Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Identity Development: It's Not Just For Teens

Although identity issues are indeed the major focus of adolescence, there is no reason to suspect that identity work is limited to the adolescent years. In fact, it is now apparent that identity issues remain relevant and may be addressed or revisited over the course of adulthood. Conceivably, identity work can continue until the day a person dies. I'm in agreement with Erikson in believing that individuals never lose the capacity for growth and change. Just because one has moved from adolescence into adulthood does not mean that identity or any other aspect of who one is becomes static.

"No matter what I have been, I can choose as I will and thus become something quite different."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Southeastern Council Meet-And-Greet

The Southeastern Council on Family Relations will host an informal social gathering at the NCFR conference on Thursday, November 4, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. All NCFR members in the affiliate’s nine member states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) are invited to attend. This is a great opportunity for you to learn more about the affiliate and connect with other NCFR members from around the Southeast. Refreshments will be provided. If interested in attending, please RSVP to info@secfr.net as soon as possible so that we can get a reasonably accurate head count.

Not a member of SECFR yet? Register at www.secfr.net!

Mark Your Calendars: SECFR Announces Conference

Please make plans to join the members and friends of the Southeastern Council on Family Relations, March 3-4 2011 at what promises to be an invigorating annual conference in Birmingham, Alabama. Confirmed speakers include NCFR President Gary Bowen, Steve Duncan, Rozario Slack, H. Wallace (Wally) Goddard, Nisa Muhammad, and Kay Pasley. The theme of the conference is “We Shall Overcome: Changing the Status Quo for Families in the Southeast,” a timely theme that focuses attention on the need for positive change in our region which lags considerably behind the rest of the nation on most important social indicators.

In addition to a full slate of outstanding speakers, the latest research and current thinking being generated by professionals around the Southeast will be presented and there will be multiple opportunities for socializing, networking, and earning CEUs. Professionals of all varieties – not just academics – are invited to participate.

For more details about the conference, submissions, registration, as well as all the great things to do and see around the Magic City, please visit our website www.secfr.net or contact the conference/program chair Kim Allen at kimberly_allen@ncsu.edu.

We hope to see you in Birmingham!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Eating of Crow

Yesterday afternoon, I learned through first-hand experience that even family scientists with Ph.D.s can goof up and make a mess of things. Let me explain.

I was standing in our driveway, when our teenaged son opened the back door. He kept the door open for what I perceived to be an unreasonably long period of time. The thrifty (my wife would probably use the words "tightwad" or "cheapskate") side of me immediately started thinking about the air conditioner being on, the cold air escaping, and the electricity bill, so I asked him to close the door. He delayed complying with my request and started saying something, but I tuned out what he was trying to tell me as my mind screamed, "Defiance! Rebellion! Disobedience!" And then I did it. I shouted as loudly as I could, "CLOSE THE DOOR!"

Our son slammed the backdoor and retreated into his bedroom (slamming that door also) where he could be heard fussing, fuming, and banging his head on the wall out of anger and hurt. It wasn't long before my wife came outside and asked, "What was that all about?" And then I did it again. I yelled at my wife, basically accusing her of coming to our son's rescue when he was clearly (in my mind) in the wrong. As you might imagine, without going into details, my wife didn't respond favorably.

Anyway, there you have it. I had acted like an idiot, flown off the handle, and upset my wife and son. The learned scholar and purported expert on all things relationship and family had made a mess of things. For 15-20 minutes, I stewed in my own anger, ticked off at what I perceived as my son's defiance and my wife's taking his side against me. Gradually, as things cooled down, I learned that our son was holding the door open so that our dog could come outside with us. That's what he was trying to say before I began my episode of idiocy. I also learned that my wife was not attacking me or taking our son's side against me. She was just trying to figure out what had upset him. Guess who felt like a fool?

In the end, I had to acknowledge that I was in the wrong and apologized profusely to both my wife and son.

If there's any good to be taken from what transpired yesterday, it's that I was reminded of lots of simple little lessons in a short amount of time. For instance, I learned the importance of: (1) listening and letting people finish what they're saying before responding, (2)not making assumptions about people's intentions, (3) thinking before speaking, (4) taking time-outs when stressed or upset, or at the very least, biting your tongue and keeping your mouth shut when angry, (5)admitting when you're wrong and asking for forgiveness, (6) recognizing that having a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies does not render one immune to making mistakes with regard to one's relationships and family.

(And just so you know, I talked with my wife about writing this piece, and she was okay with it.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bridging the Gap

Recently, I was talking with someone about the 2011 SECFR conference. While the conference will definitely be in Birmingham, the specific site hasn't been nailed down yet, as our conference/program committee is still researching prices, facilities, etc. When I mentioned that Samford University was a candidate for hosting the conference, the point was made that Samford was a religious institution and that some people might be discouraged from attending the conference given this fact. I was thinking, "Why would the fact that Samford is affiliated with the Baptist church be an issue? Samford is a fine university (ranked in the top tier of national doctoral research universities by U.S. News & World Report and more academically rigorous than many public institutions) with a beautiful campus located in a very nice, accessible, and scenic part of Birmingham." Anway, this discussion really got me wondering about the divide between family science and religion. Why is there such a gulf between the two? There are exceptions, but it seems that many family scientists consider religion to be a taboo topic and/or a non-factor in the realm of human development and family relations. Others are openly hostile toward anything that remotely smacks of religion, and when they do discuss religion, it's invariably in a negative sense.

When I was a graduate student, religion never came up in any of the classes I took nor did we ever read anything that described research on the relationship between religiosity, religious activity and attendance and human development and family relations. Whenever we discussed factors involved in healthy child development, healthy parent-child relationships, healthy family functioning, and healthy marriages, every conceivable factor under the sun was mentioned save one -- religion. It was made to appear that religion didn't matter whatsoever when it comes to human development and family relations, although later with Ph.D. in hand, I discovered some solid empirical literature documenting that religion does, in fact, matter and is associated with a wide variety of benefits for children and youth, marriages, and families. Interestingly, contrary to some people's biases, you won't find much empirical research out there that indicates that religion has negative effects or causes harm to children, relationships, and families.

I feel myself starting to ramble (or babble), so I'll close, However, it does appear to me that an unfortunate chasm exists between family science and religion, and in the interest of having an accurate family science, we have to start acknowledging the positive influence that religion can and does have on individuals, marriages, and families.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why We Divorce (Strictly Anecdotal!)

gore kissWell, Tipper and Al Gore are kaput!  What is the world coming to?   After that kiss at the convention!  After 40 years!

This morning on the way to try a divorce case, I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition discuss the Gore situation.  The conclusion of the article is that, basically, the Gores have “grown apart”  (what I call “drift”), and  that this is a common evolution of a relationship. 

The narrator indicated that the Gores fit in the category she refers to as “the second wave of divorce,” referring to couples who have lasted in a marriage more than twenty years and their increased risk of divorce.  Her take?  “Let’s not call it a ‘tragedy,’ but celebrate it as a part of life…”  So, marriage-for-life seems kaput, too.

Why do people divorce?  Well, if you’re talking the “root” causation, I’d have to say things like rank selfishness and unrealistic expectations, as discussed in Dr. Phillips’ recent post here , play a part.  But this post concerns immediate causes—the events or characteristics that people claim as the reason for their divorce. 

As a divorce attorney I do have a window into this.  In my state, we still require grounds for divorce unless the parties have been continuously separated for a period of 18 months.  Therefore, in most cases it is necessary for a party seeking a divorce to declare what his/her grounds for divorce are—the other party must be found at fault.  Furthermore, if  the divorce is contested, the grounds must be proven by third-party corroboration.  Likewise, an “innocent” party who is sued for divorce can stall the divorce for at least 18 months in absence of proof of grounds. 

The wisdom of requiring grounds over a no-fault statue is a whole ‘nother post, but I feel it brewing…

My staff and I discussed this topic and arbitrarily decided that we would inventory the last 75 divorce files we have opened.  Here are the stats as we found them—real life in action—from least numerous to  most numerous reason for divorce in these cases (can you hear the drum roll?):

Primary Cause for Divorce

No. Cases


Family Interference (parents hated daughter-in-law and won)


Finances.  Sole stated reason for divorce.  I believe financial strain plays a role in other divorces.


Mental Illness.  Whew! No doubt on this one…mental illness was THE cause.


Pornography addiction named as sole reason (pornography also played a stated part in approximately 6 other divorces, maybe more.  We are seeing internet and “Craig’s list sex” type of involvement more and more)


Incest (grandfather/ granddaughter). Caused divorce of grandparents (Thank God! You have no idea how often I see spouses of perps take up for them).


Drug Addiction (drugs played a part in several other divorces, too).  In these three cases, drug addiction was the stated ground for divorce.  Financial devastation reigned in all three…lost savings, foreclosure in one case, etc.


Domestic Violence (one was wife battering husband, repeatedly and undeniably)


Alcoholism (this were stated primary reasons—alcohol played a part in others)


Wife committed adultery


“Drift.”  This is the term I use when client says “We grew apart” or some such and there is no other visible cause.  To be truthful, rarely do I really believe this is the cause…”drift” often is a euphemism for something they don’t want to discuss, as I sometimes unhappily find out in trial.    


NO. 1 REASON FOR DIVORCE:  Husband committed adultery


And, now, Survey Says: the No. 1 stated reason for divorce in my files is Cheatin’ Husbands!  I knew that would be the case before this tabulation, but even I was surprised by the margin.

And, yes, I represent cheaters, too.

Just an observation that came to me as I wrote this: Rarely do I see divorce after initial discovery of an affair if the cheater repents.  I cannot think of a case right now where someone “knee-jerked” a divorce action over a one-time fling and maintained it until final hearing.  It has been my experience that people are fairly forgiving of adultery if  there is change and repentance. 

On the other hand, my experience has been (and it may just be my sample) that people who cheat once during a marriage will usually do so again.  But, this may be a function of the fact that people who come to me because of cheating spouses are already fed up—I may just not get to see those who change their ways!

And, so you know, I do tend to represent more women than men.  Only 25% of these files were men, which did surprise me…didn’t realize my caseload was that woman-heavy!  Guess more women want a woman lawyer.  Again, this may skew my figures from the “norm,” but I am confident that the order of the causes would remain the same of any such list in our jurisdiction.

Back to Tipper and Al: they’re claiming “drift,” aren’t they?  Well, my cynicism and practiced eye tells me that’s not the whole story.  I’m going out on a limb here and predicting (on the worldwide web, no less) that because of the public’s eye on this couple, we’ll soon find out that their divorce will fall in that No. 1 category (you know, that 1999 “Al’s an Alpha male” comment and all)…time will tell.

And, really, I must say to Morning Edition that never—not in 31 years of family law practice—have I seen a case where the divorcing couple viewed it as a “celebration of life.”  Sheesh!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

I guess this post is a bit of a confession about my relationship with my wife and children mixed with some introspection about how I was socialized by significant male figures in my life during my formative years. This just popped into my head last night, so it may come across as disorganized and perhaps even pointless.

Last night, I was watching the new Jillian Michaels show on NBC. There was a very moving segment in which a mother described the grief surrounding the loss of one of her children shortly after he was born. She described how the only time she ever got to hold her baby without him being connected to lots of tubes was on the day he died. She also talked about how the only time he opened his eyes was to look at her right before he drew his last breath. Her story really resonated with the parent in me. The family that was the focus of the show was crying, Jillian Michaels was crying, and before I knew it, I was all choked up and had tears in my eyes. Not wanting my wife to see my tears, I kept going back and forth between our living-room and kitchen to dry my eyes. After I had “composed” myself, I started wondering, “How in the world did I come to be a man who is afraid or reluctant to let his own wife and children see him with tears in his eyes?”

Anyway, one thought led to another, and it wasn’t long before I was really thinking about my father, my uncles, and the men who were my father’s friends when I was growing up and the things they taught me (or maybe didn’t teach me) about being a man. These were “men’s men” whose favorite actors included John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charles Bronson. Like the characters portrayed by the actors they admired, the men most significant in my life had a tendency to keep their feelings bottled up inside themselves, face challenges and stressors alone rather than reaching out to others for support and help, and rarely display what we might think of as tender emotions. Tears, crying, and overt displays of fear were viewed as signs of softness or weakness. At the same time, these men were not huggers, although they were very liberal with their handshakes. Finally, they made every effort to protect their families from any sort of bad news, thinking it was their duty to shoulder the burden alone.

Don’t get me wrong. These were good men. They were honest, down-to-earth men who worked hard to take care of their families as best they could. I learned enough positive lessons and values from them to keep this blog going for years. However, they never really taught me how to: (1) accept and express emotions and vulnerability, (2) let my guard down to let others see when I’m scared or when I don’t know what to do, and (3) admit to myself and others when I need help and support.

I’ve gotten a little better in these areas on my own over the years, but I still struggle sometimes (as was the case last night when I didn’t want my wife to see me teary-eyed). Be sure to note that, even now, I haven’t really described what I was doing as crying. I also have to recognize those situations when I’m replicating or about to replicate some of the perhaps less desirable practices of my father and uncles with my own children. A week or two ago, one of my little boys fell. It wasn’t a bad fall, and he wasn’t hurt, but he got up with tears in his eyes and looked to me for comfort, and I really had to fight the urge to say what my father or one of my uncles would have said –“You’re a big boy. You can take it. Brush it off.”

Anyway, that’s it. I would appreciate hearing comments from others regarding their own socialization experiences, especially those experiences related to gender socialization.