bear this in mind as it tries to make amends for the disaster Sandusky and his enablers left in their wake. more

The Regnerus New Family Structure Study (NFSS)

06.13.2012 9:00 AM

I have a few comments about the recently-released Mark Regnerus New Family Structure Study (NFSS).

For some background, the study randomly sampled almost 3,000 individuals aged 18-39, with the goal of comparing “how the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-of-origin types.” (Emphasis added- let’s remember that specific wording).

The study is generating a lot of press right now because Regenerus asserts that his study demonstrates that “numerous, consistent differences [exist] among young adults who reported maternal lesbian behavior (and to a lesser extent, paternal gay behavior) prior to age 18.” And that, therefore, “the empirical claim that no notable differences exist” in child development “in lesbian and gay families” compared to male-female-headed, intact families “must go.”

1) On “Gay,” “Lesbian,” and “Same-Sex Households”

The first critique, which others on Internet have pointed out as well, is Regnerus’ categorization of what constitutes a “gay”/”lesbian” person and a “same-sex household.” The screening tool used to identify children of “gay and lesbian parents,” for instance, asked respondents the following question:

“’From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?’ Response choices were ‘Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman,’ ‘Yes, my father had a romantic relationship with another man,’ or ‘no.’ (Respondents were also able to select both of the first two choices.) If they selected either of the first two, they were asked about whether they had ever lived with that parent while they were in a same-sex romantic relationship.”

Note that the question is not something along the lines of, “Were you raised by two people of the same sex?”

The question, instead, focused on whether or not a parent had ever dated, for any amount of time, a person of the same sex while the respondent was under the age of 18. If yes, the parent was categorized as “gay” or “lesbian”- never bisexual, never “experimenting,” never “my mom had a brief same-sex relationship, but eventually got back together with my dad,” never “gay until graduation,” or never “sexually fluid.” Parents are categorized as flat-out 100% gay or lesbian, with their family structure being labeled “same-sex households,” based upon the parent having ever had even just one same-sex relationship no matter how brief in duration.

Using this inapt categorization method, Regnerus makes claims throughout his paper, including a literature review and critiques of previous studies about “gay and lesbian parents.” And, he not only suggests that his study is about “gay and lesbian parents” but that it’s better than all of the previous studies about “gay and lesbian parents.”

In reality, his paper is actually about parents who have ever had a same-sex relationship while their child was under the age of 18. While these categories will have some overlap, I hope it is obvious (but… apparently it’s not) that the second category will include at least some people who are not, actually, “gay and lesbian parents” and who do not, actually, live in “same-sex households.”

In explaining his chosen screening process, Regnerus notes the difficulty in obtaining an adequate sample size of “same-sex households.” Indeed, it’s a legitimate point. However, the screening question he chose to use to boost his numbers boosted his numbers by including people who weren’t in “same-sex households” at all.

When people pore over methodology in a study that’s making as bold a claim as this one is, the conflation between, say, (a) a dad who might have had an affair with a man and (b) two men who adopt a child together is not something people are going to overlook.

The nuance, unfortunately, is not likely to be picked up on by anti-LGBT advocacy groups.

See also, John Corvino’s criticisms with respect to this point.


2) The Play on the Lesbian Predator Narrative

[Content note: Discussion of child abuse and sexual abuse]

All respondents were asked if “a parent or other adult caregiver ever touched you in a sexual way, forced you to touch him or her in a sexual way, or forced you to have sexual relations?”  A statistically significant difference was found for respondents with a “lesbian mother.” I use scare quotes here to indicate Regnerus’ sketchy definition of a “lesbian mother”- because, per the analysis above and for the sake of accuracy, it would have been more apt for the study to state that a statistically significant difference was found for respondents reporting that their mother had ever had a romantic relationship with another woman.

I highlight this one because it’s a finding that undoubtedly is going to be picked up by anti-LGBT groups to “prove” that “homosexuals” are sexual predators and unfit for parenthood. But, notice how the question doesn’t ask which parent or “adult caregiver” engaged in the abuse- leaving readers to wonder who did it- A babysitter? A daycare worker? A previous boyfriend or husband of the parent? A “lesbian” partner? A Boy Scout master? A priest?)

Nor does the question ask in what context the abuse occurred. Did a lesbian couple adopt a child who had been abused by his or her biological parents? Did the biological father abuse the child, prior to the “lesbian mother” having her same-sex relationship?

To his credit, Regnerus acknowledges that point:

“It is entirely plausible, however, that sexual victimization could have been at the hands of the LM respondents’ biological father, prompting the mother to leave the union and—at some point in the future—commence a same-sex relationship. Ancillary (unweighted) analyses of the NFSS, which asked respondents how old they were when the first incident  occurred (and can be compared to the household structure calendar, which documents who lived in their household each year up until age 18) reveal this possibility, up to a point: 33% of those LM respondents who said they had been sexually victimized by a parent or adult caregiver reported that they were also living with their biological father in the year that the first incident occurred. Another 29% of victimized LMs reported never having lived with their biological father at all. Just under 34% of LM respondents who said they had at some point lived with their mother’s same-sex partner reported a first-time incident at an age that was equal to or higher than when they first lived with their mother’s partner.”

The study design and commentary sheds little clarity about what’s really going on with this finding, and that’s really unfortunate.

Anti-LGBT groups are going to have a field day with that one in their zeal to demonize gays and lesbian, and a more careful analysis and questioning process by the researcher would have been appreciated. Yes, yes, I know Regnerus can claim that this study is just a “foundation for future research” in this area, but LGBT people have been on the receiving end of mis-used research for far too long to think such a disclaimer is going to stop virulent anti-LGBT groups from mis-using and misinterpreting research findings like these anyway.

In addition, the study reported a similar finding with respect to the question of whether the respondent had ever been forced to have sex against his or her will, and I would make the same points about that question as well.


3) You Say That Like It’s a Bad Thing

Another significant finding was that children of “lesbian mothers” (there’s that phrase again) were more likely to identify as not entirely heterosexual. Forgive me for not seeing that as a bad thing.

Unfortunately, and without elaboration as though the sub-par status of being not 100% heterosexual is some sort of self-evident truth, Regnerus includes this finding in his discussion of significant findings in which children of “lesbian mothers” have sub-optimal outcomes.

Related to that point, some may find Regenerus’ discussion regarding his sexual orientation categorization interesting:

“The Kinsey scale of sexual behavior was employed, but modified to allow respondents to select the best description of their sexual orientation (rather than behavior). Respondents were asked to choose the description that best fits how they think about themselves: 100% heterosexual, mostly heterosexual but somewhat attracted to people of your own sex, bisexual (that is, attracted to men and women equally), mostly homosexual but somewhat attracted to people of the opposite sex, 100% homosexual, or not sexually attracted to either males or females. For simplicity of presentation, I create a dichotomous measure indicating 100% heterosexual (vs. anything else).”(emphasis added)

“Anything else.”


That really sums up the biggest flaw of this study for me, and note here, that I’m not ascribing Regnerus with having evil or malicious intent here. Rather, that his sketchy categorization of sexual orientation groups center one group of people as the Normal People. The so-called “microcosms of society”– a man who has only ever had sex with women, a woman who has only ever had sex with men- and the children they are raising together while married.

And then, apparently, there’s Everyone Else. The distinctions among these Everyone Else’s don’t matter within this study. So, despite all of the nuance in family structure and circumstances that exist in the real world, suddenly the narrative is that any parent who’s ever had a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex is a “gay or lesbian parent” living in a “same-sex household.”


(Note: Regenerus’ study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, two socially-conservative funders. I wanted to put that tidbit of information last, so as to not prejudice readers regarding my substantive criticisms.)