It was a phrase, “intact families,” that caused the reaction, I realized, because I’d seen it before on this blog. Douthat uses the term to point to the what he perceives as a “problem” among African Americans and Latinos.
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.
There’s much to debate here of course. There’s conservatisms’ never-ending nostalgia for a “golden age” so much was better than it is now, never mind that so many of us were significantly less free back then. Never mind that the “strong stigmas against divorce” kept many people in unhappy and abusive marriages created by stigma against “unwed motherhood.” (Has there ever been a stigma against “unwed fatherhood”?) Never mind that the stigma against “unwed motherhood, created many such families? (Why, oh, why do conservatives constantly lament that some people are less stigmatized than they use to be? And why do they seem to long for the return of broader stigmatization?) Never mind that “old order” of “single-earner” households left women economically dependent, making it difficult for them to leave abusive marriages.
Never mind that for many minority families the “single-earner” household was at best myth, because the inherent discrimination in that “old order” meant neither parent could earn enough on his/her own to support a family on one income. Never mind that in some families, even the children’s labor was required to keep the family afloat? (Sharecroppers children, like my own parents, often joined their families in the fields to help bring in the yield that system required of them.
Never mind that Douthat’s phrase, “intact families,” also serves to exclude or distance from the concept of family those whose families cannot by definition meet the requirements of intact families. One definition I found online puts it this way:
n. a nuclear family in which membership has remained constant, in the absence of divorce or other divisive factors.
And it’s been defined as follows on this blog, in the context of a discussion of same-sex marriage.
An intact family means one without broken familial bonds. That means parent to parent and parent to child.
And more explicitly:
But to make family in a same-sex household one must break up in-tact families.
Thus its roots go back to an underlying anti-adoption sentiment in the opposition to marriage equality.
I can tell you, though, after marriage the right will come after our families next. What some people don't know is that there's an undercurrent of anti-adoption sentiment in the movement against marriage equality.
It comes right out of their bizarre reductionism in "defense" of heterosexual marriage.
It may be a little bit of a stretch to say that opponents of marriage equality are also anti-adoption, but it's not too far-fetched when you consider their arguments, which have gotten more extreme following the California ruling. It starts with the "marriage is for making babies" argument that formed the bases of earlier court decisions. From there it's a short jump to defining "real marriage" based on a penis going into a vagina. It's a slightly longer jump, but not much, to determining the right to marry based on the ability to produce unadulterated gametes, with which to make a baby.
Actually, it's not that much of a stretch. It one of the arguments they presented in California.
JOHN EASTMAN:...I was at a conference a year and half ago at Brigham Young where another staunch advocate of gay marriage began by saying, "What difference does it make to your heterosexual marriage if I enter into a homosexual marriage?" This kind of libertarian focus on individual rights as the norm of marriage, the model that we should support - well, we all understand what difference it makes because marriage has never been understood in this country as simply a matter of fundamental individual right. The reason we have marriage laws as a foundation of society is that as members of the society, we all draw benefits from that institution, in procreation and rearing of children by the two people in the universe who are most adapt at making sure that job gets done right: the natural parents. That can only exist most readily in a heterosexual marriage by the natural parents.
The studies that David and Shannon pointed to earlier that say children do better in heterosexual couples [composed of] their natural parents; that model doesn't work in any other context. It's not just stepmother and stepfather, it's not just adoptive parents, it's anytime there are anything other than the two natural parents. There's one exception to that, one very close to that is a single mom - not a single mom who had children out of wedlock and the father was never part of that - but a single mom whose [husband] died after the kids were born. That father remained an inspiring omnipresence in the home. "What would your father think if he were still here?" Those children end up pretty close to the par of the heterosexual norm.
They are right. The social science we have on gay couples is relatively in its infancy. There are some early studies out that, quite frankly, are politically driven, methodologically flawed and have been pretty solidly rebutted. But there is no serious study that comes out one way or another on that question, and therefore it's an open question, whether there's something about this particular relationship that might mirror the one history has told us is the norm through all these times. What are the consequences if we get this wrong, and why is it so important to listen? We're living through the consequences of the similar, largely judicially imposed decision of a generation or two ago.
Never mind that the newspapers are full of stories of kids whose "natural parents" were not all that "adept at making sure the job gets done right."
It one distinction beyond that of real vs. unreal or “non-family families.”
Sure enough, Melissa McEwan bores in on that as well as the unasked and unanswered question in Douthat’s column.
Note to Ross Douthat: These days, lots of families fail by design to fit your definition of "intact," i.e. "the ideal of the two-parent family," wherein those two parents are married and of the opposite sex. But that doesn't mean they're broken. Yeesh.
But I guess I oughtn't expect to be reasonable someone who spends a good portion of his column wrestling with the idea that it's somehow cheating, some sort of smug chicanery, that the East Coast liberals whose families look most like his ideal only achieve that model via their tricksy immoral reliance on abortion.
Yeah, well, Mr. Conservative Genius, call me when you're ready to try our idea: A robust network of social services to service all Americans equally, including those shattered riffraff in the underclass.
If Douthat thinks that “intact families” -- regardless of whether they are held together internally by love and commitment, or externally by the healing magic of “stigma” -- are the absolute solution for the social ills he describes (which are by no means limited to the groups he’s focused on), what explains the realty that some children’s “intact families” do them far more harm than good?
Douthat doesn’t go further into defining or distinguishing between intact families according to the quality of the relationships between parents and between parents and children. He doesn’t qualify beyond the most basic definitions above: intact families are those in which membership has remained constant, disrupted neither by divorce or adoption. In other words, the idea is a family in which the relationship between the parents remains constant and the children produced by these two parents together remain within the family.
By the most basic definition, many children have this ideal family, with the possible exception that their presumably heterosexual parents have not yet married (though they may do so any time they choose) -- and they’ve suffered for remaining in these “intact families.”
The family of the 16-month-old son of Tatsiana Leichanka and Danius Vysniauskas was an “intact family,” even when his parents were away from him because they were in jail.
A man and woman believed to be illegal aliens attempted to open a fraudulent bank account in Sterling Heights, Wednesday, while their 16-month-old child was home alone laying in a bed with a soiled diaper and half eaten apple next to him.
The boy was found in an apartment in Southfield, police said.
Danius Vysniauskas, 37, and Tatsiana Leichanka, 25, who are reported to be the parents of the 16-month-old boy, were charged by Sterling Heights police with possession of a fraudulent financial transaction device, a felony. They pleaded not guilty on Wednesday at their arraignment in 41A District Court.
…Southfield police Lt. Nick Loussia said authorities discovered the left- alone child when a concerned friend of the two suspects called police. Loussia said he believes Vysniauskas and Leichanka called friends from the Macomb County Jail and told them their child had been alone for 24 hours.
The child was found sleeping in a bedroom at 10 p.m. on Wednesday by authorities.
So the parents were in jail for 24 hours, and thus away from the son they’d apparently left alone while they tried to open a fraudulent bank account. This family was still “intact.” Besides, I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Vysniauskas didn’t intend to be gone that long. Funny, I didn’t even leave Dylan alone in the house yesterday afternoon, when I went to meet Parker at the bus stop. But we’re not as “intact” as the (married, heterosexual) Vysniaikas’s, even with our marriage license.
Likewise for the parents of Rey A. Cruz, Jr. His mother was in prison, and his father had been “moving around” according to relatives. Nonetheless, his family was “intact” by the standards above. His presumably heterosexual parents’ marriage remained “intact” by the standards above, or at last nothing indicates that they are divorced or that the parental relationship had been shattered. Nonetheless, Cruz died at the hands of his father, Roy A. Cruz Sr.
Doctors declared Rey A. Cruz Jr. brain dead Friday, and his family donated his organs over the weekend.
Prosecutors on Thursday charged the boy's father, Rey A. Cruz Sr., 19, with assault and child endangerment. Police are seeking to upgrade the charges in light of the boy's death.
Investigators said the boy lived with his father and two other relatives. The boy's mother is in prison, police said, and the father had been moving around.
Police were called to the boy's home in the 1300 block of Monroe Avenue about 2:35 a.m. Thursday, where they found him struggling to breathe. He had bruises "all over his body," according to police. The boy had 10 fresh rib fractures, bruises on his genitals and hemorrhaging in his eyes.
Court records said Cruz threw the boy to the floor, slapped his head, hit him in the face and punched him in the abdomen over several days last week because he was frustrated with the boy's crying.
Crying? Frustrated? Goodness knows I’ve been there. But my response, if my husband wasn’t around, was to put the child in a safe place, like a crib, and give myself a few minutes to count to ten, take a few deep breaths, regroup, etc. We all get frustrated, and are liable to do damage we don’t intend when we are. A few minutes to calm down can help, and a child isn’t going to be harmed if he cries for those few minutes.
But what do I know, my family isn’t even “intact,” right? Not like Renne L. Dennis and Paul Coleman, who left their 6-year-old home alone -- with her disabled 12-year-old niece, who was chained to a bed.
Police said Dennis and Coleman left the children about 9 a.m. May 1 to go grocery shopping in Calumet Park and have a lunch of hot dogs in Alsip. Dennis is foster mother to her niece, who suffers from cerebral palsy, police said.
A spokesman for the state Department of Children and Family Services said the children are in DCFS custody. He said the agency did not have prior contact with Dennis or Coleman.
Police said they went to the house, 305 Seneca St., after the boy called 911 about 10:50 a.m. May 1. An officer entered the house through a sliding door and met the boy who said his cousin was in the other room, according to police.
They said the officer found the girl wearing a nylon dog harness, with a chain connecting her harness to a wooden crib and the leg of a bunk bed. Her clothing was wet and stained with feces, and she was wearing a diaper that had not been changed in several days, police said.
The crib did not have a mattress, part of the ceiling had collapsed on the bunk bed and the floor was covered in dirt and garbage, according to police.
I’ve heard of restraining kids for their safety, and don’t judge parents who have harnesses on their children when they go out. After all, I don’t know the circumstances -- maybe the kid is hyperactive and impossible to keep up with otherwise, or perhaps the kids has wandered off before. (It only takes a minute, after all, and even the best of parents may look away for just a minute.) Still, it seems the least Dennis and Coleman could have done was take the girl out in the yard, hose her down, and then secure the harness before taking off for lunch.
Then again, what do I know? I’m one of those parents who changes the 2-year-old’s diaper before and after nap-time. And if the kids are are home, at least one of us is at home with them. But what do you expect from a “non-intact” family, or whatever it is we’re supposed to be.
After all, we can’t be the kind of “intact” family that Eugene and Sabrina Singleton provided for their kids. At least then went Dennis and Coleman one better and took their kids shopping with them. Never mind that Eugene was drunk and let his daughter drive the SUV around the mall parking lot, or that Sabrina knew he was drunk, let him drive her and the kids to the mall, and left the kids in the car with them.
Most people teach their kids to drive by taking them to a local mall with a large parking lot, but Guilderland police say Eugene Singleton’s efforts at teaching took a wrong turn Sunday.
That’s when he allegedly placed his 9-year old daughter behind the wheel of the family minivan, having her drive him around a Crossgates parking lot while police say he was drunk.
Police say Singleton’s 7-year old daughter was in the backseat, as well.
A mall security guard took notice and called police when they noticed the 9-year old driver back the minivan into another car.
Singleton’s wife Sabrina was inside the mall at the time doing some Mother’s Day shopping when all this was going on. When she came out, she reportedly admitted to police that she knew Singleton was drunk, yet allowed him to drive her and their 2 kids to the mall.
Oh, and not only was his blood alcohol level 0.12%, but his license had been revoked. Still, I suppose some credit is due the Singletons for not leaving the kids in the car alone -- and not leaving them home alone -- but not much.
Emalee McKie and and Charles Foster had the sense to leave their kids at home with him while she went off to do a drug deal. Unfortunately, she was selling to an undercover cop, and got busted. (And got her Mercedes Benz confiscated.) When she gave police permission to search her home, the cops discovered living conditions of this at least “somewhat-intact” family. (McKie is the mother of both children, and Foster is the biological “proud daddy” of one. Wait, are step-families “intact”?)
She gave permission to search her home, where she lives with Foster and two children. A deputy knocked on the door and then observed a man, identified as Foster, hiding several pieces of drug paraphernalia and a bag of pills, the report stated.
Investigators said that after entering the residence, they found bags of marijuana, drug paraphernalia and cocaine in plain view. They went to a bedroom and found the 3-year-old lying on a mattress on the floor. Several napkins soiled with human waste were lying on the floor, next to the child’s feet and under the child’s blanket, the affidavit stated.
In another bedroom, they found the 1-year-old sleeping in a crib. On the floor next to the crib were 15 dirty diapers, report stated. The floor was also littered with soiled baby wipes. A deputy picked up the child and the child’s clothing was soaked in urine, the report said.
The kitchen sink was stacked with dirty dishes, the kitchen table was covered with empty beer bottles and food was molding in the refrigerator, deputies said.
A Department of Children and Families investigator was called and determined that the residence was a health hazard and not livable for the two children.
I’m guessing that they make for at least one “intact” family, though clearly McVie isn’t with the father of at least one of the children.
Police came knocking on the door of another “intact” family in Volusia County, in response to a burglary call. They didn’t find burglary when they arrived. However, the living conditions they found got Jayson and Kathleen Laughman arrested for child neglect.
A Deltona couple remained in jail Monday night on charges of child neglect after Volusia County sheriff’s deputies found the family living in “very dirty” conditions, a sheriff’s release states.
A burglary call Sunday morning led deputies to the residence on West Portillio Drive. Inside they discovered Jayson Laughman, 30; his wife, Kathleen Laughman, 29; and the four children, no ages listed, occupying a home that had soiled diapers and feces on the floor, moldy lasagna in the refrigerator and a melted ice cream sandwich adhered to a mattress, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators with the state Department of Children & Families took the youngsters into protective custody after determining “the living conditions constituted a continuing danger to the children,” the arrest reports state.
Jayson Laughman was additionally charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after deputies said they found a pistol in the home. His bail is $7,000, while Kathleen Laughman is being held on $5,000 bail, a booking officer said.
There’s no doubt that William C. Brown’s family is “intact.” So “intact,” in fact, that Brown took his whole family along for his drug deal.
A man was arrested after police say he took his wife and two daughters along on a drug deal Monday.
William C. Brown,29, was charged with delivering cocaine, possession of cocaine and two counts of child neglect. Police sad that while Brown was delivering crack cocaine to an agent of the Tampa Police at 11:23 p.m., he took his wife and two daughters.
Police said he used a phone to make the transaction, so he was charged with unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Brown was also charged with having no valid driver’s license.
Maybe it was “take your kids to work” day? How else are they going to learn the family business, after all? Or maybe the girls will be able to handle drugs safely if they’ve been exposed to them. Right?
Maybe. Maybe not. And “intact” family is not guarantee against that kid of accident, as illustrated by the “intact” family of Amanda Monique Mallit and Horace Phillip, whose 7-month-old daughter choked on a bag of marijuana.
Police arrested Amanda Monique Mallit, 18, and Horace Phillip, 18, of 314 Randolph St. for child endangerment. Mallit was also arrested for interference with official acts, and Phillip was arrested for possession of marijuana.
Paramedics were called to their home at about 7 p.m. because Mallit, who is pregnant, was assaulted by another person. While Mallit and her daughter were riding to the hospital in an ambulance, the girl began to choke. When medics helped her, they found a bag of marijuana in the girl’s mouth, according to court records.
Police later searched the home and found more marijuana within child’s reach, records state.
After Mallit was released from the hospital, police attempted to remove the child from her arms for safety reasons, and Mallit allegedly resisted and shook the child, according to court records.
Phillip admitted ownership of the marijuana, records state.
Maybe that just goes to show it’s never too early to learn some lessons. Or maybe the 7-month-old was trying to keep her family “intact” by “destroying the evidence,” and either didn’t know to flush it or couldn’t quite reach the handle.
Maybe “intact” family parents Lorena Arenas and Jose Luis Gonzales were no doubt trying to teach their 2-year-old daughter some kind of lesson by holding her under scalding water for five minutes, and waiting 13 hours before taking her to the hospital.
A mother and father accused of torturing their 2-year-old child both are in jail after finally seeking medical care for their daughter's third-degree burns, Santa Maria police said.
Lorena Arenas, 23, of Santa Maria is suspected of punishing the toddler by holding her arms under scalding tap water for approximately five minutes, according to police.
The incident occurred Wednesday at a home in the 400 block of South Pine Street, police said.
The child suffered third-degree burns on her hands and forearms, but her father, Jose Luis Gonzalez, 41, of Santa Maria allegedly refused to take the child to the hospital, police said.
The girl remained at home for more than 13 hours before Arenas transported the child to Marian Medical Center. Due to the severity of the burns, the child was transported to the Sherman Oaks Burn Center for continued treatment.
Seven-month-old Xiah Greene’s family may have been too “intact,” at last for his dad’s taste. So, Larry Green beat his 7-month-old son to death for “preferring” his mother -- who was attending night school at the time, and arrived home to find police and paramedics everywhere.
Jealous that his son “preferred his mother,” a Queens dad fatally beat his 7-month-old, the latest in a rash of violence against small children in the borough, officials said Wednesday.
“Toughen up!” Larry Greene yelled at the crying child before punching him in the chest, prosecutors charged.
Xiah stopped breathing moments later, and died Tuesday night at Queens Hospital Center, the fourth child in the borough to die at the hands of a guardian in five weeks.
“We’re grieving right now,” Pierre Nady, 47, the victim’s maternal grandfather, said Wednesday. “Xiah was only 7 months old – he was a cute, little boy [and] he was loved.”
Xiah had a bruise on his scalp, two bruises on the neck and five bruises on the chest that showed imprints of an adult’s knuckles, officials said.
You read that right, by the way. Xiah is not only the fourth child in the Queens borough killed by a parent or guardian in five weeks. He’s one of eight to have been badly beaten since Feb. 25.
At least eight Queens children have been badly beaten since Feb. 25, and authorities are unsure what to do to stop the disturbing upswing.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marjory Fisher, chief of Special Victims Bureau in the Queens district attorney’s office.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many severe child abuse cases in a span of five or six weeks,” she said. “People are making bad decisions or hiring the wrong people to watch their children.”
Investigators say the majority of the abuse cases are incidents of shaken-baby syndrome – a crime that is nearly impossible to predict and hard to prevent.
“It’s not like a Compstat crime,” said Fisher, referring to the NYPD crime stats program. “It’s not like you can put cops en masse on a particular corner and stop this. These are events happening in people’s homes.”
The children have not been victims of systematic abuse but were rather the targets of the explosive sudden rage of their guardians.
Xiah is just the latest, and not the last. Maybe his family doesn’t fit the “intact family’ mold perfectly, but it qualifies to a far greater degree than my own does.
In fact, all of these families do, if only because they meet the most basic requirements of the kind of biological determinism at the core of Douthat’s “intact family” rhetoric. Even though he doesn’t attack same-sex parents in his column (or even mention us, perhaps because we fall so far outside his definition of “family,” “intact” or otherwise), Douthat’s language serves to perpetuate a division of families into those who fit his definition of “intact” -- which is just another word for what Mike Huckabee, who inspired the previous installment in this series, calls the “ideal” family.
HUCKABEE: The point that I have tried to make is, I think the ideal is traditional marriage. Man, woman raising children that they've created and we don't always have the ideal [...]
HUCKABEE: I certainly believe adoption ought to be a high priority and as a person who is pro-life, I certainly think we need to make a greater effort to put children with families who are going to nurture them and care for them.
O'DONNELL: And does that preclude gay families in your mind?
HUCKABEE: Well, you know Rosie, again, I think people have to make their own decision about what a family ought to look like and I'm not going to judge you or judge anybody else because I know there are so many loving people who are in same-sex relationships and they have adopted children and they love those kids. I'm not going to judge them. I'm simply not going there. [...]
O'DONNELL: Do you believe if there is a child and there is a gay family that wants the child, the child should just stay in foster care rather than go with a gay family? Is that your preference?
HUCKABEE: No, that's a choice that each state is going to make according to the laws of that state....I have no doubt that you don't have love and affection and total devotion to your children.
O'DONNELL: Yes, I feel about them, the same way you feel about yours.
HUCKBAEE: Absolutely, I don't question that.
O'DONNELL: Maybe Mike, you should just in your mind know that ideal is really code word for heterosexual. It's not the ideal because it's not heterosexual.
“Intact” is just a code word for “ideal” which is just a code word for heterosexual, and in Douthat’s case even a particular kind of heterosexual family.
What kind of country, what kind of world would we have if we supported parents trying to do all of the above, no matter the configuration of their family? What kind of country, what kind of world would we have if we put as much time, thought, and energy into that as we do into defining some people right out of consideration as families?
We’d probably have a world with a lot less of the “stigma” Douthat seems so nostalgic for. But we’d probably have a world where fewer kids were waiting for families because those available don’t meet someone else’s definition of “intact” or “ideal.”
Maybe even fewer stories like those of the intact families above.
One more time, this time for the edification of Ross Douthat: being heterosexual doesn’t make you a good parent or a bad parent; being married doesn’t necessarily make you a good parent or a bad parent; being single doesn’t make you a good parent or a bad parent; working outside the home doesn’t make you a good parent or a bad parent.
The kind of parent you are depends upon not even the kind of parent you’ve learned to be, but entirely upon the kind of parent you want to be and work to become.
If you’re the kind of parent who puts your kid’s needs ahead of your own, who does all you can to make sure that they’re safe, that they have everything they need, and that they know and experience on a daily basis how much they are loved -- if you’re the kind of parent who does your best even on your worst days, makes mistakes, owns up, makes amends and tries to do better -- then you are a good parent.
That’s not gay, straight, “intact,” or “ideal.” That’s real, human, parenting. You don’t have to be an “ideal” parent or person to do it. And the only things that need to be “intact” are your heart and your conscience.