6th Plenary Session: Families of the Future – Problems and Solutions
Moderator: Dr. Talia Sagiv, Ono Academic College;
Maharata Baruch-Ron, Deputy Mayor of Tel-Aviv-Jaffa;
Dr. Ilan Tabak-Aviram, Clinical psychologist; Brill Mental Health Center;
Varda Van Der Wieken, Clinical Psychologist, Hadassah Ein Karem
Dr. Ilan Tabak-Aviram
The first families to deviate from the accepted norms were conventional couples who divorced and went on to remarry. A complex situation with biological children and children from previous marriages was created. In the 1970’s single parent families started appearing. Medical technology made it possible to receive sperm, and subsequently, egg donations as well. At the beginning it was mainly women, but today there are also single fathers.
At the end of the late 70’s and the beginning of the 80’s families of parents who “came out of the closet” were created. People who used to be married and had children came out of the closet and decided to live a homosexual life. Often, they continued raising the children within the new relationship. These are the first children in single-sex families. They have to deal with several complexities: divorce, recognizing the sexual preference of one of the parents and later, acceptance of a new and different relationship. All of them are shaking experiences.
Later on, more and more families of lesbian women who decided to have children through sperm donation were formed. In the 2000’s there was a phenomenon of adoption that subsequently dwindled. Today there are also joint parenting agreements: a union between two adults who choose to have children together and decide to raise them together. Additionally there are surrogacy and egg and sperm donations.
I want to touch on three issues concerning “New Families”:
Difference: Divergence from the accepted pattern, two women or two men with a stroller. The difference is both special and a deviation and requires attention by both the parents and the children.
A principle question arises: What are the consequences of a single-sex family unit? The main significance of parenting is functional, a maternal function together with a fatherly one. Even in heterosexual couples the functions do not always match the parents’ sex in terms of societal behavioral norms. It is important that in every family, children receive the full range of functions and not of one specific gender.
The genetic tie: Genetics are important; blood relations are significant, from a legal perspective too. The genetic disconnection is derived from the biological limitation of two men or women who are forming a family. Is the genetic disconnection significant? This is a question asked in scholarly discourse, concerning both social and everyday life aspects.
My husband Eran, of Ashkenazy decent, and me of Ethiopian origin, are very similar. We are both academic, we have similar hobbies. There are no differences in our daily life. The outside keeps projecting to us how different we are. As the years go by it becomes less and less significant.
I’m thinking about my children. We live in Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv there is more diversity then in other cities. Everything is acceptable. It is clear to me that my children will explore their identity. Their surrounding will expect them to decide who they are and to which side they belong. As a mother I hope that I will be able to instill them with self-confidence, that they will have identity questions, but will be affected as little as possible by the outside. Not a simple task.
Our environment signals our difference to us. An environment divided between guests and owners. I hope we will be able to create an environment which encourages encounters and multiculturalism that allows expressions of the other and of diversity.
Varda Van Der Wieken
I can only talk about my Family. This is the first time I am talking about our being mixed. It is a frightening and perhaps an unnecessary exposure. In the last two years I have reached the conclusion that concealing it will not protect us and our children. I object to the question “what is the significance of a mixed family?” We are an intimate family. We live here in Jerusalem. The question itself positions my family as an abnormal family, and this hurts. Our family is natural and real and the criticizing look is unpleasant.
I feel that forming the family unit and relations with the children intensifies the couple’s relationship. These are the foundations of the human experience. Being a couple is a mission-impossible. The difficulty in continuing daily routines and enjoying raising children is great. Everyone faces these difficulties and this is why our colorful family isn’t abnormal. We bridge the gaps between us. This is an enriching and exhausting process. It is clear to us that without the acceptance of our extended families it would have been difficult for us to have a beneficent family and it isn’t always easy.
The Arab-Jewish conflict wasn’t so prominent in my family. The Nazi was the enemy. My personal choice injured the chain of generations and to this was added the tension towards Islam that rose in Europe too. Despite it all, my family made efforts to accept the other and to accept that the enemy is the extremist, and not the one with a different religion. My partner has a big family. The Clan is less interested in my views. I am a Jew who doesn’t believe in God and opposes the traditional gender based division of roles.
I’m an Atheist but ceremonies and tradition hold meaning for me. My partner would have given up on doing anything religious, besides the gathering of the family to celebrate holidays. Our children feel connected to both sides and are aware of the differences. They prefer not to identify with any side. For them being mixed isn’t an issue, it is who they are. My children are also influenced by the dominance of Ashkenazi Jews. They speak Hebrew, know Arabic and a little Dutch. They are aware that they might be thought of as the enemy. The experience at the airport is difficult for all of us.
I have no encouraging words about the future of my children in this city. Jerusalem is my home. I feel I belong here. I find here warm humanity among the secular, ultra-orthodox, Arabs and Jews. I try to bequeath to my children the love of people as well as the memory of persecution, but the fear of persecution is present in our life. I’m afraid they will have to immigrate, to find a peaceful place and be able to be themselves.
Dr. Talia Sagiv
It is important to discuss this. It is important to give words for pluralism and the acceptance of the other. It is important for the children as well. Today the “half-half” children feel they are better than the rest. They have the tools to deal with a variety of traditions and world views, even with a variety of languages. They have to contend with their identity. Decide who they are. I grew up with a Persian father and a mother of German origin who insisted that this wasn’t an issue to be discussed. Telling the children that love is the only important thing and that stigmas are not relevant, clashes with reality.
Dr. Ilan Tabak-Aviram
It is important to bequeath the family stories to children, each parent’s personal background as well as the story of how they got together. Sometimes this is taken for granted. It is important to tell because the difference is blatant and the child has to understand how he came into the world and what his family story is. This gives him tools to handle questions from outside.
Dr. Talia Sagiv
The stories are mellowing. Today there is an attempt to externalize the Mizrahi (Jewish Arab) side. There are hierarchies, but things are changing.
I’m very optimistic. It saddens me that Varda thinks that her children will have to find a different place. I think I have a responsibility to create a space that will enable discourse, encounters and dialogue.
Varda Van Der Wieken
My children will need the muscle to bear others’ reactions. I hope we are giving them tools to handle the reactions from outside.
Dr. Talia Sagiv
Children pay a price but they receive a range of thoughts and varied tools. The city affects us and we affect it.