Reposted with permission from the blog of Chinyere Osuji

When I was studying at Harvard in the early 2000s, I had a black immigrant professor who had built part of his career gas-lighting anti-black discrimination in favor of 1990s-style black cultural inferiority tropes. My grad school girlfriends and I awkwardly giggled over “the sex parts” of his book on black assimilation. He cited statistics saying that black women did not perform oral sex as often as white women, making them less desirable sexual partners. Sexual incompatibility on this sex act was part of the motor driving black men to date interracially more than black women. I was struck by how he ignored scholarship showing how white women are lauded as the essence of beauty, domesticity, and ideal womanhood. Instead, in a reversal of the Jezebel stereotype, he explained this race-gender imbalance as due to black women being prudes. I remember that when we stopped laughing, we speculated on which black woman might have hurt him and whether this was scholarly revenge porn against black women. We also questioned how his much paler wife felt about this discussion.

Over a decade later, I noticed the increasing popularity of a similar dynamic: “Black women need to be more open!”

How many black women have heard this in reference to our dating and marriage prospects?

Black women’s inability to “open up” to dating non-blacks (presumably whites) was curtailing our attempts at finding long-term love. Oprah even emphasized this point to her best friend, Gayle, trying to convince her to date non-black men. Once more, statistics showing black men being more likely to interracially marry were used to show how our actions were deficient.

According to the US Census, close to 90% of all marriages take place within the same ethnic or racial group, with whites being the least likely to inter-marry. However, black women’s intra-racial preferences, not anti-blackness and misogynoir, were the cause of our lower likelihood for marriage in comparison to other similarly situated women.

Research by demographers shows that most non-black men, even those open to interracial dating, discriminate against black women in their online dating profiles. At the 2018 American Sociological Association annual meeting, Belinda Robnett (UC-Irvine) presented research showing white men were open to dating black women for interracial sex, but not interracial dating. Together, their studies suggested that, as in all pairings, it takes two to tango and, unless it is solely horizontally, black women indeed have better odds at finding long-term romantic partnerships with black men.

In my book, Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Race, I conducted over 100 interviews with people in black-white couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. I had the privilege of listening to men and women across racial pairings share the monotony, excitement, struggles, and joys of being married to a person on the other side of the ethnoracial hierarchy. Almost all couples seemed content in their relationships. Several were parents navigating how to raise children who were comfortable with the black, white, multiracial, and multi-ethnic sides of their extended families.

One thing that struck me about the black women whom I interviewed was how several of them complained about their white husbands who “just didn’t get it.” As people on the top of gender, racial, and often class hierarchies, these white men often could not make sense of the privileges they accrued in a society that fought very hard to occlude them. The work often fell on their black wives to teach them how they navigated the world as white middle class men. A few white husbands were “woke” to these dynamics. When I interviewed them individually, we laughed about their couple tactic of wives “tagging” them for interactions with customer service representatives and other outsiders. This strategy ensured that they used their race and gender privileges for the good of the family. Still, black women in other relationships described the emotional labor of explaining intersections of disadvantage to their oblivious white husbands.

I asked all of the husbands and wives about their experiences in their “romantic career”— how they understood their desires for spousal characteristics through prior romantic experiences. Unlike the white women whom I interviewed, black women in both Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro described the slights and microaggressions that they had experienced in the past. Several admitted to having been the “black girl in the closet” to nonblack men they had dated. For example, Lana was a 35-year old black woman whom I interviewed in Los Angeles. She recalled a previous relationship with a white guy when she was in college.

Lana: …. I don’t think he ever told his grandparents, for example, that I was black.  And when he told a group of his friends… they were like, “Oh what does your girlfriend look like?” and he kind of described me and was like “Dark eyes, dark hair, dark skin.” They were kind of like “What?” and it was very like “Oh…” like very, very surprised I guess. So there was definitely some of that and it was kind of difficult for me that if the relationship had gotten more serious that I was gonna have to worry about his family would perceive me or if they’d have – obviously they would have had a problem with me if they’d met me…. just because of me being black.  Not his parents but his grandparents because I had met his parents and I got along really great [with them] actually, but I think he was worried his grandparents just wouldn’t be very tolerant.

Lana’s story was similar to several black women that I interviewed in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. Like Lana, some black wives saw these experiences as a tactic that their previous white boyfriends used to protect them from anti-black relatives or to avoid white shock. Several black women were surprised at how long it had taken them to meet the friends and families of their white husbands. None of the white wives in either setting described similar experiences with previous same- or different-race partners. Other black wives, especially in Rio de Janeiro, described prior non-black partners being ashamed to be seen with them in public. For obvious reasons, black women who had these experiences expressed discomfort with these previous dynamics.

As Jessie Bernard famously articulated, in every (heterosexual) marriage, there are two relationships: “his” and “hers.” For this reason, it is reasonable to expect that partners were having different experiences in these relationships. When I interviewed white husbands in both places, several described having absolute autonomy to their relationships, both current and past. For them, their relationships were none of anyone’s business. As a consequence, they did not echo their black wives’ sentiments of feeling exceedingly excluded from white family and friend networks before they married. Nevertheless, when white husbands “just did not get it,” it was a source of tension in the relationships.

From a research standpoint, Boundaries of Love shows it is unrealistic and unfair to blame black women for their challenges in finding love when misogynoir is embedded in dating and marriage markets in both the United States and Brazil. In addition, this research shows that interracial dating and marriage may involve its own particular sets of issues. At the same time, since no marriage is without its issues, it also shows that black women can form happy, loving relationships with white men.

On a personal note, as someone who dates black men as well as men of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, being open-minded to love should be a goal for everyone, not just black women. Unfortunately, that is far from our social reality and may decreasingly be the case in the Trump era. Still, when it comes to interracial dating and marriage, it’s time to end arguments of black female deficiency. As Marcyliena Morgan, another black professor at Harvard, advised, it is time to love us or leave us alone.

Chinyere Osuji is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University at  Camden. In her book, Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Race (2019, NYU Press), Osuji compares how interracial couples in Brazil and the United States challenge, reproduce, and negotiate the “us” versus “them” mentality of ethnoracial boundaries.Boundaries of Love is based on over 100 interviews with black-white couples to reveal the family as a primary site for understanding the social construction of race. 
Image by giselaatje from Pixabay

Friends are important because they help us when we are in need, they make us feel supported, and they make happy events even more enjoyable by sharing those good times with us. Fortunately, almost everyone knows how to make friends with a new acquaintance – you look for common interests, you do nice things for the other person, you hang out with them by engaging in their favorite activities or sometimes by participating in mutually-enjoyable activities. You might help your new acquaintance by giving them advice when it is sought, by listening to them, or by sharing with them things they need or want. Often, just showing an interest in a person is an important step in building a bond of friendship with them.

For over twenty years our research team has been studying a particular kind of friendship, that between a stepparent and stepchild. Stepfamilies are a sizable portion of American families; in a 2011 Pew Center survey, 42% of respondents reported having at least one stepfamily member, and younger adults had more step-relatives than older ones, so the numbers will continue to grow. We have been studying stepparent-stepchild relationships because family clinicians and researchers suggest that stepparents’ ability to develop close bonds with stepchildren may be critical to the well-being of couple and family relationships in stepfamilies.

In our first study of what we called “affinity-seeking,” we examined 53 stepparents’ efforts at building friendships with their stepchildren by doing in-depth interviews with stepparents, their spouses, and stepchildren. We found that stepparents who purposefully made friends and tried to build close bonds with their stepchildren before remarriage, and who continued to maintain those bonding activities after remarriage, felt closer to their stepchildren and reported less conflicts. Stepparents who befriended stepchildren when they were dating, but then stopped after remarriage, were not as close with their stepchildren and had more conflicts. Perhaps not surprisingly, stepparents who never made efforts to build affinity with stepchildren had the most emotionally distant stepfamily relationships. We also found, in another in-depth study of dozens of young adult stepchildren, that stepchildren had to notice what their stepparents were trying to do and respond affirmatively to those affinity-seeking efforts; it was not enough for stepparents to try to build bonds, stepchildren had to recognize their efforts, interpret them in a positive way, and respond in kind. In addition, we learned that stepchildren believe that the initial efforts to build a bond are the stepparents’ responsibility, not theirs.

More recently, we gathered survey data online from 291 heterosexual remarried couples in which we asked them about stepparents’ affinity-seeking with stepchildren, marital quality, stepfamily conflict and cohesion. Information was obtained from husbands and wives separately, which allowed us to look at how stepparent affinity seeking related to both the stepparents’ and the biological parents’ perceptions about their marriage and family relationship quality. To assess stepparent affinity-seeking, we asked the partners individually to select the oldest child in their household who was from one of the partners’ previous relationships, and we asked them to think of that stepchild when responding to questions about stepparents’ efforts to build a friendship.

First, we explored factors related to stepparents’ efforts to befriend their stepchildren. Specifically, we evaluated how biological parents’ efforts at controlling stepparents’ interactions with their children (also known as “gatekeeping”) and stepparents’ self-perceptions of how they viewed close relationships with others (also known as “attachment orientations”) were associated with stepparents’ friendship-seeking behaviors with residential stepchildren. Stepparents who felt confident in their close relationships and, perhaps surprisingly, stepparents who felt anxious when interacting with others to whom they wanted to be close, engaged in more friendship- seeking behaviors with their stepchildren than did stepparents whose orientation was to keep their distance as a way to protect themselves in intimate relationships. We also found that both stepparents and their partners reported that the biological parents’ restrictive gatekeeping was strongly associated with fewer friendship-seeking behaviors by stepparents.

Next, we looked at whether the stepparent-stepchild relationship or marital relationship was more closely linked to overall stepfamily functioning. We did this because a researcher years ago had suggested that step-relationship quality was the most important predictor of stepfamily quality; some stepfamily therapists agree, while others contend that marital quality is key to family functioning. In our study we found that both relationships are important, although couples’ confidence in the future of their marriage was slightly more strongly associated with better stepfamily functioning (i.e., emotional closeness, communication, harmony) than was the quality of the stepparent-stepchild bond.

Finally, in a subsample of 234 stepfather-mother dyads, we found, after accounting for duration of mothers’ previous relationships, duration of the stepcouple relationship, the selected child’s biological sex and age, number of children in the household, and mothers’ report of household income, stepfathers’ perceptions of affinity-seeking with the child significantly predicted both partners’ perceptions of stepfather-stepchild conflict, marital quality, marital confidence, and stepfamily cohesion.

The results of these studies suggest that there are benefits associated with stepparent affinity-seeking – less conflict with stepchildren, better couple relationships, and closer stepfamily ties. Our findings provide evidence for encouraging stepparents to focus on building friendships with stepchildren. Our findings also illustrate that this is not always a simple thing to do. For these efforts to work, stepparents should engage in friendship-building behaviors early in the relationship and continue them as the bond builds. Additionally, the stepchildren must notice those efforts and respond affirmatively to them. Biological parents also need to allow opportunities for stepparents and stepchildren to engage with each other. When these things happen, then everyone in the stepfamily benefits. Stepparents and their partners (the parents of the children) need to think about this as an ongoing, long-term project – we found that some stepchildren disliked their stepparents and resisted any efforts to bond for some time, often months or years, before deciding that their stepparents’ efforts should be reciprocated.

Lawrence Ganong is an emeritus professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. Marilyn Coleman is a Distinguished Curator’s Professor Emerita of human development and family science at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. They have been studying stepfamily relationships for over 40 years.

The recent CCF Symposium, Parents Can’t Go It Alone, introduces you to important new work about what parents need to meet their goals and successfully raise the next generation. The essays range from a comparison of social supports across nations to what worries Latinx parents for their children’s safety.. Other essays highlight the strengths of community support for mothering in the African-American community and the need for change in how we structure low-wage work to support parents who work in those jobs. The symposium also provides evidence that most Americans want to live in families where both parents share the work of making a living and raising the children, so it is vitally important that we don’t leave fathers out of our demands for workplace flexibility.

We have so much in this country, so why is parenting so hard? An online symposium convened by the Council on Contemporary FamiliesParents Can’t Go It Alone—illustrates that parenting today is harder because working mothers and fathers are going without the help they need. We are neglecting parents.

Why now? CCF asked scholars who study families to write about the most current research on the needs of parents. We heard that parents have diverse priorities, and that many parents worry about how racism is affecting their children. Some worry about the lack of time for their kids, and others struggle with jobs that seem to demand their attention 24/7 jobs and so interfere with giving children enough attention. These problems are significant, and we see their consequences: The birth rate is falling throughout much of the world.

The symposium offers descriptions of how hard parenting is—and potential solutions to reduce the consequent discouragement for diverse American parents. Each essay suggests possibilities for how our society might come to the aid of today’s parents.

How do families “do it all?” They don’t.

New York University sociologist Kathleen Gerson busts the myth that there is such a thing as “having it all.” On the basis of interviews with 120 young adults (33–47 years old), she found four patterns for managing the conflicts between the workplace and child rearing. Some workers are hyper-traditional, while others remain single or childless. In some families, women “do it all” rather than have it all. A third of her sample can be described as egalitarians, experimenting with building an equal partnership at both work and home despite the obstacles. Only the egalitarians prefer the choice they have made; most of the others would prefer egalitarian relationships but have not found a way to achieve them in today’s world.

It isn’t just time or just autonomy. Both matter for parents.

Maureen Perry-Jenkins from University of Massachusetts Amherst interviewed 360 low-income working families and found that a shortage of time is nearly everyone’s complaint. Parents needed time to sleep, care for babies, and connect with their partner, but they also needed predictability in their schedules. Control over their time makes it possible to have last-minute doctor appointments or a needed sick day. Beyond that, Perry-Jenkins reports that conditions at work affect parents’ mental health and their relationships with their children and partners. One way to support the next generation is to improve the conditions of work for their parents. Work matters.

Parents report fear of violence (from police as well as gangs).

University of Illinois at Chicago’s Lorena Garcia interviewed 68 middle- and upper-middle-class Latinx parents in the Chicagoland area. She found both optimism and worry: The parents had the knowledge and financial resources to help their children pursue their dreams; yet they worried, especially about their sons. They worried about the vulnerability of Black and Latino boys to gun violence in the city. They gave their sons a version of “the talk,” to help them reduce their vulnerability to police racism. Despite economic privileges, the Latinx parents in her study had serious concerns about their sons’ physical safety. Garcia shows us that good family policy must include reducing gang violence and police racism.

African-American communities support employed mothers

Dawn Marie Dow, from the University of Maryland and author of Mothering While Black, offers a view of African-American mothering that contradicts the presumption that all mothers feel a conflict between paid work and parenting. In interviews with middle- and upper-middle-class African-American mothers, Dow found that for African-American mothers, working outside the home is part of mothering work. Unlike other American mothers’ view that parenting is at odds with work, they felt supported by their families and communities for their paid labor. In their communities, being a strong, independent woman is seen as a virtue. Dow’s research reminds us that not only must we change the structures of workplaces to support parenting, but we must support cultural expectations and communities that validate parents’ ability to combine earning a living with caring for others.

Fathers are parents too.

Although some of the essays in this symposium are all about mothering, Stephanie Coontz reminds us that dads count too. She suggests that a major obstacle to the successful coordination of work and family life is the assumption that the problem belongs only to mothers. If fathers were not expected to focus solely on earning a living, mothers would never be required to “do it all.” Coontz provides data on the kinds of parental leave available to U.S. fathers and shows the inequity of providing more or better leave to mothers. Coontz suggests that feminists must work as strenuously for fair and generous paternal leaves as we do for maternal leaves.

How and why work–family policies matter

Caitlyn Collins, author of Making Motherhood Work, takes us on a deep dive into the social policies that make it easier or harder to be an employed parent. She interviewed 135 middle-class working mothers in Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the United States, and learned that while European countries have wide-ranging approaches to social policies, all have more substantial family-related policies than does the United States. Those policies make employed mothering less stressful in those countries than in the United States. Collins suggests that the lack of such policies in the United States sends the message that our families are on their own—that the community owes nothing to those raising the next generation of citizens.


FULL SYMPOSIUM PDF: CCF Parents Can’t Go It Alone Online Symposium 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  Children Are Now Back at School, Time to Focus on What Their Parents Need by Barbara J. Risman,



Why No One Can “Have It All” and What to Do About It by Kathleen Gerson,

Work that Works for Low-Wage Workers by Maureen Perry-Jenkins,

Fears of Violence: Concerns of Middle-Class Latinx Parents by Lorena Garcia,

Mothering While Black by Dawn Marie Dow,

Dads Count Too: Family-Friendly Policies Must Include Fathers by Stephanie Coontz,

Raising a Village: Identifying Social Supports for All Kinds of Families by Caitlyn Collins,

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Resposted with Permission from This Chair Rocks.

We’ve known for a while that ageism—negative beliefs and stereotypes about aging—make us vulnerable to disease and decline, and also that the opposite is true. People with fact- rather than fear-based attitudes towards aging walk faster, heal quicker, live longer, and are less likely to get Alzheimer’s—even if they’re genetically predisposed to the disease.

Until recently, though, we didn’t know much about whether strategies to reduce ageism actually worked. That changed on June 21, when a report published in the American Journal of Public Health showed for the first time that “it is possible to reduce ageist attitudes, prejudices and stereotypes.” Boom! The results are far more definitive than a single study. Scientists at Cornell University conducted a “systematic review and meta-analysis”  of 63 studies conducted over the past forty years with a total of 6,124 participants. After evaluating three types of interventions designed to curb ageism, they found that the most successful  programs encourage intergenerational contact and educate people about the facts of aging.

“The most surprising thing was how well some of these programs seemed to work,” observed co-author Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell and gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “The findings really suggest that these interventions had a very strong effect on outcomes, attitudes and knowledge” about aging, concurred study author David Burnes, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Toronto.

Not only that, experts agree that these kinds of interventions shouldn’t cost much money and are easy to implement. Possibilities include after-school mentoring or tutoring programs; college classes on aging and age bias; and activities that involve all ages, like a community garden or putting on a play or organizing around a shared cause.

Author and activist Ashton Applewhite has been recognized by the New York Times, the New Yorker, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. She blogs at This Chair Rocks, speaks widely at venues that have ranged from the United Nations to the TED mainstage, has written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and is the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist?  The author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton is a leading spokesperson for a movement to mobilize against discrimination on the basis of age.

A briefing paper prepared  for the Council on Contemporary Families’ Symposium Parents Can’t Go It Alone—They Never Have.

A major obstacle to the successful coordination of work and family life in today’s world is the assumption that this is primarily a woman’s issue. Critics of U.S. social policy often point out how far we lag behind the rest of the world in providing maternity leave. That’s true enough. Of 41 high- and middle-income countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU), the United States is the only one that does not have nationally mandated paid maternity leave.

But many other countries are just as neglectful as the United States when it comes to enabling fathers to integrate work and family life. Ten of those 41 countries fail to mandate any paid leave for fathers. Less than a handful make any serious effort to break the pattern whereby even fathers who have access to leave typically take very little, thus forgoing the opportunity to spend time bonding with their infants and to gain the skills associated with being a primary caregiver.

This exemption—or exclusion—of men from the routines of domestic life is not at all traditional. For millennia, fathers and mothers shared the duties of provisioning the family and organizing its daily activities. Involvement in production and exchange outside the household were seen as a central part of a wife’s duties and household chores as a central part of a husband’s. When a man referred to himself as a sole provider, that was not an affirmation of his masculine identity but a plea for sympathy because he was widowed or his wife was unable to contribute to the family’s subsistence.

Premodern families made no pretense to egalitarianism, but men were not relegated to the sidelines of domestic life. In fact, the very word “domestic” was originally gender-neutral, referring to the industriousness expected of both sexes. Fathers were actively involved in home life, feeding the wood stoves in the kitchen, helping to fetch and carry water, teaching their children to read, and nurturing ties with kin and neighbors in order to sustain the wider social networks of reciprocity on which family well-being depended. Not until the 19th century did fathers begin to be conceptualized as uniquely responsible for earning money and mothers as uniquely responsible for parenting and for processing the goods purchased with the man’s money. And not until the 1920s and 1930s, when children of working-class families started going to school instead of out to work, did a majority of children actually grow up in female-homemaker families.

Today, most children live in households where every adult works for pay, yet in dual-earner families it is women who generally take time off for family needs. This not only perpetuates gender inequality in the workforce but also promotes a division of domestic labor that fosters marital discord, preventing heterosexual couples from achieving the kinds of egalitarian relationships that are now associated the greatest marital satisfaction.

Our challenge is not just to reintegrate women into productive activity, but to reintegrate men into reproductive activity—raising children, caring for the ill and elderly, and tending to the kinship and friendship networks that we all depend upon for services and benefits that can’t be purchased in the marketplace.

The benefits of maternal leave for the well-being of mothers and children are well established. When such leaves are the norm, they also lessen or even eliminate “the motherhood penalty” whereby mothers are paid and promoted at lower rates than childless women. In Norway between 1979 and the mid-1990s, a combination of paid family leave, subsidized child care, and more flexible work policies completely eliminated the motherhood penalty for female employees in workplaces where people did the same work for the same employer. It reduced that penalty by 75 percent in the workforce overall.

But maternal leave policies do not eliminate the pay and promotion advantages that accrue to husbands and fathers. In fact, maternal leaves, paid or unpaid, can perpetuate the pattern whereby wives essentially subsidize their partners’ greater investment and rewards at work by freeing them from most routine weekday housework and child care.

The expectation that men will increase their work commitment after marriage, especially after a child arrives, has become so entrenched that even when paternal leave is available, men seldom take all or even most of the time to which they are entitled. In part, they fail to do so because they fear being stigmatized as an uncommitted employee. But it is also eminently practical, given that most men earn more than their female partners. Forfeiting a substantial portion of the higher salary seems risky to parents facing the increased financial pressures of a new child. Yet when women reduce their work efforts to allow men to sustain or increase their labor market commitment, that not only contributes to the “motherhood penalty”; it increases the “fatherhood bonus,” which we might also call the “nonparenting incentive.” Such behaviors reinforce women’s secondary position in the workplace and men’s secondary position in the family.

Many men and women would like to break this cycle of gender specialization and inequality. And the good news is that when communities or governments offer generous pay replacement combined with use-it-or-lose-it policies that normalize the practice of paternal leave-taking, couples make different choices.

In Iceland in 2000, for example, men accounted for only 3 percent of all parental leave days taken. By 2007, after full implementation of a father’s quota instituted in 2003, they took almost a third. By 2006, after Norway extended the father’s leave quota to 6 weeks, 70 percent of eligible Norwegian fathers were taking almost all the time for which they were eligible. And when Quebec reserved a use-it-or-lose-it 5-week quota for fathers in 2006, men’s take-up rates increased by 250 percent. By 2010, 80 percent of eligible men were using the leave, and the duration of their leaves had increased by 150 percent.

Paternal leave-taking reduces the degree of gender specialization in families. In Quebec, fathers who took leave increased their core domestic cooking and shopping even after returning to work, while mothers increased their paid labor hours. Norwegian couples who had a child after the introduction of more generous paternal leave policies were more likely to share domestic duties—and significantly less likely to report conflicts over housework—than those who had their last child just before the reform.

Change never comes without cost. A father who takes parental leave may miss some of the promotions and raises associated with uninterrupted work, lowering the marriage and fatherhood bonus that most men now receive. Nevertheless, a recent study in Denmark suggests that when fathers’ leaves allow mothers to develop a more consistent work history, this can lower the motherhood penalty enough to result in increased total household wages.

Furthermore, paternal leave-taking paves the way for further progress in the next generation. In Norway, girls born after men started taking longer paternity leaves were assigned fewer household chores as teenagers—many years after their fathers had returned to work—than their counterparts born just before. Such a change could make a real difference in the United States, where teenage girls rehearse their futures by spending twice as much time cleaning and cooking as teenage boys while receiving less than half as much in allowances!

For their part, boys who see their fathers share housework and child care with their mother are much more likely to do the same when they grow up. One U.S. study found that the extent to which fathers participated in routine, stereotypically female tasks when their sons were very young had a strong influence on the sons’ likelihood of sharing such tasks in their own households 30 years later—and it did so pretty much independently of the gender attitudes their parents espoused. Kids pay more attention to what parents practice than what they preach.

Feminists who believe in equal rights at home as well as work must practice what we preach, working as strenuously for fair and generous paternal leaves as we do for maternal ones.

Stephanie Coontz is Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, and Professor Emeritus of History and Family Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington,    



Reposted from CalMatters

The recent shooting death of Miles Hall, a 23-year-old African-American man in Walnut Creek who struggled with mental illness, reminded me of why I didn’t call an ambulance during my sister, Erica’s, psychotic break.

Mr. Hall’s family called 911 for help, as he ran around with a pointed metal object. The family described it as a garden tool and police called it an iron bar. The day before, his mother,

Taun Hall, notified the police department about their son’s worsening schizoaffective disorder, which can cause delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech. Police advised the family to call the police in an emergency.

Despite the family’s outreach, something still went horribly wrong.

Two officers trained in crisis intervention, Tasers on hand, arrived on scene first and fired bean bag rounds to get Mr. Hall to drop the object. When he ran in their direction, which the family explains as an attempt to “run past” officers and toward home, they used a gun, instead of a Taser.

The family filed a civil claim in June and a federal wrongful death lawsuit in September. Mr. Hall’s survivors and their attorney John Burris, said they want this case to serve as an example to California law enforcement of how not to respond to a mental health crisis.

“We are betrayed by a system that failed us, that we had no other option (but) to use,” Taun Hall said as quoted by KPIX in San Francisco. “What else are we supposed to do? We have no other options but to call the police.”

These dangers have dissuaded my family from feeling comfortable calling an ambulance if Erica has another psychotic break.

Eight years ago a security guard at my family’s housing complex in New York City found my sister, Erica, wandering in a daze. She rambled about witchcraft and vampires and said she was going to Alaska.

My sister had no known history of mental illness, but I knew she needed psychiatric help. I called the nearest hospital’s mobile crisis team and asked how quickly help could arrive. The dispatcher said someone would arrive within 48 hours. What kind of crisis intervention can wait two days for a response?

I asked about an ambulance. She warned me that if I called 911, the police would attend.

“Something to keep in mind,” she said.

Erica had never shown aggression before, but that morning, overcome by fear and her delusions, she hit my father and threw objects at me.

She wanted to leave the apartment, and my father and I tried to prevent her from going outside again in her confused state. I pictured a struggle with police, given her uncooperativeness and desire to flee.

She angrily told me there was nothing wrong with her.

At 304 pounds, her size coupled with her agitation made her especially imposing that day. Instead of calling 911, I spent hours cajoling Erica to seek medical help before we finally managed to get into a cab to the hospital.

We’re lucky no police showed up that morning, since Erica’s out-of-character behavior the next day suggests she might have presented in a way that would have caused a police officer to use force in subduing her.

She fought with hospital staff when people there to help tried to prevent her from leaving the ER. They tied her down in restraints and drugged her so heavily that she slept through the weekend.

“I don’t remember anything,” Erica says, of the events from that morning and the days afterward.

Erica spent three months involuntarily committed in a psychiatric unit, followed by years of treatment. Eventually she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Thankfully her medication has controlled the psychotic symptoms. Her own efforts and family and program support has helped Erica avoid inpatient psychiatric re-hospitalization.

She attends a psychosocial clubhouse in New York City, which provides volunteer, work, and educational opportunities and social activities, along with low-cost nutritious meals and caseworkers. Fountain House has given Erica continued support to weather the bumps.

Charleena Lyles, a pregnant African-American mother of four in Seattle, wasn’t so lucky. Neither was Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old black woman in New York. Both women had a history of mental illness and died in officer-inflicted shootings within minutes of police arrival.

Last year, officers armed with Tasers killed three unarmed people with a diagnosed mental illness in a 10-month period in San Mateo County. These represent just a handful of deaths of people with mental illness or disability by police within the last few years.

Attributing these tragedies, whether gun or Taser-inflicted, to human error ignores systemic problems with how we address mental illness in the community. We’ve failed as a society when police are the primary responders to mental health crises.

This shift in care for citizens with a mental illness, with the criminal justice system taking over mental health services, dates to the failures of the 1970s and 80s when people were moved from confinement in large public hospitals and released without adequate healthcare, social services and supportive housing.

Today, jails and prisons provide much of the inpatient psychiatric care in the United States.

Absent a major overhaul in psychiatric services, police will continue to play a frontline role in mental health emergencies. Police departments need to ensure officers can recognize a mental health crisis, receive adequate training in de-escalation techniques, and assess behavior that seems threatening with informed evaluation and not fear.

Urban police departments have begun increased training for handling interactions with emotionally disturbed people, modeled on the nationally recognized crisis intervention training—CIT—program used by nearly 3,000 law enforcement agencies.

But the efforts are uneven and inadequate. While increasing, only about half of the San Francisco Police Department’s 1,869 full duty officers have completed the program.

All Los Angeles police officers receive 15 hours of mental health training, which is a good start but far fewer hours than a full CIT course.

Given the vast needs of diverse urban populations across the state, every officer needs CIT. But the programs remain underfunded and understaffed, as a recent Los Angeles County Sheriff Department report outlined.

And even that may not be enough, as the presence of CIT-certified officers has not prevented some of these recent shootings.

In the case of officer-involved deaths, the question of whether officers should have used Tasers instead of guns isn’t the main discussion we should be having. Weapons shouldn’t be the first method of addressing a health crisis. And Tasers kill, too. They can cause cardiac arrest and death even when used “properly.”

With Taser-related deaths on the rise, communities across the United States have begun to reconsider their usage.

Given the unpredictability of interactions with someone in a psychotic state, police departments need to implement better safeguards to avoid heat-of-the-moment breaking of police procedure. Emergency 911 calls with any hint of emotionally disturbed behavior should require the presence of medical personnel from the beginning, with emergency service units arriving first and patrol officers as back-up.

Calls from households with a record of prior police contact for emotionally disturbed behavior should be rigorously tracked and flagged, with CIT-trained officers required to respond.

Officers need to focus on slowing down the interaction and buying time to ensure everyone’s safety, the hallmark of CIT training for encounters with emotionally disturbed people.

Developing listening skills and empathy will lower the odds of violent outcomes to mental health emergencies and benefit all communities when emphasis shifts from aggression to de-escalation.

The bigger challenge is helping officers not to presume people with mental illness are a threat or problem. Stigma is powerful, and psychosis is frightening for everyone involved.

Continued anti-bias efforts, coupled with crisis intervention training, is crucial, considering that many of these deaths involved members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Until we have a more humane, medically-informed system of police response, we will do whatever we can to avoid calling 911 for Erica in a crisis.

Stacy Torres is an assistant professor of sociology at UC San Francisco, Her sister, Erica Torres, contributed to this commentary. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Policymakers, academics, and the general public are increasingly interested in parental leave policies. The increased interest in parental leave is particularly notable in the United States – the only high-income country without a national statutory paid parental leave policy – indicating some potential for progress. Indeed, many 2020 U.S. presidential campaigns have discussed potential paid leave policies, several states have adopted state-level paid family leave policies, and large companies are adopting and increasingly publicizing their paid parental leave policies.

The increased attention to paid parental leave policies stems from their perceived benefits. Most notably, scholars and policymakers believe parental leave is a key policy that can help to promote greater gender equality, particularly when these policies make fathers eligible to take leave and encourage fathers to take leave. Paid leave for fathers provides men with time to participate in childcare and housework tasks that are traditionally performed by mothers, helps parents learn how to share tasks more equally, and establishes expectations for shared parenting. Getting fathers more involved in domestic labor helps to reduce the burdens typically placed on mothers – and closing the gap in domestic labor between men and women is key to achieving greater gender equality both at home and in the public sphere.

Current evidence suggests that fathers who take leave (especially those who take longer periods of leave) are more involved in childcare and housework than fathers who do not take leave (Almqvist and Duvander 2014; Bünning 2015; Petts and Knoester 2018; Tamm 2019). Couples that share childcare and housework more equally report greater satisfaction in their relationships than couples in less egalitarian relationships, as sharing in domestic labor promotes feelings of equity between parents and reduces the burdens placed on any one parent (Carlson et al. 2016). Indeed, there is also evidence that parents – mothers in particular – report being more satisfied in their relationships when fathers take leave after the birth of a child (Kotsadam and Finseraas 2011; Petts & Knoester 2019a; 2019b).

In a new study published this month, we extend previous work on the benefits of fathers’ leave-taking by looking at whether fathers’ leave-taking (and how much time fathers take) is associated with relationship stability in the United States. Because taking leave may foster more involvement in domestic labor by U.S. fathers and reduce burdens placed on U.S. mothers, parents – especially mothers – may feel more supported and satisfied in these relationships and thus better able to manage the stresses involved with raising a child. Reduced strain and higher relationship quality portends a lower likelihood of relationship dissolution.

We find evidence that fathers’ leave-taking is associated with more stable parental relationships. Specifically, couples were 25% less likely to end their relationship in the first six years following the birth of a child when fathers took leave compared to couples where fathers did not take leave. Thus, results suggest that increasing access to parental leave for fathers – and encouraging fathers to take this leave – may help to increase family stability.

If fathers’ leave-taking reduces the risk of relationship dissolution, does this mean that longer leaves are even more likely to promote relationship stability? Not exactly. We find that taking two weeks of leave or less is most likely to reduce the risk of relationship dissolution; couples were 29% less likely to end their relationship when fathers took 1 week of leave, and 25% less likely to end their relationship when fathers took 2 weeks of leave (compared to couples where fathers did not take leave). Taking longer periods of leave (3 weeks or more) was unrelated to relationship stability (although this may be due to small sample sizes, as the number of U.S. fathers who take longer leaves is quite low).

This may seem counterintuitive. If taking leave provides fathers with time to learn to be an engaged parent, and parents’ time to establish equitable coparenting relationships, it seems logical that more time on leave would be better for parents and help to strengthen parental relationships. However, it is important to consider the cultural norms surrounding parental leave and the implications of taking more time off than is expected, or accepted, within a society. In the U.S., most fathers take a short period of time off work when a child is born and it is widely accepted that fathers should be present for the birth of their child. It is uncommon for fathers to take longer than a couple of weeks off work when a child is born, and there are actually career penalties and stigmas associated with taking longer periods of leave (Rudman and Mescher 2013; Wayne and Cordeiro 2003; Williams et al. 2013). Thus, relatively short leaves may be most likely to promote relationship stability by providing some time at home for fathers while minimizing any negative career consequences. These findings are consistent with European studies which show that fathers’ leave-taking is most likely to promote parents’ relationship stability when fathers follow the cultural norms of leave-taking within a particular country (Lappegård et al. 2019; Viklund 2018).

Overall, our study suggests that fathers’ leave-taking may help to promote more stable parental relationships in the U.S., identifying an additional benefit of fathers’ leave-taking for families. Given the numerous benefits of parental leave, the increased attention on expanding parental leave policies in the U.S. is warranted. American parents need greater access to paid parental leave in order to take advantage of the benefits that parental leave provides (such as more stable parental relationships). But, our findings regarding variations in relationship stability by length of leave suggest that norms regarding parental leave-taking also need to change. For the full benefits of parental leave policies to be realized, U.S. culture needs to be more accepting of fathers taking leave. By doing so, we may be able to work towards greater gender equality by encouraging – and providing opportunities for – mothers and fathers to share more equally in childcare.

Richard Petts is Professor of Sociology at Ball State University. Follow him on Twitter @pettsric and reach him at  Daniel L. Carlson is Assistant Professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah. Follow him on Twitter @DanielCarlson_1 and reach him at

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families’ Symposium Parents Can’t Go It Alone—They Never Have.   

Low-wage jobs may not be anyone’s ideal for a career, but they are not going away anytime soon. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shown (Figure 1) show that nearly one out of four Americans works for low wages. Many are parents. It is critical for the quality of family life in America that we understand how working conditions, including hours and flexibility, affect parents’ well-being, the quality of parenting, and, of course, the well-being of American children.

What are the problems for family life created by working conditions at low-wage jobs and what are some of the solutions to solve them? To understand what about low-wage work hurts families and what helps, we conducted interviews with 360 low-income, working families coping with new parenthood and old jobs.

Time was a theme that came up over and over again in our interviews with new parents. They talked about needing time to sleep, work, care for babies, connect with their partner, or simply to be alone. Parents also needed predictability in their time, meaning consistent and set hours. Parents with whom I talked also expressed the need for some control over their time, such as being able to make last-minute doctor appointments or take a needed sick day.

Parents need access to caregiving leaves, sick time, personal time, flexibility, and predictability—issues currently being addressed by policy initiatives across the country. But they also need better conditions of employment. In our efforts to support families by providing flexibility, predictability, and time away from work, we often overlook the impact of what happens during the 40+ hours per week spent “on the job.” Experiences on the factory floor, in the nursing home, or on food service lines that occur hourly, weekly, monthly, and year after year affect workers’ mental health, emotional well-being, physical health, stress, and energy. Such experiences can either enable or disable workers’ abilities to be engaged and sensitive parents. The question of how we “create” low-wage jobs that provide autonomy, meaning, and support requires listening to the workers themselves and understanding what about their work matters to them.

Recent interventions aimed at improving workers’ control over their schedules and enhancing supervisor support have shown that efforts to provide greater control and autonomy to workers produce better mental and physical health in workers and less employee turnover. But how control and autonomy might look in low-wage jobs is not obvious. My research suggests that what actually matters for low-wage workers is being able to take some initiatives and being recognized for doing so. For example, one woman I interviewed, Linda, who worked in a candle-packing factory as an order packer, reported extremely high levels of job autonomy. We learned that when she first started packing orders for customers, she would slip in some new candle scents with each order with a note to customers about how they might enjoy this new product. Slowly customers began to specifically request her services. Her boss recognized her creativity and “autonomy” and had her train new workers on how to connect with customers. She felt valued and respected for her work. Others parents have described autonomy at work as having their opinions valued and having a voice in decision making.

Conditions on the job affect workers’ mental health, and that affects their relationships at home. Having autonomy and some control at work translates into more engaged parenting at home: Parents are more involved with their babies and exhibit more responsive and sensitive parenting. Jose, a young father who works as a line cook at a steak house, talks about work as fun and energizing; his boss lets him try out new recipes, plan items for the menu, and learn more about budgeting. He works long hours for minimum wage, but feels valued and sees a career trajectory ahead of him. He wants to succeed now that he is a father. When Jose walks in the door at home he completely engages as a parent, holding his son, singing and laughing.  It is a pattern we saw time and time again. We also saw the other side: parents working at jobs that are rigid, boring, and disempowering—experiences that can translate to disengaged or often harsh and insensitive parenting at home.

Often when we evaluate the effectiveness of a new policy in the United States, such as the current paid leave policies popping up in states across the country, we demonstrate its success by proving to employers or policy makers that there was no financial fallout from instituting this policy. What if—instead or in addition—we measured success by a reduction in working parents’ stress or in the improved well-being of parents and children? Or what about happiness? A provocative study by Glass, Simon, and Anderson found that parents in the United States report the lowest levels of happiness among the 22 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries studied. We must continually solicit feedback from workers themselves about what policies and supports are most important to them. Their voices matter. Once a policy is instituted, we need to hear from them about the consequences. Did it help? Did it help some workers more than others? Should we try something new?

As we consider the solutions to better support working families in this country, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the economic and social inequality. Many of us feel powerless, seeing solutions embroiled in the slow-moving wheels of policy and government action. Yet my data and those of others suggest that today each of us could create ways to improve workplaces and build cultures of respect and support that hold implications for workers and their families, especially their children. Such simple interventions as giving workers some control over day-to-day operations, soliciting their feedback, understanding the challenges they may face at home, and respecting their contributions are concrete ways to improve work settings. If we are truly invested in giving the next generation of children in this country a healthy and equal start, perhaps the first place to look is at workplace. Work matters.

Maureen Perry-Jenkins is Professor of Psychology and Director at Center for Research on Families at the University of Massachusetts,


A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families’ Symposium Parents Can’t Go It Alone—They Never Have.

If debates about women’s rights, relationships between the sexes, and worsening conflicts between paid work and family life seem endless, that’s because Americans can’t agree on what is happening, much less on what to do about it. Some blame the problems on a “gender stall,” as women continue to hit glass ceilings at work and perform the lion’s share of caregiving at home. Others focus on the decline of men’s breadwinning as their earnings erode, their labor force participation drops, and they fall behind women in educational attainment and career aspirations. Progressives lament the lingering traditionalism that leaves women mired in second-class citizenship, while conservatives worry about the rise of a self-centered individualism that elevates personal freedom over lasting commitments to others.

To gain a more nuanced picture of how today’s adults are negotiating work–family conflicts, I conducted face-to-face depth interviews with 120 (self-identified) women and men between the ages of 33 and 47 years—the years when most Americans face their peak challenges in building both their work and their family lives. I went to two different geographic areas, interviewing people living in the heart of the “new economy” in Silicon Valley (stretching from San Jose to the East Bay) and those living in or near America’s biggest city, the New York metropolitan area. This approach yielded a group with diverse racial, economic, and educational backgrounds living in a variety of family arrangements, including singles, cohabiters, and married couples.

My interviews revealed four major patterns of response to the challenges of earning a living and caring for others. At one end of the spectrum, one-fifth of my participants adopted a “hyper-traditional” pattern that emphasized overwork for fathers and intensive parenting for mothers. Concerns about job security prompted husbands to put in very long work weeks (ranging from 60 to as many as 100 hours) to assure employers of their work commitment. In a parallel way, concerns about living up to a standard of “intensive parenting” left wives with equally strong pressures to devote their utmost attention to childrearing. Although these mothers and fathers felt overworked in their separate spheres and deprived of both personal time and time together as a couple, they did not believe they could risk doing anything else.

At the other end of the spectrum, 24 percent opted to remain “unencumbered.” These adults remained single and childless or became estranged from offspring in the wake of a breakup. A comparable percentage of women and men followed this path, but they did so for different reasons. The men were typically unable (or unwilling) to find steady work and concluded they could not afford to take on the financial or emotional responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. The women found they valued work too much to dilute their career commitment by taking on commitments to care for husbands and children.

In a very real sense, the hyper-traditional couples are recreating traditional gender patterns in an especially extreme form, whereas the unencumbered are opting to preserve their independence by avoiding such traditional family commitments. Yet together these two extremes account for only 44 percent of my respondents. The remaining 56 percent comprises two additional groups.

About a quarter (26 percent) of my participants are in relationships that reflect the simultaneous decline of the male breadwinner wage and the persistence of the female caregiver norm. These families rely on the woman’s earnings as much as they do on the man’s (and sometimes more) but they also depend on her for the bulk of caregiving. In these cases, women do not “have it all” so much as they “do it all.” It is hardly surprising that carrying the load as both a primary or co-breadwinner and the main caretaker leaves most of these women feeling tired, disheartened, and unappreciated—but they are not alone in their frustration. Most of the men in these relationships also express frustration, saying they wish they could do more caregiving, but fear that taking the necessary time would endanger their job security and prospects. What’s more, these are not unrealistic fears. Research has demonstrated that a “flexibility stigma” penalizes workers—especially professional men—who choose to pull back even slightly to engage in care work at home.

The remaining 30 percent of my participants can be described as egalitarians—couples who are experimenting with building an equal partnership despite the obstacles. With no clear path to follow, they do so in varying ways and with varying degrees of success. A third of this group (about 12 percent of the entire sample) decided to avoid the difficulties of equal caretaking by forgoing parenthood altogether, with many looking to relatives, friends, and pets for other forms of caregiving ties. The rest were willing to limit their working time, risk their financial prospects, and forego sleep and personal time to try to divide work and caregiving equally. Yet the dearth of institutional supports has left many of the work–care egalitarians wondering how long and at what cost they can sustain their efforts.

Despite their differences, all these strategies are responses to a similar set of pressures and conflicts. Rising job insecurity has upped the ante for workers, forcing them to put in long hours or risk losing their employment or endangering their future security. On the home front, concerns about rising inequality and declining social mobility have upped the ante on childrearing, creating a sense that only intensive parenting can prepare children to navigate an uncertain future.

Each of the four strategies described inevitably produces some degree of dissatisfaction, but the one commonly seen as most challenging—that is, the egalitarian strategy—turns out to be most preferred by those who practice it. Figure 1 shows that 55 percent of hyper-traditional women and 38 percent of hyper-traditional men would prefer a different arrangement, while 84 percent of the women who “do it all” and 75 percent of men who rely on a woman to do it all would also prefer a different arrangement. Among the unencumbered, 58 percent of women and 76 percent of men report that a different situation would be preferable. In contrast, those expressing the lowest desire for a different arrangement are the egalitarians, with only 7 percent of women and 29 percent of men saying they would prefer one of the other alternatives.

What arrangement do people prefer? Figure 2 shows that in addition to the egalitarians, where 93 percent of women and 71 percent of men prefer their situation, most of the rest of my interviewees also would prefer to share breadwinning and caregiving in an egalitarian way if that were a more realistic option. Women are understandably more likely to prefer sharing, with 74 percent of those currently “doing it all,” 58 percent of the unencumbered, and 55 percent of those in hyper-traditional relationships preferring more equal sharing. Although men expressed less enthusiasm for sharing, a significant minority—including nearly a third of hyper-traditional men, almost half of men who rely on a woman to do it all, and slightly more than half of unencumbered men—expressed a preference for an egalitarian partnership.

These findings make it clear that although every work–care strategy poses significant trade-offs and difficulties, people should not be forced to choose between hyper-traditionalism and hyper-individualism. Given the realities of the new economy, which relies on women workers but rarely longer offers job security to anyone, regardless of their gender identity or class position, it is neither humane nor just to confine the measure a man’s worth to his ability to be a successful breadwinner or a woman’s worth to her willingness to be a selfless caregiver. The solution is not to shore up and intensify an outdated system, but to address the inequalities and insecurities that permeate the current one.

How can we get to a more reasonable future? The first step is to reframe the work–care debate. It is time to jettison the tired lens of “having it all”—a lens that sees earning and caregiving as incompatible goals and the people (read women) who seek it as selfish or unrealistic. Instead, it is time to build our work and caring institutions on the principles of gender justice and work–care integration. Concretely, this means regulating time norms at the workplace so no worker must choose between excessively long work weeks and job insecurity. In our communities, it means creating caretaking resources that extend beyond the privatized household for children of all ages. And in our political institutions, it means ensuring equal economic opportunities for women of all stripes, equal caregiving rights for fathers as well as mothers, and a strengthened safety net that provides everyone with the basics that fewer and fewer jobs provide, such as a livable income, decent health care, and access to supports for weathering the ups and downs of our increasingly uncertain economic and family lives.

The rise of the new precarious economy is as challenging as the rise of the industrial system was more than a century ago. This transformation calls for structural and cultural realignments as vast as the shifts they need to address. Judging from the responses of my informants, the costs of doing nothing are far greater than the costs of helping everyone—women and men alike—forge a more balanced, equal, and secure division of work and caregiving.

Kathleen Gerson is Professor of Sociology, and Collegiate Professor of Arts and Science at New York University,


A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families’ Symposium Parents Can’t Go It Alone—They Never Have.  

Who doesn’t want their children to grow up happy and healthy? But different families face different challenges. I interviewed 68 newly middle-class Latinx parents in Chicagoland, and learned that one of their pressing concerns is how to shield their children from the possibility of violence in their daily lives. Most people I interviewed were themselves the children of immigrants who had little education and worked low-wage jobs to support their families. This made my interviewees’ recently achieved middle-class status especially significant. They were able to raise their children in households with more than they had growing up. Three-fourths earned six figures. The majority were married couples where both parents worked for pay.

Optimism and Worry

Thanks to their upward mobility as adults, most interviewees reported feeling optimistic about raising their children. They had the money they needed, but could also transmit some knowledge and skills about how the United States worked. But these middle-class Latinx parents voiced serious concerns about the possibility of violence in their children’s lives, especially for their sons. They talked about the vulnerability of young men of color to all kinds of violence: gang-related violence perpetrated by other young men, gun violence, and violence at the hands of the police.

Latinx parents said they were worried because of what they see and had witnessed growing up in Chicago, especially how Black and Latino boys and men are disproportionately affected by the gun violence in the city. Local and national media coverage of shooting injuries and deaths in the city made them attuned to gun violence in Chicago. Chicago experienced an increased spike in violent crime rates in 2016, and 50 percent of shootings that year were concentrated in neighborhoods on the West and South sides of the city, such as Austin, North and South Lawndale, and Humboldt Park.

Neighborhood Advantage Isn’t Enough

Most of the people I talked to didn’t live in high-crime neighborhoods. Even so, the upwardly mobile Latinx parents in my study did not believe that their neighborhood choices could necessarily protect their sons from other forms of violence, such as racial discrimination.

Parents described some strategies they drew on to minimize the chances of their sons’ encounters with violence. They carefully chose where to live. Most of the Latinxs I interviewed lived in the city of Chicago, but a few lived in surrounding suburbs, citing gang and gun-related violence as a key reason for their decision to move. Yet those parents who lived in predominantly white suburbs understood that their sons ran the risk of being seen as a threat, particularly if they had dark skin tone. Just living in a suburb meant their sons could be racially profiled by police.

Latinx Parents’ Versions of “the Talk”

The suburban Latinx parents had to give their sons a version of “the talk.” They gave them specific instructions to help them reduce their vulnerability to police racism. These strategies centered on image and emotion management. They taught their sons to avoid oversized pants and shirts, not to cover their heads with hoodies while walking down the street especially at night, to make an effort to greet adults they met on the street, to avoid getting visibly angry or frustrated if questioned by other residents and police, and to follow directions if detained by police.

For parents who lived in the city, strategies to reduce the likelihood of sons’ exposure to violence included choosing city neighborhoods away from the West and South sides of the city. This strategy only went so far, however, because most parents did not think any neighborhood in Chicago was immune to violence. The parents in my study who did live on the West and South sides chose certain streets in their neighborhood that seemed to have less threat of violence and gang-related activities; they believed the threat of violence varied “block by block.” One father noted that it was possible for one neighborhood block to be generally “violent incident-free,” while the next had more crime, including gang-related physical assaults or gun violence. Parents who lived in the city described particular socialization strategies to protect their sons from violence. These were similar to those used by the suburban parents in my study, such as not appearing defiant or resistant when in contact with police. But these parents had other strategies as well, including teaching their sons which streets and/or street corners to avoid, restricting when and where they walked in the area, disallowing them to wear certain color combinations associated with gangs. They even taught them to be mindful of how to wear their baseball hats and to avoid hand gestures that might be mistaken as signaling gang membership to gang members or to police.

Although parents I talked to were especially worried about their sons’ vulnerability to violence, they also knew that their daughters were not exempt from gun violence or police brutality. Even so, their concerns for their daughters were more focused on sexual violence. They worried for sons because they were young Latino men, but worried for daughters as women vulnerable to sexual violence.

We won’t understand working parents unless we recognize this: All parents have concerns for their children’s safety, but what that means varies by race and class. Despite the economic privileges of reaching the middle class, the Latinx parents I talked to had serious worries about the risk of violence in their sons’ lives. These are stable two-parent families, where both parents work for pay; but they worry about how to keep their children safe when neither parent is around to enforce the rules that they believe will help their children avoid peer or police violence. They worry because no parent can be there around the clock to protect their children. Both academic and popular discussions of how families navigate the need to work outside the home should pay attention to what my research shows—that Latinx parents and other parents of color have additional worries. We need to realize that reducing violence in our cities and ending racism in our criminal justice system are policies needed to support working parents. No parents should have to worry when they go to work about their children experiencing violence.

Lorena Garcia, Associate Professor, is Director of Undergraduate Studies & Associate Head of Sociology & Latin American and Latino Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago,