Bill Moyers examines why America has become an unfriendly culture for families and children, and explores ways to rebuild a web of support for families. Experts discuss some of the practical steps needed to create a more hospitable social climate for families. The program also visits parents in San Diego who are struggling with some of the problems affecting the quality of parents’ and children’s lives.
GREG BOLDEN, Counselor: We’re really concerned about having money and giving our children things, rather than spending time with them.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD, Unemployed Single Mother: When I look at my budget, with my child care, I am going to struggle just to buy diapers and food. How am I supposed to do all this stuff on my own?
SUZANNE THOMPSON, Working Mother: My parents raised five kids. I feel like I’m going to be doing really well and it’s all I can do and all my husband can do to raise one and provide what I feel she needs and be her advocate in this world.
MR. LABADO, Grandfather: And I think it’s our obligation to build a better world for them.
CARL EMERICH: We did what we thought good parents should do and we look around and we wonder what happened to the leadership. My wife and I really feel like we were betrayed.
BILL MOYERS, Host: Tonight, on Listening to America, “Families Matter.”
Good evening. Growing up in East Texas, I used to hear my father talk about the local politician who bragged that he never met a baby he didn’t kiss. Some of them were ugly as sin and drooling like a broken faucet, but, he confessed, kissing them meant he never had to explain his voting record to their parents.
Now, politicians don’t have to kiss babies these days. They can just talk about “family values.” They do it to reach us at our most vulnerable human connection, to come down on the side of hearth and home. We’re getting a lot of such talk in this campaign.
Pres. GEORGE BUSH: There is no sure way to build our nation’s future than with the mortar and the bricks of moral values and strong families.
Vice Pres. J. DANFORTH QUAYLE: The cultural elites [sic] respect neither tradition nor standards. They believe that moral truths are relative and all lifestyles are equal. They seem to think the family is an arbitrary arrangement of people who decide to live under the same roof, that fathers are dispensable and that parents need not be married or even of opposite sexes. They are wrong.
ROSS PEROT, Undeclared Presidential Candidate: My parents are my heroes. I was born under very modest circumstances, but no child could have had better parents than I had. They didn’t preach to me, they didn’t lecture to me. They were wonderful examples.
Gov. BILL CLINTON (D-AK), Democratic Presidential Candidate: The question is not are family values important — of course, they are. It’s not are they under fire — you bet they are. It’s not is TV destructive of family values — all too often, it is. The question is: what are we going to do about it?
BILL MOYERS: All this talk about family values is not new. A hundred years ago, the U.S. had the highest divorce rate in the world and Americans were beginning to worry about the effects of the industrial revolution on the family – parents working long hours in factories and mines; children being exploited as well; rampant alcoholism; and fathers, including my great-grandfather, heading West and never coming back. The family has kept changing in the 20th century – more divorce, more single parents, more out-of-wedlock births, more absentee fathers, more children in poverty. Now, the baby boomers, born after World War II, are having children of their own. When you listen to these parents, you hear them describing a society that is anything but family-friendly.
Listening to parents is something Richard Louv does very well. He’s a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, but he describes himself as a father first. He brought his son to New York with him – he’s sitting right over there, behind him – and a journalist second. He’s also the author of a book called Childhood’s Future, based on some 3,000 conversations with parents, teachers, and children from all over the country, from every walk of life.
Richard, do parents and kids talk the same way as politicians?
RICHARD LOUV, Author, “Childhood’s Future”: No. The politicians generally are of the “Let them eat values” school of politics. We get preached at a lot by politicians, by CEOs, by company presidents; but the politicians don’t sign family leave bills, the CEOs don’t have family-friendly policies in their companies – they fire young mothers for going home to take care of their sick child when the day care calls. But we get preached at a lot.
BILL MOYERS: What do parents tell you they need? In all these conversations you had, can you distill the essence of what parents say they need?
RICHARD LOUV: Parents need each other. That’s what parents tell me.
BILL MOYERS: We went with you to talk to some of the parents that you had met while you were doing your book. They met in the studios of Public Television station, our sister station, KPBS, in San Diego. Here’s a little bit of that discussion.
LANCE METZGER: I feel like we rent our kids. Our day starts at 4:30. We’re at the sitter’s at 6. We’re both at work, working in uniform at 6:30. We’re off at 4:30. We get the kids at 5. We get home, we feed the kids. By 6, the little one’s asleep, Zack needs a bath. He’s in bed. By then, it’s 8 and we’re dead, so let’s try this again tomorrow.
SUZANNE THOMPSON, Working Mother: I think we need to revise our assumptions about what the good life really is, and that I don’t think we’re going to be able to compete with our parents. My parents raised five kids. I feel like I’m going to be doing really well, and it’s all I can do and my husband can do to raise one and provide what I feel she needs, and be her advocate in this world.
VU THUY: I came from a different country and a different culture, but now, 11 years later, I am still not used to the way children are seen in this country. Most of the time, I felt really lost as a parent.
“Children” means happiness in Vietnam. Fook means happiness.
RICHARD LOUV: The word “children”
VU THUY: The word “children” means happiness. So, if you ask about my income, I can tell you, “Oh, I am not rich in money, but I am rich in children.” And in some way, it’s more valued than having more money, because in Vietnam, we don’t – I don’t think that we have a lot of respect with people with a lot of money, but we have respect with good family with a lot of children. That’s something that we’re missing here and that’s scary.
MAURICIO del CASTILLO: Where I grew up, you know, there’s always been drugs and gangs and I don’t want that to – my daughter to be raised in the same atmosphere as I was.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD, Unemployed Single Mother: You know, I went back to college, I’m struggling with that. I was on welfare at the time – barely covered the necessities of life, you know, and I’m struggling. I’m trying to do my homework, the kid’s screaming, you know, crying. You know, I’m all alone here. I don’t have anybody to help babysit, even for a little bit, because every dollar’s going to a box of macaroni and cheese, you know, to be able to survive. And just one day, I just lost it, you know. I just picked up a chair and threw it across the room because I’ve just had it. How am I supposed to do all this stuff on my own?
SUZANNE THOMPSON: I don’t believe raising children was meant to be done solo. We don’t do a good job. Children need more people to bounce off of. So I think we need to quest after something else besides individualism and independence, which we have achieved. We have defined ourselves and now, we have to get connected.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: You know, if I have to go to work and I have to run home because my child just had an accident or is sick, the job – the workplace doesn’t look at me as, ”What a nice, caring parent she is.” They look at me as I’m unreliable.
DEBBIE METZGER: The Navy has a saying that they tell you. Well, they didn’t – the child or your husband or your family, in general, did not come in your seabag. When you went through boot camp, you were issued everything you needed, but not a family and not children and if you decided to do that on your own, then that’s your problem.
ADRIANA del CASTILLO: I applied at McDonald’s and I told them I had a daughter. And he goes, “Well, do you have child care for her,” you know, “for you to come to work?” And I say yes. He goes, “But, you know, that if you’re – you, you don’t come too much to work, you know, or that your baby’s sick or this or that,” he goes, “you could automatically lose the job.”
ANN HUNTER-WELBORN: I am an employer and, in my company, I really encourage people to put their families first. I think their families should come first.
GREG BOLDEN, Counselor: You’ve got to.
ANN HUNTER-WELBORN: And that’s not to say that no one has ever been fired for being absent too much and –
MAURICIO del CASTILLO: You say you talk to your – you’re really nice to your employees, right?
ANN HUNTER-WELBORN: I try to be.
MAURICIO del CASTILLO: Well, do you have child care for them?
ANN HUNTER-WELBORN: We don’t have a child care, no. We have access to a child care facility down the street. We don’t have –
MAURICIO del CASTILLO: But do you pay for that?
ANN HUNTER-WELBORN: No, we don’t pay for it.
MAURICIO del CASTILLO: You see, that’s the problem. Not all of them can afford that, to pay that, even though it’s a little bit cheaper, right?
ANN HUNTER-WELBORN: The problem is it’s a double-edged sword, because most companies can’t afford to pay for child care for all their employees, either.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: My child care and my loans are more than my rent, OK? When I was on welfare – I did better on welfare because when I was on welfare, I didn’t have to pay child care, I stayed at home.
ANNE YERKES: We need to just – to rethink our whole attitudes toward each other and those of us who have more out – you know, it’s sort of funny for me to characterize myself as someone who has more, because I think that I have less and I’m doing with a lot less because of our decision for me to stay home. But I think that those of us who have enough to own a home and have one person at home should be looking out into the community and saying, you know, “There are people that don’t have as much as us. Can we give?”
GREG BOLDEN: We’re really concerned about having money and giving our children things, rather than spending time with them, actual time with them.
CARL EMERICH: And I look around and over and over again, it seems like children aren’t valued. We say they are. We say they’re the future of the country. We say we really care, but it seems like at every turn in the road, we’re creating children whose world view we are going to have to work so hard to make sure that it’s compassionate and that it’s hopeful. It’s disturbing to me. My wife and I really feel like we were betrayed. We did what we thought good parents should do and we look around and we wonder what happened to the leadership.
BILL MOYERS: Question – are the concerns of these parents representative of those around the country? I pose that question not to Rosalie Streett, Executive Director of Parent Action, the national membership organization for parents. What about it? Do you hear that kind of talk elsewhere in the country?
ROSALIE STREETT, Parent Action: Constantly. You know, there’s an African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And I think that that is what I keep hearing parents saying, is ”Where is everybody else? Where are the supports? Where are the legislative policies? Where is the community to support what I’m doing?”
BILL MOYERS: Well, the last parent, as you said, suggests that there’s a leadership problem and Jill Bradley, you work with parents and kids, running early childhood development programs for the Chicago Housing Authority. What do your parents tell you about what they need?
JILL BRADLEY, Chicago Housing Authority: Parents who find their way into our programs have already fought through several barriers because within Chicago housing or public housing, parents are isolated even to a further degree, I think, than some others who don’t have to fight through poverty and the concentration of poverty to have a vision to walk out of their apartments and say, “I am somehow going to connect.”
There is a tendency that is not unreasonable to be – to feel hopeless, so, once they pull themselves up and make a decision to come out and join the company of other parents, they find some of the supports that they need in our centers.
BILL MOYERS: Richard Louv, in your book, Childhood’s Future, you describe a web. And, as I hear Jill and Rosalie both talk, they talk about support, but I can see that web that you describe. What is that web of support?
RICHARD LOUV: First, it’s not the safety net.
BILL MOYERS: No.
RICHARD LOUV: It’s this higher thing that has a thousand strands. It’s almost organic. It’s everything from how wide the sidewalks are in a new development and whether there’s enough room for kids to play to whether the school really means it when they say that they want parents to come and to volunteer, whether the employer really means it when he talks about family values. Does he give any time off for people to go and volunteer in the schools? Does he make those connections? Are there connections between these institutions?
The best way that I can describe this is personally. When I grew up, I grew up in a family life like many families. I had very loving parents, but they had problems. They had alcohol – my father had alcohol problems. But I always had the sense that, when I went out the front door, I could find some of what it was I needed. I could find the old couple down the street that I could adopt as my surrogate grandparents, whether they wanted to or not, and they would feed me cookies and loan me books and listen to me. I had mentors in high school. I had people in my neighborhood who would report anything bad I did on the street and they did, but – and my parents had that web of support, too, even though they often didn’t know it. It was often invisible.
That’s the thing that is both private and public, both government and family base and neighborhood base that has been pulling apart.
BILL MOYERS: What I hear you describing is what we used to call civilization – safe streets, good parks, schools that work, scouting, extracurricular activities, community activities-right?
RICHARD LOUV: The flat truth is that we do not raise our children alone. We are being told by the society that we should. We can’t do it. We need our neighbors, we need our schools, we need the government.
BILL MOYERS: We see that in another family you introduced us to in San Diego, so let’s take a look at a day in the lives of a couple from our parents’ group out there on the West Coast. Reporter Gail Pellett visited with the family of Greg Bolden.
LELA BOLDEN, Working Mother: What time is it?
GREG BOLDEN: 6:54.
LELA BOLDEN: OK.
GREG BOLDEN: You better hurry up.
NARRATOR: In the Bolden household, time is carefully measured in the mornings.
LELA BOLDEN: Gerard, you seen Adam’s pink-and-white tennis shoes?
GERARD BOLDEN, Son: No.
NARRATOR: This is a two-parent working family.
LELA BOLDEN: Everybody brush their teeth?
BOLDEN CHILDREN: Yes.
LELA BOLDEN: OK.
NARRATOR: It’s 7:00 a.m. and Lela, her husband Greg and their three kids are so far on schedule.
LELA BOLDEN: Bye, honey.
GERARD BOLDEN: Bye.
LELA BOLDEN: Kiss, kiss goodbye. See you later.
NARRATOR: The Boldens live in a new development in Spring Valley, a suburb of East San Diego. They’ve only got one car, so Greg drives Lela to work every morning while the kids wait at home for him to return.
GREG BOLDEN: Oh, they got, you know, that dance class after school today and their program – they’re going to be doing a program.
LELA BOLDEN: When do they have the program?
GREG BOLDEN: Tomorrow night.
NARRATOR: During the 20-minute ride to Lela’s job as courier for Federal Express in San Diego, Lela eats breakfast, writes checks and makes notes for Greg.
GREG BOLDEN: What time are you going to get off tonight?
LELA BOLDEN: 7:30 will be good.
NARRATOR: Lela works a 10- to 12- hour shift four days a week.
LELA BOLDEN: See you later.
GREG BOLDEN: Bye.
LELA BOLDEN: Bye.
NARRATOR: Greg now drives home to finish getting the kids ready for school.
GREG BOLDEN: [Did] you pick up all your stuffed animals?
NARRATOR: The twins, Deanna and Danetta, are seven.
GREG BOLDEN: You’re going to tuck yours in, too?
GERARD BOLDEN: Want me to take some of that?
GREG BOLDEN: Yes, why don’t you take my jacket?
NARRATOR: Their son Gerard is nine. It’s a 10-minute ride to their school.
GREG BOLDEN: Look at this. The whole football team is late.
NARRATOR: After school, they’ll go to a babysitter.
GREG BOLDEN: You guys walk up – talk to Mama’s house after your no, after your play rehearsal, OK? So, I’ll see you guys this afternoon.
NARRATOR: Greg will pick them up at 5:30.
GREG BOLDEN: Close the door. OK. All right, now I can turn up my music and relax. Ah.
NARRATOR: In the past, Greg was a technician, producing antenna systems for the military. When his contract expired he decided to work with the family counseling center connected to his church. Now, he’s the director, trying to raise enough money to turn it into a viable business, but so far, he collects no salary.
GREG BOLDEN: It was very trying. My wife and I, we actually, we discussed it and we talked about it. And the job market was really soft, so we just decided that we would make a decision and, basically, we worked on one income. We thought that it was something that we could do and we could do for the long haul. It’s something that needed to be done in the community and people are out there, hurting. They’re even worse off than I am. I’m blessed that I have a wife that has a good job.
NARRATOR: The counseling center provides emergency food, a job bank, and housing referrals.
GREG BOLDEN: [counseling client] OK. Call and ask for Miss Weaver and tell her you heard about it through Southeast Counseling Center.
1st CLIENT (f) : OK.
GREG BOLDEN: And, I mean, people come with mental stress. You know, they’re unable to pay the gas and electric bill, even if they can pay the rent.
Well, what kind of work do you do?
2nd CLIENT (f) : Well, actually, I’m a licensed hairdresser and I had to stop working January of this year because I had family members taking care of my daughter and they couldn’t take care of her any longer, so I had to go look for child care and it was too expensive.
GREG BOLDEN: The unemployment rate across the nation may be seven percent. Here in this community, it may be as high as 30 or 40 percent.
If we could help you find child care that’s, you know, less expensive.
2nd CLIENT (f) : Yes, definitely.
GREG BOLDEN: And I know one young lady who wants to open up her own shop.
2nd CLIENT (f) : Oh, really?
GREG BOLDEN: Yeah. Let me give you the number and maybe, you know.
Another question I always ask – Do you have a church home?
2nd CLIENT (f) : Well, yeah, I do. I just haven’t been there in a while ’cause I have no transportation to get there.
GREG BOLDEN: We feel that the church – it’s basically a family unit and in the churches, we find strength and we find unity and we find help.
NARRATOR: Greg’s church provided him with a link to others concerned with what’s happening in the community. Greg is Co-Chair of the San Diego Organizing Project, a grassroots organization that reaches out to families through churches of all denominations.
1st WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: Can we come and talk with you?
Mr. LABADO, Grandfather: Sure. Why not?
GREG BOLDEN: We are a community-based coalition and we represent about 25,000 families in the San Diego area. We went out to our communities and we asked them, “OK, what are your main concerns?”
Ms. LABADO: What bothers me is just – we’re just trapped around all this drug-selling and what scares me is that – I just had my daughter three months ago – is that it was frightening when I expecting her. A little boy right across the street from us had died from a drive-by shooting.
Mr. LABADO: When we moved here, it was a great – it was a good community and everyone, you know, tried to help each other. Now, we are scared.
NARRATOR: The Labado family have lived in this East San Diego neighborhood for 20 years.
GREG BOLDEN: How can you see us making a change?
Mr. LABADO: I think that [the] only way we can make the change – we can make the change if [we] fight together against – to get a better world for the future for the childs [sic]. And I think it’s our obligation to build a better world for them.
GREG BOLDEN: We want to just thank you for inviting us into your home and we appreciate your time.
Mr. LABADO: I feel better because I don’t feel alone.
GREG BOLDEN: That’s right.
2nd WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: And don’t forget to vote.
Mr. LABADO: Oh, no. Oh, no.
2nd WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: Tuesday.
Mr. LABADO: OK.
1st WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: OK.
GREG BOLDEN: Through this process of going back and actually canvassing the community, going door to door, talking with individual families, we came up with a comprehensive plan. We needed extended library hours, we needed afterschool programs because a lot of kids were latchkey kids. We needed drug-free zones around our schools.
NARRATOR: The San Diego Organizing Project approached their elected officials with a proposal to fight the drug scene. They succeeded in getting $28 million over a five-year period to extend library hours, provide tutors, and create home study centers in libraries. The money also goes toward improving recreational facilities at parks.
GREG BOLDEN: In the Neighborhood Pride and Protection Plan, there’s allocations for park rangers and walking patrols throughout the community and greater utilization of the parks – afterschool programs and programs designed for the kids.
We worked closely with the police, we worked closely with our elected officials and said, ”You have to do something,” and they did, because we came out not with one or two people, not with, you know, 300 or 400. I mean, the first time we met with the mayor, we met – it was 1,000 people.
So, let me ask you something. Do you see very many drug dealers around here now?
GIRLS IN PARK: No.
1st GIRL IN PARK: Sometimes, we see gangbangers.
GREG BOLDEN: Sometimes, you see gangbangers?
3rd WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: But, is it better than it was like a long time ago? Did you use to use the park a while ago?
1st GIRL: Uh huh. It was a lot of stuff. There used to be shooting over there.
3rd WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: So, now, it’s better? Do you think it’s better now?
1st GIRL IN PARK: Yeah, it’s better, way better.
3rd WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: Way better?
Five years ago, you could even use this park at all. I used to take my kids after work, sometimes, and take them up there for a picnic, but there was, like, dealers up on the hill and everything and there’s a lot of apartment buildings in the area, so there’s a real need for parks. And a lot of our public officials told us they wanted to respond to the drug problem by saying we needed more jails and more police officers. But when we interviewed people in our neighborhoods, among ourselves, we found out that people – they were afraid. They wanted to be able to use the parks.
GREG BOLDEN: Let me ask [you], how do you feel about the park now?
WOMAN IN PARK: It’s pretty good. I used to – When I used to take her to the park, I wouldn’t come to this one.
4th WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: We are the people, the ones who pay with our taxes, pay for the people that are in the government and the good government, the good leaders got to listen to the needs of the people that put them there.
NARRATOR: In late May this year, the San Diego Organizing Project held what they call an “accountability session with a group of candidates running for mayor of San Diego. They wanted to insure that their $28-million plan was going to survive. At a follow-up meeting, Greg and other leaders assess what they’ve learned from their process.
GREG BOLDEN: You know, when we can bring out 600 or 700 people out, I mean, and we can confront the next mayor of San Diego and tell them what we want them to hear, I mean, we should feel good about ourselves.
5th WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: I feel very proud, very proud to come from –
2nd MAN, San Diego Organizing Project: Proud and powerful, huh?
5th WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: – powerful and just to know that we were well-organized.
NARRATOR: One of Greg’s colleagues turns the meeting into a training session before the group goes out to canvass more families.
1st WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: Yeah, we empowered ourselves.
2nd MAN, San Diego Organizing Project: Empowered ourselves?
1st WOMAN, San Diego Organizing Project: Right.
2nd MAN, San Diego Organizing Project: And when you think about it, why is it that you felt that kind of power there? It was because of you being in relationship with other folk, right? We’re weaving a web of relationships in our communities where, in many ways, the community becomes our extended family. And so, as we go out tonight, let’s engage with people, inviting them to share their story and invite them to talk a little bit about what’s important to them and then invite them to participate with us.
BILL MOYERS: Trying to connect this concern with family to matters of public policy is the work of our next guest, Steven Bayme. Dr. Bayme is Director of Communal Affairs with the American Jewish Committee and co-editor of a book entitled Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Family. He also serves on the advisory committee of the Institute for American Values. Dr. Bayme, I find Greg Boldens all over the country and organizations like that in San Diego, but why isn’t the accumulated effect of all these individuals wanting to change the way things are not more positive? Why do you think we’re at some kind of impasse in our ability to deal with the needs of parents?
STEVEN BAYME, American Jewish Committee: Well, this story is particularly encouraging because it brings together the resources of parents, of religious institutions such as churches, synagogues, and governmental policies as a means of trying to break through and improve the quality of family life in the country. By and large, however, the policy today is a polarizing one. You have liberals talking about governmental programs. You have conservatives talking about family values. Neither side is listening to one another and, as a result, rather than make the kind of progress that Greg and his group are making, utilizing a wide variety of institutions, both sides are talking past one another.
BILL MOYERS: I was very taken with your essay, “A New Synthesis on Family Policy,” calling for moving beyond left and right, moving beyond liberal and conservative.
DR. STEVEN BAYME: Liberals have to really begin listening to conservatives when they talk about family values. The terms family, responsibility, authority, commitment – all those are crucial family values that should not become politically incorrect. By the same token, conservatives have to listen when liberals charge government with neglect, with failure to institute enough policies to help parents to be parents.
Liberals tend to talk in terms of economics and that’s very important. Conservatives tend to talk in terms of personal conduct and responsibility and that’s equally important. Unless we are able to synthesize both points of view, we’re not going to get anywhere with this debate.
BILL MOYERS: Does that make any sense to you out in Chicago in the public housing work there?
JILL BRADLEY: In fact, it makes perfect sense. If some of the people in your interviews talked about empowerment, it is the decision to make a better life and be public about it and to join the community of others – in fact, to choose that community, to figure out which other mothers are going to try to raise their children like mine, how can we work together to help each other and, again, to try to duplicate some of the things that you’ve talked about in your life, and mine, too, as well.
ROSALIE STREETT: It makes sense to me. We see, all over the country as well, that people are meeting in small groups. They may not have gone as far as the group that we just saw. In fact, most of them haven’t, but they’re meeting in groups and trying to figure it out: “How do we do this? How do we make a life for our families that’s the kind of life we want?”
BILL MOYERS: But those small meetings don’t seem – and local efforts don’t seem to add up to the new national consensus that Dr. Bayme is talking about.
RICHARD LOUV: Neither did feminism before it was called feminism. I think that we are in a historical period very similar to that which preceded the feminist movement and the civil rights movement and we’re going to have a family – I call it family liberation, but some kind of family movement is coming that will not be easily labeled conservative or liberal.
BILL MOYERS: Do you see that?
DR. STEVEN BAYME: Politicians are listening to us and that was reflected in some of your opening clips. Conservatives are finding in some of the liberal programs that there’s something worth listening to and aligning themselves with. By contrast, liberals equally look to conservatives, saying, “Supply us with the values and the contents and perhaps we can marry some of the programs together with the values.”
BILL MOYERS: Well, let’s come back to some families who are trying to do just that. There’s another parent in San Diego with whom Gail Pellett spent some time. Her name is Jeanette Pettiford.
NARRATOR: Jeanette Pettiford lives in El Cajon, a suburb northeast of San Diego. She’s 28, single, and has a 20-month-old son, Lamar.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: The biggest thing, I think, is that you’re all alone. You don’t have the husband or the father or the co-parent to bounce ideas and come up with strategies on discipline or whatever. It’s just you.
NARRATOR: Monday through Friday, at 8:30 in the morning, Jeanette drives Lamar to a babysitter about five minutes away from her house.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: My mom is about two hours away from here and we get to see her every two months or so, but we’ll call each other. Other than that, no, I don’t have any family out here.
NARRATOR: Jeanette is unemployed and spends most days job-hunting. This morning, however, she’s off to a parenting class.
INSTRUCTOR, Parenting Class: What’s one of the questions that I often suggest that you ask yourself?
1st WOMAN IN PARENTING CLASS: ”What’s wrong with it?”
INSTRUCTOR: ”What’s wrong with it?” When you’re getting upset with what your child’s doing, ask yourself, ”What’s wrong with it?”
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: Now, somebody came over the other day and says, ”What’s he doing with a bottle? He’s too young.”
INSTRUCTOR: Well, we get advice from everybody in the community. We have to make our own decision in the end, anyway, don’t we?
NARRATOR: The mothers in this group are mostly single and all of them are recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: I can remember getting high the first time. I was, like, 11 or 12, and so my drug problem got bad fast.
[in parenting class] I still have a problem with – you know, when I get real frustrated and I’m tired and stressed – you know, with my anger, ’cause I just want to throw something across the room.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: [to Pellett] I was really just going nowhere. I was dying out there. I ended up homeless. I, you know, got in trouble with the law.
[in parenting class] And I just got to deal with all that – you know, all my feelings.
NARRATOR: Although Jeanette sought this group out on her own, some of these moms have been ordered to this class by the court.
1st WOMAN IN PARENTING CLASS: So, what I did was I swatted her with it and I felt bad after I did it because, first, I swatted her so hard with that strap one time that it made a welt on her leg and I start tripping, saying, “CPS is going to take my kids away,” and “This is not what they taught me in parenting,” and I was totally out of control.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: We need a safe place to go where we’re not being judged and where we can really feel safe to talk about our feelings.
1st WOMAN IN PARENTING CLASS; It’s really difficult for me to say that I’m sorry to a child because it’s like I’m the one that’s supposed to know everything.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: We get mad at our kids. We get mad that we have to, you know, struggle so hard with our recovery and we’re scared and, you know-
Well, this – I do kind of a break in the middle of the day. You know, my son’s at day care and job-hunting and – I usually come home and eat lunch and then go back out and hit the pavement.
NARRATOR: During her recovery, Jeanette earned a college degree. Recently, while working with the mentally retarded, she was injured, so she’s been receiving workmen’s compensation and looking for another job in social work. Her problem, as a single parent, is finding a job that will pay enough for child care.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: Well, I got a job offer. He’s offering me $8.46 an hour, which some people say I should be lucky, that people with masters’ degrees are fighting over jobs that are $6 an hour. But for me, when I look at my budget with my child care, I found child care now, $300 a month. And then, I have my school loan, that’s – possibly, I could get them down to $100, but right now, they’re $200 a month. That’s more than my rent right there. And you know, I look at my budget and I’m going to struggle just to buy diapers and food, let alone a babysitter once in a while or a pizza once in a while or clothes for work.
Bills, bills, bills – doctor bill – my son was sick last week.
NARRATOR: If Jeanette takes the job she’s been offered, she’ll have to give up Medicaid for Lamar.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: But once I get this job, I have to pay like $133 a month to get me and my son on the health plan and – I don’t have $133. I probably have about $150 to cover food and gas and diapers and so I think I can stay on Medical a couple of months after I get a job and then after that, I’m on my own, and so I’m not really sure yet what I’m going to do. Take a rest, I guess. He’s a pretty healthy kid.
NARRATOR: Do you have any contact with Lamar’s father at all?
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: Well, I see him on the street every once in a while. When I’m driving down Main Street, I see him.
NARRATOR: He lives here, locally?
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: Yeah, he’s still homeless, he’s on drugs and every once in a while, he’ll try to corner me to talk to me about seeing Lamar, but it’s kind of – he’s using Lamar to try to get back with me because he hasn’t made it yet. He hasn’t got clean yet. And if he sees me, my life really improving – I have a car now and I got some clothes now, you know, and I look happy now – so he wants to still be involved in that. But I can’t allow that to happen until he’s clean and sober, off drugs and alcohol, and get some responsibility. And then he’s welcome to visit Lamar and very welcome to pay child support when he can get on his feet and get a job.
[with counselor] Hi, Linda.
LINDA, Mentor: Hi, Jeanette. How do you do, love?
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: I’m pretty good. Nice to see you.
LINDA: Oh, nice to see you, too, darling.
NARRATOR: Jeanette’s been reaching out to older women for help with everything from job-hunting to finding child care.
LINDA: So can’t you put him on the waiting list for that one? Can you put him on the list?
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: I think he has to be at least two, so that’s just a few more months.
[to Pellett] I need healthy people to model how to do this thing called life, you know.
LINDA: You and I can sit down and talk about it and we can do a budget.
JEANETTE PETTIFORD: I look for mentors all the time. It’s up to me to go look for women like that. They’re not going to come knocking on my door, so I go out in the world and get involved in the community or, you know, go to support groups and introduce myself, get their phone number and talk to them and – because I need other women in my life. I can’t do this thing on my own, you know. I just can’t.
BILL MOYERS: It reminded me, as we watched, of one of your interviews with a parent, who said to you, Richard Louv, ”What parents need more than anything else is a fair wage for office and clerical workers which reflects the actual cost of living.” Do you find that, generally?
RICHARD LOUV: Oh, yeah. If I could read something else that she sent me. This woman is a very conservative Republican. She’s a controller of a very pricey country club in San Diego and she sent me an account of what her single parents, who work for her, what their expenses are and I think it illustrates something here.
She points out that the average wage for office workers, who are often single parents, is $8.50 per hour. She asks, “How does that kind of pay translate into a standard of living?” And she offered this accounting. “A typical take-home pay is $1,100 per month. Now, subtract rent $575, food and supplies $250, gas $40, car insurance $60, car payment $100, clothes for work $35 a month, clothes for one child $25 a month, telephone $16, cable IV -it’s cheaper than going out – $24, child care $375. Total expenses $1,500. Expenses not covered by take – home pay, $400.
Now assume that this woman is a single mother, receiving, if she’s lucky, a child – support payment of $250 a month. She’s still short $150 a month.” And this does not consider extras like car repair, Christmas, birthdays, or health insurance, as Jeanette pointed out.
BILL MOYERS: So, it’s a struggle for all of these single women. So the question – the tough question arises: where are the fathers?
ROSALIE STREETT: I think I want to answer your question with a question and that is, what are we doing to start thinking differently in our country about the fathers? What are we doing – what is happening to the father that we saw – Jeanette’s baby’s father? She describes somebody who really needs a community to reach out and do some stuff to help him get back on his feet and to help him become the kind of father that she obviously wants him to become. What are we doing?
BILL MOYERS: I ask the questions around here and you answer them. Answer that very good question.
ROSALIE STREETT: Well, I don’t think we’ve thought about the fathers in the way that we really needed to be thinking about them and I don’t think that our programs and services target fathers and target young men. I don’t think we think about them as fathers. So often-
BILL MOYERS: But that’s shifting it – isn’t that shifting the answer from the fathers and the families to – “Somebody out there do something”?
ROSALIE STREETT: No.
DR. STEVEN BAYME: As I say, this is a good example of what I call economics and culture, cannot be separated. The larger part of the story is how did we get into the situation where marriage dissolves fairly rapidly, husbands disappear. Fatherhood becomes a disappearing norm in American culture.
Now, I think part of the answer is simply we have unrealistic expectations of what goes into a marriage. We think it has to be perfect, not only the wedding, but the entire 30 years after that, and the minute it doesn’t become perfect, we incline towards dissolving the marriage much too quickly.
But the larger question of where are all the dads, the larger question of what has happened to marriage in America, why do we have the largest divorce rate of anywhere in the western world – all those questions have to be addressed on the basis of culture.
BILL MOYERS: And by that, you mean that there’s something at work in the whole American system that makes it possible to dismiss the father or diminishes the father from any responsible role?
DR. STEVEN BAYME: Precisely. My pet line is that we require more hours of training for a driver’s license than we do for a marriage license.
BILL MOYERS: Are you suggest – than we do for what?
DR. STEVEN BAYME: For a marriage license. Why don’t we have family life education courses in our high schools and colleges? Why don’t we spend more time on training people [about] what goes into making a marriage work.
RICHARD LOUV: Kids told me that over and over again in the classrooms, is that to talk about sex in the classroom now is less of a taboo than to talk about family, in terms of who does what.
JILL BRADLEY: And I want to push you a little bit on policies – government policies, and that is, to take my clientele, who are in public housing. Now we’re trying to move towards ways to bring the fathers back in. I’ve always known that they’re really not invisible because whenever we have a program for children, fathers do appear. They’re in the audience. Very often, they do bring their children to the day care centers. They may not have been married to the mothers, but they are, in some degree, in evidence. And yet, in order to live in public housing, you have to demonstrate that you are absolutely the poorest person on Earth and plan to stay that way. But we have to have supports and steps to help people.
I’m going to just push you one more moment. I wonder if we heard how many times people talked about day care as critical, not – people are so afraid of thinking that it is taking away the responsibility from parenting or mothering in the case of most of the people who were in this film, but also, these are opportunities for these women to network, to get in that web and to support one another.
BILL MOYERS: I like what you say, but the practical concern is this. Every time I’ve done a program like this – almost every time – somebody says, ‘Well, at least part of the answer is to get the schools to do X, Y or Z,,” And I hear my daughter out there, who was a school teacher for seven years, now helps to edit a magazine for teachers, say, ”But Dad, everybody keeps pushing every problem on the schools and they – we – can’t do it.”
DR. STEVEN BAYME: I was not suggesting it has to be put on the schools. I’m suggesting there is a wide variety of institutions out there that can be and are supportive of family and family values.
BILL MOYERS: Including some of these community groups you’re talking about.
DR. STEVEN BAYME: Precisely.
JILL BRADLEY: Exactly, exactly.
DR. STEVEN BAYME: I would bring in the religious institutions, which came up in one of your earlier clips. They have a definite interest in nurturing family values. We have to listen more to that and encourage them to be more explicit and outspoken, in terms of talking about marriage, family and the importance of the two-parent home.
BILL MOYERS: Schools, churches, public housing, all kinds of facilities – that makes me think of the larger sort of public space of the community, public space of our cities today and, in your book, Richard, you talk about the importance, in this web of civilization, of the shape of the city. And we found in San Diego, in a middle-class, comfortable, safe neighborhood, a parent who’s very much concerned about bringing this web down to where people live and play. The parent’s name is Suzanne Thompson. Here’s Gail Pellett’s report on Mrs. Thompson.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: I have just one child and so, for us, it’s a very small nuclear family. No extended family in the area. They’re far north in the state. I think the most isolating time in my life was when I was home with a toddler. There was – The neighborhood was virtually empty. No one was there.
NARRATOR: Suzanne Thompson and her family live in Poway, a new suburban community about 30 miles north of San Diego. The tract home developments that snake around the hills here have names like Belle Fleur and Provencal. On Suzanne’s street, the garages are usually as big or bigger than the homes. The front yards are beautifully manicured, but devoid of human presence. Kids use the streets to play in.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: OK. Well, I’m glad you got the facts
NARRATOR: Suzanne works at home in order to have flexible time with her nine-year-old daughter. She’s a sales rep for a children’s playground design firm, putting her degree in child development to use.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: What I do is I help people in the process of designing outdoor play spaces for children and so, I work a lot with landscape architects and city personnel, day care centers, community groups. And I’m fascinated with how children learn. I was fascinated with if you change the reading corner in this way, it tends to get the children over here more. ‘Cause I think if we reframe our familiar environments, it tends to invite a new behavior.
NARRATOR: Suzanne has applied this philosophy to her own home, creating a special nook in her daughter Julia’s room.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: And it became a place where she’ll go to read or do a crazy puzzle or talk with a friend or listen to her tapes and so it’s just kind of her own little refuge.
NARRATOR: Suzanne’s reputation as someone concerned with kids’ spaces traveled down the block.
JOEY: If we get it, when are going to put it in?
SUZANNE THOMPSON: Well, that’s the thing. As soon as it gets voted on, and the city gets to acquire the land-
NARRATOR: Her 10-year-old neighbor, Joey, has been bugging her about how to turn the vacant lot at the end of the street into a playground.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: Every once in a while, he’d drop by with a park
plan. He was really concerned that the little kids had something to do and some picnic tables and grass and trees.
[to Joey] Here, it says “roller hockey.” I think the kids would also like some just wild space, just some space that –
1st GIRL: Yeah.
2nd GIRL: It’s like this.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: Not manicured.
1st GIRL: We could plant some tall trees.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: Yeah. And tell them the idea they had about donating trees.
2nd GIRL: Oh, yeah. We would all bring like one tree or a plant seed and we would plant it, just to make it look nice.
1st GIRL: We also had the idea of planting like a big flower garden that everyone could contribute to.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: Our cities generally are shaped without children as users in mind. I think the car and our sewage systems get far more attention. Far more engineering expertise goes to solve those problems. I think what we’ve lost, incredibly, is we have lost those points where we might connect, that made it more likely we would connect frequently.
We can hop in our cars. I zoom down the street, I wave at a couple of neighbors, but I have not connected with them. So those things have been removed from our landscape. Developers will tell you some that I’ve talked to, not all, obviously – that we’d rather have a three-car garage and a wet bar than we would a front porch and maybe a great room where the whole family – The old farmhouse kitchen.
NARRATOR: Creating places to invite connection between people is a passion that Suzanne shares with her husband, Richard.
RICHARD THOMPSON, Husband: What we’re trying to do is set our house up and our yard up so that it is more neighborhood-accessible.
NARRATOR: They’ve decided to make an addition to their home-
RICHARD THOMPSON: Maybe even informal, kind of a town-hall sort of place that we can have.
NARRATOR: -an open courtyard in their front yard.
RICHARD THOMPSON: A place where people can talk about whatever is going on in life. We’ve even had a fantasy about maybe bringing in people who are running for office to sit in a neighborhood setting and let the neighbors ask questions about what their views are on various issues that may have impact on our neighborhood. It’ll be right where we’re standing right now, where these Adirondack chairs are, and they’ll move out just about to here and it’ll move in a kind of a gentle curve right in this area.
SUZANNE THOMPSON: I think we should create a movement called web architecture and web architecture would have all those really important concerns – earthquake proofing – all those really important concerns. And it would add to it connection, ’cause a web is defined by its many, many points of interconnection and that would be the objective.
[with the children] So we shall see. They vote on it tomorrow. The developer votes as to whether to deed the land to the city and then, we’ll go from there [and] see what happens.
BILL MOYERS: Watching that, it struck me that what Suzanne Thompson’s trying to do is to bring to the suburbs the same sense of small town or city life that many of us remember from our own youth, to take out to those suburbs something of this web of civilization that a city, at its best, is, right?
RICHARD LOUV: Yeah. I like to refer to Suzanne as the suburban guerrilla. As we saw with Suzanne, as we’ve seen with all of these people that you’ve interviewed, the parents, people in the neighborhoods are way out ahead of the developers, way out ahead of the politicians. If the developers were to listen to Suzanne, they could build communities that are even more marketable than the one’s they’ve got, that were family-friendly, if they listened to people like her. If the politicians listened to these people, like Greg Bolden and the others, they could find themselves actually effecting change, instead of remaining impotent like so many of them do feel.
BILL MOYERS: Watching her in the suburbs, I was also wondering if that kind of concept – what the people in the public housing – your clients – think as they see that project.
JILL BRADLEY: Probably less about how to rearrange space. Instead, they’d like to see how to keep their space safe. But we do listen to children, because they express their fears. ”Why can’t grown-ups help protect us so that we can play?” Because the “web,” unfortunately for them, becomes very small and confining and so they want to break out. Some of the behaviors that we see that we find negative, are simply a factor of children being confined too much.
DR. STEVEN BAYME: One of the more intriguing aspects of this clip is the particular family structure of the couple involved. They are a two-parent family. They have small children. She has opted to work out of the home rather on a part-time basis, on a flex-time basis – rather than our usual image, which is often touted in the media, of parents working both at full-time careers. In reality, parents with small children, pre-school age, about a third have opted for the kind of model that we’re talking about, which means that we’re not talking about two full-time careers, but usually one full-time job and one flex-time or part-time employment.
ROSALIE STREETT: We hear over and over from parents that they want the opportunity to work flexible hours, they want to work part-time, they want to do job-sharing, but they don’t want to be deprived of benefits because they can’t survive without them.
BILL MOYERS: I think all of us know single mothers who have raised children well, strong and healthily, but in my own experience and the experience of almost everybody I meet, we also acknowledge that it is better to have two parents in that family and one of them earning sufficient income to enable a flexible arrangement on raising those children. But that’s the ideal in America now, it’s not the norm.
JILL BRADLEY: If fathers have to come into a family without being able to provide for them and, of course, they’re going to be penalized and looked upon poorly by society, then you can understand some of the reasons that they do not come in and embrace their own families. And the same way with mothers, who feel dissatisfied, certainly, with fathers who are not able to provide. I can sympathize with that mother who said that, “Until this guys gets his life together, he is not welcome here on those terms.” They’re not confused about what it is that they want.
BILL MOYERS: Should women be the ones who go home to take care of the children?
JILL BRADLEY: There’s nothing wrong with it. The feminist in me says there’s nothing wrong with it, but someone has to. And people, of course, assume that mothers are at home, you know, waiting for welfare checks. That is not the truth. They are struggling to get out of that and it’s a very difficult struggle.
DR. STEVEN BAYME: But I think we also have to learn not to stigmatize the parents – usually women – who opt to stay at home to care for their children.
ROSALIE STREETT: Sure.
JILL BRADLEY: No problem.
BILL MOYERS: It is possible to devalue motherhood.
DR. STEVEN BAYME: Exactly. Look, we had a major debate here in the last year over child care and child care legislation. The legislation [that] was passed, the so-called “ABC Bill,” was a step forward, that it made available more day care institutions. What it did not address, which is currently being debated in Congress right now, is should there be recognition for the stay-at-home parents, say, in the form of refundable tax credits?
JILL BRADLEY: Some of that was a result of the thing that I just experienced last week. We have an afterschool program. For our children, that’s a life-and-death issue. It is a matter of them being in a safe place in the afternoon. We have to turn away so many children that sometimes the dilemma gets caught – it’s sort of like that – “Should we stay on public aid or should I try to get a job and then not be able to afford to take of my child should they get sick?”
BILL MOYERS: You mean, you really turn these kids away, who want to come?
JILL BRADLEY: We have to and they stand at the door and watch the ones who are the last one to get into the program. It is the most heartbreaking part of my job.
BILL MOYERS: For lack of money?
JILL BRADLEY: For lack of – I mean, you talked about ABC. ABC would have expanded the possibility and did, but there’s – I’m just letting you know the unmet need is tremendous, the unmet need.
RICHARD LOUV: Almost every library in this country is a child care center.
JILL BRADLEY: Yeah. Exactly, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Every what?
RICHARD LOUV: The library in this country is a child care center. The children get left there because there’s no place to leave them. I think that – I have a problem here. When this discussion reaches this point, it begins to break down along programmatic lines, whether it’s this program or that program. Then, we have to confront the fact that children are growing up in a different time zone than we are. They grow up very quickly and while we are discussing our programs and our policies, they’re gone. Another generation is lost.
I think that we need something – I think we can’t wait for Washington. We can’t wait for “the education president.” We can’t wait for, you know, the next parenting guru. What we need is a family movement, very much like the feminist movement. The feminist movement did not begin with a discussion of the Equal Rights Amendment. It began when women sat down at kitchen tables like this one and began to talk about what it feels like to be a woman. You can’t skip that stage.
We’re in that stage now, as parents and as other people who care about kids. We have to bring non-parents into this movement. We have to bring seniors – seniors could be the winter soldiers of this movement. Some of the most moving programs I’ve seen in the schools were where seniors go into the school and sit with their arms around kids and teach them to read and give them the positive adult contact that is so much more important than all the curriculum in the world.
We need to talk about a process, a nationwide kitchen-table conference, as it were, a nationwide movement where parents like-
BILL MOYERS: America as one big kitchen table?
RICHARD LOUV: That’s right and – but, like the parents that you have interviewed here, who are already out there, doing it, they need to connect. We can’t wait for policy discussion.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you started this discussion with your book, Childhood’s Future, and it’s fitting that you have that final word. Thank you for the book and for being here. Thank you very much, Dr. Bayme. Thank you, Jill Bradley. Thank you, Rosalie Streett. Appreciate you all coming. And thanks to Gail Pellett for her reporting.
I welcome the firsthand experience that each of you brings to the insights at this table and to her journalism, because politicians and ideologues often talk about family values as if they exist in a vacuum, like hydroponic tomatoes or primetime television, detached from the reality of life as it’s lived by honest-to-goodness flesh-and-blood folk at a particular address in a real zip code.
If we could look beyond the rhetoric to the families, we might see what it actually takes to help people to improve their lives. Liberals, as Dr. Bayme has said, could gain a better understanding of how policies can fail despite their good intentions because it takes more than a program to repair the breakdown of the family. And conservatives might come to appreciate that, just as individual behavior can be destructive of family life, so can the behavior of capitalists and corporations.
Every one of us is a strand in the web – as parents, children, neighbors, taxpayers, employers, workers, worshippers, and citizens. The family crisis is America’s crisis. What we need is a lot less talking about it and a lot more weaving of it.
Thanks for listening to America with us. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on April 7, 2015.