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Vocapedia > Family > Family life, Parents, Children, Parenting





Always a Family

Video        Story Corps        5 September 2011


StoryCorps has won

a 71st Annual George Foster Peabody Award

for our September 11 audio and animated shorts.


On the morning of September 11th,

Michael Trinidad called his ex-wife, Monique Ferrer,

from the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower

to say goodbye.


In the wake of his death,

Monique tells the story of Michael's lasting legacy

—the family they built together.


Directed by: The Rauch Brothers

Art Direction: Bill Wray

Producers: Lizzie Jacobs & Mike Rauch

Animation: Tim Rauch

Audio Produced by: Michael Garofalo & Nadia Reiman

Music: Fredrik

Label: The Kora Records

Publisher: House of Hassle


Funding provided by:

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting

The Carnegie Corporation of New York

National Endowment for the Arts





















 Illustration: Rebekka Dunlap


The Case for Free-Range Parenting


MARCH 20, 2015



















Photo Illustration by Craig Cutler

for The New York Times


Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?

By LORI GOTTLIEB        NYT        FEB. 6, 2014
















family        USA










family life        UK










family life        USA










movies > 1971 > UK > Ken Loach's Family Life










Family under the microscope (series)    2012-2008        UK










family values        UK

















family feud








family row        UK










family album        UK






loved ones        USA






birth control and family planning        USA








single / unmarried        USA






rise in single-parent families





family and politics        UK






conventional nuclear family        UK






the breakdown of the nuclear family





the demise of the county family        UK        1906

















Same-sex couples in New Jersey

must be given all the benefits and rights

enjoyed by married men and women,

but state lawmakers will have to decide

whether they can officially wed        USA        2006










children's picture books

about same-sex parenting – in pictures         UK

























punishment        USA










corporal punishment        USA










spanking        USA



















family tree





London parish records from 1538


You can research family records

going right back to the reign of Henry VIII.


With over 11 million entries,

the unique London Parish Records

are part of the London Historical Records



In partnership

with London Metropolitan Archives.


Only available online at Ancestry.co.uk,

you can now research

registers for Baptisms and Burials

from 1812 onwards,

and marriages after 1754,

by forename, surname,

locality and type of event.


You can browse earlier registers

as digital imaged databases.














My Past

Discover your ancestors

Take a journey into your past

and build your family tree









































paternal roles        UK










parent        UK












parent        USA










parents        USA










aspirational parents        UK










parent        USA










parents        UK












parents        USA










separated parents








lone parents        UK










errant parents        UK










growing up with a transsexual parent        USA










estranged parent        USA




















Illustration: Olimpia Zagnoli


The Trauma of Parenthood


JUNE 27, 2014


















Michelle Obama talks parenting,

partnership and turning your rage

into change

NPR    15 November 2022





Michelle Obama talks parenting, partnership and turning your rage into change

Video    NPR    15 November 2022

















parenthood        UK














parenthood        USA












parenting        UK



























parenting        USA


Michelle Obama talks parenting,

partnership and turning your rage into change

NPR video    15 November 2022

















surrogate parenting        USA










bad parenting        UK










‘motherless’ parenting        USA










raise        USA









raise teenagers        USA









raise children        USA










child        USA












kids        USA




















siblings        UK












siblings        USA





































sisters        USA




















twins        UK










baby        USA

















Interview With A Toddler

La Guardia Cross    5 January 2016





Interview With A Toddler

Video        La Guardia Cross        5 January 2016

















toddler        USA


watch?v=8hSEus9jvHc - 5 January 2016
















next of kin (+ Vplur)        UK












scion        UK / USA
























offspring        USA

















genetic testing





legal father





legal mother





the legal parentage of children





England's senior family judge










fertility treatment / IVF        UK


















the human fertilisation and embryology authority





be pregnant










give birth to N





Ruth Collet (née Salaman)




















aunt        UK














































blood relations




















in-law / in-laws        USA












father-in-law        UK










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stepmom        USA










stepmotherhood        USA










stepchildren        USA










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heiress        USA


















neglect, abuse, mistreatment, homicides of children > child welfare agency        USA










domestic homicide        UK










incest        USA












Corpus of news articles


Family > Family life, Parents, Children,


Siblings, Parenting, Raising children




Life Goes On, and On ...


December 17, 2011

The New York Times



A FRIEND calls from her car: “I’m on my way to Cape Cod to scatter my mother’s ashes in the bay, her favorite place.” Another, encountered on the street, mournfully reports that he’s just “planted” his mother. A third e-mails news of her mother’s death with a haunting phrase: “the sledgehammer of fatality.” It feels strange. Why are so many of our mothers dying all at once?

As an actuarial phenomenon, the reason isn’t hard to grasp. My friends are in their 60s now, some creeping up on 70; their mothers are in their 80s or 90s. Ray Kurzweil, the author of “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” believes that we’re close to unlocking the key to immortality. Perhaps within this century, he prophesies, “software-based humans” will be able to survive indefinitely on the Web, “projecting bodies whenever they need or want them, including virtual bodies in diverse realms of virtual reality.” Neat, huh? But for now, it’s pretty much dust to dust, the way it’s always been — mothers included. (Most of our fathers are long gone, alas. Women live longer than men.)

It’s the ones who aren’t dead who should baffle us. My own mother, for instance, still goes to the Boston Symphony and attends a weekly current events class at Brookhaven, her “lifecare living” center (can’t we find a less technocratic word?) near Boston. She writes poems in iambic pentameter for every occasion. At 94, she’s hardly anomalous: there are plenty of nonagenarians at Brookhaven. Ninety is the new old age. As Dr. Muriel Gillick, a specialist in geriatrics and palliative care at Harvard Medical School, says, “If you’ve made it to 85 then you have a reasonable chance of making it to 90.” That number has nearly tripled in the last 30 years. And if you get that far... it’s been estimated that there will be eight million centenarians by 2050.

It won’t end there. Scientists are closing in on the mechanism of what are called “senescent cells,” which cause the tissue deterioration responsible for aging. Studies of mice suggest that targeting these cells can slow down the process. “Every component of cells gets damaged with age,” Leonard Guarente, a biology professor at M.I.T., explained to me. “It’s like an old car. You have to repair it.” We’re not talking about immortality, Professor Guarente cautions. Biotechnology has its limits. “We’re just extending the trend.” Extending the trend? I can hear it now: 110 is the new 100.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? On the debit side, there’s the ... debit. The old-age safety net is already frayed. According to some estimates, Social Security benefits will run out by 2037; Medicare insurance is guaranteed only through 2024. These projected shortfalls are in part the unintended consequence of the American health fetish. The ad executives in “Mad Men” firing up Lucky Strikes and dosing themselves with Canadian Club didn’t have to worry. They’d be dead long before it was time to collect.

Then there’s the question of whether reaching 5 score and 10 is worth it — the quality-of-life question. Who wants to end up — as Jaques intones in “As You Like It” — “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”? You may live to be as old as Methuselah, who lasted 969 years, but chances are you’ll feel it.

Worse — it’s no longer a rare event — you can outlive your children. Reading the obituary of Christopher Ma, a Washington Post executive who had been a college classmate of mine, I was especially sad to see that Chris was survived by his wife, a daughter, a son, a brother, two sisters and “his mother, Margaret Ma of Menlo Park, Calif.” Can anything more tragic befall a parent than to be predeceased by a child?

These are the perils old people suffer. What about us, the boomers, now ourselves elderly children? One challenge my entitled generation faces is that many of our long-lived parents are running through their retirement money, which leaves the burden of supporting them to us. (To their credit, it’s a burden that often bothers our parents, too.) And the cost of end-stage health care is huge — a giant portion of all medical expenses in this country are incurred in the last months of life. Meanwhile, our prospects of retirement recede on the horizon.

Also, elder care is stressful and time consuming. The broken hips, the trips to the E.R., the bill paying and insurance paperwork demand patience. A paper titled “Personality Traits of Centenarians’ Offspring” suggests this cohort scores high marks “extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.” But even the well-adjusted find looking after old parents tough.

In the mid-’80s, when the idea of the “sandwich generation” was born — boomers saddled with the care of aging parents while raising their own children — it seemed like a problem we would eventually outgrow. Twenty-five years later, we’re still sandwiched, and some of those caught in the middle feel the squeeze.

So what’s the good part? Time spent with an elderly parent can offer an opportunity for the resolution of “unfinished business,” a chance to indulge in last-act candor. A college classmate writes in our 40th-reunion book of ministering to her chronically ill mother and being “moved by how the twists and turns of complicated health care have deepened our relationship.” I hear a lot about late-in-life bonding between parent and child.

My mother needs a minor operation. “I’ve outlasted my time,” she says as she’s wheeled into surgery. “Anyway, you’re too old to have a mother.” Thanks, Ma. What about Rupert Murdoch? His mother is 102. Also, if I’m too old to have a mother, why do I still feel like a child?

Two weeks later, Mom comes to Vermont to recuperate. My father, who died a decade ago at 87, is buried in the field behind our house (hope this is legal). His gravestone reads “Donald Herman Atlas 1913-2001,” and it has an epitaph from his favorite poet, T. S. Eliot, carved in italics: “I grow old ... I grow old .../ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” Mom likes to visit him there. Standing over Dad’s grave, she carries on a dialogue of one. “I thought I’d have joined you by now, Donny, but I’m a tough old bird.” As she heads back up to the house, she turns and waves. “À bientôt.” See you soon.

Not so fast, Mom. I still have issues.


James Atlas is the author of

“My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale.”

Life Goes On, and On ...,






Judy Lewis,

Secret Daughter of Hollywood,

Dies at 76


November 30, 2011

The New York Times



Her mother was Loretta Young. Her father was Clark Gable.

Yet Judy Lewis spent her first 19 months in hideaways and orphanages, and the rest of her early life untangling a web of lies spun by a young mother hungry for stardom but unwilling to end her unwed pregnancy.

Loretta Young’s deception was contrived to protect her budding movie career and the box-office power of the matinee idol Gable, who was married to someone else when they conceived their child in snowed-in Washington State. They were on location, shooting the 1935 film “The Call of the Wild,” fictional lovers in front of the camera and actual lovers outside its range.

Ms. Lewis, a former actress who died on Friday at the age of 76, was 31 before she discerned the scope of the falsehoods that cast her, a daughter of Hollywood royalty, into what she later described as a Cinderella-like childhood. Confronted by Ms. Lewis, Young finally made a tearful confession in 1966 at her sprawling home in Palm Springs, Calif.

Young was 22 and unmarried when she and Gable, 34 and married to Maria Langham, had their brief affair. She spent most of her pregnancy in Europe to avoid Hollywood gossip. Ms. Lewis was born on Nov. 6, 1935, in a rented house in Venice, Calif. Soon she was turned over to a series of caretakers, including St. Elizabeth’s Infants Hospital in San Francisco, so that Young could return to stardom.

When Ms. Lewis was 19 months old, her mother brought her back home and announced through the gossip columnist Louella Parsons that she had adopted the child.

Ms. Lewis grew up in Los Angeles, cushioned in the luxury of her mother’s movie-star lifestyle even as she endured what she later described as an outsider’s isolation within her family and the teasing of children at school.

They teased her about her ears: they stuck out like Dumbo’s. Or, as Hollywood rumors had it, they stuck out like Clark Gable’s. Ms. Lewis’s mother dressed her in bonnets to hide them. When Ms. Lewis was 7 her ears were surgically altered to make them less prominent.

Until Ms. Lewis, as an adult, confronted her years later, Young did not acknowledge that Ms. Lewis was her biological daughter, or that Gable was Ms. Lewis’s father. When Young married and had two children with Tom Lewis, a radio producer, Judy took his name but remained the family’s “adopted” daughter.

And though conceding the story privately to her daughter — and later to the rest of her family — Young remained mum publicly all her life, agreeing to acknowledge the facts only in her authorized biography, “Forever Young,” and only on the condition that it be published after her death. She died in 2000.

But Ms. Lewis revealed the story of her parentage in her own memoir, “Uncommon Knowledge,” in 1994. She described feeling a powerful sense of alienation as a child. “It was very difficult for me as a little girl not to be accepted or acknowledged by my mother, who, to this day, will not publicly acknowledge that I am her biological child,” she said in an interview that year.

After Ms. Lewis released the memoir, her mother refused to speak to her for three years.

The lightning bolt that gave Ms. Lewis the first hint about her parentage came during an identity crisis before her wedding day. Two weeks before her marriage in 1958, Ms. Lewis told her fiancé, Tom Tinney, that she did not understand her confusing relationship with her mother and that she did not know who her father was. “I can’t marry you,” she said she told him. “I don’t know anything about myself.”

Mr. Tinney could offer little guidance about her mother, she wrote, but about her father’s identity he was clear.

“It’s common knowledge, Judy,” he said. “Your father is Clark Gable.”

She had no inkling, she wrote.

In interviews after her book was published, Ms. Lewis was philosophical about the secrecy in which she grew up. If Young and Gable had acknowledged her in 1935, she said, “both of them would have lost their careers.”

Much of Ms. Lewis’s account was painful to recall, she said. She quoted Young as saying, “And why shouldn’t I be unhappy?,” explaining her decision to give birth. “Wouldn’t you be if you were a movie star and the father of your child was a movie star and you couldn’t have an abortion because it was a mortal sin?”

Young was a Roman Catholic.

After graduating from Marymount, a girls’ Catholic school, Ms. Lewis left Los Angeles to pursue acting in New York. She was a regular on one soap opera, “The Secret Storm,” from 1964 to 1971, and had featured parts on numerous others. She appeared in several Broadway plays, produced television shows, and in her mid-40s decided to return to school. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles, and became a licensed family and child counselor in 1992.

Ms. Lewis, who was a clinical psychologist specializing in foster care and marriage therapy, died of lymphoma at her home in Gladwyne, Pa., her daughter, Maria Tinney Dagit, said.

Besides her daughter, Ms. Lewis is survived by two grandsons and her half-brothers, Christopher and Peter Lewis. Her marriage to Mr. Tinney ended in divorce.

In a 2001 interview on CNN with Larry King, Ms. Lewis recalled speaking to her mother about her early life.

“I was also asking her about being adopted,” she said, “as adopted children do. They say, ‘Where are my ... ‘’ ”

Mr. King interjected, “ ‘Who’s my mother?’ ”

“Yes,” Ms. Lewis said. “ ‘Who’s my mother? Who’s my father?’ And she would answer it very easily by saying, ‘I couldn’t love you any more than if you were my own child,’ which, of course, didn’t answer the question, but it said, ‘Don’t ask the question.’ ”

But at that point Ms. Lewis was wistful about her past. “Call of the Wild,” she said, was one of her favorite movies. The love scenes between her parents, she said, “show the love they feel for each other.”

Mr. King asked if she ever fantasized about the life she might have had if her parents had married and brought her up.

“I would have liked them to have,” she replied. “But that is just my dream, you know. Life is very strange. Doesn’t give us what we want.”

    Judy Lewis, Secret Daughter of Hollywood, Dies at 76,
    NYT, 30.11.2011,






Telling of Days on the Run

After Abducting Children


November 29, 2011
The New York Times


The week before they abducted their eight children from a foster care center in Queens, Nephra and Shanel Payne stocked up at Costco on supplies and dry goods, like diapers and infant formula for Nefertiti, their 11-month-old daughter, graham crackers and her favorite drink, pear juice. They stashed family photos and important documents in a storage facility and crammed a basketball and a football — essential for traveling with a Little League team’s worth of boys — into their car.

They had just been told, they said, that New York City’s child welfare agency was planning to put their children, who had been in foster care for nearly three years, up for adoption rather than reuniting them with their parents.

“It’s either do something or let your kids get swallowed by a system that does not have a heart,” Mr. Payne, 35, said. “To do nothing would have been more hurtful, more reckless.”

The Paynes told their story during a nearly two-hour interview on Monday night, five days after their release from jail. They sat side by side in the office of Norman Steiner, the lawyer who represented them in their criminal case, their pinky fingers intertwined.

It was a brazen act — two parents abducting their children from foster care in broad daylight — and it set off an interstate manhunt and a rash of media speculation on their whereabouts and on how they had succeeded at it. But to the Paynes, that week on the run with their children packed first into a car and then into a van was a respite of sorts — a time spent singing along to Michael Jackson hits, tossing a football around and being a family.

Mr. Payne, a construction worker, and his wife, 28, a beautician, were arrested on Sept. 26, seven days after they absconded with their children during a supervised visit at the Forestdale child agency in Forest Hills. The police found them on a roadside in Harrisburg, Pa., where they had just finished dinner in their van.

They were sent to New York to face eight counts each of kidnapping — one per child — among other charges. The kidnapping charges were eventually dismissed, and the Paynes pleaded guilty in late October to second-degree custodial interference, a misdemeanor for which they were each sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years’ probation. On the day before Thanksgiving, they were released.

Child welfare advocates deplored the couple’s rash move, concerned for the safety of the children. The children, seven boys and one girl, ages 11 months to 11 years, had been removed from the Paynes’ custody in March 2009 amid allegations of abuse.

The Paynes said the Administration for Children’s Services had unfairly taken custody of their children after one went to school with a bloodshot eye. It was a result, they said, of a squabble among the brothers.

Child welfare officials declined to discuss the specifics of the case, citing privacy rules. Still, they said, children are not typically removed from a home because of a single issue. Agency workers must assess the children’s welfare, and the decision to take custody must be approved in Family Court, the officials said.

The Paynes said that they were good parents and that they had religiously attended parenting and anger management classes prescribed by officials. They showed up at every child visit with platters of food, home-baked cakes and even a juicer, they said, and they were devastated to hear that several of their boys had been medicated for things like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They were terrified, they said, when two of their children complained of not being fed enough and showed up to visits with split lips and bruises. Agency officials said those claims were never reported.

The Paynes said they learned in mid-September that Children’s Services had set a goal of adoption for the children, and it was as if a switch had flipped.

Security at the Forestdale child agency, where the visits took place, was lax at times, the Paynes said. (The center is reviewing security issues in light of the abduction.) During their Sept. 19 visit, Ms. Payne said, she simply led the children to the car waiting out back, and told them to be quick. “In my head I was like, ‘Go, go, go, go,’ ” she said.

“It was like a relief; we just had no more pain,” her husband said. “Everything we came to New York with, we’re leaving with.”

Willfully oblivious to the manhunt, they listened to music — not news — on the radio and disassembled their cellphone. They headed toward South Carolina, where they had lived before moving to the Bronx in 2007 and where their family still had land. “Acres of land, produce growing out of the ground,” Mr. Payne said, a smile reaching each side of his lean face. “It was going to be that freedom to see our kids just running around — to be happy, to be safe — with their mother and father.”

His wife, whom he began dating after she wrote him a love letter when she was 16, continued his thought: “It would have been a dream come true, and for those seven days that’s what it was like,” she said. At one point, she recalled, her son Shalee, 6, awoke with a start. “He said: ‘I thought this was a dream. Thank you so much for taking us,’ ” his mother said. “I know that what I did was right because I heard it from my son.”

They got to South Carolina swiftly, stopping only to play catch and to eat at a Chinese restaurant in Virginia, but when a reporter called a relative a few days after they had arrived, they quickly left. They punched Harrisburg, where Mr. Payne had once found work, into their GPS unit and headed there. Though Nephra, the oldest son, had seen newspaper reports about the family, the parents somehow still believed they would not be caught, they said. They had even started planning to home-school their children.

They described the atmosphere in their van as “a party,” their last evening a bizarre public idyll in light of the nationwide police pursuit. The boys clambered onto a stage at a park in Harrisburg and showed off break-dancing moves; Ms. Payne and the baby admired a cheerleading performance. They ate a chicken dinner in the van, Nefertiti refusing to budge from her father’s chest.

Then, they said, around 10:30 p.m. came the sirens, the order to freeze, and the barrel of a gun pointing at Mr. Payne. Nefertiti howled. Mr. Payne collapsed and was hospitalized; he said he could barely move for several days.

“I just was empty, I just felt like I messed up, I felt like my world was over,” he said. “All I could hear was my baby screaming.”

Police reports of the Paynes’ capture described the children as disheveled, and there was speculation that they had slept in the cramped van. But the couple said the family stayed in motels, paying in cash. And they adamantly denied any abuse.

Jail was a shock for the couple. Mr. Payne said he remembered feeling he had done “something noble.”

Michael Fagan, the communications director for Children’s Services, said in a statement: “We are glad that the children are safe and back in New York City. After a thorough investigation and careful assessment of the children, they are in the care of foster families, as they were before they were abducted by their parents.”

Both parents are forbidden to see their children or to speak to them on the phone. On Dec. 15, they will return to Family Court to seek the right to see their children.

    Telling of Days on the Run After Abducting Children, NYT, 29.11.2011,






Baby Makes Four, and Complications


June 19, 2011
The New York Times


AT the apartment in Brooklyn where George Russell spends four nights each week, he checked the clock: 7:09 p.m. Wasn’t it 7:05 about 20 minutes ago?

Never had time moved so slowly. Was the clock even working?

They had tossed the ball around, chased each other, done the book about a bear. Now the dreaded bedtime video. Every night, Griffin, who was 18 months old, insisted on this DVD about race cars, space ships and motorcycles, narrated by a saccharine pair named Dave and Becky. Mr. Russell found them galling. Once, while watching, he said, it made him “feel a profound despair like when I read ‘The Bell Jar.’ ”

He slid in the disc. Soon, his thumb was punching fast-forward. “It’s so much better at double speed, isn’t it, Griffin?”

Darkness had dropped softly. Rain drummed on Plaza Street East.

Mr. Russell regarded Griffin and his curly blond hair. “He looks just like me when I was little,” he said. “I don’t feel paternal toward him. Yet it’s odd when I look at him and I see me.”

The setup is complicated. Griffin’s mother, Carol Einhorn, a fund-raiser for a nonprofit group, is 48 and single. She conceived through in vitro fertilization with sperm from Mr. Russell, 49, a chiropractor and close friend. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday nights, Mr. Russell stays in the spare room of Ms. Einhorn’s apartment. The other three days he lives on President Street with his domestic partner, David Nimmons, 54, an administrator at a nonprofit. Most Sundays, they all have dinner together.

“It’s not like Heather has two mommies,” Mr. Russell said. “It’s George has two families.”

Two addresses, three adults, a winsome toddler and a mixed-breed dog officially named Buck the Dog. None of this was the familial configuration any of them had imagined, but it was, for the moment, their family. It was something they had stumbled into, yet had a certain revisionist logic.

Such is the hiccupping fluidity of the family in the modern world. Six years running now, according to census data, more households consist of the unmarried than the married. More people seem to be deciding that the contours of the traditional nuclear family do not work for them, spawning a profusion of cobbled-together networks in need of nomenclature. Unrelated parents living together, sharing chores and child-rearing. Friends who occupy separate homes but rely on each other for holidays, health care proxies, financial support.

“Some of the strictures that were used to organize society don’t fit human change and growth,” said Ann Schranz, chairwoman of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, a 10-year-old organization. “What matters to us is the health of relationships, not the form of relationships.”

And so here on Plaza Street, four people are testing the fuzzy boundaries of an age-old institution, knowing there is no single answer to what defines family or what defines love.

Griffin, now almost 3, calls Mr. Russell “Uncle George” and Mr. Nimmons “Dave.” At some point, Ms. Einhorn intends to tell her son the truth. Mr. Russell worries about that moment. He never wanted to be a parent; he saw the sperm donation as a favor to a friend. He did not attend the birth or Griffin’s first birthday party. His four sisters were trying to figure out whether they were aunts.

Once a week, Ms. Einhorn went out, and Mr. Russell baby-sat. But only after Griffin was asleep — Uncle George was like the night watchman. Until March 2010, when Mr. Russell agreed to put Griffin to bed and see how it went.

There was a routine that had to be followed or it was tantrum world. A bath, dinner, a story, the hated video, then a circuit of the apartment to say good night to everything.

Mr. Russell loathes television, an aversion he connects to his father’s seeming to have kept it on permanently. “Carol can watch, like, 52 ‘Law & Order’s back to back to relax,” he said. “She likes shows like ‘Army Wives.’ I can’t even say the words ‘Army Wives’ without irony or cringing.” He snapped off the television and announced, “It’s time to take a walk.”

Barefoot, he hoisted Griffin into his arms and felt the pleasant response. They said good night to the kitchen.

Good night, dining room.

Good night, plant.

Good night, George’s room.

Good night, outside world.

Mr. Russell gave Griffin a bottle, and lowered him into his crib.

Not bad at all. “I certainly don’t want to be the child’s parent,” he said. Then: “What can I say, it’s lovely to hold a child in your arms.”


CAROL EINHORN once wrote a song called “Canyon.” It addressed the void left by her father, who died when she was 5, after pancreatic cancer came without proper notice.

She and an older brother grew up on the Upper East Side. Both parents worked in finance; both had been only children. Mom remarried, but they broke up. That angered Ms. Einhorn, the small family always shrinking. For herself, she wanted two or three children, an orbit of relatives.

Ms. Einhorn went to Wesleyan University and became a singer and songwriter, once singing backup for Roberta Flack. (Ms. Einhorn’s professional name is Caroline Horn.) She quit performing in 1998, eventually becoming editorial director of a publication for young people, Music Alive! She nearly married a medical student, but reached her 40s with no Mr. Perfect or even Mr. Near-Perfect. In 2004, she decided to have a baby anyway, and began researching sperm donors.

Mr. Russell had been a year ahead at Wesleyan. They bumped into each other after graduation and became great friends. She thinks of him as a brother, especially since her actual brother is a troubled recluse she has no contact with.

Mr. Russell grew up in Connecticut, where his sisters teasingly called him the Godlet because they felt he was favored as the only boy.

His father worked at the State Department of Environmental Protection and now lives with dementia in a center in Baltimore. His mother, who died in 1999, professed to want 10 children, but, awakened by Betty Friedan, had her tubes tied after 5. She returned to school and became a college professor. Mr. Russell grew to view children as obstacles to ambition.

He came out in college, and afterward was a modern dancer, with a side job as a legal secretary. At 34, he returned to school, and four years later became a chiropractor.

He sees utility in odd rituals. Sometimes he asks clients to scribble what bothers them on a piece of paper, fold and staple it. Then he writes “Gone” or “Goodbye” on the papers, and either burns them and tosses the ashes in the river or drops them in a mailbox, no doubt baffling letter carriers.

When Ms. Einhorn told him her baby plans, Mr. Russell was shocked, wondering “if she wanted to be crawling around on the floor at 45.” Later, listening to her concern about “an empty space where the father would be,” Mr. Russell said, well, he would be the donor.

Getting pregnant was wrenching — a miscarriage, autoimmune issues leading to a trip to Mexico for a treatment unapproved in this country. The fifth round of IVF was to be the last. Griffin was born on Oct. 21, 2008.

Then came postpartum depression. Griffin was colicky. One day, Ms. Einhorn wrote in her journal, “I love my baby, I hate my life.”

THE double households began because of economics.

The tattered economy rocked Mr. Russell’s business — without jobs, people let their musculoskeletal systems go — and his loans became a $250,000 whirlpool of debt. He eventually filed for personal bankruptcy.

He had met Mr. Nimmons in 2007 at a retreat in upstate New York. One of four children of a New York public-relations man turned California college administrator and a homemaker, Mr. Nimmons describes his family as being “as close to the perfect American family as you could get.” He worked as a freelance writer, an editor at Playboy and a speechwriter for Geraldine Ferraro, and he wrote a book on gay life before becoming special projects director at the Family Center, a private agency helping families in crisis.

Mr. Nimmons lived on the bottom two floors of a brownstone he owned in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He and Mr. Russell each had recently ended a long relationship when they fell in love; they were not ready to cohabitate again full time. Ms. Einhorn said Mr. Russell could stay at her place part time. For Griffin, that would mean a visible male presence, the thing missing from her youth.

So in July 2009, the four of them embarked on a provisional commingling until whatever came next.

On President Street, the men split the grocery and cable bills. Mr. Russell covers the housekeeper ($70), since he’s fussier about unkemptness. Same with the electric bill, because he always leaves lights on. Mr. Nimmons handles the mortgage; Mr. Russell pays him some rent.

On Plaza Street, Mr. Russell gives Ms. Einhorn $100 a week for food and $60 of the $100 for her biweekly housekeeper. He bought an air-conditioner for his room; she paid for the installation. Keeping the refrigerator in balance with Mr. Russell there part time, Ms. Einhorn finds, “is like working an algebraic equation.”


MR. RUSSELL fixed the food: flounder and pizza. Ms. Einhorn wondered who was the edgiest person he could imagine as a Chia Pet. Mr. Russell offered, “Mother Teresa?”

It was family dinner night. Simon and Garfunkel oozed from the stereo. Mr. Nimmons was on his way; Mr. Russell mentioned something about trying not to shut him out of the conversation.

Griffin watched a Thomas the Tank Engine video. Checking it out with half an eye, Mr. Russell said, “I’m thinking of doing a doctoral dissertation on this.” He asked Ms. Einhorn, whose Music Alive! job had recently been eliminated, if she had considered working on the railroad.

They had so much fun together. They called each other Sweetie Cat and did cat riffs; when she learned she was pregnant, Ms. Einhorn texted: “I am with kitten.”

The Plaza Street apartment is elegant, a baby grand piano ruling the living room. Two bedrooms plus the pint-size office where Mr. Russell unfurled a bed on the floor, what he called his “camping existence,” until last April, when Ms. Einhorn bought him a trundle bed.

When Mr. Nimmons and Mr. Russell met, Project Griffin was already under way, which Mr. Nimmons said he saw as “another data point, and not a big one.” He and Ms. Einhorn like each other, but are not close. As for Griffin, Mr. Nimmons said, “I have a certain distant avuncular feeling.”

At dinner that Sunday, Ms. Einhorn veered into a story. Many years ago, her mother was giving a party and a soufflé didn’t rise because of the weather; she called Craig Claiborne, who actually answered, and told her to use cream of tartar.

“She was a pistol,” Ms. Einhorn said. “She sent a telegram to the White House when Ford pardoned Nixon.”

Ms. Einhorn asked Mr. Nimmons what was going on, and he said, “Oh, I’m working like a fiend.”

She told Mr. Russell she had gotten a light for him as well as the bed. “Not only did I make your bed with sheets and lay down the rug,” she added, “but I scrubbed the shower mat.”

He said, “You’re a good person.”

The night faded and Mr. Nimmons left. Ms. Einhorn and Mr. Russell liked to end evenings with a ritual. For a while, they recited “intentions,” lists of aspirations. Then they switched to “gratitudes.”

Ms. Einhorn started: “I had a really nice Saturday. I’m really grateful for both play dates. And I’m grateful that this was my last week of work at a place where I was underappreciated and underutilized. I’m grateful that I have a financial cushion. I’m grateful that Griffin has grown just as he should and is saying other words. ... I’m grateful that despite all the wacko middle-of-the night wake-ups, I haven’t gotten sick.”

Mr. Russell: “I’m grateful for the yummy dinner. I’m grateful that Dave is starting to understand my experiences and validate them rather than just listening and putting a checkmark. I’m grateful that business has gotten better. ... I’m grateful for my new bed and my light. I’m grateful that I don’t have to sit here with allergies.”

IT should be noted that Ms. Einhorn’s mother, Madeline Glick, who is 80 and lives on the Upper East Side, adores her grandson and visits frequently. Ms. Glick and her second husband don’t speak; Ms. Einhorn, though, regularly takes Griffin to visit him.

Though Ms. Glick finds Mr. Russell delightful, she views the whole arrangement as peculiar. “Though I recognize that male companionship is important to Carol, I think he’s a little bit taking advantage of it,” she said. “I think his coming and going at will is sponging off her. If he’s trying to figure out his relationship with Dave, he shouldn’t be using her place to figure it out.”

As for Griffin, Ms. Glick thinks Mr. Russell’s relationship to him should be as a trusted family friend, not as a father. “Maybe it’s narrow of me,” she said. “George is pursuing a gay lifestyle and all, and I kind of want Griffin to have a view of male masculinity greater than George.”

Thanksgiving got messy. Ms. Einhorn planned on dinner with her mother and Griffin; Mr. Nimmons and Mr. Russell had invited friends to President Street. Mr. Nimmons told Ms. Einhorn to drop over with Griffin, but not her mother. Ms. Einhorn was offended but said only that they would pass.

Then, a few days before the holiday, Mr. Nimmons asked Mr. Russell to see if Ms. Einhorn had a roasting pan he could borrow. She was furious — disrespecting her mother, then wanting a pan!

Mr. Nimmons wrote her an e-mail saying he didn’t remember saying he didn’t want her mother to come, and if he had, he hadn’t meant it. Ms. Einhorn did not think that was enough.

They had their separate Thanksgivings, and Mr. Nimmons skipped the next Sunday meal. He had lunch with Ms. Einhorn to smooth things over; she put it behind her, but was still uncomfortable that he had forgotten an important conversation.

Sunday dinners resumed.


YEARS ago, over the Internet, Mr. Russell became a minister of the Universal Life Church: a dozen couples owe married life to him. He adapts weddings to their wishes. Once he was told not to mention “lifetime commitment.” In another, one compulsory vow was never to watch a movie starring Helen Hunt. Last summer, on a lake in the Poconos, the groom came by rowboat, the bride by canoe.

On the way to the Poconos, Mr. Russell was moody and quiet, making Mr. Nimmons feel abandoned.

Mr. Russell has a deep playlist of anxieties. He is uneasy in public places (“I have a nervous system like an air-traffic controller”); begins days feeling dread (“I used to say I crawled up to self-esteem”); and feels the need to audibly criticize movies while in theaters. He is disorganized: he did not use a wallet until he was 45, because he found it hard to arrange.

He loses keys, phones, everything. He’ll neglect to insert coffee in the coffee maker and brew hot water. He left the stove on; forgot to baby-sit for Griffin. He is not shy about seeking help: “I’ve been going to therapy since God was a child. I think I actually counseled Freud.”

Mr. Russell finds Mr. Nimmons too upbeat about everything. Mr. Nimmons finds Mr. Russell too downbeat.

“George is vexed by things I don’t understand,” Mr. Nimmons said. “There was a time last year when I asked him how he was and he said, ‘I’m bleak, I’m despairing.’ I said, ‘Oh, my God, those are heavy words.’ ”

And: “There will be times I’ll say I notice we just spent 20 minutes talking about what happened to you today. I haven’t had a question yet. I had a day, too.”

Mr. Russell on Mr. Nimmons: “He wants to hear about the most interesting thing with me, and I want to vent.”

And: “I greatly admire and deeply love Dave. One of his deficits is his denial.”

IN the kitchen, at 6:30 a.m., Ms. Einhorn told Mr. Russell about her dream: “I was swimming in a pool and I looked up and saw a plane and I said, ‘What is that?’ and the woman said, ‘That’s the fighter jet.’ Not a fighter jet, the fighter jet. And then the fighter jet did a water landing.”

“Hmm,” Mr. Russell said.

“And I didn’t even watch ‘Army Wives.’ ”

Griffin smacked a plant standing on the countertop, and Ms. Einhorn told him not to assault plants.

She was a few weeks into a new job at Midori and Friends, a nonprofit agency that puts music programs in New York schools. She was eager to succeed.

Mr. Russell said, “One thing I’ve observed is that if every time you turn water into wine, it doesn’t go well. They don’t write a book about you or anything. They just keep on drinking.”

He tousled Griffin’s hair and said, “The question is, will the saintly little messiah eat fruit salad?”

“I doubt it,” Ms. Einhorn said.

Uncle George was drawing closer to Griffin. He had taken him to the botanic garden. Put his picture on Facebook, though the caption was cryptic: “He’s my nephew. But biologically he’s my son.”

It bothered Mr. Russell if Griffin was peremptory. He also did not appreciate the “chopped liver effect.” The other evening, he was reading a story when Griffin said, “I want Mommy.” Mr. Russell said, “Oh yeah, chopped liver moment.”

They will not be celebrating Father’s Day. For one thing, Mr. Russell does not think of himself as a father; what’s more, he views all holidays as “premeditated disappointments.” Years ago, he invented the Russell Alternative Holiday, observed on a floating date. He and Mr. Nimmons and some of his sisters marked the most recent R.A.H. by going to see a Revolutionary War re-enactment and parade. Actually, they were late, so they missed the re-enactment.

Ms. Einhorn and Mr. Russell joked about how they couldn’t believe they had not gotten sick of each other by now. Yes, sometimes he found her bossy and caustic. Sure, it annoyed her when he got didactic and made her feel talked down to. Yet they rarely argued.

The nanny arrived, and it was time to go to work. “We have had 1 hour and 20 minutes of playtime, and it’s not enough,” Mr. Russell said. “It’s a little like ‘Letterman’ when you have insomnia.”


“I FEEL I’m more involved with your friends than you are with my friends,” Mr. Nimmons said to Mr. Russell.

They were at the apartment on President Street. They made a point of having unexpurgated discussions about festering issues. Buck the Dog was stamping around.

Mr. Russell: “I never bring up your friends as your friends, but you always bring up my friends as my friends. It’s as if there was this big blackboard, this tit for tat, and it’s way loaded on my side. There’s this weird rhetoric where I feel I owe you something.”

Mr. Nimmons: “No, I just don’t get that much out of them. And they’re not all people I would spend that much time with.”

Mr. Russell: “I think you’re pretty good about refusing time with my friends you don’t like.”

Mr. Nimmons: “Well, this is not an attack.”

Mr. Russell: “It feels like it.”

Mr. Russell mentioned how unsettled he felt: “All my knickknacks and things are in the basement in boxes. I don’t see how there will ever be any place for them. But maybe I’ll never live here full time.”

Mr. Nimmons: “That’s funny, because as I look around I see a lot of things that aren’t mine.”

Mr. Russell: “Like what?”

Mr. Nimmons: “That couch.”

Mr. Russell: “But we never use it.”

Mr. Nimmons: “I look at this bookshelf and I’m not sure where my books are. The TV came with you. The cat lamp came with you. The box that it sits on came with you.”

Then Mr. Nimmons added: “I had two rules of relationships that we violated. One: It’s never a good idea to meld things into someone’s space. Two: You shouldn’t move in together until you’re absolutely sure you can’t not.”

So they talked about the future.

Mr. Russell: “I don’t really know what I want to happen. I’m grateful to spend time here with you, but this house doesn’t really pull me. There’s no space in this house that feels like my space.”

Mr. Nimmons: “To me, it’s less about the space than about how we’re developing as a couple.”

Mr. Russell: “To not even have a space is yucky. I don’t have a place at Carol’s that’s mine except a bed and a plastic box with my clothes in it.”

Then he said: “I like living partly with you and partly with Carol. I liked living by myself. But I actually think it’s healthier living around people. I didn’t expect that.”

Then Mr. Russell said he had to go to Plaza Street, his musical-house existence. He had laundry to fold.

MS. EINHORN unpacked the takeout Thai; she hadn’t the energy to cook. Mr. Russell and Mr. Nimmons were in Italy. Ms. Einhorn, who had not dated since getting pregnant, was missing her roommate.

Something was going on with her and this improvised family. She remembered the hollow feeling when Griffin’s birth certificate came with a blank space for father. She felt better when she included Mr. Russell on her census form.

They were soul mates, that was for sure. She remembered that first time she visited her father’s grave, in the icy rain, and he came along. The name on the tombstone was obscured by an overgrown bush. Mr. Russell knelt down and pruned it, making it right.

“I’ve ended up in an unconventional setup, and it’s a setup that agrees with me,” she said. “Sure I want love, I want intimacy, I want romance, but is this desire to get married a beautiful dress that just doesn’t fit? I look at my married friends and there aren’t many I’m jealous of. Some of them say they’re jealous of me.”

She added: “You know, I got this rustic cabinet for $10 and stored it in the office. When George came here one night, he said, ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I love that cabinet.’ He said, ‘Never leave me.’ ”

Suddenly, one night, they were talking about it.

Ms. Einhorn: “So this was supposed to have been this little stopgap maneuver and now it’s, what, almost two years?”

Mr. Russell: “Yes. It’s really fun living over here.”

Her: “It’s fun having you. I don’t know if either of us has any urgency to change this arrangement.”

Him: “No. It’s outrageous — who would choose this, living in two people’s houses? But it’s only gotten better over time.”

Yes, but.

“You empty the dishwasher, you cook, but I wonder if you should do more things,” Ms. Einhorn said. “Like if a light went out, I don’t know if it would occur to you to change that light. Because you wouldn’t know where the light bulbs are. And that seems unusual.”

Him: “Well, if a light bulb went out, I would replace it. And I do know where the light bulbs are. But your point is well taken.”

Her: “How does what I say feel on your end?”

Him: “I don’t actually know.”

Her: “Do you feel like the helpful guest?”

Him: “Sort of.”

“I don’t have any time,” he added. “So the thought of doing more is very threatening.”

“It’s just conceptual,” she said.


ANOTHER evening slipped into dark on Plaza Street. Refreshed by seltzer, the cohabitants kept alive a conversation about the weirdness of a new opera centered on Anna Nicole Smith, and how there was once a musical about Hiroshima, and how good the movie about Joan Rivers was, and how Ms. Einhorn had never had escargots. Etc.

Mr. Russell had a headache and rattled out a couple of ibuprofen. He told Ms. Einhorn how smart it was that they had bought the big bottle.

Curled up in a crib in the other room was a small child who one day will find out that Uncle George is not exactly his uncle. “I’m fearful that he will be angry or demanding, either one of which would be hard for me,” Mr. Russell had said. “I’m worried he might say, ‘Well, why didn’t you decide to be my father, being that I don’t have a father?’ ”

They plopped down in the living room and played a poetry game. Each wrote a line and the other had to invent the next one, rhyming off the last word. They sniggered at the results, the nonsense of it all.

Then they prayed that Griffin would not awaken at the zombie hour of 4:45 as he had been. Mr. Russell hoped for 7:10. Ms. Einhorn, 7:12.

That bit of futility dispensed with, they turned to their bedtime ritual. Not the gratitude list. This time, they would sing. They chose “Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya,” a Tibetan chant.

“Om namo,” they began. Their voices intersected and became one. Outside came the sough of wind. They kept going. They sang. Yes, they sang.

    Baby Makes Four, and Complications, NYT, 19.6.2011,






The Parent Trapped


February 11, 2011
The New York Times

San Anselmo, Calif.


I WANT to believe I have little in common with Julie Schenecker, who the police say confessed to killing her two “mouthy” teenagers.

Ms. Schenecker, who was indicted on charges of first-degree murder on Thursday, lives in Tampa, and is married to an Army colonel. I live near San Francisco, and am married to a newspaper editor.

She, blond and tanned, drove her children, Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13, to soccer and track meets. I’m brunette and sun-deprived, and drag two sons to violin lessons and Hebrew school.

We most likely never would have been pals, even on Facebook, where, poignantly, Ms. Schenecker has 394 “friends.” And yet what haunts me even more than the terrible photos of her being led off by the police, her eyes rolled back like those of a spooked horse, is what we’ve shared: a frightening record of anger toward our children.

What strange evolutionary quirk makes adolescents evoke such powerful rage in their mothers? Alone, like Ms. Schenecker, night after night with my argumentative sons while my husband was working away from home, I’ve felt that fury rising from the soles of my feet, at the sight of a carefully made meal thoughtlessly dumped in the sink or, worse, a little brother scratched and bruised.

While my older son, who has both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, is something more than the usual adolescent provocateur, let me be clear that not even in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined shooting him. Still, pushed to my limits, I’ve done things that I know full well have been dangerous and harmful — mostly yelling, but also, during a few explosive fights, pushing and slapping. And abundant research on family violence shows that I’m far from alone.

Uniquely awful as the killings of the Schenecker children were, the all too familiar themes in this story make it urgent that the hectic debate about their mother moves off the pages of social network sites and into our places of worship, doctors’ offices and city halls.

It chilled me to read that the police questioned Ms. Schenecker for slapping her daughter three months before the killings — behavior that I’ve unfortunately shared with millions of other American parents. In a 2007 study of 141 adolescents, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, 85 percent reported that they’d been slapped or spanked. Moreover, the latest government records show that more than 121,000 cases of physical abuse against minors were reported in 2008.

Even as corporal punishment is declining in social acceptability, about 7 in 10 Americans agreed, in a 2004 survey, that children sometimes need “a good, hard spanking.” This came despite mountains of studies establishing that such tactics do children much more harm than good, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression and addiction. Moreover, it’s easy for spanking, slapping and swatting to escalate — sometimes even to the point of deadly violence.

My husband and I passionately oppose corporal punishment, which helps explain why my blunders alerted me that I needed help. I ended up devoting a year and thousands of dollars to getting such help, from therapists and honest friends.

I spent much of the year learning about A.D.H.D., a condition I soon realized that I shared with my then 12-year-old son. Among its classic symptoms are conflict-seeking and hot-headedness. Humbling as it was, I ultimately heeded friends and professionals who encouraged me to shed my fantasy of being the victim of a raging, impossible child, and own up to the ways I was contributing to our fights.

There were other therapies as well, including neurofeedback and medication for me and my son, financed in part by an ever-expanding equity loan. Today, while we still argue, we’re out of the danger zone, though I can’t stop worrying about how many other parents lack the rare advantages I’ve had to get us there.

The mad housewife is a reliable comic icon, her trials trivialized as boredom and cabin fever. It’s hard for most people to accept that mothers — even maybe their own mothers! — can be unloving, and sometimes unsafe. Which helps explain why killings like those ascribed to Ms. Schenecker, among some 200 American mothers who kill their children every year, always seem so surprising.

It’s easy to write these cases off as freak results of severe mental illness. But most of these women’s stories also include a lot of ordinary stress and social isolation, the fallout from divorce and the dispersal of extended families. Increasingly cut off from real-time conversations, mad housewives find solace in e-communities, where “life” is so much more soothing and predictable than dealing with teenagers. While news reports say Ms. Schenecker was seeking help from real-life counselors in the weeks before the killings, her Facebook page, with its pretty family photographs and homilies, is a portrait of polished denial.

Amid the debate about whether social networks are depriving us of healthier, non-virtual encounters, a University of Texas study last fall claimed that Facebook was not supplanting such interactions. Perhaps that’s true, but one thing I’m sure of, from my own lucky odyssey, is that all the poking and tagging in the world can’t compete with a pair of real-time eyes when it comes to noticing that someone needs more help than she’s getting.


Katherine Ellison is the author

of “Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention.”

    The Parent Trapped, NYT, 11.2.2011,






Red Family, Blue Family


May 9, 2010
The New York Times


Fifty years ago, American family structures were remarkably uniform. The rich married at roughly the same rate as the poor and middle class. Divorce rates were low for the college educated and high school graduates alike. Out-of-wedlock births, while more common among African-Americans, were rare in almost every region and community.

That was a long time ago. The intact two-parent family has been in eclipse for decades now: last week, the Pew Research Center reported that in 2008, 41 percent of American births occurred outside of marriage, the highest figure yet recorded. And from divorce rates to teen births, nearly every indicator of family life now varies dramatically by education, race, geography and income.

In a rare convergence, conservatives and liberals basically agree on how this happened. First, the sexual revolution overturned the old order of single-earner households, early marriages, and strong stigmas against divorce and unwed motherhood. In its aftermath, the professional classes found a new equilibrium. Today, couples with college and (especially) graduate degrees tend to cohabit early and marry late, delaying childbirth and raising smaller families than their parents, while enjoying low divorce rates and bearing relatively few children out of wedlock.

For the rest of the country, this comfortable equilibrium remains out of reach. In the underclass (black, white and Hispanic alike), intact families are now an endangered species. For middle America, the ideal of the two-parent family endures, but the reality is much more chaotic: early marriages coexist with frequent divorces, and the out-of-wedlock birth rate keeps inching upward.

When it comes to drawing lessons from this story, though, the agreement between liberals and conservatives ends. The right tends to emphasize what’s been lost, arguing that most Americans — especially the poor and working-class — would benefit from a stronger link between sex, marriage and procreation. The left argues that the revolution just hasn’t been completed yet: it’s the right-wing backlash against abortion, contraception and sex education that’s preventing downscale Americans from attaining the new upper-middle-class stability, and reaping its social and economic benefits.

This is one of the themes of “Red Families v. Blue Families,” a provocative new book by two law professors, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone. The authors depict a culturally conservative “red America” that’s stuck trying to sustain an outdated social model. By insisting (unrealistically) on chastity before marriage, Cahn and Carbone argue, social conservatives guarantee that their children will get pregnant early and often (see Palin, Bristol), leading to teen childbirth, shotgun marriages and high divorce rates.

This self-defeating cycle could explain why socially conservative states have more family instability than, say, the culturally liberal Northeast. If you’re looking for solid marriages, head to Massachusetts, not Alabama.

To Cahn and Carbone’s credit, their book is nuanced enough to complicate this liberal-friendly thesis. They acknowledge, for instance, that there are actually multiple “red family” models, from the Mormon West to the Sunbelt suburbs to the rural South.

More important, Cahn and Carbone also acknowledge one of the more polarizing aspects of the “blue family” model. Conservative states may have more teen births and more divorces, but liberal states have many more abortions.

Liberals sometimes argue that their preferred approach to family life reduces the need for abortion. In reality, it may depend on abortion to succeed. The teen pregnancy rate in blue Connecticut, for instance, is roughly identical to the teen pregnancy rate in red Montana. But in Connecticut, those pregnancies are half as likely to be carried to term. Over all, the abortion rate is twice as high in New York as in Texas and three times as high in Massachusetts as in Utah.

So it isn’t just contraception that delays childbearing in liberal states, and it isn’t just a foolish devotion to abstinence education that leads to teen births and hasty marriages in conservative America. It’s also a matter of how plausible an option abortion seems, both morally and practically, depending on who and where you are.

Whether it’s attainable for most Americans or not, the “blue family” model clearly works: it leads to marital success and material prosperity, and it’s well suited to our mobile, globalized society.

By comparison, the “red family” model can look dysfunctional — an uneasy mix of rigor and permissiveness, whose ideals don’t always match up with the facts of contemporary life.

But it reflects something else as well: an attempt, however compromised, to navigate post-sexual revolution America without relying on abortion.

    Red Family, Blue Family, NYT, 9.5.2010,






Op-Ed Contributor

No Fault of Their Own


February 18, 2010
The New York Times


Los Angeles

AS we have just passed the 40th anniversary of that much vilified institution, the no-fault divorce, it is an appropriate moment to re-evaluate how divorce affects families, and particularly children. The California law took effect on Jan. 1, 1970, and was followed by a wave of marital separations that continues to this day — and also a wave of rhetoric condemning divorce for harming children and undermining the fabric of society.

As divorce is clearly here to stay, it may be more productive to instead ask how the process of dissolving a marriage might be changed to avoid, as much as possible, damaging children.

This challenge is not as great as widespread preconceptions would suggest. Studies conducted in the past 20 years have shown that on all meaningful measures of success — social, economic, intellectual and psychological — most adult children from divorced families are no worse off than their peers whose parents remained married.

Researchers have found two explanations for this. Children who have to cope with their parents’ separation and post-divorce lives often grow resilient, self-reliant, adaptable and independent. And children benefit from escaping the high-conflict environment of a rocky marriage. After their parents’ separation, as conflicts fade, children recover.

Sustained family conflict can cause children to experience the kinds of problems that are usually attributed to divorce: low self-esteem, depression, high anxiety, difficulty forming relationships, delinquency and withdrawal from the world.

Given that reducing family conflict is good for children, the best way to protect them during divorce would be to minimize the acrimony of the proceedings. No-fault divorce, now practiced in every state except New York, has been one step toward this goal. But issues relating to children in divorce cases are still very often decided by long, heated contests between the parents. Custody disagreements are settled by a judge’s determination of what is in “the best interests of the child.” In practical terms, this means that both parents do their utmost to demonstrate that they are the better parent — and that the other one is worse, unfit or even abusive.

At stake are not only the participants’ self-esteem and their relationships with their children but also their financial security. As child support is often linked to the proportion of time the children spend with each parent, the days and hours of their future lives become tools for one parent to extract payment from the other. This is a recipe for warfare, with the children’s well-being both the disputed turf and the likely casualty.

What children need instead are no-fault custody proceedings — which could be accomplished with two changes to state family law. First, take the money out of the picture by establishing fixed formulas for child support that ensure the children are well taken care of in both homes, regardless of the number of days they spend in each. Second, defuse tension by requiring parents to enter mediation to find a custody solution that best meets the needs of all concerned.

Agreements reached through mediation would need to be binding (subject to the approval of a judge), so that they could not be discarded or contested later if new disagreements were to arise. Although some parents might worry that this would diminish their opportunities for recourse, mediation would actually give them greater control over the outcome than a judge’s unilateral verdict does.

In an adversarial custody battle, no one wins, but children are the biggest losers of all. Intelligent legislation could promote the one thing that children of divorce need most: peace between their parents.


Ruth Bettelheim is a marriage and family therapist.

    No Fault of Their Own, NYT, 18.2.2010,






Economic Scene

Financial Careers

Come at a Cost to Families


May 27, 2009
The New York Times


The big influx of highly educated workers into finance in the last two decades has been the subject of some national hand-wringing lately. President Obama, college presidents and economists have all worried aloud that Wall Street has hoarded human resources that might otherwise have gone to science, education, medicine or other fields.

Now, new research is suggesting that the shift also brought another cost — a cost that fell mainly on the people, especially women, who took jobs in finance. Among elite white-collar fields, finance appears to be uniquely difficult for anyone trying to combine work and family.

Finance, on this score, is worse than law and worse than academia. It is far worse than medicine, which emerges from the research as the highly paid profession with the most flexibility. Near finance at the bottom of the list is consulting, another field that became more popular in the last two decades.

The research, by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, answers a question that college students, for all their careful career planning, rarely consider: which jobs offer the best chance at balancing work and family life? A decade or two after college, however, that question often comes to dominate conversations among friends and between spouses.

On almost every aspect of work-life balance, finance and consulting look pretty bad. People who take time off in those fields suffer large penalties, both in terms of money and career opportunities, once they return to full-time work. And part-time jobs are hard to come by, which often forces people to make a choice between working a 70-hour week and leaving a job entirely.

One set of statistics neatly summarizes the findings. After surveying Harvard College alumni 15 years after graduation, Ms. Goldin and Mr. Katz estimated the average financial penalty for someone who had taken a year and a half off and then returned to work. In medicine, that person earned 16 percent less than a similar doctor who had not taken time off. Among people with no graduate degree, the gap was 25 percent. For both lawyers and Ph.D.’s, it was about 29 percent.

For M.B.A.’s, a group dominated by finance workers and consultants, it was 41 percent. Given how much money many make, they can probably do just fine even after such a pay cut. Yet the size of it suggests that time off puts them on a completely different career track.

“The good news is that there are at least some professions where women have been able to carve out a set of policies that are compatible with family life,” Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia professor who studies families, told me. “The challenge for the next generation — and it isn’t just about women — is to extend this to other occupations.”

Ms. Goldin and Mr. Katz, who are two of the country’s leading labor economists and have published the crux of these findings in the American Economic Review, studied Harvard graduates from the last 40 years. That allowed them to compare a fairly similar group of students over a long period, but had the disadvantage of creating a decidedly atypical survey group.

So the two economists compared their results to two other surveys — the National Survey of College Graduates, run by the National Science Foundation, and a study of University of Chicago business school graduates — and found broadly consistent patterns.

According to the most recent National Survey, for instance, 21 percent of doctors in their late 30s and early 40s work less than 35 hours a week. The share was roughly 14 percent for M.B.A. graduates, as it was for lawyers and people with Ph.D.’s.

The idea that medicine offers more choices than other elite professions may come as a surprise, given that medical training requires notoriously long hours of study. But once doctors reach their 30s, many of them seem to be rewarded with a wider set of options than their counterparts in other fields.

When I heard about the new findings, I immediately thought of two friends of mine, a pediatrician and ophthalmologist married to each other and living in Colorado. Their years of training were typically grueling. While they were in medical school and residency in Northern California in the 1990s, they were surrounded by people at dot-coms who were working shorter hours and making vastly more money.

But today, they have the best work-life balance of any parents I know. She works two and a half days a week and is on call eight weekends a year. He arrives at his office early every morning and takes short lunches so that he can work four days a week. He is also on call 10 weeks a year. They have jobs they love, and they spend a lot of time with each other and their children.

As Al Franken, the comedian turned politician, has observed, “Kids don’t want quality time. They want quantity time — big, stinking, lazy, nonproductive quantity time.” And research on emotional and intellectual development suggests that kids are right to want what they do.

Obviously, certain medical specialties still don’t allow for much flexibility. But a significant number do. (The same seems to be true of public policy and a few other fields; among people with a master’s degree in something other than business, the average pay penalty for taking time off was 13 percent, slightly below what it was for doctors.)

A telling example of a flexible field, Ms. Goldin points out, is obstetrics. It seems to be the archetypal field that must operate on someone’s else clock — a baby’s. Yet as the ranks of female obstetricians have grown, they have figured out how to change that.

Group practices are now the norm, and the doctors take turns being on call. A family’s primary obstetrician isn’t guaranteed to be the one who delivers the baby. In many practices, every doctor will see a woman at least once during her pregnancy, so she knows everyone who may deliver her baby.

Wall Street, consulting firms and law firms have resisted this group approach to work. The partners claim the work is too complicated to be handed from one employee to another. In some cases, that’s no doubt true. Often, though, I bet it isn’t. “Why are women’s bodies less complicated than someone’s account?” Ms. Goldin wryly asks.

The general resistance to group work — and to flexibility — instead seems to stem from old habits, much as obstetricians once would have scoffed at the notion of a group practice. The downsides of allowing people to share work would probably be outweighed by the benefits of being able to hire talented people who want satisfying careers and aren’t willing to work 70-hour weeks.

For now, that group remains largely female. But there is some reason to hope that fathers will be increasingly drawn to such jobs as well. Over the last four decades, according to the economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, men have increased the average amount of time they spend taking care of children. (Harvard men, however, have not, the Goldin-Katz data show.)

The question of how to balance work and family is almost inevitably a thorny one. Easy answers, free of compromise and sacrifice, are rare, especially for people who don’t earn nearly as much money as doctors.

But if you’re a teenager or college student trying to decide what to do with your life, you at least may want to start thinking about the question. I promise: Most of you will spend a lot of time thinking about it later.

    Financial Careers Come at a Cost to Families, NYT, 27.5.2009,






Drab Setting, but Joyous Work:

Making 2 Into 1


October 5, 2008
The New York Times


Rummaging back through the thousands of weddings he has performed at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau, Walter Curtis can find a wealth of vivid memories: The bride who showed up in a princess costume one Halloween. The 126 couples who came before him over the course of a single Valentine’s Day. The former Balkans freedom fighter who, when instructed to kiss the bride, turned and planted a smooch on Mr. Curtis’s cheek.

He has a harder time finding anything colorful to say about the setting: a warren of offices on the second floor of the Municipal Building, its hallways lined with cracked tile floors, fading yellow walls and dim fluorescent lighting, where city employees like him have been giving true love a brief, secular send-off since 1916.

“I love my job,” said Mr. Curtis, who is in charge of the marriage records room, as he rested his large frame on a creaky chair in the bureau’s conference room. “But I don’t think I’ll miss anything about this place.”

Later this fall, the bureau will move to new quarters — a grand hall lined in marble and lighted by chandeliers — in a city office building just a short walk to the north.

The relocation will mean more than just swapping one space for another, or reconfiguring furniture into new surroundings. What will happen, in fact, is the death of the marriage bureau as Manhattan has known it for generations: a storied but shabby place, long on protocol but short on charm and comfort.

The move, an idea that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has nursed for almost as long as he has been in office, was inspired in part by concerns about dignity. The bureau’s appearance has not changed much over its 92 years, and despite periodic renovations, Room 257 — which houses the wedding chapel — looks as bureaucratically stiff as all the other Municipal Building offices. The chapel itself has no adornment except a pulpit used by the handful of officiants who perform the ceremonies.

The other reason for the switch is purely strategic. City officials see in the revamped marriage bureau an opportunity to market the city as a wedding destination, offering it as a more tasteful alternative to Las Vegas, where a bride can be led down the aisle by an Elvis impersonator or married in a drive-through chapel.

There will be none of that in New York. What there will be are doors coated in bronze, heating-unit covers fashioned by a Brooklyn artisan to match the building’s Art Deco style, and ornate columns throughout the 5,000-square-foot space, which once housed the State Department of Motor Vehicles, at the corner of Centre and Worth Streets.

For the first time, the city will offer conveniences like a dressing room where brides can touch up their makeup, and perhaps a shop where they can buy bouquets. And couples will not have to endure the metal detectors or X-ray machines that greet visitors to the Municipal Building.

“The people who want to get a city wedding in the greatest city in the world deserve a better experience,” said George Fertitta, the chief executive of NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing and tourism organization.

But fancier quarters will probably lead to higher prices. A ceremony now costs $25, and though the first deputy city clerk, Michael McSweeney, said it was unlikely the fee would go up by the time the new bureau opens, he did not rule out an increase soon after that.

Jamie Drake, the interior designer who redecorated Gracie Mansion and Mayor Bloomberg’s private home on the Upper East Side, is in charge of the project, which will cost an estimated $13 million.

There are things, however, that no renovation can change, like the frantic pace of the “I do’s” emanating from the chapel, or the fleeting alliances forged in the waiting room when a couple recruits a witness from among the strangers gathered to attend other weddings.

On Sept. 25, a Thursday, Nicholas Weiss and Donna Spivey, who live in Harlem, found a volunteer: a taciturn man wearing a Muslim prayer cap.

Mr. Weiss and Ms. Spivey, who are both 35, were the last of 51 couples to get married that day, a number slightly below the daily average of 58 weddings performed at the bureau over the past eight years. The ceremonies ran from 48 seconds to two and a half minutes, and each couple seemed to have a different reason for being there.

“Technically, we’re already married — we got married in Costa Rica on April 6,” Mr. Weiss, a derivative-sales trader, said with a grin.

“But it was so complicated to register our marriage in New York that we figured we’d come here and do it again,” added Ms. Spivey, who works in marketing at Citigroup.

For Sophia Atkinson, 35, a police officer in England, and Derek Sives, 39, an engineer in Scotland, it was a question of convenience. They had met three weeks earlier at a bar near Mr. Sives’s home in Aberdeen, but found the marriage requirements in the United Kingdom so stringent that it made more sense to marry in New York.

“We were going to go to Vegas,” Ms. Atkinson said, “but we couldn’t get a flight.”

Some couples chose a municipal wedding because it was cheap, or quick, or because they needed to make their unions official for health insurance or immigration purposes. Some did the ceremony, then left for a big party. And for some, the city wedding was the entire celebration.

It is a long, if not always hallowed, tradition. As far back as 1895, aldermen performed weddings free in the basement of City Hall. Some took place in the kitchen, which was so dark and unkempt that some couples refused to be married there. After complaints that aldermen were charging fees and pocketing the money, the State Legislature in 1916 established a marriage bureau under the control of the city clerk, whose office was in the newly built Municipal Building.

There are marriage bureaus in each of the five boroughs, but the one in Manhattan is by far the busiest and best known, drawing a cast of brides and grooms that is as diverse as the city itself — people like Maura Romero, 31, and Antonio Cortéz, 42, office cleaners from Mexico who live in Brooklyn; Sanatou Diarra, 43, and Moussa Bagayoko, 50, longtime friends from Mali who live in East Harlem; and Elena Pak, 28, a bartender from Uzbekistan, and Rinat Khasanov, 31, a graduate student from Russia, who live in Queens.

On Sept. 25, they all filled out forms and placed their names on a list before heading to the waiting room, where five rows of aluminum chairs face the chapel doors — a process that Mr. McSweeney, the deputy city clerk, described as “egalitarian.” No appointments are made; the weddings are first come first served, and waits can be long. (There are no plans to change the policy in the new location, but city officials hope to make the waits more comfortable.)

The rules are bent occasionally to accommodate celebrities like Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, who were wed there in 1964, or Matt Damon and Luciana Bozan, who were married there in 2005, two years after they met while Ms. Bozan was tending bar.

“We will do it on rare occasions to avoid having the place mobbed by fans and paparazzi,” Mr. McSweeney explained.

And the ceremonies, though short and nearly identical, can be tender. On this day, the longest took 2 minutes and 32 seconds, as Tahui Chang, an accountant from Vietnam, exchanged vows with Ken Eng, a credit analyst born in Manhattan. The officiant, Soraida Burgos, took time to welcome their 18 guests. She asked the bride to hand her engagement ring to the groom.

“Sir,” Ms. Burgos told him, “when you place the ring on her finger, you are to place the wedding band first. It goes closer to the heart.”

Sharon Otterman contributed reporting.

    Drab Setting, but Joyous Work: Making 2 Into 1, NYT, 5.10.2008,






Op-Ed Contributor

The Undercover Parent


March 16, 2008
Ridgewood, N.J.


NOT long ago, friends of mine confessed over dinner that they had put spyware on their 15-year-old son’s computer so they could monitor all he did online. At first I was repelled at this invasion of privacy. Now, after doing a fair amount of research, I get it.

Make no mistake: If you put spyware on your computer, you have the ability to log every keystroke your child makes and thus a good portion of his or her private world. That’s what spyware is — at least the parental monitoring kind. You don’t have to be an expert to put it on your computer. You just download the software from a vendor and you will receive reports — weekly, daily, whatever — showing you everything your child is doing on the machine.

Scary. But a good idea. Most parents won’t even consider it.

Maybe it’s the word: spyware. It brings up associations of Dick Cheney sitting in a dark room, rubbing his hands together and reading your most private thoughts. But this isn’t the government we are talking about — this is your family. It’s a mistake to confuse the two. Loving parents are doing the surveillance here, not faceless bureaucrats. And most parents already monitor their children, watching over their home environment, their school.

Today’s overprotective parents fight their kids’ battles on the playground, berate coaches about playing time and fill out college applications — yet when it comes to chatting with pedophiles or watching beheadings or gambling away their entire life savings, then...then their children deserve independence?

Some will say that you should simply trust your child, that if he is old enough to go on the Internet he is old enough to know the dangers. Trust is one thing, but surrendering parental responsibility to a machine that allows the entire world access to your home borders on negligence.

Some will say that it’s better just to use parental blocks that deny access to risky sites. I have found that they don’t work. Children know how to get around them. But more than that — and this is where it gets tough — I want to know what’s being said in e-mail and instant messages and in chat rooms.

There are two reasons for this. First, we’ve all read about the young boy unknowingly conversing with a pedophile or the girl who was cyberbullied to the point where she committed suicide. Would a watchful eye have helped? We rely in the real world on teachers and parents to guard against bullies — do we just dismiss bullying on the Internet and all it entails because we are entering difficult ethical ground?

Second, everything your child types can already be seen by the world — teachers, potential employers, friends, neighbors, future dates. Shouldn’t he learn now that the Internet is not a haven of privacy?

One of the most popular arguments against spyware is the claim that you are reading your teenager’s every thought, that in today’s world, a computer is the little key-locked diary of the past. But posting thoughts on the Internet isn’t the same thing as hiding them under your mattress. Maybe you should buy your children one of those little key-locked diaries so that they too can understand the difference.

Am I suggesting eavesdropping on every conversation? No. With new technology comes new responsibility. That works both ways. There is a fine line between being responsibly protective and irresponsibly nosy. You shouldn’t monitor to find out if your daughter’s friend has a crush on Kevin next door or that Mrs. Peterson gives too much homework or what schoolmate snubbed your son. You are there to start conversations and to be a safety net. To borrow from the national intelligence lexicon — and yes, that’s uncomfortable — you’re listening for dangerous chatter.

Will your teenagers find other ways of communicating to their friends when they realize you may be watching? Yes. But text messages and cellphones don’t offer the anonymity and danger of the Internet. They are usually one-on-one with someone you know. It is far easier for a predator to troll chat rooms and MySpace and Facebook.

There will be tough calls. If your 16-year-old son, for example, is visiting hardcore pornography sites, what do you do? When I was 16, we looked at Playboy centerfolds and read Penthouse Forum. You may argue that’s not the same thing, that Internet pornography makes that stuff seem about as harmful as “SpongeBob.”

And you’re probably right. But in my day, that’s all you could get. If something more graphic had been out there, we probably would have gone for it. Interest in those, um, topics is natural. So start a dialogue based on that knowledge. You should have that talk anyway, but now you can have it with some kind of context.

Parenting has never been for the faint of heart. One friend of mine, using spyware to monitor his college-bound, straight-A daughter, found out that not only was she using drugs but she was sleeping with her dealer. He wisely took a deep breath before confronting her. Then he decided to come clean, to let her know how he had found out, to speak with her about the dangers inherent in her behavior. He’d had these conversations before, of course, but this time he had context. She listened. There was no anger. Things seem better now.

Our knee-jerk reaction as freedom-loving Americans is to be suspicious of anything that hints at invasion of privacy. That’s a good and noble thing. But it’s not an absolute, particularly in the face of the new and evolving challenges presented by the Internet. And particularly when it comes to our children.

Do you tell your children that the spyware is on the computer? I side with yes, but it might be enough to show them this article, have a discussion about your concerns and let them know the possibility is there.

Harlan Coben is the author

of the forthcoming novel “Hold Tight.”

    The Undercover Parent, G, 16.3.2008,






Op-Ed Contributors

The Myth of the Victimless Crime


March 12, 2008
The New York Times


WHAT do we know about the woman Gov. Eliot Spitzer allegedly hired as a prostitute? She was the one person he ignored in his apology. What is she going through now? Is she in danger from organized crime because of what she knows? Is anyone offering her legal counsel or alternatives to prostitution?

“I’m here for a purpose,” she said in a conversation with her booking agent after meeting with Governor Spitzer, according to the affidavit of the F.B.I agent who investigated the prostitution ring. “I know what my purpose is. I’m not a ... moron, you know what I mean.”

Her purpose, as a man who knew patiently explained, is “renting” out an organ for 10 minutes. Men rent women through the Internet or by cellphone as if they were renting a car. And now, in response to the news about Governor Spitzer, pundits are wading into the age-old debates over whether prostitution is a victimless crime or whether women are badly hurt in prostitution no matter what they’re paid.

Whose theory is it that prostitution is victimless? It’s the men who buy prostitutes who spew the myths that women choose prostitution, that they get rich, that it’s glamorous and that it turns women on.

But most women in prostitution, including those working for escort services, have been sexually abused as children, studies show. Incest sets young women up for prostitution — by letting them know what they’re worth and what’s expected of them. Other forces that channel women into escort prostitution are economic hardship and racism.

The Emperor’s Club presented itself as an elite escort service. But aside from charging more, it worked like any other prostitution business. The pimps took their 50 percent cut. The Emperor’s Club often required that the women provide sex twice an hour. One woman who was wiretapped indicated that she couldn’t handle that pressure. The ring operated throughout the United States and Europe. The transport of women for prostitution was masked by its description as “travel dates.”

Telephone operators at the Emperor’s Club criticized one of the women for cutting sessions with buyers short so that she could pick up her children at school. “As a general rule,” one said, “girls with children tend to have a little more baggage going on.”

Whether the woman is in a hotel room or on a side street in someone’s car, whether she’s trafficked from New York to Washington or from Mexico to Florida or from the city to the suburbs, the experience of being prostituted causes her immense psychological and physical harm. And it all starts with the buyer.

Melissa Farley is the author

of “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada:

Making the Connections.”

Victor Malarek is the author of “The Natashas:

Inside the New Global Sex Trade.”

    The Myth of the Victimless Crime, NYT, 12.3.2008,






Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)


March 9, 2008
The New York Times


AS president of the Walt Disney Company’s children’s book and magazine publishing unit, Russell Hampton knows a thing or two about teenagers. Or he thought as much until he was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Katie, and two friends to a play last year in Los Angeles.

“Katie and her friends were sitting in the back seat talking to each other about some movie star; I think it was Orlando Bloom,” recalled Mr. Hampton, whose company produced the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, in which the actor starred. “I made some comment about him, I don’t remember exactly what, but I got the typical teenager guttural sigh and Katie rolled her eyes at me as if to say, ‘Oh Dad, you are so out of it.’ ”

After that, the back-seat chattering stopped. When Mr. Hampton looked into his rearview mirror he saw his daughter sending a text message on her cellphone. “Katie, you shouldn’t be texting all the time,” Mr. Hampton recalled telling her. “Your friends are there. It’s rude.” Katie rolled her eyes again.

“But, Dad, we’re texting each other,” she replied with a harrumph. “I don’t want you to hear what I’m saying.”

Chastened, Mr. Hampton turned his attention back to the freeway. It’s a common scene these days, one playing out in cars, kitchens and bedrooms across the country.

Children increasingly rely on personal technological devices like cellphones to define themselves and create social circles apart from their families, changing the way they communicate with their parents.

Innovation, of course, has always spurred broad societal changes. As telephones became ubiquitous in the last century, users — adults and teenagers alike — found a form of privacy and easy communication unknown to Alexander Graham Bell or his daughters.

The automobile ultimately shuttled in an era when teenagers could go on dates far from watchful chaperones. And the computer, along with the Internet, has given even very young children virtual lives distinctly separate from those of their parents and siblings.

Business analysts and other researchers expect the popularity of the cellphone — along with the mobility and intimacy it affords — to further exploit and accelerate these trends. By 2010, 81 percent of Americans ages 5 to 24 will own a cellphone, up from 53 percent in 2005, according to IDC, a research company in Framingham, Mass., that tracks technology and consumer research.

Social psychologists like Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied the social impact of mobile communications, say these trends are likely to continue as cellphones morph into mini hand-held computers, social networking devices and pint-size movie screens.

“For kids it has become an identity-shaping and psyche-changing object,” Ms. Turkle said. “No one creates a new technology really understanding how it will be used or how it can change a society.”

Marketers and cellphone makers are only too happy to fill the newest generation gap. Last fall, Firefly Mobile introduced the glowPhone for the preschool set; it has a small keypad with two speed-dial buttons depicting an image of a mother and a father. AT&T promotes its wireless service with television commercials poking fun at a mom who doesn’t understand her daughter’s cellphone vernacular. Indeed, IDC says revenue from services and products sold to young consumers or their parents is expected to grow to $29 billion in 2010, up from $21 billion in 2005.

So far, parents’ ability to reach their children whenever they want affords families more pluses than minuses. Mr. Hampton, who is divorced, says it is easy to reach Katie even though they live in different time zones. And college students who are pressed for time, like Ben Blanton, a freshman who plays baseball at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, can text their parents when it suits them, asking them to run errands or just saying hello.

“Texting is in between calling and sending and e-mail,” he explained while taking a break from study hall. Now he won’t even consider writing a letter to his mother, Jan. “It’s too time consuming,” he said. “You have to go to the post office. Instead, I can sit and watch television and send a text, which is the same thing.”

But as with any cultural shift involving parents and children — the birth of rock ’n’ roll or the sexual revolution of the 1960s, for example — various gulfs emerge. Baby boomers who warned decades ago that their out-of-touch parents couldn’t be trusted now sometimes find themselves raising children who — thanks to the Internet and the cellphone — consider Mom and Dad to be clueless, too.

Cellphones, instant messaging, e-mail and the like have encouraged younger users to create their own inventive, quirky and very private written language. That has given them the opportunity to essentially hide in plain sight. They are more connected than ever, but also far more independent.

In some cases, they may even become more alienated from those closest to them, said Anita Gurian, a clinical psychologist and executive editor of AboutOurKids.org, a Web site of the Child Study Center at New York University.

“Cellphones demand parental involvement of a different kind,” she said. “Kids can do a lot of things in front of their parents without them knowing.”

TO be sure, parents have always been concerned about their children’s well-being, independence and comportment — and the rise of the cellphone offers just the latest twist in that dynamic. However it all unfolds, it has helped prompt communications companies to educate parents about how better to be in touch with their children.

In a survey released 18 months ago, AT&T found that among 1,175 parents the company interviewed, nearly half learned how to text-message from their children. More than 60 percent of parents agreed that it helped them communicate, but that sometimes children didn’t want to hear their voice at all. When asked if their children wanted a call or a text message requesting that they be home by curfew, for instance, 58 percent of parents said their children preferred a text.

“Just because you can reach them doesn’t mean they have to answer,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which is studying the impact of technology on adolescents. “Cellphones give teens more of a private life. Their parents aren’t privy to all of their conversations.”

Text messaging, in particular, has perhaps become this generation’s version of pig Latin. For dumbfounded parents, AT&T now offers a tutorial that decodes acronyms meant to keep parents at bay. “Teens may use text language to keep parents in the dark about their conversations by making their comments indecipherable,” the tutorial states. Some acronyms meant to alert children to prying eyes are POS (“parent over shoulder”), PRW (“parents are watching”) and KPC (“keeping parents clueless”).

SAVANNAH PENCE, 15, says she wants to be in touch with her parents — but also wants to keep them at arm’s length. She says her father, John, made sure that she and her 19-year-old brother, Alex, waited until high school before they got cellphones, unlike friends who had them by fifth grade. And while Savannah described her relationship with her parents as close, she still prefers her space.

“I don’t text that much in front of my parents because they read them,” she said. And when her parents ask who is on the phone? “I just say, ‘People.’ They don’t ask anymore.”

At first, John Pence, who owns a restaurant in Portland, Ore., was unsure about how to relate to his daughter. “I didn’t know how to communicate with her,” Mr. Pence said. “I had to learn.” So he took a crash course in text messaging — from Savannah. But so far he knows how to quickly type only a few words or phrases: Where are you? Why haven’t you called me? When are you coming home?

When his daughter asks a question, he typically has one response. “ ‘OK’ is the answer to everything,” he said. “And I haven’t used a question mark yet.” He said he had to learn how to text because his daughter did not return his calls. “I don’t leave a message,” he said, “because she knows it’s me.”

Savannah said she sends a text message to her father at least two or three times a day. “I can’t ask him questions because he is too slow,” she said. “He uses simple words.” On the other hand, her mother, Caprial, is more proficient at texting and will ask how her day was at school or how her friends are doing. (Her mom owed her more facile texting skills to being an agile typist with small hands.)

Early on, Savannah’s parents agreed that they had to set rules. First, they banned cellphone use at the dinner table and, later, when the family watched television together, because Mr. Pence worried about the distraction. “They become unaware of your presence,” he said.

Mr. Pence is well aware of how destabilizing cellphones, iPods and hand-held video game players can be to family relations. “I see kids text under the table at the restaurant,” he said. “They don’t teach them etiquette anymore.” Some children, he said, watch videos in restaurants.

“They don’t know that’s the time to carry on a conversation,” he said. “I would like to walk up to some tables and say, ‘Kids, put your iPods and your cellphones away and talk to your parents.’ ”

But even he has found that enforcing rules is harder than might be expected. He now permits Savannah to send text messages while watching TV, after he noticed her using a blanket over her lap to hide that she was sending messages to friends. “I could have them in the same room texting, or I wouldn’t let them text and they would leave,” said Mr. Pence of his children. “They are good kids, but you want to know what they are up to."

Other families face similar challenges.

In 1999, Marie Gallick got a family plan for her and her three children and found that each of them had a different approach to cellphone use. One of Ms. Gallick’s sons likes to talk, she said, while her other son, Brandon, who lives near her home in Raritan, N.J., preferred to text. How much they communicated with her, she said, depended on their mood. And she found she had to be careful about what she said and how.

“There is emotion behind it,” she said. Once, one of her sons didn’t answer his cellphone when she called, so she sent him a text saying, “NICE OF YOU TO TURN ON YOUR PHONE.”

“They thought I was mad,” she said. Ms. Gallick did not understand that using capital letters was the same as yelling. (She said she had the same problem when she began using e-mail, which, perhaps, makes her problem as much about adapting to digital shifts as it is about communicating with children.)

Brenda Ng, vice president for consumer insights at T-Mobile, the cellular provider, said her company’s studies show that while cellphone use can cause division, it, too, is “the glue” that cements relationships. “It may seem mundane, but they keep people together,” Ms. Ng said.

Consider this: Brandon Gallick, who is 23, recalled a night last year when he was driving home on a country road near Hillsborough, N.J., and a large donkey ran in front of his car. He couldn’t wait to get home to call his mother. “I had to text my mom right away,” he said, noting he sent text messages to friends, too. “I wanted to tell her about it because it was so funny. We don’t see many donkeys in New Jersey.”

Ms. Gallick appreciated the message. “I like it when he does that,” she said. “It makes me feel special.” But again, the unintended consequence was more miscommunication for her.

“It took five texts before I thought he really meant it,” she said. “What I find is that you have to text each other more to understand each other than if you just picked up the phone. You are constantly asking, ‘What did you mean?’ It is a form of alienation but at the same time it is keeping us in contact.”

In fact, texting appears to be easier than talking for some cellphone users, providing yet another distraction for them inside their cars. Mr. Blanton at Vanderbilt, like many of his peers, texts his mother and friends even when both of his hands should be on the steering wheel.

“I can text without looking at the phone,” he said. “It’s definitely not safe. Sometimes I’ll look up and I don’t remember where I’ve been driving.”

MS. TURKLE, the M.I.T. professor, says cellphones offer another way for the Facebook generation to share every life experience the second it unfolds.

“There is a slippage from ‘I have a feeling I want to make a call’ to ‘I need to make a call,’ ” she said. “You don’t get to have a feeling before sharing that feeling anymore.”

Ms. Turkle recalled a vacation with her daughter in Paris, where she hoped to immerse her in the local culture and cuisine. “Part of the idea of Paris is being in Paris,” Ms. Turkle said. But during an afternoon stroll, her daughter received several calls and text messages on her cellphone from friends back in Boston. Her daughter, she said, felt compelled to return every one.

When Ms. Turkle asked why she didn’t turn off her cellphone and enjoy the city, she said her daughter replied, “I feel more comfortable talking with my friends.” But her daughter’s friends didn’t even really want to talk. “They just want to know where you are,” Ms. Turkle said. “It’s a new sensibility.”

It is a new sensibility on many fronts. Jan Blanton said her relationship with her son, Ben, is closer because cellphones make reaching out so simple. And that has caused her to reflect on her relationship with her own parents.

In the early 1980s, when she left home to attend college, Ms. Blanton said, her relationship with her parents was frayed. “We didn’t have open communication,” she said. “I wasn’t close to them. Maybe once a week I’d call. My parents were happy when we were out of the house.”

Ms. Blanton wonders if things might have been different if they had text messaging back then. Her son now sends frequent text messages to his grandfather, discussing baseball and fishing. “I can write better than I talk,” said Ms. Blanton, whose relationship with her parents is now close. “I think we would have had a better experience.”

It is likely that in just a few years, younger members of the digerati will consider cellphones like those the Blantons are using to be relics. While many consumers have become fashion-conscious about the latest in technological devices, analysts say that young children and teenagers are particularly so and more likely than their parents to continually gravitate to something new.

Mr. Hampton said his daughter Katie recently asked for a BlackBerry so she could better send e-mail to her friends and have unfettered access to the Internet.

“I said no,” he recalled. “It’s not necessary.”

But then again, Mr. Hampton said, he may change his mind. “No one is teaching kids how to use these things,” he said. “But in fairness, adults don’t know how to use them, either.”

    Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK), NYT, 9.3.2008,






Most Children

Still Live in Two-Parent Homes,

Census Bureau Reports


February 21, 2008
The New York Times


The American family may be under stress, but most children still live in two-parent households, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday.

Over all, 7 in 10 children live with two parents, about two-thirds live with two married parents, and about 6 in 10 live with both biological parents, according to the latest analysis, which is drawn from 2004 surveys.

In 1970, 85 percent of children were living with two parents and 11 percent with their mother only, proportions that shifted to a little more than 70 percent and slightly more than 20 percent, respectively, in 1990.

The comparable figures in 2004 were about 70 percent and 23 percent. The figures suggest that the tumultuous shifts in family structure since the late 1960s have leveled off since 1990.

“We’re not seeing the rapid change that was going on between 1970 and 1990,” said Rose M. Kreider, a Census Bureau demographer and author of the study of children’s living arrangements. “Evidently, we’re at a place where things are not moving very fast.”

Still, more than 1 in 4 children were living with only one parent.

The proportion who lived with two parents varied widely by race and ethnicity — 87 percent of Asians, 78 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 68 percent of Hispanics and 38 percent of blacks.

Among the nearly 19 million children living with their unmarried biological mothers, 18 percent were living in households where the mother had a partner.

Over all, 94 percent of the nation’s more than 73 million children were living with at least one biological parent, 8 percent lived with at least one stepparent, 2 percent lived with at least one adoptive parent, nearly 4 percent were living without either parent, and a little more than 2 percent were living with their grandparents only.

Nearly 4 in 10 children lived with at least one sibling.

    Most Children Still Live in Two-Parent Homes, Census Bureau Reports,
    NYT, 21.2.2008,






Girl who ran away from home

after row found dead in forest

· Body discovered three weeks after disappearance
· Police not treating death of 15-year-old as suspicious


Tuesday September 25, 2007
Karen McVeigh


The family of the missing Hampshire schoolgirl Rosemary Edwards were told yesterday that the body of a young woman found in the New Forest was that of the missing girl. Police who had been searching for the 15-year-old, who disappeared from the family home after an argument three weeks ago, said they were not treating the death as suspicious.

Rosemary's father, David, said the family were "completely shell-shocked" by the discovery of the body.

Speaking from his home in Dibden Purlieu, which borders the New Forest, Mr Edwards, a computer programmer, told the local Daily Echo: "Rosemary touched so many people's lives. It seems impossible to believe she was so low that she felt life wasn't worth living."

On a newspaper message site that the family had used to publicise Rosemary's disappearance, her mother, Jennifer, wrote: "People look for blame and answers but sometimes there is no one to blame. Some questions can never be answered."

A keen horse rider and talented student who already had a GCSE A-grade in maths and a B in art, Rosemary had been due to return to school on the day she went missing. Her body was found by two walkers on Sunday in an area of the New Forest known as Busketts Lawn Inclosure, near Bartley, 10 miles from her home.

The discovery came just days after a £100,000 reward was offered for the teenager's safe return.

Rosemary's brother, Robert, 19, posted a tribute to his sister on the Facebook website. He said: "Rosemary had a fantastically good 15 years of life and will be missed by all, especially her friends and family. We don't know what could have happened in Rosemary's life to lead her to the circumstances that have occurred. But I know deep down that she knew that so many people loved her and cared for her."

Rosemary had not been seen since 10.30pm on Tuesday September 4, when she went to her bedroom after an argument with her parents. They had banned her from horse riding and other activities after finding out she had lied over how she lost her part-time job in a shop.

Mr Edwards, who was the last to see her when he went to her bedroom to say goodnight, has written of his regret at their last conversation together and his torment in blaming himself for her disappearance and of the events that led up to it.

Writing on an internet forum before his daughter's body was found, he said: "Rosemary told us she had left her part-time job, but we later found out that she had been sacked for a minor transgression which shocked her employer and us because it was so totally out of character.

"As parents, we didn't want this to be the start of Rosemary going off the rails, so we imposed a short ban on accessing the internet and a longer ban on horse riding."

He later realised, from texts and emails he had found, that she was going through "some kind of torment in her head ... I played the blame game for the first few days, but it is very self-destructive, on top of all the other emotions."

He said that when he last saw her he asked for a hug, but she refused. He then gave her a kiss on the cheek. He added: "I wish I'd said how much I loved her, but how many other parents do this constantly just in case it could be the last time you see your son or daughter?"

Police said a post mortem examination was being carried out yesterday.

    Girl who ran away from home after row found dead in forest, G, 25.9.2007,






Huge rise in single-parent families


Wednesday April 11, 2007
8:13 AM
Press Association
The Guardian

Children in Britain are increasingly likely to live in single-parent families, according to a new report.

Nearly a quarter (24%) lived with just one parent last year - treble the proportion recorded in 1972.

The figure has crept up from 21% a decade ago and from 22% in 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics' Social Trends report.

Lone-parent families are three times more likely to live in rented accommodation than couples with children.

In 2005, 66% of single-parent families lived in rented housing compared with 22% of couples with dependent children.

More than half (52%) of them rented in the social sector compared with 14% of two-parent families.

Lone-parent families are also more likely to live in "non-decent" homes, the report says.

In 2004, 29% of lone-parent households with children lived in buildings which did not meet certain minimum standards compared with 23% of "couple households", according to the ONS.

"Recent decades have seen marked changes in household patterns," the report says.

"The traditional family household of a married couple with a child or children is less common, while there has been an increase in lone-parent households."

    Huge rise in single-parent families, G, 11.4.2007,






Canadian province

allows child to have 3 parents


Wed Jan 3, 2007
3:41 PM ET
By Leah Schnurr


TORONTO (Reuters) - A five-year-old Canadian boy can have two mothers and a father, an Ontario court ruled this week in a landmark case that redefines the meaning of family and examines the rights of parents in same-sex relationships.

In a ruling released on Tuesday, the Ontario Court of Appeal said the female partner of the child's biological mother could be legally recognized as the boy's third parent.

The biological father, named on the boy's birth certificate, is a friend of both women and is taking an active role in the child's life.

"It is contrary to (the child's) best interests that he is deprived of the legal recognition of the parentage of one of his mothers," Justice Marc Rosenberg wrote in the ruling, which did not name the three parents or their child.

"Perhaps one of the greatest fears faced by lesbian mothers is the death of the birth mother... Without a declaration of parentage or some other order, the surviving partner would be unable to make decisions for their minor child."

The two women, who have been together since 1990, told the court they did not want to adopt the child because it meant the father would lose his status as a parent.

The Institute for Canadian Values, which opposes a 2005 law allowing same-sex marriage in Canada, dismissed the ruling as an act of "naked judicial activism".

"The court saw this case as an opportunity to entrench so-called alternative family structures in law without submitting the idea to the rigors of the legislative process," Executive Director Joseph Ben-Ami said in a statement.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Ontario since 2003, and across Canada since 2005.

The latest judgment overturned a 2003 ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in which the judge found that he did not have jurisdiction to declare the woman a mother.

Canadian province allows child to have 3 parents, R, 3.1.2007, http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=worldNews&storyID=2007-01-03T203945Z_01_N03408814_RTRUKOC_0_US-PARENTS.xml&WTmodLoc=IntNewsHome_C2_worldNews-4






Parents 'powerless

to bring up their children'

Families feel they have lost confidence
in their child-rearing skills


Sunday November 12, 2006
The Observer
Ned Temko and Denis Campbell


Many parents have lost confidence in how to bring up their children properly and feel inadequate, isolated and unsupported in coping with the pressures of modern family life, the government has warned.

Mothers and fathers often feel 'disempowered' as parents, and find it particularly difficult to enforce rules so their child does not misbehave, according to Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Children and Families.

In an interview with The Observer, Hughes voiced alarm that parents have much less faith than previous generations in their abilities to raise and guide their children, and wanted help to deal with their conduct.

'I've talked to a lot of parents and one thing that has really struck me, and this is across all social classes, is a sense of lack of confidence around the parenting role - and particularly around setting boundaries for children,' she said.

Hughes will announce plans tomorrow for a new National Academy for Parenting Practitioners to provide useful, reliable advice to parents and children's experts on what has been proven to work, which will start work in autumn 2007.

Many parents clearly wanted help in 'understanding their children's behaviour' when difficult situations arose, she said, adding: 'Increasingly what many parents say they want is help with feeling comfortable with their own authority with their own kids, and being able to set down boundaries and stick to them.'

Many parents watch television shows about child-rearing such as The House of Tiny Tearaways to pick up tips on how to handle aspects of their children's behaviour because they feel unequal to the task, she said.

'I find them as fascinating as everybody else. That speaks to this lack of confidence. What should I be doing? How can I control this three-year-old? In some ways it's astonishing. But it's there and we should be responding to it,' said Hughes, a former probation officer and lecturer in social policy.

The minister identified a weakening of inter-generational family ties, an increased number of women working and greater pressures on children as key factors behind the widespread loss of confidence among parents.

'Many parents in the past had a lot more support from families. Families were closer. They had their own

mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, around them. And the speed of change, and the pressures - both on today's parents and on the children they're trying to bring up - are probably different. So you've got less support for parents from their families and at the same time a rapidly-changing world with lots more challenges in it than there were, and I think those two things come together quite potently for many parents now,' said Hughes.

Mary Macleod, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, a leading charity and think-tank on children's issues, said Hughes had highlighted a growing trend.

'Many parents tell us that they feel less confident at raising their children than they think their own parents were, and they feel that they are scrutinised and judged as parents in a way that has not happened before. It's a common feeling,' said Macleod. 'From surveys we have done and discussion groups we've held with parents it's clear that quite a lot of parents don't feel confident about their own abilities.'

Many were anxious about the safety of their children and how to get them through the teenage years without them getting into trouble, she said. They also worried about pressure on the family through children growing up too soon, peer influences and judgmental stuff about parents in the media.

Parents also resented the fact that they only got help from official agencies to deal with their children when, for example, a son or daughter truanted from school repeatedly or got into trouble with the police, Macleod said.

Hughes, who will make a keynote speech on family policy tomorrow when she addresses the FPI's annual conference in London, stressed that the state cannot get too involved in the rearing of children.

'Only parents can parent,' she said. 'It is not the Government's job to tell parents how to nurture their children. When you're a parent you don't want to be told what to do - whether by your mother-in-law, a health visitor, and certainly not by the state.'

    Parents 'powerless to bring up their children', O, 12.11.2006,






Married and Single Parents

Spending More Time With Children,

Study Finds


October 17, 2006
The New York Times


WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 — Despite the surge of women into the work force, 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, researchers say in a new study, based on analysis of thousands of personal diaries.

“We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so,” said one of the researchers, Suzanne M. Bianchi, chairwoman of the department of sociology at the University of Maryland. “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.

The findings are set forth in a new book, “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the American Sociological Association. The research builds on work that Ms. Bianchi did in 16 years as a demographer at the Census Bureau.

At first, the authors say, “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 child care 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.

“As the hours of paid work went up for mothers, their hours of housework declined,” said Ms. Bianchi, a former president of the Population Association of America. “It was almost a one-for-one trade.”

Meaghan O. Perlowski, a 32-year-old mother of three in Des Moines, said in an interview, “Spending time with my kids is my highest priority, but it’s a juggling act.”

Ms. Perlowski, who is a full-time pharmaceutical sales representative, said she did grocery shopping and errands on her lunch hour and cut back on housework so she would have more time with her children.

“We don’t worry much about keeping the house spotless,” she said. “It’s sometimes a mess, cluttered with school papers, backpacks and toys, but that’s O.K.”

Fathers have picked up some of the slack. Married fathers are spending more time on housework: an average of 9.7 hours a week in 2000, up from 4.4 hours in 1965. That increase was more than offset by the decline in time devoted to housework by married mothers: 19.4 hours a week in 2000, down from 34.5 hours in 1965.

When Ms. Perlowski took a business trip on Thursday, her husband, Jim, took time from work to be home with their children, ages 1, 4 and 7.

In Miami, Ian D. Abrams, a 33-year-old marketing executive, said that since his daughter was born two years ago, he had done “a substantial amount of cooking and cleaning, to take that burden off my wife,” but he admitted that home repairs were often delayed. His wife, Yolanda, took a full-time job as a state court employee when their daughter, Marley, was 14 months old.

The researchers found that many parents juggled their work and family duties by including children in their own leisure and free-time activities. Married mothers, in particular, often combine child care with other activities.

Tammy L. Curtis, 34, a schoolteacher in Glendale, Ariz., outside Phoenix, said she typically worked from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but always made time for her 5-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.

“I cook less,” Ms. Curtis said. “I exercise less. And I do a lot of multitasking. When my son is at soccer practice, I sit on the sidelines grading papers. I have no time for personal relaxation.”

The book’s two other co-authors, Prof. John P. Robinson and Melissa A. Milkie, are also sociologists at the University of Maryland. Rather than relying on anecdotes and images in the mass media, the researchers used “time diaries” to measure how families spent their time. Using a standard set of questions, professional interviewers asked parents to chronicle all their activities on the day before the interview.

Katharine G. Abraham, a former commissioner of labor statistics, said the new book provided “the definitive word” on how parents allocated time between paid work and family responsibilities. The most recent numbers, for 2000, are remarkably similar to time-use data in a new survey conducted annually since 2003 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.

Gary L. Bauer, a Christian conservative who defends traditional marriage as president of the advocacy group American Values, said the research was encouraging in one respect.

“It indicates that parents, especially mothers, instinctively know that the line promoted by social scientists in the 1960’s and 70’s — that professional child care can provide all the things that maternal care can — is not correct,” Mr. Bauer said. “Mothers made adjustments in their own lives to ensure that, even with jobs outside the home, they provide what only mothers can provide.”

The authors cited several factors to help explain how parents managed to spend more time with their children, despite working longer hours:

¶ 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.” As couples have fewer children, they feel “pressure to rear a perfect child.”

¶ Many parents feel they need to keep a closer eye on their children because of concerns about crime, school violence, child abduction and abuse.

While married mothers and married fathers were approaching “gender equality,” measured by total hours of work, the researchers found stark differences among women. These disparities suggest why working mothers often feel hurried and harried.

Over all, the researchers said, employed mothers have less free time and “far greater total workloads than stay-at-home mothers.” The workweek for an employed mother averages 71 hours, almost equally divided between paid and unpaid work, compared with a workweek averaging 52 hours for mothers who are not employed outside the home.

On average, the researchers said, employed mothers get somewhat less sleep and watch less television than mothers who are not employed, and they also spend less time with their husbands.

Married and Single Parents Spending More Time With Children,
Study Finds,
NYT, 17.10.2006,






Beyond Rivalry,

a Hidden World of Sibling Violence


February 28, 2006
The New York Times


From infancy until he reached the threshold of manhood, the beatings Daniel W. Smith received at his older brother's hands were qualitatively different from routine sibling rivalry. Rarely did he and his brother just shove each other in the back of the family car over who was crowding whom, or wrestle over a toy firetruck.

Instead, Mr. Smith said in an interview, his brother, Sean, would grip him in a headlock or stranglehold and punch him repeatedly.

"Fighting back just made it worse, so I'd just take it and wait for it to be over," said Mr. Smith, who was 18 months younger than his brother. "What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? I was 10 years old."

To speak only of helplessness and intimidation, however, is to oversimplify a complex bond. "We played kickball with neighborhood kids, and we'd go off exploring in the woods together as if he were any other friend," said Mr. Smith, who is now 34 and a writing instructor at San Francisco State University. (Sean died of a heart attack three years ago.)

"But there was always tension," he said, "because at any moment things could go sour."

Siblings have been trading blows since God first played favorites with Cain and Abel. Nearly murderous sibling fights — over possessions, privacy, pecking orders and parental love — are woven through biblical stories, folktales, fiction and family legends.

In Genesis, Joseph's jealous older brothers strip him of his coat of many colors and throw him into a pit in the wilderness. Brutal brother-on-brother violence dominates an opening section of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," and in Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain," the cowboy Ennis del Mar describes an older brother who "slugged me silly ever' day."

This casual, intimate violence can be as mild as a shoving match and as savage as an attack with a baseball bat. It is so common that it is almost invisible. Parents often ignore it as long as nobody gets killed; researchers rarely study it; and many psychotherapists consider its softer forms a normal part of growing up.

But there is growing evidence that in a minority of cases, sibling warfare becomes a form of repeated, inescapable and emotionally damaging abuse, as was the case for Mr. Smith.

In a study published last year in the journal Child Maltreatment, a group of sociologists found that 35 percent of children had been "hit or attacked" by a sibling in the previous year. The study was based on phone interviews with a representative national sample of 2,030 children or those who take care of them.

Although some of the attacks may have been fleeting and harmless, more than a third were troubling on their face.

According to a preliminary analysis of unpublished data from the study, 14 percent of the children were repeatedly attacked by a sibling; 4.55 percent were hit hard enough to sustain injuries like bruises, cuts, chipped teeth and an occasional broken bone; and 2 percent were hit by brothers or sisters wielding rocks, toys, broom handles, shovels and even knives.

Children ages 2 to 9 who were repeatedly attacked were twice as likely as others their age to show severe symptoms of trauma, anxiety and depression, like sleeplessness, crying spells, thoughts of suicide and fears of the dark, further unpublished data from the same study suggest.

"There are very serious forms of, and reactions to, sibling victimization," said David Finkelhor, a sociologist at the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, the study's lead author, who suggests it is often minimized.

"If I were to hit my wife, no one would have trouble seeing that as an assault or a criminal act," Dr. Finkelhor said. "When a child does the same thing to a sibling, the exact same act will be construed as a squabble, a fight or an altercation."

The sibling attacks in Dr. Finkelhor's study were equally frequent among children of all races and socioeconomic groups; they were most frequent on children 6 to 12, slightly more frequent on boys than on girls, and tapered off gradually as children entered adolescence.

As violent as sibling conflicts are among humans, they are seldom fatal, as they can be among birds and a smattering of other animals.

Siblicide is common among birds of prey, including tawny eagles, brown pelicans and kittiwakes. A Pacific Ocean seabird known as the blue-footed booby pecks at its siblings and pushes them out of the nest to die of starvation while the parents stand idly by. A baby black-crowned night heron in Minnesota was twice observed swallowing the entire head of a younger nestmate until it went limp and looked close to death. Embryonic sand tiger sharks eat one another while they're still in the womb.

Piglets are born with a special set of temporary "needle teeth" to attack their littermates in the struggle for the mother's prodigal frontal teats; the runts kicked back to the hind teat sometimes starve on its thin milk.

On the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania, spotted hyena pups, who are usually born in pairs, bite and shake each other almost from the moment they leave the womb. When the mother's milk is thin, the struggles often end with the death of one pup from wounds or malnutrition — especially, curiously enough, if the pups are the same sex.

Baby animals, researchers theorize, fight mainly to establish dominance and to compete for scarce food. Human children, on the other hand, fight not only over who got the bigger bowl of ice cream but also over who decides what game to play, who controls the remote, who is supposed to do the dishes, who started it and who is loved most.

Few experts agree on how extensive sibling abuse is, or where sibling conflict ends and abuse begins. It is rarely studied: only two major national studies, a handful of academic papers and a few specialized books have looked at it in the last quarter-century. And it is as easy to over-dramatize as it is to underestimate.

In 1980, when the sociologist Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire published "Behind Closed Doors," a groundbreaking national study of family violence, he concluded that the sibling relationship was the most violent of human bonds. Judged strictly by counting blows, he was right: Dr. Straus and his colleagues found that 74 percent of a representative sample of children had pushed or shoved a sibling within the year and 42 percent had kicked, bitten or punched a brother or sister. (Only 3 percent of parents had attacked a child that violently, and only 3 percent of husbands had physically attacked their wives.)

John V. Caffaro, a clinical psychologist and family therapist in private practice in the San Diego suburb Del Mar, defines sibling abuse as a pattern of repeated violence and intimidation.

In an interview, Dr. Caffaro, a co-author of "Sibling Abuse Trauma," said abuse was most often determined by a combination of disengaged upbringing by parents, testosterone and family demographics. It occurs most often in large families composed entirely of closely spaced boys, and least frequently among pairs of sisters, he said.

"A kid can hit a sibling once and it can look pretty bad, but that's not what we consider abuse," he said. "We're looking for a repeated pattern and when that happens, somebody — a parent — has got to be out to lunch."

Abuse occurs most frequently, he said, when a parent is emotionally absent as a result of divorce, long working hours, extensive business travel, alcoholism, preoccupation with his or her own problems or other factors. "One or both parents aren't really around much to do their jobs. It's almost a given," Dr. Caffaro said, adding that "peripheral" fathers are particularly problematic.

"Things are chaotic, boundaries are blurred, and supervision is minimal," he said, noting that those families do not always look chaotic from the outside.

"Sometimes the father is just basically extensively out of town for business and Mom is not a good limit-setter," he said.

In other cases, he added, parents escalate conflicts by playing favorites, ignoring obvious victimization, intervening only to shut the kids up or blaming older children without understanding how younger children helped provoke them.

Dr. Caffaro said that in his experience sibling violence could rarely be attributed simply to an extraordinarily aggressive or psychotic child.

In nearly 15 years of working with more than a hundred families and adult survivors of sibling abuse, he said he could remember only a handful of such cases, one involving a girl repeatedly beaten up by a brother with schizophrenia. Although some children have poor impulse control, he said, violence only becomes repeated abuse when parents fail to nip it in the bud.

Several adults, contacted through a classified advertisement posted online on Craigslist and through a Web site for survivors of sibling abuse, said that their parents had ignored their siblings' intimidation.

"My parents tended to lessen the significance of the abuse, telling me that my brother loved me, really, and that he really was a nice person," wrote Kasun J., 21, an Australian university student, in a posting on the Web site he started under the pen name Mandragora.

Kasun J., who did not want to be further identified for fear of family repercussions, said in an interview that he still kept his distance from an older brother who once threw a clock and a set of nail clippers at his head.

Daniel Smith said that his parents rarely intervened when he and his brother fought, figuring that "boys will be boys."

When he was in sixth grade, he said, a school counselor, concerned about a violent short story he had written, asked him about possible abuse at home, and he felt relieved and hopeful. But as soon as he told her that it was his brother, not his parents, who was hitting him, the counselor dropped the subject.

"I remember thinking that she was sort of a fraud," Mr. Smith said.

Other people interviewed said they were still haunted by memories of older brothers — and an occasional sister — who dumped them out of bassinets, hit them with mop handles, sat on their chests until they feared suffocation, punched them in the mouth or stabbed them in the hands with a nutpick or compass point.

Several said they were second-born children, and they theorized that their abusive siblings had resented being displaced. None wanted to be further identified out of concerns about family privacy.

Many people said the effects of the early abuse had lingered into adulthood. Mr. Smith, for instance, said that he still fights a tendency to avoid confrontations, especially with aggressive people who remind him of his brother. Another man, an academic in his 50's who did not want to be further identified out of privacy concerns, ascribed what he called his "constant wariness" to his physical intimidation in childhood by an older sister.

"I have a high need for solitude when I work," said the professor, who added that the unwelcome shoving and wrestling started when he was a toddler and was one of the defining influences of his early emotional life.

"I'm attentive to noise," he said. "If somebody's around, a lot of my brain immediately turns to: Who is it? What's up? Are they going to bother me or sabotage me in some way?"

Several people said that the abuse continued until they reached early adolescence and became strong enough to defend themselves. In Mr. Smith's family, however, the fights became even more violent when he reached his late teens, because he took up tae kwon do, began lifting weights and eventually struck back.

One afternoon in the family kitchen when he was 19, in the course of a routine argument, his brother half-heartedly slapped him. This time, for the first time, it was Daniel who got his brother in a crushing headlock, and Daniel who pressed a forearm against his brother's nose until it bled.

Knowing he could hold the position forever, Mr. Smith let his brother up. When Sean tried to restart the fighting, Mr. Smith, much to his surprise, burst into long, jagged sobs.

"I remember feeling like I should have been triumphant and I did feel some of that, but I also felt scared and confused," he said. "It was a rite of passage for me. I'd accomplished something and become my own person."

The brothers never fought again, never spoke about the violence and were not close for most of their lives. Sean Smith went on to a difficult adult life, and had only recently freed himself from addiction to alcohol and methamphetamines when he died three years ago, Daniel Smith said.

Only then, he said, did he realize the unspoken depth and complexity of their connection. When asked whether he had forgiven his brother, Mr. Smith hesitated.

"Once he died, I realized that we had a pretty strong bond that I didn't understand or even knew existed," he said. "I can tell you I outcried everybody else at the funeral."

Beyond Rivalry, a Hidden World of Sibling Violence, NYT, 28.2.2006,






January 10 1961


The average family


From the Guardian archive


A vivid picture of the life of the average family in Britain is given in "Britain, an official handbook, 1961" which is published today (HMSO, 25s). It contains a mass of statistics of the life of the nation. It deals with the economy, industry, the trade unions, farming, overseas development, the National Health Service, employment, the monarchy and Parliament, the law, education, social welfare, and scores of other topics.

The average married couple, it states, has a television set and a vacuum cleaner, possibly a washing machine and refrigerator, and does its own house decorating. The man of the house works from 42 to 46 hours per week, not counting overtime, and in many cases his wife works, too. One third of the married women have paid jobs, and half the women working for pay are married.

Fewer than 5 per cent of housewives employ paid help and fewer than 1 per cent have a resident servant. There were only 178,000 domestic servants in England and Wales in the early 1950s compared with 706,800 two decades earlier.

At least a quarter of the adult population play or watch sport, and three out of four bet occasionally for small stakes on football "pools" and racing. The cinema remains the most popular form of entertainment outside the home and to young men, women and older children a visit to the cinema is still a social occasion. About 5 million go to a dance every week, and there are 3,500 clubs with more than 2 million members affiliated to the Working Men's Club and Institute Union, 8,500 Women's Institutes in England and Wales, 4,000 horticultural societies, and 19 million spare-time gardeners.

From the Guardian archives > The average family, January 10 1961,
G > Review, p. 3, 20.8.2005,






August 11, 1906


The days of the Squire

have passed away


From the Guardian archive


Saturday August 11, 1906



There is all the difference in the world between the Squire of the past and the Esquire of the present.

In the days that have passed away the Squire of the village was, in sentiment at least, one of the gentlemen of England; he was a man with an ancient pedigree, taking pride in his name, his ancestors, his estate, his horses, and his tenantry.

But to-day if we cast an eye from village to village and parish to parish we shall find that in the majority of instances the county family is known no longer.

The [Squire's] estate has another lord, his traditions have vanished, and his name alone remains - not, indeed, in the memory or hearts of the people, but deeply graven on the tombs erected in the churchyard, recognised only by the antiquary or the curious.

The pedigree of the Squire was as pure as that of a Plantagenet; his wife was a scion of a house as noble and as proud as his own. He was a leader in all great county movements without being too intimately versed in the details of county work.

He was patron of all local organisations. He was member for his county or for some insignificant borough, the keys of which he held in his pocket.

He made the most of his opportunities, believing in the divine right of his position and in the superiority and supremacy of his class.

His sons were carefully trained, the oldest to succeed him, the younger to take their places in the army or the navy, or to cure the souls of the people in the parish in which he lived.

He rode to hounds, and dispensed hospitality with a free hand; his rents were moderate and punctually paid by the tenantry, who sometimes while trembling at his frown, were ready to buckle the shoes upon his feet.

In days not long passed away his park was stocked with deer and his cellars with port; he kept a family coach.

The Squire's wife received the curtseys of the women of the village with smiling grace. Her sons were her pride, her daughters her difficulty - this owing chiefly to the importance of their marriage with men of her own selection and of her own rank.

She was not forgetful of the claims of the village women, the sick and the poor and the troubled, but her presence in their tiny homes was not frequent, nor was much consideration affected by the family as to the substantial character, suitability, or sanitary condition of the hovels within which many of the people lived or - shall I say - existed.

From the Guardian archive,
August 11, 1906,;
The days of the Squire have passed away,
Republished 11.8.2006,










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