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The Big Answer


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Not So Nuclear Families: Class, Gender, and Networks of Care

a book by Karen V. Hansen

(our site's book review)

The book is described like so: “In Not-So-Nuclear Families: Class, Gender, and Networks of Care, Karen V. Hansen investigates the lives of working parents and the informal networks they construct to help care for their children. She chronicles the conflicts, hardships, and triumphs of four families of various social classes. Each must navigate the ideology that mandates that parents, mothers in particular, rear their own children, in the face of an economic reality that requires that parents rely on the help of others. In vivid family stories, parents detail how they and their networks of friends, paid caregivers, and extended kin collectively close the ‘care gap’ for their school-aged children. Hansen not only debunks the myth that families in the United States are independent, isolated, and self-reliant units, she breaks new theoretical ground by asserting that informal networks of care can potentially provide unique and valuable bonds that nuclear families cannot.”

Networks that form to provide childcare often extend into areas outside child care. So, for working parents, building a social network is a means of community building. A network built around childcare can quickly, but not necessarily or automatically, broaden into a system of sharing and trading and socializing.

This is what MCs (microcommunities) are doing, of course, although they take it further than Hansen.

What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped

Like most sociologists, she says we need federal and state support for families, and especially for childcare and health. She’d like to see universal health care. She’d like to see high-quality childcare that’s affordable. She’d like to see economic support for before-school and after-school programs of childcare that serve all school districts and offer more hours of coverage.

Note: The obvious solution for our universal health care needs in the U.S. is a single-payer system. Our health care costs much more than other systems in the world, but it functions poorly compared to theirs so it needs fixing, but too many politicians are getting too rich from money from Big Pharma and Big Doctor to expect them to vote for a single-payer system. So the Affordable Care Act can be thought of as a giant workaround, wasting time and money and ruining lives. Obama says he "wanted" the single-payer system but it was unpassable due to special interests, so he had to settle for this workaround. But looking at how Obama handled the "no tax breaks for the rich" promise which he violated soon after the words exited his pie-hole, one can only look at his alleged "single-payer system desires" with scepticism. Obama has a history of caving to special interests regardless of what's in the public interest as well as just plain lying (e.g., NSA spying on everyone). "Despite promises that the law will lower costs, [Obamacare] will in fact cause the premiums of many Americans to spike substantially [and many others to lose coverage altogether!]. The broken promises [such as claiming to lower costs and the national debt while it will obviously raise both] are numerous, and the empirical data reveal that many Americans, from recent college graduates to older adults, will not be able to afford the law's higher costs." (Source: The Washington Examiner, 2013) Also in 2013, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said that this year's tax cuts have changed the incentives for businesses and made it less attractive to pay for insurance, meaning fewer will decide to do so. Instead, they'll choose to pay a penalty to the government, totaling $13 billion in higher fees over the next decade. And the Supreme Court rubber-stamped the Affordable Care Act as "constitutional," while most on the court were not as enthusiastic about the provisions of the act itself. (More on health care.) The only question left here is whether or not Mr. "If elected, I won't cave in to special interests" and Big Insurance were caught winking at each other immediately after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, since for some strange reason they all raised their rates after the signing even though Obama said rates would go down. But then this is the guy who promised "no tax breaks for the rich" and "no, we're not spying on you" so how could anyone be surprised? Curiouser and curiouser—

Big Pharma spreading 'good health via medicine' across the land
Big Pharma spreading "good health via medicine" across the land

She says that workers need paid family and medical leave.

She supports a living wage and affordable housing for childcare workers.

These are pretty dreams, and it would be nice if they came true like they have for a lot of European countries, at least to some extent. But, then again, Europe isn't footing the bill for a couple of wars so the budgets of Europeans for more support for childcare workers, family and medical leaves, and childcare itself aren't what U.S. politicians like to call “budget-busters.”

Karen V. Hansen has pretty dreams, and it would be nice if they came true
Karen V. Hansen has pretty dreams, and it would be nice if they came true

Especially since the economic woes starting in 2008 (also known as the Great Recession), the U.S. is necessarily in a cutting, not a spending mood. But even if it had money for such things, a lot of conservatives still hold fast to the notion that much of these things are family issues, not government issues.

If we look at what was found to be politically palatable aid to families around the turn of the century, we find mostly just the Child Care and Development Block Grant. It was authorized under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-193). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the current funding level for the Child Care and Development Block Grant provides assistance to only one out of 10 eligible children. Eligibility was all about being a poorer family. This was long before the current economic downturn, and yet actual funding was supplied to only 10% of these kids. This tells us all we need to know about whether money will be found for Hansen’s dreams for the improvement of society.

The desires of the constituents that politicians represent are often irrelevant and usually secondary to special interests—so there'll be no money for Hansen’s dreams for the improvement of society
The desires of the constituents that politicians represent are often irrelevant and usually secondary to special interests—so there'll be no money for Hansen’s dreams for the improvement of society

All this, of course, brings up the question: since Uncle Sam won't be riding in on a white horse and tossing money to families now or in the foreseeable future, who WILL ride in and save the day? “The Lord helps him who helps himself,” was and is one of the most useful things a person can learn in Church or Sunday School. Obviously no one will “save us.” So it’s up to us to save ourselves.

Uncle Sam won't be riding in on a white horse and tossing money to families now or in the foreseeable future
Uncle Sam won't be riding in on a white horse and tossing money to families now or in the foreseeable future

We've been watching the trends for decades and have seen the family dysfunctionality and childcare crisis—and its causes—for decades. But it’s trivial to see what is WRONG. But not so easy to see how to FIX it. But we did just that. There's no social panacea. But the family dysfunctionality and childcare aspects ARE fixable, and let’s not forget that these problems are causing a whole panoply of other expensive social problems like crime, addiction, etc.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

The MC movement (Why Register for an MC?) is both the hardest and the easiest overall solution to the family dysfunctionality and childcare crisis. The hardest, because of the relocation logistics and expenses, the easiest because of the way that starting an MC will so rapidly rid a half dozen families of their family dysfunctionality and childcare problems. NO ONE in an MC will be asking the government for childcare help ever again, even though childcare has become a large item in the family budgets of most families with kids.

Childcare (like at this center) has become a large item in the family budgets of most families with kids
Childcare (like at this center) has become a large item in the family budgets of most families with kids

Hansen tells us that families are not independent entities and not really nuclear either. She wants society to universally recognize the interdependence of family, kin, and network members. That’s a great idea, totally correct, but it assumes that said recognition will be able to lead to government aid. Hardly.

She says: “A good society encourages its citizens to invest in children, to recognize their collective responsibility for rearing children, and to become personally involved in the lives of children who are not their own. A good society facilitates participation in networks of care for children.” Unless there's no money—then we need MCs or at very least babysitting co-ops for starters.

We, of course, agree that it would be nice if there were a couple of trillion dollars lying around doing nothing that could be applied to these desires for support. Of course, the opposite is true. The country is over 17 trillion dollars in debt and the politicians are finding every way they can to CUT spending, not increase it.

Even if there were a few trillion dollars lying around doing nothing, it would be in the hands of greedy fat cats, and you know how likely they'd be to spend it on kids!
Even if there were a few trillion dollars lying around doing nothing, it would be in the hands of greedy fat cats, and you know how likely they'd be to spend it on kids!

The book’s description says that “she breaks new theoretical ground by asserting that informal networks of care can potentially provide unique and valuable bonds that nuclear families cannot.” We agree except for the “breaking new ground” aspect. The book was written in 2005 but the statement would still be inaccurate even if it had been written in 1905. Various scholars and activists have been pontificating and writing about such social issues since Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams and her Hull House, in the late 1800s.

national debt

Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo
Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo