Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Family Values & Politics

Earlier this summer, TYL regularly criticized the Republican meddling in the Terry Schiavo case, expressing our alarm that the federal government would pass a law aimed specifically at one family’s private tragedy and questioning the Republican’s dedication to “family values” after they routinely failed to acknowledge the wishes of Ms. Schiavo’s husband in the case.

Family values debate will again reenter the national debate in light of a decision by the California Supreme Court that grants both members in same-sex relationships full rights and responsibilities in child-custody issues.

I certainly support parental rights of same-sex couple and have advocated previously on this site that same-sex couples deserve the same legal recognition as married couples. The national parties preach a lot about families, yet they do little to support programs that provide families, specifically low-income families, needed services. If we truly care about family values we would support any family structure that can provide a loving home for a child.Our nation needs to invest greatly in community-based mental health service, early childhood education, and day-care facilities.


At 6:57 PM, Blogger Sam Nicolas said...

Joe – I am surprised the California Supreme Court decisions in “K.M. vs. E.G.” and Elisa B. v. Superior Court have not been more widely talked about. The first case was specific to the issue of who has parental rights when a biological egg donor mother and a surrogate (birthing) mother happen to be lesbians who were “living together” when the child (in this case twins) was conceived. The court said that both would be considered the parents. In the second case, the court decided what would happen if one lesbian was the birth mother and the other was not the egg donor, but the lesbian partner was living together with the birth mother. (Interestingly, in the second case each of the lesbians wanted to give birth so they both went to a sperm bank and used the same sperm donor so the children would be related!) Again, the Court said that both were the parents. The Court in both cases was concerned with hitting both lesbians with financial child support obligations, the first case having been brought by one of the lesbians and the second case having been brought by the County seeking to enforce child support payment obligations so the County could get the mother off public assistance.

"Family values" continues to be a topic that makes both the Left and the Right squirm. These cases are not about the “rights” of gay couples so much as it is about the “obligations” of gay couples: if they are going to “play family” and bring children into the world, then they are going to financially support them. While I think the Middle is quite willing to insist that everyone respect gay and lesbian couples rights to co-habitate and be free from persecution and discrimination in the workplace, if we care about family values, we should encourage wherever reasonably possible that every child be entitled to the love and nurturing and education from both a father and a mother in an intact, stable home, which no gay and lesbian couple can alone provide. Oh, and yes, our nation needs to invest in mental health services, but there is no substitute for a mother’s love and nurturing and education in the first 5 years of life, and placing a child in a day-care center and/or a pre-school should, like Hillary Clinton says of abortion, be legal but rare – the exception, not the rule.
In the Middle,
Sam Nicolas

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Joe Weedon said...

I don't think it's fair to say that a gay or lesbian couple can not provide the same love and nurturing that a traditional family can provide.

And, I don't think it's fair to characterize the middle of the political spectrum as being only in favor of gay/lesbian rights to co-habitat and be free of discrimination in the workplace. Any individual has the right to be a parent.... and being gay or lesbian doesn't disqualify you from being a good parent.

You state "every child be entitled to the love and nurturing and education from both a father and a mother in an intact, stable home, which no gay and lesbian couple can alone provide." Why can't you leave out "from both a father and a mother"? A child deserves to be brought up in a loving, nurturing environment. It's not our place to judge whether or not a gay or lesbian couple is any less able to provide that environment than a straight couple. Also what about all the single parents in this country who provide a loving nuturing home for their children? Are you saying those individuals are not good parents and their children deserve more than that parent's love?

I also take exception to the claim that "placing a child in a day-care center and/or a pre-school should, like Hillary Clinton says of abortion, be legal but rare – the exception, not the rule." My wife and I both work and are not home to care for our 6 month old daughter. Are you saying we're not good parents that are unable to provide a loving, caring environment for our daughter?

In today's economy, day-care and pre-school are a necessity for the average middle-class family and virtually all lower-class families. As such, we need to make sure that these facilities provide a good structured environment for our children. They cannot replace the love of a parent, but they can supplement it.

Repbulicans often stress that being a mother is the most important job in America. I disagree. Being a mother (or a father, which is equally as important though hardly included in the rhetoric) is not a job. It is an obligation, a duty, a responsibility (albiet a welcome one). It's a responsibility that I take very seriously.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Sam Nicolas said...

Thanks for your comments, Joe. Let me try to work through a few of them.

First, I agree that being gay or lesbian doesn’t disqualify a person from being a good parent, being able to love a child, or from having responsibilities as a parent. The problem does not exist in the individual, but in the couple. Unless there is a parent of the opposite sex who also is there to raise the child, then the child misses out. And yes, we are talking ideal situations, here. Some children raise themselves, and survive and thrive, but that is not the ideal, and our society should be trying to promote towards the best situation, I think.

Second, I agree that, while it is not ideal, a gay couple should be allowed to raise the children of one of the partners if the situation warrants it. While many Right Wing Conservatives will site studies that show gay and lesbian couples’ relationships are far less stable and prone to violence, drug abuse, etc., I am not convinced that is true, and certainly not in every case. In any situation where there is divorce, or a breakup in the relationship, the child will suffer, but I don’t think it that as a society we should only just let the groups that have the low divorce rates, or the lowest tendency toward violence, be the only ones allowed to raise their children.

The reason I think a gay or lesbian couple can not provide the same love and nurturing that a traditional family can provide is not that they are gay or lesbians, but, rather, that neither two men nor two women, gay or straight, can provide the balance that is required for the best development of a child. A father loves a child one way, and a mother another. A father teaches a child about life one way and a mother another. I have five children and have been married for 25 years. I have also worked with young people for a long time as a teacher, friend, mentor, and surrogate parent. In our society, single parent women (where the father is absent) usually seek the help of grandfathers, uncles, or male friends to help, as best as possible, to make up for the absent father, and remarry if possible. (Remember, “…it takes a Village…”) Single parent men with full parental-custody obligations usually remarry quickly to fill the gap. Men teach boys about being men and respect, and duty and loyalty and meeting responsibilities. They role model for boys. Women teach boys about kindness and hygiene and patience, and how to relate to and communicate with girls. Men teach girls about how to relate to the opposite sex, encourage self-confidence, provide a sense of security, and meet the need for male non-sexual affection in teenage years in a non-threatening manner. Women teach girls about nurturing infants, disciplining children, how to relate to and communicate with boys, and provide emotional support, among a lot of other things men can’t. The one HUGE thing that neither two men or two women, nor just a single parent, can provide is a role model for how to treat someone of the opposite sex in a heterosexual relationship.

To answer your question about whether you are a “good parents” if you and your wife choose for your wife not to be at home with your child, you will need to ask yourselves if you are doing the very best thing possible for your child. Only you can answer that. But, I don’t buy for a second that most women work outside the home because they have to. They do it because they want to: in a 1997 Pew Research Center poll, only 25% of working mothers with children under 18 said that if they didn’t have to work for financial reasons that they wouldn't work outside the home -- 29% said they would work full-time and the rest part-time. This correlates with my experience: many moms in the work force readily admit they choose not to undertake the difficult task of child-rearing if they can make even a very small amount of extra money (low wages less child care costs.)

Yes, there certainly is a lot of social and peer pressure to achieve economic “middle class” status at a relatively young age by having both parents work, rather than raise young children with a parent full-time at home. I don’t think that will go away very soon. But in every family there is a choice of what is important: a mortgage for a 2,000 sq ft. house, two car payments for new cars, cell phones, day care expenses, nice clothes for Mom’s office job, a 401k, dinners out on Friday nights, and an annual vacation to Disneyworld or Hawaii, and Mom works; or alternatively, rent payments, one car payment for a used car, and a savings account for emergencies, and Mom cuts coupons and is there 100% of the time for the baby? The question is one for you to answer: are you and your wife the best one to raise your child?

I didn’t mean to get into the “Mommy Wars” debate that polarizes the Left and the Right so often: the Right condemns the working mom, and the Left says working mom’s have no choice and besides it doesn’t hurt the kids. I suppose the question is, where is the Middle? At least for me, and I am definitely in the Middle, I think the decision about whether to work outside the home should be the mother’s choice based on what she thinks is most important for her children. Mothers know best. I am not about to second guess a Mom who works part time so her kid can go to college or have violin lessons or such. However, ideally, I think, a good, loving mother at home is usually better than any day car provider.

Stuff to consider, anyway.

Still in the Middle,

Sam Nicolas


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