Category: Family


If everyone is related, what does the concept of family mean? Is it so watered-down as to be senseless?

AJ Jacobs, “Are You My Cousin?”, The New York Times (2 February 2014), SR7.

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A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.

Lori Gottlieb, “The Egalitarian-Marriage Conundrum”, The New York Times Magazine (9 February 2014), 28.

Since around 1965, we have been living in the era of the self-expressive marriage. Americans now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth. Fueled by the countercultural currents of the 1960s, they have come to view marriage less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment.

Eli J. Finkel, “The All-or-Nothing Marriage”, The New York Times (16 February 2014), SR6.

The challenge for intermarried men raising Jewish children is the tenacity of traditional gender roles. For the most part, men continue to be the main breadwinners for their families while women continue to be the information gatherers and social organizers, maintaining greater influence than their husbands over children’s ethnic and religious upbringing. Women’s hands rock the cradle, so to speak. As a result, men’s presence where Jewish identity is nurtured (at home, the community center, the school, the synagogue) is more limited. Gender will persist in influencing the disproportionately low transmission rate of Jewish identity to children of intermarried men compared to intermarried Jewish women so long as “men’s work” outside the home continues to be more valued than “women’s work” inside it.

Keren McGinity, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle: How the Gender of the Jewish Parent Influences Intermarriage”, AJS Perspectives (Spring 2013), 42-43.

Among the intermarried Jewish women I have interviewed, having children made them decidedly proactive about making Jewish connections, about observance, and about Jewish education. The experience of having children also forced women to come to terms with the inadequacies of their own Jewish upbringing and to look for creative ways to teach their children (and themselves) about Jewish heritage.

Men may also experience an awakening of their Jewish identity when they marry and become parents, regardless of whether they intermarry or in-marry, due to greater communal opportunities. Historically and at present, the organized Jewish community directs much of its programming toward family units rather than to single Jewish men or women. Still it appears that intermarriage influenced a deepening of men’s Jewish identities in relation to their Gentile-born spouses and through becoming fathers.

Keren McGinity, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle: How the Gender of the Jewish Parent Influences Intermarriage”, AJS Perspectives (Spring 2013), 42.

The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.

The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.

That is what “not ready” usually means.

Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.

Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.

And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.

Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman.

Dennis Prager, “Marry Young”, The Jewish Journal (11-17 October 2013), 10.

When I used to hear parents complain that they didn’t have even a few minutes to scan the newspaper, let alone finish a novel or catch all that year’s Oscar nominees, I inwardly scoffed (sometimes outwardly). Clearly, they just didn’t care that much about Syria or Hilary Mantel or Quentin Tarantino. I mean, really, an average newborn sleeps like 16 hours a day; you can’t squeeze in a Lydia Davis short story or a half-hour of “Girls”? Trying to talk to new moms and dads about culture felt to me like trying to talk to prison inmates about their favorite brunch spots.

Forgive me, fellow parents. I am now in that prison.

I now understand that, yes, a baby seems to sleep a lot, but that you’re watching them for many of those hours to make sure they’re still alive. (Newborn breathing, in my experience, can sound uncomfortably like a death rattle.) I’ve learned that, especially in those early months, time means nothing. Days dwindle to fleeting dots, but individual moments — like getting a sobbing kid into a car seat — can feel endless. And I’ve learned that, in the foggy, confusing, often frightening slipstream of a baby’s arrival, the things that vanish, no matter how much you love and think you need them, are the things that are not all that useful or necessary — even if they once seemed essential to your sense of self. Inessential things like antiquing or golf or, yes, going to the movies. I instantly became one of those fathers I mocked.

Jason McBride, “Two (Sucked) Thumbs Up”, The New York Times Magazine (1 September 2013), 44.

Those jobs that refuse to be friendly are often the hardest, most time-consuming, most unpredictable, require the most personal sacrifice and, to me, deserve the best compensation and most corporate status.

Which does not mean that these are the people whom I admire most or want to spend my time with. When I see a man who has reached the top of a company only by making work his entire life, I think, what about the kids, what about the wife? And it’s no different when it’s a woman.

Michael Winerip, “A Man’s View on ‘Having It All’”, New York Times (24 March 2013), SR11.

I managed to avoid the recent rerelease of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 3-D, but only barely. Every father who loves the original “Star Wars” trilogy eventually runs into the fiasco that is Jar Jar Binks — a character capable of destroying a generation’s worth of affection with a single rustle of his oversize ears. While many have noted Jar Jar as a racist stereotype, it’s unclear exactly which stereotype he is. Is Jar Jar a Rastafarian stoner or a Stepin Fetchit or a Zuluesque savage? Or is he just a Gungan? And what about Watto, also from “The Phantom Menace”? A dark-skinned, hooknosed, greedy slaveholder, he’s an all-purpose anti-Semitic caricature. Or possibly he’s just a hovering bad guy in a fantasy world. The conundrum is how to explain to your kids that Jar Jar and Watto are stereotypes without first introducing the stereotypes that you are hoping to negate.

Stephen Marche, “Loompaland is a Complicated Place”, New York Times Magazine (17 June 2012), 61.