The Breakdown of the Family

There are a lot of people who blame feminism for the breakdown of the family. They see feminists as essentially selfish people, who don’t care who they hurt in their quests to get what they want. They divorce their husbands, leave their children in the care of strangers and let ambition take over their lives. What critics of feminism won’t admit is that it is not just feminists who are doing these things. Any woman can be guilty of putting themselves before their families, as can any man.

familyRather, feminism is a corrective measure for what’s wrong with our society.

When a relationship is unhealthy or abusive, feminism gives a woman the courage to leave. When an employer is cheating female employees out of pay or benefits, feminism inspires them to speak up for themselves. When a woman has to support herself and her children, feminism looks out for her interests in the courts and the workplace. When young girls and women are trying to find themselves, feminism gives them models and mentors.

Emotional, physical and financial security do not contribute to the breakdown of the family.

What does?

The economy. It’s the rare family that can exist on one income. Most women go to work outside of the home at some point in their marriages. (And that’s not even counting the ones who have to work because of divorce or the death of their spouses.) Children get more expensive, college needs to be paid for, retirement plans need to be funded, health care costs rise.

Materialism. More families might be able to get by with less if they didn’t want so damn much. The rate at which technology is changing means that there is always some new improved products that consumers feel they just have to have. Many people overspend on houses, cars and vacations. Cable, cell phones and Internet access are seen as necessities.

The workplace. When the world became industrialized, women left their homes to work in sweatshops and mills. When WWII came along they went to work in the factories. Now the service industry is growing exponentially and women obviously have to work outside of the home when they have those kinds of jobs. Not only that, but the workplace usually makes it more difficult for a woman to fulfill her wifely and motherly duties because of inflexibility.

Divorce. I include divorce in this list, but the truth is, divorce doesn’t break down the family, it just creates different family formations. A single parent with children is a family. An adult child living with parents is a family. The only form of family that gets hit hard by divorce is the nuclear family. And it’s never been as prominent as people would like to believe. Parents used to have to send their children to relatives or children’s homes when they couldn’t afford to keep them. Now they at least try to maintain some kind of family unit. It just doesn’t look like some people want it to look.

The reason that feminism is blamed for the breakdown of the family is because women are blamed for the breakdown of the family. What about the man who abandons or doesn’t support his family? Is that feminism’s fault, too? Let’s put the blame where it really belongs and start looking to feminism for solutions.

What If Tiger Woods Was a Woman?

Tiger woods closeupAccording to Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, Tiger Woods has given men a bad name by his philandering ways. As if men needed Tiger Woods for that. Cohen himself writes that men are conditioned to “spread their seed around” while women are conditioned to mate with the alpha male and mother the resultant children. “This is the way it is and this is the way it’s always been,” he says in his December 14th column.

He even goes so far as to say that the reason the Glass Ceiling hasn’t been broken is because women have different priorities. In other words, it’s not sexism that keeps women from succeeding; it’s their own choices.

Echidne of the Snakes, one of my favorite bloggers, begs to differ: “It could be that our biological inheritance explains the dearth of female Tiger Woodses. But I’m pretty sure that a culture which condones the male type (nudge-nudge) and disapproves of the female type has a role to play, too. And so do writers like Richard.”

I have a bit different take on the problem. I think the reason there are more men than women behaving badly is because men start to believe their own press. When someone like Tiger Woods achieves the level of prestige and power that he has, he thinks he is untouchable. Women rarely achieve that status because women aren’t accorded the same power that men are. Women know that they have to behave themselves. Even Madonna has limited her liaisons to the times when she has been single. And would Oprah have the same respect if she didn’t have “Steady Stedman” in the wings? What if she were caught cheating on the guy? Would people say, “That’s just the way women are”?

Continue reading “What If Tiger Woods Was a Woman?”

After a Divorce–When There Are Kids

Jon Gosselin has reportedly said, “Our marriage fell apart and I felt like I was free. And I kinda took advantage of it for a while and didn’t really think about my actions, obviously, until I started getting paparazzi and written about. But that’s maturing. That’s growing up.”

How nice. Our big boy is growing up. Now if he can just do it in time to help his children do the same–hopefully before their thirties and they have children of their own. And notice that it was the media attention that caused him to reflect on his behavior–not what his behavior might have been doing to his kids. Say what you will about Kate, she’s not the one dating several different people, going to clubs, buying an apartment that has no room for the kids. And that’s how it usually is. Divorced mothers seem to feel more of a sense of responsibility toward their children than do divorced fathers.

I don’t mean to pick on men, but in cases where they don’t get custody and only have visitation rights, it’s all too easy for them to become focused on their own issues instead of the day-to-day issues their children may have. It might be more fair to say that the parent who has custody is more conscious of and responsive to his or her children’s needs. But in a society where women are still awarded custody in the majority of divorces, it will naturally be the women who feel the responsibility more keenly than the men do. And so this post is about what women go through when they suddenly become single mothers.

  1. They’re always “on.” There’s no one else to spell them, to take over for even a few minutes.
  2. They have to take care of all the minutiae that makes up their children’s lives. The permission slip, the daily lunch money, the skinned knee, the upset tummy–the list is endless.
  3. They rarely have time for themselves. Not even to go to the bathroom.
  4. They don’t have anyone to share their kids with. At least not anyone who is privy to the same day-to-day information that they are. It’s lonely to not have anyone to turn to and say, “Remember when…?” or “Isn’t that cute?”
  5. They never get enough rest. You can’t when you’re trying to be two people.
  6. They never have enough money, even if they get child support. The little things add up quickly and the child support is basically used up by the big-ticket items (housing, food, clothing.)
  7. They are always being compared to the other parent and to other mothers (most of whom are not single). Especially by the kids themselves. And others: I once had my sister lecture me for being away from my kids nine hours a day, even though I had to work.
  8. They have to exercise superhuman self-control: over their mouths (and the things they want to say about their exes), their emotions, their sexual desires, their consumption habits, and their time.
  9. They are the only ones there to listen to their kids, an important but often underappreciated function.
  10. They have to give up their kids for part or all of every special occasion. The respite from caring for them never quite makes up for the loneliness.

I have a feeling that Kate Gosselin is aware of most of these things. And if she and Jon end up sharing custody evenly (and what do you want to bet that they don’t?), I hope Jon comes to accept these realities like the man he is striving to become.

Tuesday Tidbits

I apologize for being preoccupied with other things this past week: my grandson’s visit, my husband’s birthday, the observance and celebration of Ramadan and my conversion to Islam. Just little things like that. I’m easing back in with this edition of my Tuesday Tidbits. This week I’m featuring Salon’s Broadsheet. There’s so much there, I just want to share everything. If you like breaking news and entertaining insights, you want to pay frequent visits to Broadsheet. Here is a sampling of recent articles:

“The Facebook Divorce” by Amanda Fortini.

Tweeting A Miscarriage” by Tracy Clark-Flory.

Women Hold Up Half the Sky” by Kate Harding.

Want Justice For Polanski? Let Him Go” by Mary Elizabeth Williams.

Letter From a Young Feminist” by Lynn Harris.

Oh, and don’t forget the comments. Salon readers write the best.

Mother Chronicles

The New York Times carries a column by Lisa Belkin called “Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting.” I ran across a few interesting articles the other day and thought I would share them with my readers.

Explaining 9/11 to a Muslim Child” is by Moina Noor.

Anita Tedaldi writes about terminating an adoption in “My Adopted Son.”

Lisa Belkin introduces the article “What Kind of Mother Gives Up Her Kids?”

Parents’ Thoughts on Death” features husband and wife, Damien and Diana Oliva Cave and their alternating comments.

After airlines send two children to the wrong cities in as many days (see article), Lisa Belkin asks for advice from Rebekah Spicuglia about letting your children fly unaccompanied.

How Damaging Is Divorce?

In my search for statistics yesterday I ran across the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University which did have a variety of stats for the year 2008. It also had “Ten Myths About Divorce,” which quite frankly alarmed me (some of its observations were that children of divorce don’t get over it and in fact have more problems in adulthood). As a woman who has had three divorces and remarriages after my first marriage (in which all my children were born), the “report” wasn’t exactly what I wanted to read.

Then I ran across an article about “What’s Wrong With the Work of the National Marriage Project?” Not surprisingly, this article appears on the Alternatives to Marriage Project web site, but it was also included in a popular college textbook series, Taking Sides (see example), as a clear-headed response to the views the National Marriage Project has promoted.

I’m not one to bury my head in the sand and pretend that there is no harm done to children when it comes to divorce, but I still don’t agree with some of the National Marriage Project’s statements. In my case, as far as my first marriage goes, my children all agree that they can’t imagine how their father and I ever got together in the first place and that their lives were much happier (even if they weren’t easy) than if we had stayed married.

That doesn’t mean that divorce leaves no scars. Of course it does. But to say that staying married when there is  marital conflict is preferable, or at least equal, to getting a divorce, is ludicrous. There are too many variables in the equation to say for sure that divorce is always more damaging than staying together. Even if marital conflict is relatively mild, it can erode a child’s happiness if it is experienced day in and day out. Some divorces are less stressful than the marriages were.

Divorce isn’t easy, and remarriage is even harder. I say that because of how difficult it is to establish a successful step-family. Two of my marriages broke up largely because of conflicts within the step-family and the happiness of my current one may have a lot to do with the fact that my children are all grown now. I’m sure there are many successful step-families out there, but the truth is, the divorce rate is higher for subsequent marriages than for the first one.

The National Marriage Project appears to be invested in the idea that marriage is the ideal environment in which to raise children. How does that make the parents and children feel when there never was a marriage or the marriage ended in divorce? I see no advantage in treating children who are born out-of-wedlock or who end up in single parent families like second-class citizens. Why not spend more time strengthening the various forms of families that do exist?

I always told my children that just because their parents had divorced didn’t mean that they were from a “broken” family. We still made up a legitimate family even if their parents no longer lived together.

I also resent the rhetoric that makes it sound like children from single-parent families are severely disadvantaged. They have issues that two-parent families have but not as many as you might think. (The primary one is a lower standard of living.) Many single parents carve out a support network that takes the place of a nuclear family:  a church, extended family, full-time babysitters, after-school care, and role models and confidantes for both parent and child. In some cases, single parents have more lifelines than an isolated two-parent family does.

In my opinion, divorce is only as damaging as we allow it to be. Don’t apologize or feel sorry for yourself. Find new avenues of support, both emotional and financial. Continue to focus on your family and to love your children. Find new ways to celebrate your lives together. Allow and encourage your children to have a relationship with their non-custodial parent. Don’t make them choose sides or put them in the middle. And don’t rush into another relationship just because you’re afraid of being alone.

And always remember that marriage, in and of itself, is no magic talisman. It hardly solves all problems and unless it’s extremely healthy, it may cause new ones. It may be an ideal, but it is never perfect. Only we can make our families, whatever forms they take, strong and nurturing.