Parenting Experts and Studies: Please Pass the Salt

But with Tobi away with relatives and Isaac on extra-long shifts, I was able to finally listen to some podcasts I’ve wanted to hear for a while, particularly the Polyamory Weekly show with Cunning Minx, who has one of the prettiest radio voices ever.

Of course I wanted to tune into the one called “Help! I’m rich and I have a big penis!” Ah, perhaps someday I will be able to commiserate with the poor man whose metamours are always jealous because of his twin — or should I say triple — endowments.

Instead I went to “My Three Dads” to get a view on the proposed law in California that would allow three or more people to be legal parents if this were in the child’s best interest. I had pretty much ignored this bill because I thought it was more about custody and same-sex parenting, and this was just damn dumb on my part. It could have huge implications for poly parents. However, most people supporting the bill are downplaying that, because it’s the right-wing tendency to go off in that wacky “next thing you know, you’ll be marrying the Eiffel Tower!” direction, and why dangle the bait?

Interestingly, Washington DC is one place — and there are also several states — where some variation on more than two parents is allowed. An American University law professor gives a good rundown on this here. Most such laws are set up for situations that your average poly family would only get into by the strangest series of unfortunate events, not the result of a happy family wanting to have a safe and legal way to stay together. But where there’s precedent, there’s inspiration.

I’m sorry that this link to The New York Times article on the bill requires a login if you’ve maxed out on free articles this month, but I thought the words from a father and daughter who are affected were important:

In Portland, Ore., Sean Kane adopted his wife’s two children from her first marriage. But because they maintained close ties with their biological father, who now lives in California, Mr. Kane did not want the court to sever that legal relationship. Instead he pursued a third-parent adoption, which was finalized last year.

‘I wanted to send the message to the children that they were my children, as far as I was concerned,’ he said.
Mr. Kane’s adopted daughter, Sara Miner, 20, said: ‘If it were a choice between dropping my dad to be replaced by my stepdad, I would not have been open to it, but with a joint adoption you don’t have to battle about who is going to be Mom and who is going to be Dad. You can have a situation where everyone is happy and part of the family.

As Cunning Minx pointed out, others are not so reasonable or compassionate. She quotes a chunk that showed up in most news reports, because this is one group that must put in their oar:

Glenn T. Stanton, director of Global Family Formation Studies for the conservative group Focus on the Family, argues that the bill appears to advocate for children’s rights, but in reality gives adults legal protection to create ‘radical families.’

‘We hear all this celebratory talk about “new families,” but there is no sociological, psychological or medical data showing any of these new family forms have served to the elevate the general physical, mental, educational or developmental well-being of children in any meaningful way,’ said Stanton.

‘That job is best done for children by their own mother and father,’ he said. ‘And this bill would only take us farther down the trail of more “experimental families” that fulfill adult desires, but consistently fail our children.’

This use of “radical” and “experimental” families is an interesting right-wing positioning. Scratch the surface of anyone in America’s family, and you’ll find all kinds of divorces, remarriages, grandparents and aunts raising children, blended families, etc. Such radical experimentalism has been going on since the dawn of time or, if you must, the dawn of creation.

In much of Europe a cohabiting couple with a child counts as a family. In the United States, they count on the census and in the eyes of social services as three strangers, so eventually many of them behave that way. Given that reality, a single guy who is fighting for custody of his young kid should count as some kind of hero. Ditto for the stepfather who wants to make it official.

While I don’t think it’s “heroic” of a dad simply to be a dad, what’s interesting in that is the idea that because social services treats them as strangers they “behave that way.” There’s a backlash against identity politics out there that goes like this: Why do you need to be So Special and get Recognized and Validated because you’re a single parent/LGBT/poly/your name here? Why can’t you just live your life? I support your freedom, but why do you have to solicit for all this praise and recognition like you’re something special?

It might be because as long as poly = pervert, or woman who enjoys sex = damaging and damaged, etc., exists in the cultural imagination, people will on some level live down to that expectation. So yeah, that goofy Showtime polyamory show and the whole ‘what will they think of us, gasp!’ thing is important after all. If you’ve ever witnessed yourself or someone else slowly shaking their head and saying ‘oh, my people,’ you know what I mean. It’s not that any of us want to live our lives deeply affected by what others think. It’s just that we recognize these thought images affect our freedom to ‘just live our lives’.

A look at who is for and who is against the bill makes an interesting study. One of the bill’s co-sponsors is the Children’s Advocacy Institute, which was “founded at the nonprofit University of San Diego School of Law in 1989, [and] is an academic, research, and advocacy law firm,” according to its website. Here are some of this firm’s accomplishments:

• legislation to require children under the age of 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle;
• litigation ensuring that Social Security payments benefiting foster children are disbursed based upon the child’s best interests
• operation of a program of direct outreach to San Diego County’s homeless youth, aiding them in obtaining benefits and services, and protecting their rights in court and before administrative agencies.

Bicycle helmet laws; sounds pretty important for children’s health and safety to me.

How about Mr. Stanton? What are his accomplishments?

Well, he writes some books. Sort of pop psychology, marriage self-help stuff. And he is always available to give an interview, apparently, having weighed in on critical topics of the day ranging from whether it is gender-confusing for Angelina Jolie’s daughter to have a “boy’s” haircut to the merits of a certain “delicious but humble chicken sandwich.”

On his web page, the top link is an article in support of a study slamming same-sex couple parenting that has been a huge hot potato. It came under vicious and perhaps unfair attack from the left immediately on its release. However, whether the attacks were dirty or not doesn’t change the fact that Mark Regnerus’ “New Family Structures Study” had to be sent back for auditing after publication. After this audit, the study was deemed, by the sociology professor leading the audit, to be “bullshit.” According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in Regnerus’ study:

The peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems … that seemed to raise doubts about the parenting abilities of gay couples, according to an internal audit scheduled to appear in the November issue of the journal, Social Science Research, that published the study.

The highly critical audit, a draft of which was provided to The Chronicle by the journal’s editor, also cites conflicts of interest among the reviewers, and states that ‘scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process.’

Regnerus’ study was funded, to the tune of $ 800,000, by two major conservative groups, one of which has ties to Opus Dei.

To my mind, the greater problem is what looks like a cynical ploy to build big numbers and get one’s name passed around.

The Chronicle report says auditors found that the anticipation that the study would generate a lot of interest was a soft push to its acceptance. It points out that controversy equals page hits and mentions, and that these then raise a certain index among scholarly journals, called an “impact factor.” It’s like a Billboard hit song rating. When journals can score a higher number on this influence index, they can charge schools and libraries and associations more for subscriptions and access, attract more star researchers, etc.

I’m going so far afield into the wilds of academia to issue a warning: know where your info is coming from and who’s paying for it. As policy issues heat up on how you ‘just live your life’, you’ll be hearing from a lot of people on all sides, and they’re not going to give up easily. They’ll use all kinds of studies and science to try to sway the issues, and we’ll have to use whatever we can to find out whether these studies are worth considering or simply “bullshit.” Along the way, the dangers are pretty strong.

As Chronicle of Higher Education blogger Laurie Essig says:

Whatever the outcome for a particular journal or a particular scholar, this entire episode has revealed the 500-pound gorilla in the room: big conservative money is increasingly shaping social-science research. As universities scramble for alternative funding sources (as those same conservative forces cut funding to higher ed), they find themselves making pacts with highly ideological organizations that offer money for research that supports their world view.

The real lesson from Regnerus’s bad gay-parenting study is that we need a public debate about the importance of public funds for universities and research. Without such funding, it is like only having for-profit and conservative Christian book stores rather than libraries.

What Next?

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