Structure Sunday: The Structure of Family

What is family and what does it do for us ? I have had a family focused type of weekend and I wanted to share some numbers and thoughts about the issue of family. 




  • The nuclear family: Two parents and their children.
  • The blended family: which is remarried or re-partnered parents each with their own children under one roof.
  • The extended family: such as sisters, uncles, grandparents, and non relatives either living in the home or elsewhere.
  • The single parent family
  • The childless family.

Consider all these and more. Add in non married partners, good friends and neighbors. All these people bear on how we live, our health and our happiness. 

Here are some illuminating data from

About 50 years ago, 80 % of households included a married couple. Now this is down to 50 %. Some households are made up of non family members, and these are up from 10 % to about 33% in the same last 50 years. 

Two parents households with children have decreased about 15%in the last 50 years to 70% of all households with children. About 25% of all household with children only have a mother. Father only households are up to about 4% of all households with children. 

Among all households with or without children, a steady 30 % are childless. 10% of all households are single parent households with children. Households which are traditional, meaning married with children are half of what they were over about the last 50 years, going from 40 to 20 % . 

Everyone knows the saying “ It takes a village.” I would like to point out that this is not just for kids. Adults, married, single or partnered, are happier and healthier if they have strong familial and friendship ties.

Through history, we have developed families, clans and tribes for surviving and thriving. We are wired for it. But in modern times, we are more likely to reach out to friends or coworkers. People sometimes forget to reach out to those closest to them, even those with whom they live. 

I am writing to suggest that people look around and renew ties to those most near. I suggest that this include spouses and partners, children and others in the household, as well as old friends and even neighbors. These relations may not have the cachet of accomplished coworkers, but keeping these relationships healthy has deep benefits. 

It helps us with continuity, and to know our personal history. It helps with feelings of stability, especially for children. Getting along with those closest to us is not really glamourous. But it make us flexible and empathetic. It grounds us. 

Try starting with a phone call, email, or a card in the mail. Then, by all means, plan some sort of get together. The most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect, and they don’t have to be perfect. The most important thing to do it to connect. 








Structure Sunday: The Structure of Education- Preschool

Education has been of foremost importance to our family. Most of my life has included  receiving education or supervising the education of my children. After all of this I have some definite ideas about education and I would like to share them with you.

I've been thinking about education because it is, of course, back to school time. As you know from my last post on school related matters, I'm a parent who believes that parents should be involved in their children's education. 

To me a child's education involves not only their scholastic pursuits. It also involves their sports, extracurricular activities and even the home schedule and enrichment activities the parents plan with family. This particular blog post will focus on a child's education before the school years even start. 

In the years before school there is a lot you can do for your child to enrich them. First and foremost, have a loving and orderly household. For example, try to have a peaceful sit down family dinner every night. 

Make sure your child is included in as many of the family activities as possible according to their stage of development. Once you reconcile yourself with the fact that doing things with the child takes more time and preparation, you will simply be more relaxed and so will the child. 

Here is a controversial and challenging recommendation: get rid of your TV. Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of certain forms of media such as music, internet and film. However, I believe in mindful consumption. TV decides your content for you, whereas if you have a screen connected to some sort of input device and parental controls you decide. I think it is critically important for children that mainstream commercial television not become their default activity or God forbid, their default reality. Where video content for children is concerned, I am a big fan of high-quality nature and science oriented programming. It doesn't matter if kids understand every scientific word; they learn very quickly to put it all together. 

When you have no TV, it behooves you to put many wonderful things in its place. Children before the age of school have a limitless sense of wonder and can be enthusiastic about anything good. Make plans to expose them safely and comfortably to all aspects of the natural environment, such as mountains, lakes, rivers and ponds. This may mean something as simple as going to the neighborhood park.

Get them involved in sports and other athletic pursuits. Before you do however, make sure you know what the sporting lifestyle entails. Getting young children involved in soccer, ballet, martial arts, equestrian pursuits, or skiing are all very different undertakings. In an ideal world, we would simply cater to the tastes and talents of our children. For the time being, we have to simply say, "where there's a will there's a way." I am a particular fan of ballet and a martial arts since they are available in most towns and are relatively reasonable in cost as sports go; Plus they give children great physical poise for the rest of their lives.

The great indoors also holds many fascinations. Teach children to play board games with other.  Give them access to all kinds of art and science materials. Absolutely every child should have a box of paints and a bug jar.

Consult with your local music teachers to find out what age their music education should begin. Consider taking lessons alongside them. 

Key among my recommendation is this: read to your child until he or she can read. Then, keep reading to them until they are absolutely fluent. Try using your fingers or their finger to track the words. All along the way provide them with a wealth of reading material. Take them with you when you go to the library or to the bookstore and consult with the staff about the best in children's literature.

Young children should be exposed to live theater, live music, museums and outdoor festivals such as county fairs, horse shows, farmers markets, and Renaissance fairs. 

All of these activities for children will stand them in good stead socially, intellectually and physically for the future. Each of these activities, if done in an appropriate and supportive way, will enhance your child's skills and confidence. These traits will transfer over into all the other areas of his or her life. 

Medical Monday: being a patient

Yes folks that's my arm. There's nothing better for a doctor than to be a patient sometimes. Your regularly scheduled blog post is thus interrupted with this post about my small experience of being a little too sick. 

You may wonder how I came to be such a health nut. Well it's because I have lupus. I have to be extra careful and on top of things to stay healthy. The majority of the time I do very well, but once in a while a simple upper respiratory infection gets the better of me. I had to come in briefly for some extra medication and  I am feeling much better. I will probably not be in clinic for the next couple days. 

I was reminded of how vulnerable and wretched you feel when you are truly sick. I was reminded how much it means when people help you out. I had a good friend or two cover for me on labor and delivery, my husband who brought me in, and all the hot shots in the emergency room to tune me up. 

There are two messages as far as I can see. Number one, if you are not doing well reach out and get some help. Number two, if you see someone else not doing well check in with them. It means so much.


Structure Sunday: The Sit Down Family Dinner

I've been blogging a lot about food lately even if it isn't food Friday. I've explained that food can help you get healthy and that food can help you socialize. Well guess what ?  Food can even help you get organized. Food can help you structure your time and even your mind. 

I once read an interesting fact about the Rhodes Scholars. These are people who in their graduate education have received the highest of academic honors, complete with scholarship money. Needless to say these are some smart, productive and organized people. At one point, someone tried to evaluate a number of Rhodes scholars to try to determine if there were any common factors in their backgrounds. The only thing that they could come up with was this: they all grew up with the tradition of sitting down together as a family for dinner.

How could family dinner time possibly have anything to do with growing up to be smart, productive and organized? Think about this: we've all seen households that run smoothly, and we've all seen the opposite where chaos and strife reign. I think that the sit down dinner is a sign of a calm and organized household. But I also think that a chaotic household can be calmed by the introduction of something like a sit down meal. It goes both ways. 

A sit down dinner takes foresight, planning, caring and creativity. It also can involve delegating. If kids see these processes in action day after day, they internalize them. There is extra time and effort involved especially for working moms, but if you think about the behavioral as well as nutritional benefits, it's well worth it. 

Once you master the sit down family dinner, try a party. Get the kids involved from the beginning, even the teenagers. Consider a mix of ages. You invite some of your friends, but let the kids invite some of their friends too. Plan well in advance. Two weeks ahead, make a guest list and send invites by email or snail mail. Develop a menu, and maybe a theme. Clean house and shop a couple days ahead, and the day before start the food preparations. If you have the party on a Saturday evening, the kids can help with the final preparations in the morning. Involve the kids at every step of the way, and you will see their pride when the candles are lit and show time arrives.  

I am convinced this kind of family activity confers behavioral benefits in many ways. Home becomes the place to be. Parents are seen as the ones trying something fun and new. Kids learn some homemaking skills, but most importantly, they learn about planning and execution. They  learn to structure time in order to get things accomplished. And that is more valuable than a Rhodes scholarship. 


Pomp and Circumstance

This weekend I shared the fantastic surreal experience of college graduation with my family. For weeks my son in law, who was receiving a Masters degree, had said he was not going to walk. As the date grew near, he changed his mind just in time to order his robe, hood and cap.

Brian is a practical sort, and had little use for the multicolored hood and strange flat hat. However he listened  patiently as I explained that it was a communal rite of passage that would never happen again. When he rolled his eyes, I cut to the chase, and enlightened him that it was mostly for his parents. I helped him adjust his hood correctly and explained that the outer  colors represented his university and the inner colors represented his college, in this case, agriculture. He would be joining the ranks of centuries of scholars donning the colored robes of academia. Echo, his wife, my daughter, came in and out in a flurry, getting ready. When she returned, I mentioned  something to which I thought she could relate. 

Our family has been to England, specifically Oxford and Cambridge. There we visited the ivy clad walls of King's College and punted on the river Cam, floating under the bridge of sighs. We were told the bridge connected dormitories to the great exam hall, thus explaining its name. In the main exam hall, we all felt as though we had been there before. It was darkly paneled room, with grand weathered wooden table running it's length. High on the walls were portraits of ancient robed scholars. Robed ! Of course. In those days, all students wore robes as they attended school. Their robes were plain, and as they advanced, graduated and attained various honors, their regalia increased, with tassels hoods and caps. Our tour guide explained that the room had served as the model for the great hall in Hogwarts. No wonder we felt at home. 

Back in bozeman I decided to fall short of telling Brian that he was becoming a wizard. Even a good mother in law is indulged only so much. True enough, his robes heartened back to the academic robes of old England, in a world where education may as well have been magic, the purview of an elite few, and requisite for power. 

I raised my kids in a melange of academics, science, fiction and fantasy. Thus I  knew Echo would appreciate my reference back to the academic vestments of old. I knew too that in Marvel's fictional world of Asgard, Odin was right, saying that which we called magic was really just more advanced science. 

And so the day saw Brian invested with his Masters degree. We listened to several addresses, each of which was surprisingly illuminating, intense or touching in turn. The graduates were given their diplomas, charged with their rights and responsibilities and we adjourned. But sure enough, the Professors had done their magic and a a spell had been cast. Brian would go home with a good job waiting for him. He would also leave with and enlarged affection for science and the near magical ability to conduct research. 

After the ceremonies, we returned to have an open house and pack. And pack and pack. Though we were returning to the mundane, here was no denying that a transition had been crossed. We could all feel the surreal quality of the transition from one phase of life to another. Time and memory were in sharp focus and set apart. We were all transformed a bit, in this magical circumstance.