not so secret sauce

From Why Is It Hard for Liberals to Talk About ‘Family Values’? – Emma Green – The Atlantic:

“As a country, we could be on the verge of a really good discussion of this, where we acknowledge that parental responsibility matters, that how kids are raised matters, but also that there are economic causes of this. Those of us who are on the more progressive side should be willing to engage in the conversation about family, personal responsibility, and all that.” — E.J. Dionne

“It’s like stable marriage and community are the secret sauce of economic well-being that nobody on the left wants to admit to using.”

Why aren’t we willing? Why won’t we admit it?

The author of the Atlantic article, Emma Green, touches on some reasons. For one, religion, a widely accepted driver of “family values,” apparently isn’t palatable in policy conversations among liberals, due to the conflicting values of pluralism and tolerance. Second, liberals would feel pretty sheepish if, after fighting oppression and standing up to traditions that have kept women in their place, they had to then admit “Um, by the way, it seems it does help to have two people raise children. Let’s encourage that!” Third, there’s not just a little bit of trepidation: would you want to be on the left and tell a single mother that her choices make pretty much everything harder for herself, her children and her community immediately and in the long-run (as if she did not know that already?)? Now add race into the mix of that conversation. [Crickets chirp.]

So yeah. It’s difficult to have policy discussions about families and the values and actions that strengthen them. I agree with E.J. Dionne, who says that “if you care about social justice, you’ve got to care about families. But if you care about families, you’ve got to care about social justice.” (So does Jim Wallis.)

Now, I’m on the left. Not far left, but left of center. But you know that “secret sauce” Ms. Green mentions? The reason I am a poster-child for “traditional family values,” home as I am, raising the children, while my husband is out, earning the money?

We are lucky, we are educated, and we can afford it. It’s not a secret sauce. It’s a scarce sauce.

Everybody has the same values. Everybody wants to live a good life. Everybody. But not everybody has an education that earns them not only money, but trains them to manage life and be responsible. Sometimes that’s by choice. But for the most part, it’s due to circumstance.

Three days ago, I read an excerpt from Jennifer Silva’s upcoming book, Coming Up Short. (The headline for the excerpt, “The 1 percent ruined love: Marriage is for the rich” was sensational, but it worked. I read the excerpt.) I wonder if Jennifer Silva attended the recent Atlantic working summit on economic security. From her book:

“Today’s young men and women are waiting longer to get married…They are also less likely than their Baby Boomer counterparts to stay married… or to have children all together. While these [facts] may be read as a commentary on the declining value of marriage and family, a closer look reveals that they are more accurately a story of inequality… national data reveal a growing “divorce divide” in the United States: since the 1970s, marital dissolution rates have fallen dramatically among highly educated men and women but remained steady among those with lower education… the material and symbolic benefits of marriage… accrue to those already born in the top of the income distribution.”

It’s easier to stay married–to work through conflict and give time to your relationship, to manage a home, to raise children–if you’re not worried about money. Even easier if you’ve never really had to worry about it. I posted this pretty (and stark) picture last year.


We can have all sorts of honest conversations about the importance of a stable family structure on the socioeconomic well being of our children and our communities. But I keep trying to figure out where those conversations go. I can’t help but think that these conversations would all end up with one party saying, “Easy for you to say. You’re kind’a lucky and relatively rich.”

It’s not a liberal-versus-conservative conversation. It’s not a left-versus-right, or even religious-versus-non-religious conversation. It’s a conversation about economic class.

Until our nation does something serious and substantive to close the income gap, (and the wealth gap, too, for that matter), families and their structures are going to continue to  reflect problems, not cause them. In his interview with The New York Times:

[President Obama] noted at one point that he has in the Oval Office a framed copy of the original program from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. He uses it, he said, to remind people “that was a march for jobs and justice; that there was a massive economic component to that. When you think about the coalition that brought about civil rights, it wasn’t just folks who believed in racial equality. It was people who believed in working folks having a fair shot.”

A fair shot. A fair shot at the damn sauce.

Worst. Therapist. Ever?

We just watched my vice, a Bravo television show called “LA Shrinks.”

This little vignette offers a taste of, as my husband put it, “every man’s worst nightmare” about couples counseling: two women–effectively two wives–ganging up on a guy, a husband.

Here’s what happened: A wife’s “presenting problem” to the couples therapist was that her husband wasn’t paying enough attention to her, she didn’t feel seen or heard. But, over the course of several episodes, the wife appears to seek such attention rather aggressively, resulting in the husband shutting down. The issue comes to a head: the therapist asks the couple to spend a week together, wherein the wife would back off, and not demand attention, let it come to her. In the subsequent therapy session, the husband tells his wife that over the course of that week, he felt he tried to connect with her but was brushed off.

The wife’s reaction? “When? No, no, what? When? Write that down, when did it happen?”

The therapist appears to let that request stand. The husband feels defensive. Naturally. He was being cross-examined.

It devolves from there, with the therapist (not shown in the above clip) later imploring (scolding?) the husband to “go to your wife!” after the wife storms out in tears.

The therapist later tells us that communication issues are the number one problem with couples, and that the impending split needed to happen.

What. The. F.

Let’s imagine me as the therapist:

“In the subsequent therapy session, the husband tells his wife that over the course of that week, he felt he tried to connect with her but was brushed off.

The wife’s reaction? ‘When? No, no, what? When? Write that down, when did it happen?'”

[Me] “Wait, don’t deny his reality, don’t deny his perception. He feels you brushed him off. What’s up with that? He feels you brushed him off. That is all that matters. Apologize. Even if you don’t remember brushing him off, it’s what he perceived. It’s his reality, so now it’s yours.”

Instead–Dr. Eris (per the editing) appeared to show the husband as some closed off, never-listens kind of guy, who doesn’t want to “do the work.” She seemed to throw up her hands as the marriage crumbled in front of her eyes.

We were appalled. And I hope that the editing of the show is making us draw that conclusion. I really hope so. That couple has young children. They drove away in a freaking minivan.

It’s too easy to be a couples counselor. Then again, why see a couples counselor who wants to be on television? Why undergo counseling on television?

Maybe I need to relax. Maybe it was all staged.


Regulation Z

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is making a new rule for mortgages, based on the ability to repay them (and not solely on the ability to make their monthly payments–a very different thing, as the financial crisis of 2008 illustrated). As Matthew Yglesias notes, it will now be harder for people to get home loans.

Good. And when I say “good,” I mean, “Thank God.” Sometimes things need to be harder to get, so that when you do ultimately get them, you are more appreciative, knowledgeable, and careful.

I’m not sure when I became such a hard-ass. On certain topics, anyway. Money, especially.

Wait, I know exactly when: it was after my husband asked me to start managing the household finances, and in the third year of my management I over-spent by $5,000. We weren’t in debt, it wasn’t racked up on a credit card. But I didn’t save it. We had agreed to set aside a certain amount of money, and I had not paid attention. To $5,000. Or about $14 a day.

My husband said, “We agreed to save. We agreed to.” He could have used the word “you” in those sentences. But he didn’t. I was beside myself, and harder on myself than was likely warranted. But I let us down. I broke the agreement.

It was the saddest I’ve ever felt in my marriage, because I felt I had broken my husband’s trust in me.

Let me be clear: I felt that, not him. What I’ve learned about my husband is that he sees money as nothing more than what it is: a tool to get you what you want, in the manner in which you want. For him, money reflects choices, not character. He will adjust his wants according to the money available. And given a choice between spend and save, he tends to choose “save.” (I think that’s because guns don’t make him feel safer. A six-month cash reserve makes him feel safer.)

It was I who had a less utilitarian view of money–who just wanted to get things sometimes, without thinking first: “Can I afford this? Do I need this? If not, why do I want this? Is it really worth it?” Four little questions–they can be answered in under a minute, if you’re honest with yourself and if you pay attention to your money.

My husband always knew–he trusted–that I had it in me to be honest and pay attention. I just had to make the effort.

So yeah, I’m glad that there will be more effort–more honesty, more attention–required in making home loans, in getting mortgages. Who knows, it might ultimately help lower the divorce rate.