Thanksgiving; Time with Family. No Thanks


copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.

As Americans ponder the Thanksgiving Day holiday expectations are high. Young children look forward to all the activities loved ones plan. School age individuals are told tales of the Pilgrims and the Indians that befriended early settlers.  Most imagine that on this November day, people come together peaceably.  That, for the little ones is a welcome thought.  Too often, tension exists in the parent child relationship.  Some say angst increases as the offspring age.  Whilst many wish to believe the strain occurs over time, as a child becomes more autonomous, indeed, recent research shows early interactions give rise to the relationship that will be.

Toddlers and tots rarely have opportunities to quietly, calmly, and genuinely converse with parents or the caregivers they are fond of.   Hence, lads and lasses feel a sense of loss.  By the teen years, the thought of another Thanksgiving celebration with relatives evokes an almost automatic response, “No thanks.”

Many know the routine and the rhetoric.  Yet, adolescent and adults live the truth.  Mostly Mama or Papa chats are instant, online, and consists of more banter than conversation.

Thankfully, a second stolen in the car, a tender thought expressed while on the run, these are life’s little riches.  Yet, these treasures occur infrequently.  Oh, how much Mike and Michelle yearn for a few hours of tête-à-tête with the Moms and Dads they love.  Juanita and Jorge too hunger for a long and heartfelt talk, followed by a hug.  Angelique and Akil desire discourse.  A deep discussion with Mama and Papa would mean so much.  Children crave a balance, parental involvement coupled with reciprocal reverence.  A baby, a boy, a girl, or a blossoming adult wants a hand to hold gingerly rather than a hand that guide.

While mothers and fathers also hope to establish a strong relationship with their offspring and other relatives what occurs at home is often other than fulfilling.  Time together on Thanksgiving Day does provide for a new normal.  Superficial exchanges are as common during the commemoration as they are day to day. We dream of the good times and too frequently feel the holidays are not it.  Nevertheless, individuals still hold on to hope.  Let there be a reason to give thanks.

In some, Thanksgiving Day, and the entire celebratory season, elicits memories of fight or flight.  Nonetheless, there is a thought that usually associated with appreciation; a turkey feast will likely be featured on the menu.  Pumpkin pie will probably be served too.  Oh my!  

Thank goodness for food.  With childhood memories intact, men and women who reflect on the delicious delicacies expect to feel fulfilled or full even if they feel forced to endure the company of family.  Sights, smells and that ever-present sense of loss will stimulate emotional overeating.   Elders promise themselves, just this once they will indulge.  After all, Thanksgiving Day is special occasion.  At least food is a fine distraction from feelings of loneliness or a lack of involvement.  Indeed, as headlines howl, Isolated Americans try to connect  . . .  not with Mom, Pop, and siblings, with all the other more welcome traditions.

A time to party, to perform, to watch football, to prove to ourselves that we are [authentically] close to others, and to pretend.  Thanks for the distractions.

Those that wish to act in the spirit of the national holiday can also take refuge.  After all, the intent of the celebration is good.  Community Service acts of kindness can be even better.  A Christmas Gift Drive, Homeless Shelters and Soup Kitchens, helping the elderly, animals, and others in need can never be wrong.  However, even when engaged in an honorable pursuit, so many say they feel alone in the crowd.  The sensation can be as it is in a home full of holiday lore and little love.  Grateful? For what?

Thanksgiving Day, and more so the day after, illustrate an American truth.  “People are increasingly busy,” said Margaret Gibbs, a psychologist at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “We’ve become a society where we expect things instantly, and don’t spend the time it takes to have real intimacy with another person.”

Author, and Clinical Psychologist, Madeline Levine reflects on what she sees in her practice.  As recounted in a Washington Post article, the mother of three observes; over-involved parents who pressure their children to be stars — in school, on athletic fields, among their peers — have created a generation that is “extremely unhappy, disconnected and passive.” Immodestly materialistic and indifferent to worldly affairs, young persons, from an early age on are both bored and “often boring,” writes Psychologist Levine.

When the apathetic, acquisitive find themselves lost and without a cause, they do what is familiar.  People shop until they drop..  Much to the delight of retailers, the parents and their children shop.  Bye-bye forced family togetherness.  Hello , buy, buy, buy.  Thanks for the gifts.

Purveyors are happiest whence the Thanksgiving holiday arrives.  During these November and December days, people rush to the stores with a greater sense of purpose.  The Friday after the traditional Thursday celebration begins their best time of year.  People purchase presents to give to one and all.  It seems that love is in the air from late November until the New Year. In truth, even when individuals meet with family or friends in the winter, when they mix, and mingle in the spirit of gratitude, few feel connected.  

Indeed, Americans express a sense of separation..  It is no wonder we hope a holiday will console us, help us feel connected.

Yet, as John Powell, a Psychologist at the University of Illinois Counseling Center, states “The frequency of contact and volume of contact does not necessarily translate into the quality of contact.” The observer of social behavior understands; most persons, young or old, do what is comfortable, even if that means stay a safe distance apart from the persons he or she most wants in their lives.

Thus on this Thanksgiving Day, it may be important to reflect on all the hours before and after. Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University Sociologist offers, “We know these close ties are what people depend on in bad times. “We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on [a popular networking Web site] and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”  Nor are these persons, when home, engaged in conversations that communicate much.

Possibly, parents and children can find more personal ways to establish and then retain a reciprocally reverent relationship.  On this day of thanks, and the eve of Black Friday people may ponder; food, fun with those we barely know, and material finds are not golden.

Psychologist Madeline Levine, Author of The Price of Privilege” proclaims advantages are not always as they appear to be.  Affluence does not breed brotherly alliances.  Nor does money beget benevolence.  Children do not connect to cash givers.  Possessions may not leave a loved one proud.  Moms and Dads cannot bequeath material goods and hope to receive emotional gifts in return.  However . .

There are several thing parents can do: Families should eat dinner together [and truly talk]  as much as possible, and kids should be involved in rituals — at church, the synagogue, at Meals on Wheels or wherever.

Parents need to impose consistent discipline, which will help kids develop self-control, which is vital.

Kids should never, ever, be paid for grades. Real learning is about effort and improvement, not performance. Your kid’s C actually may be the far greater achievement than the A that comes easily.

And they should have chores. A lot of kids I see don’t have to do anything except shine. And if you turn out kids who aren’t expected to do anything but shine, you turn out narcissistic or self-centered kids. As one girl I see told me, “If I’m so special, why do I have to clear the table?”

Ah, the mundane deeds can be so divine.  Everyday errands and exchanges can build character and give birth to a quality bond. On any date we can choose to be more open and honest in our interactions.  

Thanksgiving Day and the holiday season are a good time to slow down, chat, and pay homage to the humanity that resides within your home. With relatives near or far, everyday deference would be even better.  It is never too late to learn how to relate, to change habits, and to bring into being the tenderness that might not have existed in the early years.  Expressions of gratitude and kindheartedness have no season, and need no reason.  Thankful.  Hopefully that is what each of us might feel.  Beginning today, we can chose to consciously create togetherness from birth, in childhood, as adults, and always.

References and relationships . . .

Marital Status; Do Not Ask. Do Not Tell.

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Tonight, I am reminded of how the results of a report resonated throughout America earlier in the year; 51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse.  As the Gay and Lesbian population prepare to discuss issues important to their community, inclusive of their desire for more than a “civil union;”  I wonder.  Why, or when is marriage desirable.  Why and when is it not.  Presidential hopefuls plan to delicately touch on the subject of “same sex marriage.”  One might muse, matrimony no matter the mix, is a difficult dynamic to consider.

Weeks ago, I discovered the term “Mrs.” is a source of much angst.  Apparently, the title in the minds of many dishonors a woman, rather than reveres her.

When I used the description to discuss a Presidential candidate the label was considered degrading or dismissive.  For some, the word spelled out was more offensive.  For others the expression in either form denied the achievements and accomplishments of the Senator from New York.  It mattered not that I, a traditionalist, with a well-documented history of Progressive philosophies, long thought the usage of “Missus” a sign of respect.  Explanations of how and why, for me, in the written form, abbreviations are less honorable did little to quell the apprehensions of those anxious to argue.

Those concerned were not comforted when they realized mainstream authors and I used the same identical term to describe numerous highly professional, and esteemed woman in the past.  It seemed odd those references received no reprimands.  Nonetheless, in this exchange, the presumed perception seemed to be, if a woman is as successful as this Senator is, mere mention of her marriage negates her worth.

Dictionary definitions produced greater debate.  It seems a single word can be classified as complimentary or critical.  Perhaps, that is the problem.  As a society, we struggle with the idea of independence, interdependence, dependence, and what it means to be married or single.

Much of our identity is lost in a label, or perchance, we gain as we garner a title or two.  Women may feel a greater need to distinguish themselves as distinctive, whole, on their own, separate and strong, mentally as well as physically.  Women want to be wanted, as do men; however, the perception is a woman needs a man, is dominated by her partner.  She cannot survive on her own.

Our culture clings to the construct women require a man and ignores the fact that no matter what our gender, we welcome the support of another.  Thus, when a study shows more persons, men or women live without a mate, we wonder.  Why?

In our daily lives, talk of nuptials is omnipresent.  Is she married; is he?  If not, why not.  On most applications, we are asked of our martial status as though this explains who we are as people.  Some are embarrassed if they have yet to marry.  The four percent that state they have not engaged in physical intimacy are considered strange.

Individuals yearn for togetherness.  Yet, they run from the prospect.  Women and men, everyone searches for someone special to share their lives with.  They peek around every corner.  They stumble into intimacy.  Then, abruptly announce, “I am uncomfortable with closeness.”  Some say, it is not you; it is I.  Others ruminate; there are issues.

An acquaintance ended an engagement.  Two weeks ago, the day after her decision, this gorgeous girl expressed her distress.  She seemed to believe that if she were married, her life would be marvelous, if not, surely, the outlook would be grim.  Yesterday, this lovely lady smiled and stated, she could not be happier.  Jill thought she was too dependent on her honey.  She reflects, “I was not ready.”  Nonetheless, she is still certain she rather be married.  For Jill, family is vital.  She wants children.

Another acquaintance believes family may not be available when you crave a connection.  When you most covet a caring shoulder to cry on, or a hand to hold, blood relatives or good pals may not be there for you, for her.  Doris avows.

Having someone in your life to share all your ups and downs is imperative for a healthy heart soul and mind.  Trying to find a friend or family member who has the time to listen, or are able to help you or celebrate with you, at a specific time is sometimes very difficult to find.  A good partner is there for you when you really need them and lucky are you if you have one.

For years, Doris has had the good fortune of being with one she thinks beautiful, inside and out.  [Personally, I think providence cannot create what manifests.  Nevertheless, I trust that people are often astounded by their exquisite experiences.]  The two are not legally coupled; however, they are rarely apart.  A casual observer would know they are committed.

Perhaps, for Doris being with a person that is genuinely her partner means more than progeny or pals do.  This woman is as many; she craves a solid, strong connection with a singular someone.  Doris is connubial.  She and the individual she loves need no certificate to validate their devotion.  They are wedded.

I marvel as I assess the idea of marriage.  Why do so many women [and men] actively seek companionship, a partner, a soul mate, and yet, then say they choose to remain single.  I also wonder how many are as I am.  I love being single.  I always have.  In my own life, seeking companionship was not a thought.  Never did I feel a need for camaraderie.  I do not feel alone, or lonely.  Attending events untethered, for me, is at times, often, preferable.  I love my own company.

As others have, I realize on occasion, I also have done.  People yearn only for a physical intercourse.  They have no desire to experience authentic intimacy.  Genuine emotional closeness can be too frightening, or perhaps, too painful.  In my own life, my parents’ divorce took a toll.  Ten days after their twentieth wedding anniversary, my Mom and natural father terminated their ties.  For me, that memory is intense.  It looms large in my mind; it affected my heart.  I did not wish to chance a similar split in my life; nor did I want any child of mine to feel as I felt.

Months before the report on single women was released, I was asked to consider marriage.  Startled, frightened, and yet, able to acknowledge a closeness to an individual who is important to me, I became consumed with such a decision.  The dichotomy involved is for me, inescapable.  I devoured articlesreferring to the study.  I listened to broadcasts.  I longed to understand the reason other women decided as they did.  I inquired.  One woman wrote of her experience.  She also assessed what might be true for other feminine persons.

I am married.

I could be happy married or single.  Sometimes I’m glad I’m married and sometimes I wish I were single.  By a high percentage, I am happier married.  The longer I live the happier I am being married.  However,  I don’t necessarily think that is true for others.

Ah, this woman also observes as I do.  Many that are together, ’til death do they part, are not joyful in their union.  Perhaps the pleasure comes from within.  Mae believes it does.

I am happily, sublimely, cherished, joyfully wed.

The secret I think is to find yourself, be true to that person, make her be comfortable in her own skin . . . and sometimes someone special comes along and sometimes not.

I think being good alone is the place to be.  Being good together is then easier.

Being with someone should be a choice, not some driven necessity like breathing.  I love and adore my husband and I would be devastated should a time come when I must go on without him, however I would go forward and fill my life differently and make adjustments and find joy in other beings and doings.

For me, my journey continues all over the map with my partner and, even within our marriage, sometimes alone.  It feels good both ways.

Bliss is perchance a belief.  If you choose to believe the path will be harmonious, then you will do all that you can to ensure it will be.  Possibly, the effort is evident in your emotional balance.  Some say marriage is what you make of it; likely, life is.  After absorbing much pain in a relationship that was alien to me, I realized my own reactions and perceptions created the calm or the chaos that came.

Often, in my experience, we forget that our life does not have to be as our parents’ was.  In the present, we respond to our history.  We expect what is familiar to us.  As I mentioned, that was my fear.  Danae shared a similar story.

“I am single at 60 and have been for all my adult life.  That is in large part to my experience with my parents’ uncommunicative and extremely dysfunctional marriage.  With that as imprinting, why would I want to recreate it?!  Make no mistake about it, I would have.  Without deep and intense psychotherapy so that one can understand and clear out, as much as possible, the childhood traumas, one will recreate their past, adding to it their own innate spin of dysfunction.

After my successful experience with therapy, I still have questions and trepidation about partnering, as by this time I have my habits of living and moving in and out of activities and acquaintances at my whim.  Plus, which, as I am older, so are my partner prospects.  And even though I am in vibrant health and of youthful demeanor, by contrast, many men that would be age appropriate are not.  Add to that the all-too-common trait of men wanting female partners that are younger than they, and you have a recipe for a dearth of possibility.  I realize it only takes one to make a match, but I am also aware that I am unwilling to kiss any more frogs in order to find a prince.

So, in the face of all that, I have asked the Universe to deliver someone so delightful to me and vice versa, that will be just right for me to partner with (and again vice versa).  With that mantra and visualization, we shall see what may materialize.  I will also add that it is important for me to be with someone who wants to fashion/create a relationship based on who WE are and our desires–not what society wishes to mandate.

I think that is a thoughtful answer, practical, witty, and wondrous.  There is much to consider when choosing a life partner.  Actually, frequently we search for what we know.  If our mother or father is able to converse without anger, amicable, and approachable, then we are apt to pursue persons that have a similar demeanor.  If Dad or Mom was demanding, demeaning, and domineering, we expect that our future spouse will be as well.  That too may feel comfortable.  Characteristics such as these are normal to us.  At least we are accustomed with the dynamics that develop when with someone that debases another.

For Jenna what was common in her youth seems to be a family tradition.  She often expresses her amusement and wonderment when she evaluates the martial status of many of her relatives.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins, numerous individuals in her extended family never marry.  Those that do have children; thus, the bloodline is alive and well.  Jenna reflects.

Being the child of a single mother who was raised by a single mother, I have come to realize that I am not incomplete without a man in my life.  Sure, I always expected to get married, but it didn’t happen.  Whether it was a subconscious choice or not, I cannot say.

I can say that there are times I wish I had a man in my life (husband), but these don’t last long.  Usually, when something needs fixing or moving around the house [I think having a husband might be nice.]  Two incomes in my household would have come in handy.  But if I got married, who is to say I would have married a handy guy with a good job.

When I hear ladies I know complaining about their husbands for one reason or another, I usually am pleased that I don’t have to deal with such things.

I am happy with the life I’ve got.  To quote a song from the musical “Chicago” “Oh I’m no one’s wife, but Oh, I love my life and all that jazz.”

Jenna is a sensible soul.  Interestingly, her family is emotionally and physically closer than most.  She is only alone when in her bedroom.  Jenna is perhaps more actively involved with relations than any person I know.  Her interactions with loved ones are abundant.  Indeed, Jenna lives with another family member.  She maintains infinite lasting unions.

Jenna, admittedly is as many, if not all.  She craves a true and lasting connection.  She has them.  Her partners are labeled, mother, sister, brother-in-law, cousin, nephew, and niece.

Numerous individuals wish to establish a family of their own making.  They enter into a union or two, only to conclude there is no such thing as wedded bliss.  For a few, the endeavor was exhausting.  Others wish to do it again, and again, until they get it right.  Millions long to meet Mister or Miss Right.  Still others prefer to settle in with a friend, a lover, no legal strings attached.

Living Together [a.k.a. cohabitation, or unmarried partner households]:

According to the 2000 Census, there are currently about 11 million people living with an unmarried partner in the U.S.  This includes both same-sex and different-sex couples.  – U.S. Census Bureau, 2000  (If this number doesn’t match the number you found from another source, read How We Get Our Numbers, below). 

There are 9.7 million Americans living with an unmarried different-sex partner and 1.2 million American living with a same-sex partner.  11% of unmarried partners are same-sex couples .?- U.S. Census Bureau, 2000

41% of American women ages 15-44 have cohabited (lived with an unmarried different-sex partner) at some point.  This includes 9% of women ages 15-19, 38% of women ages 20-24, 49% of women ages 25-29, 51% of women ages 30-34, 50% of women ages 35-39, and 43% of women ages 40-44. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  “Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States.”  Vital Health and Statistics Series 23, Number 22, Department of Health and Human Services, 2002.

The number of unmarried couples living together increased 72% between 1990 and 2000.  – U.S. Census Bureau, 2000

The number of unmarried couples living together has increased tenfold between 1960 and 2000.  – U.S. Census Bureau, 2000.

Still, living with oneself is more common in this country.  Twenty-seven [27] million American households consist of one.  Twenty-five million domestic dwellings house a mother, father, and child.  According to Pamela Smock, author of “Cohabitation in the United States,” Annual Review of Sociology, fifty-five percent [55%] of different-sex cohabitors marries within 5 years of moving in together.  Forty percent [40%] of these couples separate during these early years.  The remaining ten percent [10%] stay together; however, they no not marry for five years or longer.

There is much to consider when we enter the world of identity, particularly for women.  Females are more easily defined as a wife, a mother, a lover, or a friend.  Women do not wish to lose their identity.  Men, do not usually consider the possibility.  The male of the species is perceived as strong and secure.  However, we know men are as are we all, social animals. They too seek sanctuary in an intimate relationship.  Men are said to be happier, healthier perhaps, even more successful when married.  Studies assert this to be true.

When a “lady” looks at the life of a bride, she knows there is much to contemplate.  A proposal or the likelihood of one might prompt a girl to ask herself, how will I see myself once married.  She may posit how will others perceive me.  Questions abound; will I be caged, confined, or limited in any way.  A woman contemplating a legal bond [bondage] may feel her destiny is determined.  Nuptials are her fate.

The female of the species may feel faint as she considers the idea of marriage or divorce.  The possibility of a divorce may devastate a woman.  She might say, as I have, I do not wish to be a statistic or a fatality.  Oh, the role, the responsibility, what does it mean to be a spouse.  Diane thinks she knows all too well.  For her, the life of a wife is not to her liking.

I’ve been married/divorced twice and [I am] not planning on marrying again due to the history of my marriages.

I now have control of my own life, I can watch what I want to watch on TV and particularly like having control of my finances, – I have more wealth now than I ever did in either marriage – the men seemed to like to spend more than they had in the bank.  I like being single.

Another female, also charmingly conjugal, then deliberately divided from her spouse ponders the potential.  She approaches and avoids as she assesses the possibility.  Greta gravitates towards bliss.  For her, harmony may mean she and he are free to be similar; yet different.

Since I divorced I raised my two children alone.  I had to work 2-3 jobs to support them because I had no family close by and I tried to keep the children in the same healthy environment and good schools.  All the sacrifices were worth it.

[M]y daughter is a physician and my artist, and good looking Eddie is finishing [his studies at] the University.  My daughter has a beautiful little girl and is expecting a second one in June.  As far as my life, it has been better than most married female friends.  I consider myself lucky and with many blessings.

I am almost finished with [my schooling.  I will graduate with a] BA in Sociology.  Two years ago, I traveled to 5 countries in Europe, and studied Italian in Florence for one month.

I met many nice men but nothing concrete has happened.  It does not matter.  I live a very full life and count my blessing every day.

I don’t think I will marry again because I now think it won’t matter . . . .  [He] is free to leave when he wants to and I am free to do the same.  Life is too short to complicate things with marriage.  I already went through with that.  The main issue is respect, love and similar ideas, views of other cultures, also appreciation for traveling and having friends from all over the world.

Again, if the right man comes along, he will be most happy in my arms…guaranteed.  :)

Crystal, after two failed attempts at marriage decidedly was happy; however, she wanted more, and was apprehensive.  She pondered what that might mean.  Crystal had her children to consider, and her history.  Matrimony may not be her strong suit.

I really enjoy being married.  I think being married to the right person makes a difference.  You should really talk a great deal before marriage and discuss important issues before you say I do.  If there are a lot of red flags don’t do it.

Tom and I took a class for Blended Families at our church for a year before we got engaged.  We wanted to get educated about the issues that we would face.

Sigh; there are so many notions, emotions, questions, and answers.  No wonder individuals say they are happily single, as they continue to seek that solitary soul that will ignite a fire in their heart, mind, spirit, and loins.

Personally, I pondered all these questions.  I contemplated the conclusions others shared.  For years, I vacillated, uncertain how I feel.  I still do.  Throughout the course of decades, my own ramblings might seem confused.  I have faith that the way we feel on one day differs from what we sense on the next.

However, without fail, I have expressed a strong belief in the value of interdependence.  I hasten to add, although I welcome closeness, I want no one too near to me.  I think the institution of marriage is magnificent.  Those that do it well inspire me.  I admire any couple that cares enough to ensure their union is solid.  I trust the endeavor is not effortless.  A healthy, happy marriage is a constant and consistent labor of love.  I believe in the work and yet, I am unsure if I want to do it.

Perhaps we are all a bit torn on the issue.  The dichotomy beckons us again and again.

In this, the 2008 Presidential race nuptials are  considered an issue.  Indeed, they are in every election.  Politicians pose with their families in an attempt to remind constituents they are one of us.  People evaluate the partners.  The public speculates, will the wife [or husband] play a significant role.  Will she [or he] share the Oval Office with the person we designate President of the United States of America.

A curious crowd, the American people ponder.  What is the martial status of a candidate.  How many spouses did he or she have?  What is the nature of the relationships?  Is a husband or wife an asset or a deficit?  It seems some Presidential contenders benefit from the bond of marriage.

Running mates were the topic of discussion in a recent Cable News Network program, 360 Degrees with Anderson Copper.  Among the Republicans, Mitt Romney married his high school sweetheart.  They have been together for near four decades.  Democratic candidates also have long enduring marriages.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have seen tough times; yet, remain together.  John and Elizabeth Edwards have experienced immeasurable heartache.  The two lost a son; Elizabeth is living with cancer.  Nonetheless, with each passing day, their union grows stronger.  Michele and Barack Obama are solid, strong, and such a sweet couple.  All six of these persons as individuals are extremely accomplished.

As Hillary reminds us, having a spouse can be a great strength.  A supportive partner can be an asset in any endeavor.

Mrs. Clinton, Democrat of New York, mentioned Mr. Clinton at least eight times on Saturday – at one point talking about “Bill’s heart surgery” to illuminate her own travails with health care bureaucracy – and a few times on Sunday, most memorably when she said of Republicans, “Bill and I have beaten them before, and we will again.”

Perhaps, the Clintons will triumph.  Their relationship is certainly an advantage, or perhaps a hindrance depending on how individuals perceive the labels, husband, wife, Mister, or Missus.

Regardless of their professional titles, these two are married.  Bill and Hillary Clinton have demonstrated they are together, for better or worse.  Each has stated they evolved separately and as a couple with thanks to the other.  Yet, some wish to deny or at least not use a term that validates their union.  I think the bond is beautiful.  I have faith that the conscious choice to unite says more about the individual than their career.

As I contemplate marriage and the affect of such an accord, I realize that for me, former President William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton said it best when he spoke at the memorial service held for Coretta Scott King.  After her passing, as dignitaries eulogized the esteemed leader one by one, each spoke of the First Lady of Civil Rights as a symbol.&

Then “Bill” took the stage.  For me, President Clinton put the entire issue into perspective.  I stood in awe as I listened.  Humanitarian, Clinton addressed the audience seated in the Church, and the country watching the ceremony on television.  Mister Clinton asked us to consider the person, the woman, the wife, and the mother, the living breathing being that “got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments.”

Former First Lady, now Senator Clinton followed her husband in speaking about the woman, Coretta Scott King.  Missus Clinton related, and reminded us what it means to be married to a man, to a cause, and to one’s own personal commitments.  The Senator from New York shared.

And, in fact, she waited six months to give him an answer because she had to have known in her heart that she wasn’t just marrying a young man, but she was bringing her calling to be joined with his.

As they began their marriage and their partnership, it could not have been easy.  Because there they were, young, becoming parents, starting their ministry at a moment in history that they were called to lead.

Leadership is something that many who are called refuse to accept.  But Martin and Coretta knew they had no choice, and they lived their faith and their conviction.

Hillary Clinton: I think of those nights when she was putting the children to bed and worrying about the violence, worrying about the threats, worrying even about the bombs — and knowing that she couldn’t show any of the natural fear that any of us would feel.

The pressure that must have been for her — and she would turn to the Lord, who would answer her call for support by reminding her of her redemption.

When she went to Memphis, after her husband was killed, I remember as a college student listening in amazement to the news reports of this woman taking up her husband’s struggle on behalf of the dispossessed.

She said then — and she lived for the rest of her life in fulfillment — that she was there to continue his work to make all people truly free.

Perhaps, that is what is means to be married, to be a Missus.  When, as women, we believe in ourselves, then, we trust in our choices.  We understand to our core that we can grow greater when we are part of a whole.  A strong woman or man knows that they can never know it all, be it all, or evolve with only the information contained in their own gray matter.  They have faith.  As Aesop offered, “Union gives strength.”

A woman, understands that we can share with another and still be free and fulfilled.  We decide to share our soul and to open our hearts.  We accept the spirit of another.  Females intertwined are committed to a cause greater than self.  The memory of a partner is not lost.  A woman will do all within her power to assure the legacy of her love will live on.

A Mister may suffer from the lack of a label.  He may not have the luxury a woman does.  A gentlemen, equally dedicated, devoted, and faithful to their spouse; does not have a title that speaks volumes to the world.  He is unable to declare his profound love openly without engaging in a lengthy conversation.

Granted for me, if I marry, I will do as my Mom did.  I will legally retain my maiden name and adopt the surname of my husband as my middle moniker.  Our names will be joined, as our spirit will be.  Nevertheless, I will not be disturbed if a person calls me, Missus X.  If I do not like my mate; if he [or she] is not lovable, if we are not united, and thankful that we found fulfillment in such a glorious sharing, then why did we marry.

Stamp me old-fashioned.  Brand me a traditionalist.  Perceive me as a Progressive that understands the meaning of union.  All may be true.  For me, as for former President Bill Clinton, the essence of a woman is more than her career.  Lisa reflects on what she thinks essential.

A good man [partner] that loves, that truly loves you… can empower you . . . and you can become more than you could on your own . . . and visa versa . . . love is the best when its pure and simple . . . love for the sake of love . . . not for anything else . . . is the sweetest of all.

For me, love is not the ultimate, like is.  In my own life, I learned that to like someone day in and day out is truly special.  We all wish to love and be loved.  Perhaps, that is why many enter into marriage.  Women that love a spouse and are not fond of the person may not wish to be titled Missus.  These individuals may have no desire to be recognized as interdependent.  [I laugh.  For wedded or not we are all jointly supported by others.  However, I will not quibble with those that see themselves as separate.]

I wonder; if each of us married with more than love as our mission, might we do better, feel better, and be better, no matter what our title.  I know not.  Possibly, will you marry me is a question asked and never fully answered.

To marry, or to stay single.  That is the question . . .

Are Stepparents Real Parents? Are Biological Parents Best?

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

More than a month ago, I began writing this treatise.  The significance of stepparents and adopted parents was on my mind.  Gerald R. Ford had passed and there was ample discussion of his heritage.  Gerald Rudolff Ford Senior did not father his son in a biological sense.  Still, the elder Ford was Daddy.  Jerry Ford spoke of his father often and how significant he was in the his life.  The elder Ford raised his son as any parent would, even though he was actually a stepparent.  Ford, the President was not adopted until he in his twenties.  At that age, an adoption was perhaps a gesture; after all Jerry Ford was legally an adult.  Gerald R. Ford Junior wanted to honor his father or the man that, young Jerry truly felt was Daddy.

I too was fathered by a man not my biological match.  For years, this gentle human choose to relate to me as if I was his own offspring.  Legally, we had no connection.  Let us call him “Adam,” was my stepparent.  Yet, this soft-spoken man was my Dad.  Long before I could, with permission from the government, call him Daddy he nurtured my heart, mind, and spirit.  I too am adopted; my adoption was long in coming.  For years my biological father, perchance, we can title him Michael, refused to give his permission.  In some states, possibly all, this is necessary.  As I listened to President Ford’s history, I thought of how it mirrored my own.

My natural father, Michael was extremely wealthy and aloof, as was President Ford’s.  My birth father could be abrasive, though fortunately not abusive as our President’s father was. Perhaps that is why my biological parents were together for more years than the President’s were.  Still, there are parallels that I think important.  

Leslie Lynch King, the biological father of our former President, beat his wife, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, two weeks after the baby’s birth.  The baby, the man we now know as Jerry, was named Leslie Lynch King Junior.  However, life changed after the assault.  Dorothy moved in with family and ultimately, years after her divorce from Mister King met a mild manner paint salesman, Gerald Rudolff Ford.  The two married.  Mister Ford and Dorothy Ford changed the name of their two-year-old toddler.  Young Leslie became Gerald Rudolff Ford Junior.  The lad was not officially adopted; still, he was Mister Ford’s son in every way that mattered.

The Ford family lived a solid and stable life.

Ford grew up in a middle class family.  He was a healthy, industrious youth who helped out with the chores.

When he was 12 or 13, Ford’s parents told him he was adopted.  He first met his biological father when he was 17 and would see him only one other time.  Young Ford was bitter about his wealthy father’s indifference toward him.  He called their first meeting the most traumatic experience of his youth.

“Indifference” was not a term the President used to define Gerald R. Ford Senior; nor is it the word I would choose to define my Dad Adam.  However when speaking of Michael, my natural fathers, the utterance, “indifference” seems most apt!

President Gerald R. Ford, often proudly mused, he was a Ford, not a Lincoln.  Just as a Ford automobile is considered a car for common people, Gerald Ford thought himself average.  The former President was as his Dad, average, a workingman.  He was everyman.  Leslie Lynch King Senior, Ford’s birth father was as a Lincoln vehicle, luxury defined him.  Lavishness did not describe young Jerry.  He was his “[step]father’s” son!

Gerald Rudolff Ford Junior felt as I do, the man I call Daddy may not have been part of the birthing process.  Nevertheless, he was there for me, he was with me always.  My Dad lives large in my heart and in my mind.  Most of my habits are his.  I am Daddy’s little girl!

Many adopted or stepchildren feel as strong bond with a parent that is not a blood relative.  People that do share Deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA] are often disconnected. Yet, the courts do not necessarily honor such truths, a stepparent can be a real father or mother.  The bias towards gay couples may have helped to cloud the issue.  

Are Stepparents Real Parents?

By Po Bronson

Time Magazine

Wednesday, May. 17, 2006

This week the Supreme Court let stand a ruling that ultimately could affect as many as one-third of all Americans – anyone in a stepfamily. But you’ll probably never realize it from any news reports on the ruling.

The case comes out of Washington State. Sue Carvin and Page Britain were lesbians living together since 1989. Their baby, L., was born in 1995, using an at-home artificial insemination kit and some sperm donated from their gay friend. Page Britain carried L. and gave birth, but Sue Carvin became the stay-at-home mom while Page worked to support the family. Their child called Sue “Mama” and Page “Mommy.”

For several years, they were a model of lesbian co-parenting.

The two split; bad feelings ruled what was no longer a family roost.  You may relate as I do.  My biological parents appeared to be picture perfect.  We had a gorgeous, very large home, in an upper Middle Class suburb.  For my eldest sister’s twelfth birthday, an extension was built onto the house so that she might have a private entrance.  Life looked good; many thought our family was great.  Oh, the stories I might tell.

I recall the day that my Mom walked out.  My natural parents had been together for twenty years and ten days.  One might think that after two decades plus, after sharing a bed, babies, and billions of memories together, a couple would know for certain that they are right for each other.  Considering the two dated extensively prior to matrimony, one might believe that they thought their togetherness was a treasure, one to keep eternally.

Yet, my experience said that this was not true.  The day was April 14.  It was a Sunday.  On most every day of rest we, as a family went out to dine at a local eatery, Litton’s, in Philadelphia.  The restaurant is no longer there.  Eventually the business folded, just as the marriage did.  Perchance, my parents were modeling dissolution.

Might that be the destiny for many?  After watching a relationship sever, we have a frame of reference.  We know how do end an association.  I apologize for the digression.  I was merely thinking aloud.

I return to the telling.  That particular evening was an odd one.  The air was ominous.  Every moment was unusual.  I did not know why.  My father actually spoke to me.  That alone was somewhat strange or strained.  He said we were going to “Lin Ton’s” as though dinner would be a Chinese dining experience.  I always ordered fried shrimp, on this occasion, I asked for what I usually loathe, “Chicken in the basket.”  My elder sisters ate that meal regularly and I thought I might try it.

A conversation ensued after we requested our food.  It revolved around cleaning bedrooms, maids, money, and obliquely values.  My Mom concluded we, her husband, and by extension, her children had none.  We were spoiled, stained by materialism, and motivated by money.  My Mom got up from the table and walked out.  She returned days later, and initiated divorce proceeding.

I was eight years of age at the time and thankfully not connected to Michael, my natural father.  I was perhaps less influenced by Michael’s love of money, for my biological father never wanted my birth.  He had hired someone else to raise me.  Fortunately, a very “real” woman did look after me for many years.

When I was still quite young, the man that would eventually become my Dad entered my life.  I was five.  At the time.  My Mom returned to college, realizing that she wanted and needed to create a life for herself.  She has a brilliant mind and thought it best she use it!  “Daddy” was a classmate of hers.  They were in a study group together.  The academics often met in our home.

There was no romance between them before my natural parent’s split.  It was not even a thought, that all came much later.  Nevertheless, the man in my life, the man I bonded with was an outsider, not a member of my family.

My story may not be similar to your own; however, I trust that many, according to statistics, at least a third of you are intimately familiar with stepfamilies.

Consider that for every 1,000 couples with children in the United States, only two of those couples are same-sex-oriented.  Meanwhile, thanks to the huge number of second marriages, a third of all Americans are part of a stepfamily.  The question “Are they real parents?” applies not just to gays and lesbians – it applies to every stepfamily.  That’s what the kids are testing when they angrily scream, “You’re not my real mommy!”  And when the biological mother hears that her son has been spanked by his stepmother, she wonders, “She can’t do that, can she?”

While we closely monitor how gay rights are granted and taken away, we pay almost no attention to the fact that stepparents are in the same legal limbo.  Despite being ubiquitous, step-relationships are rarely recognized by the law.  In most states, stepparents are considered “legal strangers” even if they have cared for and supported a stepchild for years.  They have almost no official responsibility and barely any rights.

What kind of rights are they deprived of?  Some are remarkably banal.  For instance, a stepparent can’t sign a child’s school report card or field-trip permission form.  Others are significant.  A stepfather can’t include his stepdaughter on his family health insurance plan, for example.  And she can’t inherit from him when he dies.

In the last few years, state family courts have tried to accommodate the stepparents and stepchildren who appear before them, without granting so much that it subtracts rights from a biological parent.  In Colorado, a stepparent can now sign the form that allows a minor to apply for a driver’s license.  And in Oregon, a stepparent can petition the courts for visitation of former stepchildren, if that marriage has ended.  In Arkansas, it’s even theoretically possible now for a stepparent to win custody over a biological parent.  But in each state, it’s a different story, and many states are still in denial.

So, a stepmother can take a month off work to care for her sick stepson, thanks to the federal law on Family Leave.  But if she has to take her stepson to the emergency room, state law might prevent her from authorizing medical treatment.  And if her son ends up dying due to hospital negligence, she can’t sue.

Step-parenting may have been difficult for my “Dad;” it was more so for me.  Times were tough or just different, perchance, confusing.  The man that felt like Daddy, was Daddy, legally could not be called my father.  

My Mom refused child support and alimony though she was granted each.  She believed Michael’s money was tainted.  She wanted none of it.  We were extremely poor.  Welfare came to us, stating we qualified and needed to apply.  My parents refused.  We grew our own vegetables.  My Mom baked our bread.  The details are endless; however, they may distract.  Thus, I will leave those for another anecdote.

The truer challenge for me was carrying a surname that I felt no connection to.  I wanted to legally be as I was in life, Daddy’s little girl.  I called my Mom’s second husband Daddy.  He was the only actual father I ever felt I had.  He taught me everything, how to build a house, clean my room, ride a bike, reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, telephone manners, and best of all how to engage with people.  Prior to Daddy entering into my life, I was the exemplary loner.  I was totally self-sufficient and felt little need for personal exchanges.  I never trusted whether closeness would end.  The woman that raised me for five and a half years was fired.  I was listening on another telephone line when my father delivered the news to my caretaker.

In Kentucky, a stepchild could use the stepfather’s surname in school.  I did.  However, this inexplicably hurt my natural father.  A man that never cared for me, felt carrying on his name was meaningful.  I visited him on my tenth birthday.  He ranted and rage.  He yelled at me.  Prior to this event, I had not witnessed screaming directly, certainly, no one had ever hollered at me.  I was frightened.  The man that was supposed to be a loving father, on one of the rare occasions I ever saw him was shrieking.  His shouts were meant for me.  

I, thought this meeting was quite traumatic!  A man that never acted as my father, wanted me to bear his name.  Why?  The man that was my Daddy had no rights in reference to me.  Again, Why, or more accurately, why not?

The legal field is sitting on a huge time bomb.  One-third of Americans are just one unfortunate circumstance away from ending up in court demanding their rights – where they will be told that those relationships aren’t real, and don’t count.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never been pressed to rule whether a stepparent is a real parent, and if so, under what conditions.  But when it declined to review Britain v. Carvin, Washington State’s test for “de facto,” parents instantly became a model for other states to replicate.  Through a case everyone thought was about gay rights, stepfamilies just opened the door to the recognition they truly deserve.

Typically, stepparents are thought to be cruel and wicked.  As children, we learn this lesson well.  Perchance we come to expect this; stepparents must be sinister.  They are often under suspicion.  You may recall Cinderella was treated with disdain by her stepmother.  Her stepsisters ridiculed her and required the fair maiden to be at their beck and call.  Newspaper articles support this postulate.  While admittedly the research did not assess the quality of relationships or the feelings found within stepfamilies, this report concludes that a biological parent will take better care of a child than a stepparent might.

Differences Found in Care With Stepmothers

By Tamar Lewin

New York Times

August 17, 2000

Children raised in families with stepmothers are likely to have less health care, less education and less money spent on their food than children raised by their biological mothers, three studies by a Princeton economist have found.

The studies examined the care and resources that parents said they gave to children and did not assess the quality of the relationships or the parents’ feelings and motives.

But experts said that while the findings did not establish the image of the wicked stepmother as true, they supported the conclusion that, for complex reasons, stepmothers do invest less in children than biological mothers do, with fathers, to a large extent, leaving to women the responsibility for the family’s welfare.

”Being raised by the biological mother gives children a lot of protection,” said the chief researcher on the studies, Anne Case, a professor of economics at Princeton. ”It’s a very big thing to ask someone to care for children instead of the birth mother, who, as the socio-biologists tell us, invests so heavily in carrying the child, nursing the child.”

I agree, a paid caregiver may not have the same bond, or at least the biological parents may not allow it.  Even if they do, I suspect my story solidifies what often happens.  The employee does not feel they have the right, legally, or emotionally, to stay connected and in touch with the young child they raised.

The studies took their data from two of the broadest, most respected surveys of Americans’ households, income, spending, and health habits.  While those surveys were not created to analyze stepfamilies, their information is detailed enough to allow comparisons between different kinds of families.

Among children over a year old, living with both biological parents, the health study found that 61 percent have had a medical checkup within the last year.  But among those living with a stepmother and birth father, that number dropped to 46 percent — and of those whose biological mother was dead, only 35 percent had seen a doctor.

Did the survey consider the legal restrictions on a stepparent authorizing health care for a minor child?  Might they have looked at the finances?  Even when a parent re-marries, it often takes time before the new union is as financially sound as the previous blending was.  

My natural parents were exceptionally wealthy.  When my Mom married my “Daddy,” Adam, he was a student.  He belatedly received his Bachelorette degree and was going on to pursue post-graduate studies.  It was years before we were stable.  My biological father had great wealth, in part, because professionally his standards were such he had no qualms; stepping on or over others was his way.  He was attentive when assessing his assets; however, children were to be seen and not heard.  At least that is the experience of his last child, me, you know the unwanted one.

Of the children living with their biological parents, 74 percent wear seat belts almost all the time, compared with 63 percent of those living with a stepfather and biological mother and 52 percent of those living with a biological father and stepmother.

Daddy, the man that truly raised me and adopted me, refused to start the engine unless and until we were all buckled into our car seats.  He maintained the car with infinite care.  His passengers were his prizes.  He had always wanted the loving family he helped to create.

Families with a stepmother reported overall household food spending that was about 5 percent lower for each stepchild than in families in which both biological parents were present, the food study found.

You may recall, my newer family did not have the money to spend on food.  Although we spent less, the quality of our fare was far superior.  My Mom is a gourmet cook.  When with the biological paternal person, going out, entertaining, was what passed for normal.  Rarely were we children part of these hedonistic pleasures.  Potpies were my friend.  Television dinners as they were once called were frequent.  Now processed food is considered healthy.

With Daddy [Adam] in our lives, we ate together.  We shared all our meals.  My mom grew the vegetables and baked the breads and desserts.  Later, Daddy took up fishing.  We watched our pennies, for we had few.  Still, each evening we dined from a different country.  Mommy put up a monthly calendar.  She filled in each date.  My mom never wrote the specifics for the meal, she only penned the country of origin for the entrée.  We ate well.  I learned to try what I would have rejected in my earlier life.

In families in which women care for both their stepchildren and biological children, the biological child, on average, went to college for a year, while the average stepchild did not go to college.

Children reared by a stepfather also have lower educational achievement than those reared by both biological parents, although, as in most other measures, the negative effect is only about half as much as with stepmothers.

Oh my gosh; the paternal pretense of a parent in my life thought that girls, only need to attend college to receive an M.R. S. degree.  Daddy is a scholar.  Daily, he and I would read the paper and review what was read.  He would ask me questions, ensuring my comprehension.  We would discuss how the news was relevant to our lives.  He, my Mom, and I looked up any issue relating to the article.  Gaining wisdom was our entertainment.  It was not costly, although it was infinitely valuable!

Prof. Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist of the family at the University of Pennsylvania, said that he did not question the findings and believed that the studies raised important questions, but he noted that stepfamilies vary widely.

Perhaps, the learned Professor might benefit from what I learned.  Mommy and Daddy encouraged me to “Question everything!”  In truth, it is still a family theme.

For example, women who take on a 2-year-old child step into a role very different from that of women who care for a 12-year-old stepchild, and for all stepmothers the relationships evolve as the family becomes better established.

”I don’t think most stepmothers are evil,” Professor Furstenberg said.  ”If they’re less involved, if they take a step back, it may be for the most noble motives, to give the parent more room, to decrease the tension.  They may be relying on the child’s father when perhaps their trust is unwarranted.”

This may be very true.  My sisters were much older than I and had a very different experience of our blood father.  They were not ready to open their arms to Daddy and rejected much of what was to come.

I often see among friends, the stepparent may want to be a part; yet, the natural parent presumes the children will not understand.  The stepfamilies do not often blend, as much as they live together, if that.

With more than half the nation’s children living apart from at least one biological parent by the time they reach 18, the functioning of stepfamilies has become increasingly important.  Most stepfamilies involve stepfathers, rather than stepmothers, and compared with families in which a single mother is rearing a child alone, the presence of the stepfather and his income help raise the family’s standard of living.

Still, previous research has shown that children who did not live with both of their parents had bleaker futures: among other things, they were more likely to drop out of school, become delinquents or engage in early sexual activity and drug abuse than children raised by both parents.

My own experience suggest two parents are the preferred; however, if one or both are not truly loving, caring, sharing, involved and connected, then what comes is chaos.  Children, no matter what the age need to know that someone, preferably a parent figure is there for them in thick and thin.  Humans are social animals.  We need each other.  We are expressive or not; whatever we are, we do not perform well or feel well if we do not feel safe, secure, and sane.  

Parents guide us.  They facilitate our growth.  They protect our hearts and nurture our minds.  We need them; actually, they need us too.  Love is a necessary.  It breeds happiness, joy, and it is the avenue for inspiration, imagination, and innovation.  If we are struggling to survive, we do not have time or the means to thrive. Fortunately, even social scientists are beginning to realize this.

But while those outcomes are well known, there has been almost no research on the care, attention and resources such children receive — and therefore, no way to know whether the damaging effects reflect poor parenting, family instability, lack of money or other factors.

Yet, as the article goes on, excuses are made, energies are diverted, and enigmas are voiced.

Many stepmothers are quick to acknowledge that being a stepparent is complicated, particularly when they take on older children and that it is unrealistic to imagine that the new bonds will be the same as those between a biological parent and child.

Unrealistic, I think not.  We create what we believe.  If we expect to be rejected, we will be.  If we believe that the children are his, or hers, we will never treat them as ours.  Sadly, I contend so much of the chaos we experience we create.  When we do not legally give stepparents the right to authentically attend to a child’s needs, why would they believe they are able.  

I think we must truly evaluate our legal system and family structures.  If people wed only to have companionship, if they do not work as a unit to create comfort for their shared children, then stepparents will always be separate from the equation.  The sum of the parts, Mom plus Dad plus Children, step or otherwise, is best when it is greater than the whole.

Step through the looking glass and find your world turned inside out.  Step Parenting references . . .

What is in a Name? Buday or Bijon ©

What is in a family surname, a first name, or a middle moniker?  Today as I reflect on a current court case, I am reminded of my own history, my Mom’s, and several stories told by former President Gerald R. Ford.  Michael Buday is petitioning a federal judge for the right to take Diana Bijon’s last name.  The two recently married.  Michael never felt connected to his own natural father.  Mister Buday declares, “I had a rough childhood with my father,” He continues, “We never really got along.  Diana’s father stepped up, gave me career advice.  He’s family.”  The term “family” is often heartfelt; it means more than any surname.  At least it does to Michael Buday.

Long before they got engaged on a ridge in the Grand Tetons, they had talked about the future and children and names – specifically their own surnames. She loved hers. He wanted to shed his.

Diana Bijon asked her boyfriend if he would take her last name if they got married.

“I always hoped I would meet a guy who would let my kids take my name. My name dies with me, and my sister and I love my dad so much,” said Bijon, 28, an ER nurse at UCLA whose father is a French émigré.

Mike Buday, estranged from his father, felt little attachment to his last name. He agreed to change it.

“Diana’s father, to a certain extent, is a father figure to me,” he said.

A couple of years later, when Buday, 29, proposed marriage while on a backpacking trip, Bijon reminded him about their previous conversation.

“I said, ‘Remember we talked about names? Are you really going to take my last name?’ ”

Buday, unfazed, said yes.

“It was,” he said, “not a big deal.”

Not until he actually tried to take his fiancée’s last name.

It seems changing names is easily done if you are a woman, marrying a man, and taking his name as yours.  If the arrangement is other than the accepted convention, stumbling blocks are conveniently placed in your path.

I know this from my own life experience.  My Mom had her own traumas and dramas.  Former President Ford also changed his name.  As a very young child, “Lesley Lynch King” was given his stepfather’s name,  Gerald Rudolff Ford.  However, the legal papers were not prepared until Jerry Ford Junior was an adult.

The past President was given the name Leslie Lynch King, Junior, at birth.  Two weeks after baby “Leslie” was born, his mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner [King] separated from the senior King and sought a divorce.  The divorce was granted a little over a year after she left.  Another four years later, “Leslie’s” mother remarried.  This time she wed a gentle man named, Gerald R. Ford.  They began calling her son theirs and unofficially changed the child’s name.

President Ford spoke of his “father” often and always expressed his deep love.  Gerald R. Ford Junior did not declare his fondness for the man that helped to give him a physical presence in this world; he lovingly stated his care for the man who had meaning in his life, Gerald Rudolff Ford Senior.  The former President did not officially change his name until he was twenty-three [23] years of age.  Securing the surname that Mister Ford thought most significant was important to him, even as an adult.

In my own life, my natural father, also very well off, was indifferent.  We were not close.  In truth, according to my eldest sister, after my birth my “father” barely came home.  I trust that her observation is true, for I do not recall my “father” being part of my life. 

My biological father was an excellent provider.  He worked hard; nevertheless, he was not part of my life.  My Mom, apparently had her own complaints or concerns.  After more than twenty years of marriage, my Mom chose to leave.

After my Mom’s divorce, she met and married another man, one that was meaningful in my life.  I too was using my “Dad’s” last name before being adopted.  I met with my birth father once after Daddy formally entered my life and it was not good.  As the former President’s biography states . . .

Ford grew up in a middle class family.  He was a healthy, industrious youth who helped out with the chores.

When he was 12 or 13, Ford’s parents told him he was adopted.  He first met his biological father when he was 17 and would see him only one other time.  Young Ford was bitter about his wealthy father’s indifference toward him.  He called their first meeting the most traumatic experience of his youth.

The same could be said for my meeting.  In my “parents” home, no one yelled or screamed.  Our home life was quite quiet and calm.  On the afternoon I met with my birth father, loud voices were all I heard.

The man that gave me a physical life was beyond distressed; his name would not live on.  Not only was he, in his own mind, unfortunate enough to produce three daughters, this one, me, did not want to retain his last name.  I had no desire to pass my birth name on.  My biological father thought the tradition of “passing on the family name” was important.  Our family name seemed more significant for him than the family ever did.  According to my “father,” tradition and history are lost when the name no longer lives.  Michael Buday acknowledges this.

Michael Buday describes his reasons: how his new bride, Diana Bijon, came from a son-less family and wanted to continue her family name, and how he’s much closer to her father than his own.  “Diana’s father stepped up, gave me career advice,” Buday says.  “He’s family.”

However, changing one’s name is not as easy as we might imagine.  In my own life, I understood, I needed my biological father’s permission.  It was four long years before my “father” relented and authorized the legal adoption.  Perhaps, Gerald Ford was forced to wait to change his name.  It may be  that his biological father was as reluctant as was my own.  “Leslie Lynch King, Junior” being a boy, had the power to perpetrate the tradition in a way that I, as a woman, might not.  Possibly Gerald R. Ford Junior was not granted the right to change his names as a youth.  Once an adult, he may have elected to follow his heart

Sadly, even adults are not always awarded the privilege of doing as they desire.  Michael Buday is realizing this.

If you’re a California man wanting to take your wife’s last name in marriage, bring your wallet or your lawyer.  One recent groom is opting for the latter, suing the state for not making the name-switch an equal opportunity proposition.

Mister Buday contends women can change their names easily, and they can; however, at times there are repercussions.  USA Today reports . . .

a bride wanting to change her name can do so in California for less than $100, it’s no easy task for a groom, he says.  “To officially change his name to hers – and for future Social Security benefits, Buday says – a man must pay a $320 court fee, advertise his intention in a newspaper for four weeks and get a judge’s approval.”

There are many unexpected dynamics involved in changing names, first, last, and middle.

In my own life, I had to meet with a judge.  At the age of thirteen, I was interviewed.  My parents were probed.  An attorney was present and yes, money changed hands.

My Mom had another experience, different than Mister Buday’s, Jerry Ford’s, or my own.  After marrying a third time, my Mom chose to retain her second husband’s name.  It was my last name as well.  We shared it, just as we shared a deep emotional bond.

Her new husband took our surname as his middle.  She, in turn acquired his last name as her middle moniker.  Thus, professionally my Mom was secure.  The last name on her credentials was the same surname that appeared on her office door.  Personally, she was still as she was.  Physically and emotionally, she had a more solid marriage and a better sense of herself.  Her last name was no longer tied to her being in the traditional manner.

Yet, when she went to the bank, with important documents to sign, she was harassed.  My Mom was told she could not take her husband’s last name as her middle.  The banker said, “You are not legally a person because of what you did with your name.”  She cried.

This was the second difficult and painful event my Mom experienced while grappling with her names.  At the age of forty-eight she discovered her father had never done as he promised.  When she was seven years old, she was told she could change her first name.  Her Dad, my Grandfather would file the proper papers.  He never did.

My Mom realized this accidentally while doing official government business.  The circumstances were typical.  She was engaged in a bureaucratic endeavor.  She needed to prove that she was she.  She thought she could and then discovered, records did not match.  Having learned that the  necessary rules and regulations were not followed in her youth, my Mom was told she had to create documentation validating that she was who she said she was.  The course of action was costly.  It was a time consuming process.  The unconventional often is.  Michael Buday realized this.

On the marriage license application, which now costs $70 to file in L.A. County, Bijon could simply fill in her last name or her soon-to-be husband’s last name.

But if Buday wanted to become a Bijon, he would have to get an order of the court to do so – and not before he had filed a petition, paid $320, advertised public notice of his intention to change his name for four weeks in a local newspaper and then appeared before a judge.

Mister Buday thought this obscene, offensive, or over-the-top. He said of the experience . . .

“It strikes both of us – especially me – that this is not on equal ground,” said Buday, now married to Bijon for more than a year but reduced to still using his, well, maiden name. “This is about gender equality.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California agrees and wishes to represent Mister Buday in his endeavors.  Indeed, they believe Buday has a case for such an argument and

Today the organization plans to file suit against the state of California in federal court, arguing that the difficulty a husband faces when changing his name to his wife’s violates the equal protection clause provided by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“This is important to the couple and it’s important symbolically,” said the local ACLU’s legal director, Mark Rosenbaum, who called the current license application “the perfect marriage application for the 17th century.”

When the couple, who live in Marina del Rey, sent an e-mail about their plight to the ACLU – one of thousands of inquiries the group receives – the organization took on the case with gusto.

“Every step of that process reflects a process of subordination of the wife,” Rosenbaum said. “You have to get permission of the state to choose the name of the wife, you have to pay for it ? you have to let the public know?. And finally, you have to go to court to get approval.

“If you want to set up a system to discourage couples from adopting the name of the wife, this is it.”

Six states within this country do allow individuals to choose their names with little if any interference.  These seem to allow for sentiment and free choice.  Others demand dollars or deem the significance is bureaucratic. 

Some naming books speak of a sacred association.  The forename, given name, middle name, maiden name, surname, and family names, connect an individual to his or her own being.  They validate a feeling, or sustain a tradition.  Supposedly, a title means more than, ‘I filed the required papers’ or ‘The government sanctioned my mark.’  However, one wonders.

What is in a name?  Does your moniker personify your identity?

Does our name unite us with those we love or are our names only legal representations used to generate commerce and establish government records.

Please tell me, what is your name?  Is it significant; does it speak to your sense of family, self, or is it merely a connection to Social Security and other official doings?  Soren Kierkegaard professes, “Once you label me, you negate me.”  Might we have the right to describe ourselves.

Name your moniker . . .

  • Take your wife’s name? That’ll cost you — so ACLU steps in, By Carla Hall.  Los Angeles Times.  December 15, 2006
  • L.A. man sues to take wife’s last name, By Martin Kasindorf,  USA Today. January 12, 2007
  • Taking wife’s name not so easy.  USA Today.  January 12, 2007
  • Make California Marriage Law Equal for Husbands Who Take Their Wives’ Last Name.  American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. Friday, December 15, 2006
  • Gerald R. Ford, 93, Dies; Led in Watergate’s Wake, By J.Y. Smith and Lou Cannon. The Washington Post. Wednesday, December 27, 2006
  • pdf Gerald R. Ford, 93, Dies; Led in Watergate’s Wake, By J.Y. Smith and Lou Cannon. The Washington Post. Wednesday, December 27, 2006
  • The Power of a Name, By Valerie.  The Castilleja School. Palo Alto, California
  • Single and Married Parents Spend More Time With Children. Much is Lost

    © copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    Decades ago on October 16, I was born into a family that admittedly wanted no more children.  My mother was not working; nevertheless, before and after my birth she was rarely home.  My natural father did not wish to entertain the notion of a newborn.  With my birth, he decided to focus on life far from the family house.  During my youth it was thought, parents spent time with their progeny.  However, mine did not.

    On October 16, 2006, a report was released, “Married and Single Parents [are] Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds.”  This too, is not as expected.  New York Times Journalist, Robert Pears reveals, “Mothers are spending at least as much time with their children today as they did 40 years ago, and the amount of child care and housework performed by fathers has sharply increased.” 

    Thousands of personal diaries were analyzed and assessed by University of Maryland researchers, Sociology Department Chairwoman Suzanne M. Bianchi, Professor John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie. 

    For the purposes of this study, parents were asked to chronicle all their activities on the day before an intensive interview.  The findings were published in a new Russell Sage Foundation book, “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life.”

    Ms. Bianchi worked for the United States Census Bureau for sixteen years.  There she developed an interest in family life.  The research done for this study builds on her work as a demographer.

    In discussing this investigation, Bianchi stated, “We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so.”  She continues, “They certainly did curtail the time they spent on housework.” 

    The researchers found that “women still do twice as much housework and child care as men” in two-parent families.  But they said that total hours of work by mothers and fathers were roughly equal, when they counted paid and unpaid work.

    Using this measure, the researchers found “remarkable gender equality in total workloads,” averaging nearly 65 hours a week.

    These words appear and many other glowing evaluations appear early on in the Times article.  It would seem at first blush parents are pursuing a balanced relationship with their offspring.  Perchance they are.

    I offer some of the other appraisal for your consideration.

    “It seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined” since 1965, when 60 percent of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother.  Only about 30 percent of children now live in such families.  With more mothers in paid jobs, many policy makers have assumed that parents must have less time to interact with their children.

    But, the researchers say, the conventional wisdom is not borne out by the data they collected from families asked to account for their time.  The researchers found, to their surprise, that married and single parents spent more time teaching, playing with and caring for their children than parents did 40 years ago.

    For married mothers, the time spent on child care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965.  For married fathers, the time spent on childcare more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week, from 2.6 hours.  Single mothers reported spending 11.8 hours a week on child care, up from 7.5 hours in 1965.

    Wow, this realization is truly wonderful.  One could surmise that Americans discovered the truth, just as our former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich did.  There is no true balance.  People must choose their priorities.  Do they desire a glorious career or a fabulous family?  Some in the study did decide.

    ? Many couples delay having children to “a point later in life when they want to spend time with those children.”  People who are uninterested in raising children can “opt out of parenting altogether,” by using birth control.
    ? Families are smaller today than in 1965, and parents are more affluent, so they can invest more time and money in each child.
    ? Social norms and expectations have changed, prompting parents to make “greater and greater investments in child-rearing.” 
      [Yet, this is part of the problem as I see it]
    ? As couples have fewer children, they feel “pressure to rear a perfect child.” 

    Ah, the “perfect child.”  The young person of today is followed or pushed by the ideal parent.  Perhaps this explains much.

    Parents today are spending time with their children as they drive them hither and yon.  The youth in America are enrolled in everything.  According to the publisher of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, By Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., Nicole Wise, and Robert Coles . . .

    Parenting today has come to resemble a relentless To-Do list.  Even parents with the best intentions strive to micro-manage every detail of their kids’ lives and live in constant fear that their child will under-perform in any area – academic, social, athletic.  Lists and schedules, meetings and appointments invade every moment – and the need to be the best is a philosophy dominating – and undermining – our own sense of self as well as our children’s.

    In my own life I may not have been given the structure that constant companionship or parental supervision provide.  However, I was given the freedom to think, to be, to imagine, to invent, and to inspire myself.  I was able to fashion a life that reflected my inner most joys.  Activities were not imposed upon me.  I immersed myself in personal pursuits.  My parents did not choose my interests; nor did they force me to compete.  I was deprived of their time, and rewarded with many opportunities. 

    I learned to enjoy my own company and to create an unparalleled community.  The world of me, myself, and I was wondrous, full and expansive. It included my grandfather, who took care of me frequently.  Mary, my caregiver was my daily companion, and though for the first five years my Mom was not fully physically present, she was totally, emotionally there for me. 

    My Mom recognized her own need to be a better parent and person and set out to become so.  In the interim, she consulted regularly with Mary.  She established a connection with me by expressing her desires to Mary.  She discussed child-rearing in depth and detail  She knew what she wanted for me.  My Mom ensured that my upbringing was the best it could be until she could again fully join me and advance my greater growth.  I was given time to play and contemplate. 

    My resources were inspirational readings, paper, pencils, and toys tailored for investigation.  Egg poaching pots and pans were early energizers.  Coloring books were considered too restrictive for a creative soul.  Thus, structures were my own.  I was encouraged to explore, to be curious, and to be the best of scientists.  The phrase often uttered in my family was, “Ask, and you shall receive.”  Gifts were not meaningless materials; they were loving and thoughtful trinkets, gems, words of wisdom and gestures of support.  What was given was invaluable, encouragement and engagement.

    In recent years, many child development experts have voiced increasing concern over the fact that children are accorded little time or encouragement to engage in imaginative play.  Too many children are overscheduled with school and other activities, according to these experts.

    Even sports, in which an adult sets the framework, leave little room for the development of creative thinking in children, these experts say.

    When children do have time to play, they too often play with a pre-programmed electronic toy or sit in front of a screen — television, computer, or hand-held game — responding to a scenario created by someone else, experts say.

    As a result, children are developing a “problem-solving deficit disorder,” says Diane Levin, a child development expert at Wheelock College in Boston. “Developing imagination and creativity is essential for children to develop problem-solving skills.” 

    Today, we as a society are saturated in standards.  As parents, producers, and power-mongers we seek accountability.  We prefer systems and forego freedoms.  We teach our children to do the same.

    In educational settings, they must engage in collaborative learning projects.  In sports, they are trained to be part of the team.  Throughout their young lives, our offspring are prepared.  They must attend the “best” schools and receive honors for their studies.  They are readied for their proper role in society.  They, just as their parents, will occupy an “appropriate” station.  The young today need not think; nor are they taught how.  They, as their employed mothers and many fathers have no time for such supposed silliness. 

    In today’s society, thinking is not considered necessary.  We are taught to quote facts and use these to formulate a life.  Our life is expected to be parallel to that of others. 

    Intellectually we may feel free to be who we are; however, in truth, conformity, not deep thought is the guiding light, and publicly accepted principle that many of us follow.  We, as a population, are as many employed mothers . . .

    On average, the researchers said, employed mothers get somewhat less sleep and watch less television than mothers who are not employed.  [The latter may not necessarily be a bad thing.]  . . . they [employed mothers] also spend less time with their husbands.

    Sadly, I suspect, we as a nation are not teaching our children well.  We present information and demand prevailing tenets.  Society states, “There is a need for scientists and mathematicians.”  Teach the formulas, the facts and create technicians.

    Administrators and those in favor of “accountability” say, “Forget the Fine Arts; they do not yield the fruits we as a nation need to survive.”  Apparently, the need for curiosity and creativity is void.  Thus, we stuff the minds of our children with statistics; we command them to “meet the standards.”  We no longer require, nor do we teach our young to think.

    As this New York Times article concludes, in 2006, nothing is as it appears.  Couples may stay together, though they rarely spend time with each other.  Husbands and wives are not friends; they barely know each other.  People, partners are busy.  Families run from here to there, mindlessly.  People do not realize their dreams, though they constantly race towards them.  They believe there may be other possibilities; yet, they never conceive these.

    I surmise that parents spending more time with their children may not breed what we human animals crave.  The connections we yearn for are lost in the dust as we scurry about.  We are rushing, chasing a career, our children, or the competition; yet, we forfeit our selves.  Our souls are lost.  Only on occasion do we imagine what we might be within.  We are too busy, too busy to breathe.

    In today’s world, hours, minutes, and seconds, man-made constructs govern us.  We measure these as though they can be quantified and qualified.  We treat our children and time as tangibles.  Researchers want to theorize the more time together the merrier; however, in reality this is not true.

    I propose we not evaluate schedules when appraising the value of a relationship.  Instead, I invite each of us to assess reciprocal reverence in the parent child connection.  This characteristic is not necessarily visible or verifiable.  Calculations cannot always determine excellence within such a bond. 

    If parents tell their children what to think, say, do, feel, or be in a moment or in many moments, this will not gratify the souls of our youth.  It will not engender closeness.  Nor will it make our offspring better human beings.  Time spent together may be important.  However, it is not more critical than what we do with our time.

  • I offer another glorious essay by Helaine Olen.  This exposé also evaluates the parent child relationship in 2006.  ‘Gifted Child Industry’ Preys on Parents’ Insecurities, does not paint a pretty picture.

    References for your review . . .

    You may subscribe to the New York Times Online Newspaper without cost or obligation.  It is free.
    If you prefer to read the article online without subscribing, please click on this PDF [Portable Document Format] version of the exposé.

  • PDF “Married and Single Parents Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds,” By Robert Pear. New York Times October 16, 2006
  • “Married and Single Parents Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds,” By Robert Pear. New York Times October 16, 2006
  • “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life,” By Suzanne M. Bianchi,John P. Robinson, Melissa A. Milkie
  • Suzanne M. Bianchi. Maryland Population Research Center
  • John P. Robinson. Department of Sociology, University of Maryland
  • Melissa A. Milkie. Department of Sociology, University of Maryland
  • Russell Sage Foundation and the American Sociological Association
  • Census Bureau. U.S. Government Census Bureau
  • The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, By Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., Nicole Wise, Robert Coles
  • Experts concerned about children’s creative thinking, By Karen MacPherson. Post-Gazette. Sunday, August 15, 2004
  • The Family Leave Act, By Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor. New York Times November 8, 1996
  • For Parents: How To Raise a Kid Who Cares. Oregon Public Broadcasting
  • Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can’t Read, Write, or Add, By Charles J. Sykes
  • Summary Dumbing Down Our Kids, By Charles J. Sykes
  • Dissecting the Dysfunctions That Lead Down the Path to Divorce, By Kathleen Kelleher, Special to The Los Angeles Times. Monday, September 18, 2000
  • Keeping Art Alive Under No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB], By Ellen R. Delisio. Education World® 2006
  • O, Say, Does Your Class Know the National Anthem?, By Ellen R. Delisio. Education World® 2006
  • Standards, Assessment and Accountability. U.S. Department of Education
  • Parent-Child Relationship Quality Depends on Child’s Perception of Fairness, By Jeremy Diener. Journal of Family Psychology. August 11, 2004
  • Mothers and Daughters; Myth and Meaning

    copyright © 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    Author and Linguist Deborah Tannen recently released a book titled, “You’re Wearing That?  Understanding Mothers and Daughters In Conversation.” In an interview with journalist, Terrence McNally, Ms. Tannen was asked of the unique relationship between mothers and daughters; the author responded as one might expect.  Tannen spoke of what most consider conventional patterns of communication between the two.  As I read, I realized, I could not relate.

    Year ago I was an avid reader of Ms. Tannen’s work; I inhaled her every word.  I still think her research is infinitely valid and valuable; however, only for a select few.  The few may be the majority; they are just not I.  I suspect my own sisters might connect to the conclusions Linguist Tannen offers on the subject of mother daughter interactions.  Still, I do not.

    Much of my life experience differs greatly.  Perhaps, my experience is not contrary, it may merely be my perception, and understanding of these that conflicts with what is thought customary.

    Tannen suggests that “Mothers see their job as being helpful, taking care of us, being protective, but anything you do in that vein always implies criticism.  If you weren’t doing something wrong, you wouldn’t need that advice, help or protection.”  This theory clashes with everything my Mom ever said of her approach and philosophy to parenting.  It varies with all that she practiced.  That is, if you are asking me and not my siblings.

    When I was five years old, a new neighbor, Cheryl moved in.  She had one of these mothers.  I would go to her house and observe the interactions between my now friend and her mother.  It was like watching television.  I thought; I want a mother like this.  I even told my Mom about Mrs. Sheldon and how wonderful she was.  Mrs. Sheldon was the exact the opposite of my Mom.  I wondered aloud, why was this.

    Mrs. Sheldon cooked and cleaned for her husband and children.  The other family members needed to do nothing.  In the Sheldon family the mother picked out the clothes the family would wear.  She combed Cheryl’s hair, her son Allen’s too.  She bought and served Wonder?¢ bread.  Oh, how I hungered for that.  At my house, it was brand X or even worse homemade breads.

    Cheryl’s Mom was always looking in on Cheryl and Allen.  They did not have much alone time.  In my house, private time  was often on the menu.  I spent much time playing, reading, rearranging furniture, and drawing on my own.  Opportunities to contemplate the world were ample.  In those early years, I thought, this “too much.”  I wanted a mom as attentive as Cheryl’s, or so I believed until I was eight.

    At the age of eight, while over at Cheryl’s house I realized Mrs. Sheldon was telling Cheryl what to think, say, do, feel, and who to be most of the time.  My Mom never did that.  Berenice was always consistent; she practiced, as she believed.  Unlike Mrs. Sheldon, or the mother Dr. Deborah Tannen describes, my mother offered very little, if any, visible signs of protection.

    Invisible criticisms were nonexistent in my mind.  Advice was scarce, so scarce I recall none addressing a specific incident or decision.  I would seek it and always receive the same response.  “Do what ever makes you happy as long as it does not hurt anyone.”  If I bothered to probe, further I would hear these words, a philosophy my Mom lived by “No one has the right to tell you what you should think, say, do, feel, or be.”  Thus, she never did.

    My Mom shared her opinions openly on religion, sex, politics, and all the subjects others think taboo.  She never told me that I needed to believe as she does.  Actually, she encouraged my exploring for myself.  If I disagreed with her views, I felt very safe saying so.  We would discuss our differences eternally. Dialogue was promoted.  Barbara Ruth believed “Question everything,” even authority, whatever that is.  She offered infinite opportunities to do so.

    Long before my birth, a magazine rack was placed near the toilet in every bathroom.  Many members of my family spent a good amount of time on the bowl.  Within these stands were biology books written for a very young audience.  There were also natural science texts for the adults.  In each, the topic of reproduction was covered.  Periodically, my Mom would casually “quiz” me on my understanding of these materials.  By the age of five, she felt I was fluent.  Finally, those talks ended.

    At six, while at school or camp I would hear my peers telling “dirty jokes.”  I thought these are so silly.  These people are totally uniformed.  In my home, there were three hardbound “dirty joke” manuscripts, also in the lavatory.  These were funnier than any playground puns.  These volumes often played with the visual.  Drawings of how a short man’s body fit so tightly into the profile of a taller busty woman’s were a vivid treat for me.

    My Mother never worried of my appearance.  She trusted I knew what was best for me.  Berenice Barbara always believed you raise your children to be autonomous.  That was her intent and her custom.  By an early age, I had learned to iron.  I cannot remember a time in early childhood when she would not explain how to determine the quality of a fabric, whether we were buying towels or clothing. She would think aloud and I would learn why she preferred one purchase or another.

    My Mom never told me what to buy or wear.  She let me experiment.  As a teen, another close friend, Dawn, was given a dollar amount to spend on her fall wardrobe.  Though it seemed she was free to shop, she was not.  Every purchase had to be approved by her parents.  I could not imagine such a restriction.

    The interesting thing is I was never wild, rebellious, or resentful.  I had no reason for dissent.  I think because we spoke of everything, because I had the freedom to error, I felt no compulsion to do so.

    My parents politics were quite radical, our life style never was.  It was very conservative.  There were principles.  These were made known, though not presented as limitations.  The rational was offered, conversations were continual, and life was consistent.  What was said would be done.  If there was reason to vary, that too was discussed.  I think this gave me a sense of security, self, and a feeling of conviction that could not be compared.

    In my middle schools years, I was purposely exposed to a world where sex, drugs, and violence were easily accessible.  Though I hung-out with the “cool kids,” when they engaged in these follies, I chose to leave.  None of these seemed interesting to me.  I always felt that my Mom knew she could be sure of my decisions and me.  In truth, for decades, she trusted me when I did not trust myself!

    Now if you ask at least one of my sisters of her relationship with our mother, you will hear a different tale, the specifics may or may not match.  Nevertheless, the reverence will be lost.  A few years ago, this sibling mentioned her feelings about our mother.  She said, “I never liked Mommy.”  She inquired, did I?  I quietly laughed to myself.  I thought she knew; actually, I always imagined this was among the reasons she and I were not closer.  “I like and love Mommy.”  Were she not my mother I would absolutely choose to know her; she is infinitely interesting to me.

    I also think people change constantly.  My Mom had me at a much later age.  She had evolved as a person and made conscious decisions about her parenting preferences.  Who my Mom is to me is not who she was to my siblings.  She grew.

    My sisters are their own beings.  Their history, background, and experiences are unique to them, as is their analysis of such.  I think this true for all of us.

    As I assess the extreme differences of opinion between my sister and myself, I observe as my Mom often espoused, “You get what you expect.”  I think more often then not, it is not our gender that guides our encounters, nor is it our title, mother, daughter, father, or son.  It is what we experience individually; it is how we internalize the events of our lives.  The unique emotions evoked during an exchange have more power than any given encounter.  We can label these, generalize these, look for those that validate our beliefs, still, we create the space that a person, place or entity occupies in our mind.

    In the “Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm, I recall reading descriptions of mothers and fathers.  Fromm spoke of mothers as the nurturing parent, the person that offered unconditional love, or at least that was my interpretation of his words.  Perhaps, I read, as I believe, because it more closely parallels my own experience.  Erich Fromm was among my Mom’s favorites.  This too many have influenced my understanding.

    I treasure my Mom.  A close friend of ours once observed he knew many mothers and their daughters, though some were friends, there always seemed a hidden sense of obligation.  He noted, with my Mom and I it was clear, we just like each other.

    I wish to share this, the first paragraph in a letter I wrote to Berenice, my Mom years ago; I wanted her to know how special she was and is to me.  I thank you Deborah Tannen for giving me reason to reflect.  Ms. Tannen, I read of how much your Mother meant much to you, in that we are the same.  Only our relationships differed.

    I love you Mommy . . .

    This letter may have been written, attempted, and mailed many times in the past, but there is still so much I want you to know about my great thanks for you being you and allowing me to be me.  There is so much I want to learn from you.  I want to hear your stories. I want to see life from your view!  I never seem to get enough of all that you are, all that you offer, all that you say, and all that you do!  I miss you even when I am with you because thanks to you, my appetite for learning is unlimited!  There is so much in your mind, in your actions, in your life, your thoughts, your feelings, that I miss the nuances; once is never enough.  Others laugh and understand the unique quality of our exchanges . . . Mom, I do too.

    Relating To References  . . .

  • Deborah Tannen
  • “You’re Wearing That?  Understanding Mothers and Daughters In Conversation.” By Deborah Tannen
  • The Struggle Between Mothers and Daughters, By Terrence McNally, AlterNet. June 29, 2006
  • Deborah Tannen References
  • Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, By William Pollack, Ph.D. Henry Holt and Company
  • Genderlect Styles of Deborah Tannen April 7, 1999
  • Erich Fromm, By C. George Boeree. Personality Theories
  • Balance is Best, Robert Reich

    In my mind, balance is best.  Many work to achieve it; yet few do.  There are priorities; these take precedence.

    Often what is our truest concern is left behind.  It is easy to negate the necessity we all crave, a connection to loved ones.  We think first of our finances.  We need food, shelter, and clothing.  These require cash and a commitment to earning it.

    We can forego time with family, friends, and familiars, or so we believe.  However, when we do, we hurt ourselves and harm our relationships.

    We believe there is time; we will attend to those we love later.  While we work diligently we do not consider the oft-heard narrative; “on our deathbed we will not wish we had spent more time at work.  We will wonder why we did not take time for friends, family, and those we are fond of.”  Nevertheless, we do not.

    “The middle path is the way to wisdom.”

    ~ Mevlana Rumi [philosopher and mystic]

    “Awareness without love is too cold.  Love without awareness is too hot.

    The middle way is slowly showing itself as we wear out all our extremes from having had the nerve to experiment.”

    ~ Osho [Indian spiritual teacher.]

    Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich realized this when he was at what some might have thought the peak of his career.

    My Family Leave Act. [Op-Ed] By Robert B. Reich.

    For several years now, I’ve been trying to find a better balance between work and family, and failing miserably. I’ve only just understood why. It’s the word ”balance” that threw me. I’ve always assumed that a better balance meant more of what you really want to do and less of what you don’t. For me, and perhaps many others, that’s just not possible.

    Sure, I’ve met lots of people who’ve found a better balance through doing less work and gaining more family. That may be hard to achieve economically, but for some it’s at least possible. Live cheaper, scale back, give up the rat race.

    I’ve even met a few people who’ve done the reverse. For them, a better balance means more work and less family. They love their job and find the world of spouse and kids harder to manage. So they’ve hired a baby sitter, gratefully sent the kids off to college or got a divorce. Now their energies are happily focused on work.

    I know someone who found balance by cutting back on both. She simply needed more time for herself. She had had it with a boss who kept piling it on and a family that relied on her to do everything for them. Finding her balance required setting some firm limits.

    All these people found a better balance between work and family by devoting more time and energy to what they really value and less to what they don’t.

    But what if you’re like me and, I suspect, many others? You love your job and you love your family, and you desperately want more of both. You’re doubly blessed, in a way. Whatever you get of either should be a delight. How dare complain? But here’s the rub: There’s no way of getting work and family into better balance. You’re inevitably shortchanging one or the other, or both. You’re never able to do enough of what you truly value.

    Don’t tell me to improve my time-management skills. I’ve done that, and I’m scheduled to the teeth. Teen- age boys don’t need you on schedule. A spouse doesn’t share intimacies on command. Work doesn’t always present new opportunities or crises just when you block out time for them.

    Throw in a boss who has a good idea every two minutes and you can forget the schedule for good. In the end, you simply can’t do more of both. There’s no room for better ”balance.” The metaphor is all wrong. You have to make a painful choice.

    Just the other day, I spoke with a former colleague who had faced the same dilemma. He had a wonderful job, which he couldn’t get enough of. Every night when he left work, he kicked himself that he didn’t have more time to devote to it. But he also was deeply attached to his family. His oldest daughter was two years shy of college, and my colleague wanted time to be with her. So what did he do? He quit that wonderful job. He’s still deeply pained by the decision. But now he tells me he should have quit even earlier. His daughter has left the nest, and two years wasn’t nearly enough.

    One night last week, I planned to be home to say good night to my two boys. I hadn’t been home in almost a week. When I phoned Sam, the younger of the two, to tell him that I might not make it in time for bed, he said that was O.K. ”But will you wake me up when you come in, Dad?” he asked.

    I explained that it might be early in the morning and he needed his sleep. ”I’d like it if you’d wake me,” he responded. ”I just want to know you’re here with us.”

    I have the best job I’ve ever had and probably ever will. No topping it. Can’t get enough of it. I also have the best family I’ll ever have, and I can’t get enough of them. Finding a better balance? I’ve been kidding myself into thinking there is one. The metaphor doesn’t fit. I had to choose.

    I told the boss I’ll be leaving, and explained why. Don’t know quite what I’ll do next. He understands. He has the same dilemma, and will for at least the next four years.

    Robert B. Reich Resigns . . .

    Robert Reich References . . .

    Family, Functioning, Fables, and Our Future ©

    Today two things occurred back-to-back; I heard a portion of an interview on National Public Radio.  The interviewee was Rich Cohen, of “Sweet ??N Low” fame.  He was discussing his latest book, aptly titled, “Sweet and Low” and his family.  Mr. Cohen offered philosophical interpretations of family and how writing this book and speaking of it helped him to discover that all families have their stories.  I was in the car when I heard this discussion.  I was so mesmerized, that though I had arrived at my destination, I did not move.  I sat in the parking lot, listened, and reflected.

    Then I came home, and as I routinely do, I turned on the computer.  I logged into My Left Wing, and saw the lead headline, Stories of Good & Evil, By the bluebird of happiness.  Captivated by the title, in part, because I have never believed in the concept of “evil,” I read.  Though in some respects this was a political post, it took me to a familial place.  I commented and then proceeded on with the evening.  However, the thought stayed with me.  We are so much a product of our up bringing.

    To this diary, I responded . . .

    “the tales we tell.”  I was twenty-one before I ever read or had read to me, a Grimm’s fairy tale, or any other such stories.  My Mom only read poems to me.  Late in my life, I discovered she only read me inspirational poems.  She often recited these from memory; we both did.

    “I was raised to believe, and I still do, people are basically “good.”  At times, they make some poor choices.  These are part of the growth process, a necessary evolution.

    I do not believe in evil and cringe when GW repeatedly espouses the word.  Nor do I think there is sin.  This may have given me what some think is a distorted view of life, and that, for me is fine.  Very late in life, a beau turned to me and said “People are negative and unhappy.”  I immediately retorted, “No, they are not!”  I never imagined.

    The tales we tell, do teach.  My brother once asked why my Mom and I are always telling stories.  He was raised in a different home until his adolescence and was not used to such narratives.  I told him, the best way to learn is to relate; through stories, we do this.

    GW and the gang know.  Thus, we have nonstop Video News Reports.  Even when reprimanded by the Government Accounting Office, the drone goes on.  Propaganda when presented as an anecdote is very effective. It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are.  – Ian Anderson.  Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

    A day or two before, also on My Left Wing, there was a discussion of Malcolm X.  It was the anniversary of his birth, quotes of his majesty were offered.  I recalled reading of Malcolm’s life and I was in awe.  His journey was such a magnificent progression.  He went from being a man that advocated self-defense, self-preservation at any cost; a violent price was not too high, to being a man of peace.  Nevertheless, as I read many of the comments, I noticed the focus was on the man’s early endeavors and deliberations.  His evolution was virtually invisible.  I offered my observations and another discussion began.  This too, took me to my family, or my experience of them and what they taught me.

    I wrote of how, for me, “war is never an option.”  I was writing to one that believes, throughout history major change was brought about by violent revolution.

    I too think our visions are similar; violence is our only departure.  With one exception that I had forgotten about until the novel incident, I was not yelled at until I was 39 years of age.  I think when our reality is lacking in brutality our perspective differs.

    It seems that we all know our cycles and history.  Imagining what is unimaginable is a challenge.

    This may not make sense; however, it is my truth.  Once exposed to aggression, I feared I might adopt the pattern.  I witnessed it too frequently and it was so very memorable.  Actually, I did not experience it regularly; it only felt as if I had because it was so unforgettable, unbelievable to me.  What did happen is, my desire to understand caused me to study.  I developed an expanded sense of empathy and a far greater belief in the need for consideration.  Rather than become what I feared, once exposed to such aggression, I became more compassionate or at least I work to be.  May you live long, learn much, and feel fulfilled . . . Betsy

    Still, I realize that what I learned from living within the framework that I did, was not as my siblings learned.  Actually, it is very, extremely different.  My sisters and I share the same bloodline; yet, who we are as people, what we believe, our experiences, and interpretations of life are very different.  We do not even think of family in the same way.  Parallels are rare.

    My brother and I do not share the same biological parents.  However, I have known him since he was an infant.  Over the years, we spent much time together, though one would never know.  That his analysis of events and family members varies is not surprising, though it is interesting.

    I am continually struck by how little any of us knows; yet we think we know it all.  Well over a decade ago, I realized I know nothing with certainty.  I do not even comprehend what I profess to understand.  I am forever learning.  I believe we all are though I share my story so that you might reflect and tell me what is your truth.

    One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was one that occurred in an instant.  My cousin Alvin and I were speaking.  We were discussing family, and my confusion.  I seem to have alienated my sister.  We had been close friends for decades, and then suddenly, we were not.  I had my theories and I was sharing these with my wise and wonderful cousin.  I mused that my sister, let me call her Audrey, was telling me a story.  I thought and likely said to Alvin, though I do not recall with certainty, for this happened long ago, “I know exactly how she feels.”

    Alvin replied, “No, you do not.”  None of us knows exactly how another feels.  While we may be similar, and have similar experiences, none of us is the same.”  He continued on stating, we can attempt to empathize, to sympathize, to understand, and certainty we must listen; however, we can never know how another feels.  No two things, people, positions, possibilities, probabilities, or policies are ever the same.

    I was immediately struck.  It was and is so true.  Though this incident occurred decades ago, I decided never to use the phrase again.  Accidentally, I trust it has happened.  I said the dreaded sentence, though I recall, a time or two as the words tripped off my tongue, I immediately took them back.  I, since that day know to apologize for a habit I mistakenly adopted before I was made more conscious.

    As I travel through the universe, the world, the Internet, and my life, I am continually amazed at how unique we all are, similar; yet never the same.  I suspect our likenesses are less substantial than we realize, though I believe our differences are equally smaller than we might imagine.

    People posture and often think they know what someone else means when they speak; rarely do we.  Stories are left out to save time.  Society states, “Keep it short and sweet.”  [No pun intended Mr. Cohen.]  However, without the details we are mired in a mirror image of ourselves.

    Thus, we stand strong, seemingly certain, when we have little information.  We profess to know the facts when we know nothing.  I wonder how many of us have pondered the fiction of “facts?”

    A fact in itself is nothing.  It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or the proof which it furnishes.Claude Bernard [1813-1878 Leading French Physiologist]

    I ask each of us to share our tales, to talk, to take a moment to relate and contemplate.  Do we understand our family, our selves, how we all function together?  Are we aware of the fables that define us?  I invite you to reflect with me.  I believe our future might benefit from a bit more thought-fullness.

    References of Interest . . .
    “Sweet and Low,” By Rich Cohen
    Stories of Good & Evil, By bluebird of happiness.
    Freaky Friday Open Thread, By Maryscott O’Connor
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales