Archive for September, 2010

Family Business is Just That, No One Else Needs to Know

My mother always chided us for “talking too much”.  Her biggest pet peeve was when someone repeated something that we told them, usually something we had no business talking about.  She always felt that family business was just that, family business and no one else needed to know things that happened in our house.   Well, I certainly understand that now.  I realize that when you chat about things that are supposed to be private, regardless of the intent, you sort of set the family up for destruction (trust me, no exaggeration).  This is not productive for a family intent on growing and bonding amongst its members, it certainly does not benefit anyone (of course unless there is some inappropriate behavior or egregious conduct that warrants intervention).

As I matured, I truly started to appreciate the significance of keeping some things hush when it comes to family.  One of the most valued principles, but unfortunately eroded this day and age,  of most families (both intact and separated) is loyalty.  When a family can depend on its members to keep its most sensitive issues within the confines of the family’s dwelling, they tend to be more open, honest and close-knit which should be the universal objective.  I used to just freely rap about things like a fight amongst my siblings, whether one of my sisters was wearing a hand me down or if my brother got a lashing from my mother for breaking curfew.  I did not think anything of what I was doing, thought only that I was gaining popularity by entertaining my friends with the lowdown of family’s antics. It did not register that this was all at the expense of my family, the same people whom I vowed I die for.  In retrospect, what I see I was doing was creating a divide, somewhat of a chasm within my family that we are paying for til this day.  Don’t get me wrong, my family is civil to each other, in most respects, and we all have love for each other.  However, I know that if we each held these principles to heart, we would make more of an effort to be there for one another at even the most mundane events.

Especially within my own family, which currently consists of myself and my SO, I can certainly appreciate the need to keep our business between us.  Opinions about either his or my behaviors, suggestions about how to handle disagreements or outright directives concerning our relationship are not highly favored when it comes to my family.  I have learned that no two relationships are alike and thus there is no “one size fits all” solution for discord or disagreement within it.  No one can strongly recommend or slightly hint how I should address an issue within my home, not unless they are directly involved.  For most relationships, however, outside unsolicited advice is rampant when you publicize your business amongst outsiders.  Many folks forget, conveniently, that when they endured the same or similar situation they responded differently.  They can impart objectivity when it comes to someone else but when it is them they lose all sight of impartiality, which for the most part minimizes their credibility.  I do strategically and carefully choose what I reveal and to whom I reveal it to, and in turn accept what they have to say in response.  But for the most part, the most critical things are between us and we prefer it that way.

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The “Marriage = Anti-Poverty” Campaign, It Goes Deeper than That

I don’t know about you but everywhere I turn there are these headlines, editorials, campaigns, etc. about beating poverty by encouraging marriage.  Again, I have nothing against marriage I think it’s one the most treasured and sacred bonds we as humans can establish.  This is the problem, people hear and/or see this and think, “hmmm! let’s get married so we’re not maintaining two separate residences”, with the mindset that they  can free up much more of their disposable income for other things.  This is not ideal, for several reasons:  1) marriages based solely on this premise ( the economics) usually end in divorce and can be some of the most contentious divorces and 2) freeing up disposable income does not mean that the parties will save more, invest more or budget wisely, which in turns does not change the economic state for the family.  On the other hand, parents who think about the future and well-being of their children, whether married or not, will typically take measures to ensure that they do that regardless.

The studies conducted by the Pew Research, the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, and several others, all emphasize some facts that many of us know- children are less likely to live in poverty when they are living in a household with both parents.  Single parent households make up more than 35% of families with children living in poverty, while married parents comprise under 10%. (According to data in Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty, published in the Backgrounder, by the Heritage Foundation.)  The Institute of American Values, too, has released several articles where they report studies that indicate that children fare much better, economically, physiologically and intellectually when both parents are in the home.  However, any marriage, like those established for the sake of economics, does not suffice.  Absolutely not, being in the home where  the parents have a contentious marriage or high conflict marriage can have much more destructive effects overall.  Championing marriage should not be done in a vacuum, the focus should be on promoting strong, healthy marriages!  Divorce, too, can do just as much damage, having as much of a negative financial impact as living in a single parent home.  Black children are more likely than White children to go into poverty when their parents divorce, almost twice as much according to some sources. (http://social.jrank.org/pages/20/African-American-Children-Family-Structure.html)

Not to mention, the divorce rate in this country has soared since the 1960’s, particularly for Black couples with some believing it is as high as 50%.  The contributing factors that caused the huge increase in divorce range from the change in societal acceptance to the lax laws that most states have adopted.  However, the one factor that many, especially the “marriage as prevention to child poverty” protagonists, fail to mention is that one of the major causes of divorce  is the finance/economics circumstances of the family. (Read the “Married and Poor: Basic Characteristics of Economically Disadvantaged Couples in the US” by David Fein. http://www.mdrc.org/publications/393/workpaper.html) In other words, the economic positions the parties are in when they marry, causes them to experience more stress, which leads to divorce which results in children living in poverty.  A study conducted to assess the impact of one’s profession on divorce supports this, the result:  the most stressful jobs/occupations tend to have the highest divorce rates.  (Read the article here).  on the professions that many are in when they marry in the first place.

Furthermore, the answer to poverty is not necessarily more money or more resources, we should have all learned that by the recent debacle that landed us in this current economic state we are in.  The answer to ending poverty, especially within the household, is financial literacy, education and employability.  Improving the economic state before we marry seems to a surefire way to prevent divorce.  Budgeting, investing, saving, job training, education-all of these things are what keeps the family on the path to prosperity.  If we want our children to have an advantage, in every sense, it is not enough for us to to say “I do” we have to work collectively to avail ourselves of the knowledge and information on how to build and sustain wealth.

The Spotlight on Poverty has several articles on the topic, visit their website at http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org.

Thinking “Family” Can Have Dramatic Changes on Your Life

Many of us, as little girls particularly, fantasized about our weddings and the man that would be at the altar exchanging those vows with us.  Even up to now, when I tell my friends that I don’t plan on having a wedding or that I never dreamed of one they look at me in astonishment and retort “Why not”.   Well, for some odd reason I always thought more about my role as a nurturer and mother than I did the actual wedding and the fact that I would be someone’s wife.  I mean family always, well particularly as I get older, meant more to me than the titles I would be acquiring.  As a child I always thought of myself as the nurturer of my sisters and brothers ( although most of them are older than me), and that image and those ideals became more profound as I got older.  I seriously always had ideas in my head of what my mother should be doing to be a better nurturer, a better disciplinarian, a better example or  role model for my siblings so that the family legacy was carried throughout the generations to come ( I got in a lot of trouble too, because my mother did not take too kindly to me, a child, telling her how to be the matriarch).

Having convictions about the concept of  family goes far beyond the husband-wife dichotomy, and although I do believe that the bond between spouses plays an integral part of “family”, it is more a part of the whole.   Thinking family is more a state of being, spiritually, mentally and emotionally, while the union between man and woman is typically a situation, circumstance or for some, a status.  Think about it, a marriage can, and often times does, end in divorce with both parties severing all ties with each other upon the dissolution.  However, if the mindset of the parties was “family” from the onset, then first off, the chances of divorce diminishes and second, a civil or cordial rapport have a better chance to survive once the parties have parted ways.  And especially in cases where children are involved, having an amicable relationship is not an arduous task but an absolute MUST.

Not to mention, family, in the traditional or unconventional sense, can have much more longstanding and positive effects than marriage.  But if we take that family state of mind and imbue it when we enter the marital union, then only greater things are likely to happen.   Let’s look at marriage realistically, it is a decision between a man and woman to share their lives together, many of whom don’t or can’t fathom sharing the rest of their lives together. The most they share these days is just as much as they can bear until someone else comes along or something else more exciting entices them.  (This is briefly discussed in a recent NY Times article, where the percentage of Black marriages lasting more than years is far less than those of say, Hispanic marriages.  Read it http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/us/03marry.html)

Let me be clear, I am not endorsing foregoing marriage, not at all. On the contrary, I am emphasizing the fact that if we broaden our horizons and see the forest from the trees, that we may be more inclined to get married and to hang in there with our marriage instead of running for cover when turbulence hits.  When I am representing either party in a divorce, where the marriage was thirty years or more, after I inquire many of them explain to me (and it is evident by how the rest of the family actively participates in the divorce proceeding) that they stayed so long for the sake of their family.  At some point it was no longer about what he or she wanted for themselves, self interests fell to the wayside from a mutual perspective because they had that family mindset from day one.

It’s not difficult nor impossible, we just need to see beyond today.  We need to reach back to our parents, grandparents and beyond and try to incorporate those values they taught us into our way of thinking today.  From the moment we exchange that first  glance with a prospective, we should be thinking of how and if he or she can assume an active role of our family.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Too Far From the Tree?

In my daily travels, I often see people with their children and I wonder who the child takes after when I observe the way they interact with others, the way they respond to their environment, or the way they adhere to rules or commands.  Then I gaze at the parent, or whom I assume to be the parent, and try to relegate or label them based on their appearance, their demeanor or merely by picking up any energy I sense.  Believe it or not, just watching the child can oftentimes give me some insight into the parenting of the mother, father or both.  Why do I do this, primarily to prepare myself in the event our interaction goes beyond a cursory or fleeting one.  I tend to tailor my countenance, my body language and even my reception to another by the observation I make of them, their offspring, then them again.  I can be really jovial and welcoming when I see a well-mannered but equally vivacious kid.  But if I notice an irreverent child, who is too rambunctious for even his or her parent, well then I give off this “don’t even think about coming anywhere near me” expression.

We have all heard the saying that “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” particularly when we are talking negatively  about someone’s child or adult child.  The funny thing is that I usually hear this aphorism with regards to a father and his son or a mother and her daughter, as if only boys imitate their fathers  and vice versa.  While it is obvious that a son who watches his father live an unremarkable life or engage in sociopathic behavior will be more likely to mimic that, or daughter for that matter, how do we explain when this is not the case.  Should we attribute a boy who has grown up to be an upstanding member of society to sheer luck when his father was no choir boy.  Or should we credit that father in taking efforts in ensuring that his son did not grow up to be anything like him, leading down a more favorable path.  Well, there is no set answer.  In my travels, as an attorney, counselor, etc. I met young boys who were habitual troublemakers, and I automatically assumed that either his  father was not in his life or that his father was confined to state prison.  But after being wrong on a number of occasions, I had to accept and appreciate, that it has little do with the example of a man he had in his life.  No, more often than not it had to do with how that child felt about himself.   As parents we contribute or have significant impact on how our children value themselves but overall there are other factors that contribute to the type of person they grow up to be.

This woman I met recently told me that as she raised her five children, that she lived a model life for them choosing to forego or refrain from partaking in certain activities.  She maintained the life that she wanted her children to live, being exemplary of  a strong and purposeful individual.  I believe that we should all revert to this way of being too, but unfortunately it does not result in any guarantees.  You can live a pristine life, raise your child to be the same way and the child still grows into being a social misfit.  We must

Apples on a Tree

be mindful, the apple can fall anywhere, it is our job to catch if before it rots!

The Government and Black Family

I recently attended a Father’s Conference and a lot of things came up as a result.  The main thing that became crystal clear as I watched, listened and took it all in that I witnessed, Big Brother’s interest in the Black family does in fact exist.  Yes, believe it or not the federal government has taken, which continues to date, efforts to address the issues that run rampant in the Black community, the destruction of the family being one of them.   It obviously makes sense to devise a plan to address issues such as childhood poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, the economic impact of allowing them to run amok is asinine.  However, getting to the root of or the impetus for these , however, makes much more sense.

The U.S. Dept. of Health, Administration of Children and Families is the agency responsible for researching, promoting and funding healthy families.  The Healthy Marriage initiative has been in place for more than a decade.  The African American Healthy Marriage Initiative (www.aahmi.net) is the component of ACF that aims at promoting marriage, responsible fatherhood and strong families in the Black community.  And although the original objective of ACF’s Healthy Marriage initiative, which arose out of Congress’ findings that marriage is fundamental to a healthy society, was to promote and strengthen marriage, the Obama administration deviated somewhat.  In 2005 the Deficit Reduction Act was enacted, this directed that $150 million each year for the research, training and programs that promoted marriage, fatherhood and families.  Consequently, the Bush administration allotted $100 million of those funds to marriage and the remaining $50 million to fatherhood programs.  Obama, on the other hand, increased the allotted amount to $500 million, but he designated that half of that budget be used to fund fatherhood programs, with a “marriage component” while the other half go to programs that will improve the lives of children by helping their parents to get jobs.  Obama does not minimize the importance of marriage, on the contrary, what his goal is is to broaden the legislation’s base by focusing on families.   As it stands, there are more single parent households in the Black community than married ones, there is no debating this.  So putting emphasis on fatherhood programs certainly widens the reach of the funds for many Black families, by eliminating the requirement of marriage.  Some argue that this only perpetuates the Black community’s stance on families, only supporting our belief that we don’t need to be married to have a family.  While others think that he merely took a more realistic and pragmatic approach to a very critical predicament.  Although I promote marriage, I think ignoring where we are today can have a much more deleterious effect than trying to affect change prospectively.  An ideal program will encourage fathers to consider marriage as a viable option to eliminating poverty, improving  their relationship with their child and even ameliorating their economic predicament, and not just focus on being a good or better father.