Anthony Weiner’s Women Aren’t Saints, Sluts or Victims

Anthony Weiner‘s recent misadventures in the race for New York City mayor showcase America’s polarized views on women’s agency.

The press coverage of Weinergate II uniformly puts women in a bad light. Some are pictured as volatile out-of-control revenge seekers, others as opportunists. Worse, many are seen as victims. None are portrayed as clear-thinking actors making decisions that suit their values, needs and desires.

Enough. Regardless of what you think of Weiner, Click to continue reading “Anthony Weiner’s Women Aren’t Saints, Sluts or Victims”

Trying To Make Sense of the NYC Nanny Murders

Published on October 28, 2012 in Role/Reboot and on October 30, 2012 in The Frisky

 

No matter how much you try to protect your children, there will always be things you can not control.

Last week, two young children, Leo and Lulu Krim, were allegedly stabbed to death by their nanny in their home in Manhattan. The children’s mother discovered the bodies as Yoselyn Ortega, the nanny, began to hack at her own throat. Although the nanny survived, she is hospitalized and unable to speak.

The reports to date are that the Krim family was kind to the nanny—there were no bad feelings on either side of the relationship. A friend of the Krim family recommended Ms. Ortega, and she’d been their employee for approximately two years.

Parents are searching for an explanation that makes the incident understandable believing that if they can understand why it occurred, they can take precautions to avoid a similar catastrophe. These deaths happened at the hands of a nanny, but children may be harmed in daycare, in school, at Boy Scouts or…the list is long. Too long.

By loving a child, we unwillingly, but inevitably, give a hostage to fortune. The fates may snatch the child from us at any time through disease or injury. But no parent anticipates that his or her children will be killed by one to whom their welfare has been entrusted.

The relationship between a nanny and a parent is ideally one of trust and affection. When my son was born, my search for a nanny led me to speak to several placement agencies. As I explained what I was looking for, I sometimes mentioned that my infant son was adopted. That proved to be the key to finding Brigitte, the trained English nanny who took care of him for his first six years.

The woman who ran one of the agencies had an adopted child, too. We bonded over this, and she gave me honest feedback about the candidates I was considering. Because her child had been in a playgroup with one of Brigitte’s charges, she’d seen Brigitte in action and couldn’t have recommended her more highly.

She was right. Brigitte was honest, bright, reliable, thoughtful, loving, and cheerful. I grew to trust Brigitte implicitly. Although she didn’t live in our home, she became part of the family. I credit many of my son’s good qualities as an adult to the years they spent together.

Brigitte left when my son was 6 to take care of her own baby and start a daycare in her home. Unfortunately, I can’t offer such extravagant praise for her replacement. Mariela loved my son and was a careful driver. I trusted her to keep him safe, and she did.

After learning about the Krim children’s death, many parents are feeling anxious about their choice of a childcare provider. Using an agency to find a caregiver as I did isn’t a total or even partial answer. While much remains to be learned about the motivation of Ms. Ortega, I suspect she suffered a dramatic psychological break with reality. What she did could not have been predicted by any agency screening.

The Internet has many sites with advice on selecting a childcare provider. Parents should certainly be thorough in this process, but no measure of diligence can guarantee our children will be safe. Airplane engines drop out of the sky, the cord of a hoodie becomes a garrote, a tree topples. When we choose to love, we risk the profound sorrow of loss.

Sir Francis Bacon recognized this when he wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.”

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Why Do We Marry People Like Our Parents

Published August 19 Role/Reboot

Our early childhood plays a major role in our choice of romantic partners. Dr. Harville Hendrix theorizes that “We marry the emotional image of our caregivers—both positive and negative.”

Sometimes, in an effort to resolve troublesome issues with a parent, we choose a partner with the same personality flaw that left us feeling unsatisfied as a child. That choice is a desperate, last-gasp attempt to get the love or attention we longed for.

If that sounds preposterous, let me illustrate the hypothesis by describing my four husbands.

My first husband was 14 years older and, by the standards of my small, blue-collar hometown, well-educated and sophisticated. What parental gap was I trying to fill? I was replacing my alcoholic father who left school in seventh grade to work in a textile mill.

This pairing might have succeeded but for its hidden flaw: My husband was gay and married me as a cover-up. I only learned of his gender preference seven years later when he was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer.

Several years passed and I married husband number two. This was my first attempt at trying to get love from a narcissist—the love I’d never gotten from my mother.

Before the hate mail starts flying, let me say I loved my mother. I understand many of the events and personalities in her background that made her a narcissist. I’m sorry she was so besieged as a child.

When I use the term “narcissist,” I don’t mean selfish. I mean someone who struggles with underlying profound insecurity by inflating her own importance. A hallmark of narcissists is their inability to feel empathy or give love. They have other harmful traits such as being manipulative and willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

Also, they have little or no regard for personal boundaries. They may view their child or partner as part of themselves. If the other doesn’t exist, their feelings and needs don’t exist in the narcissist’s mind. The child may come to feel lost unless coupled with another, especially a narcissistic other.

Marrying a narcissist to get the love your narcissistic parent didn’t give you is, of course, futile. By definition, a narcissist cannot love.

Back to husband number two. Before we married, we discussed my desire to have children. Because he had two children by his first marriage, he wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was, but he readily agreed. When I first brought up stopping contraception so I might conceive, he declined, saying “I lied to get you to marry me.”

I stayed in the marriage for years because I’d been trained by my mother not to expect my needs to be met. Finally, after a separation, he agreed to have a child on the condition that he could quit his job as a nuclear engineer and go to photography school.

We succeeded in adopting, but we weren’t a happy family. He complained that the baby was number one in my life and work was number two. He was only number three and wasn’t receiving enough attention. (Psychologists call this narcissistic supply.)

That takes us to marriages three and four. I married the same personalities and hoped for a different result. I’ll spare you (and them) examples.

Samuel Johnson, a prominent 18th century poet and essayist, observed, “Remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” After four marriages, I no longer hope to get love from a narcissist.

My Biggest Regret as a Parent

Published in Role / Reboot July 19, 2012.
Regrets
Mistakes in parenting are inevitable, but regrets are harder to bear. For Kate McGuinness, not listening to her instincts has proven the most difficult hurdle to overcome.

After longing for a child for years, I adopted a baby boy 23 years ago and felt a whole-hearted love I’d never before experienced. However, with that love came bottomless concern about his well-being. A compulsive worrier, I’ve anxiously analyzed each developmental quirk and spent hours pondering past and future parenting decisions.

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What My Mother Did To Me That I Will Not Do To My Son

By Kate McGuinness
Published in Role/Reboot, May 10, 2012

Kate McGuinness’ mother smothered her growing up, so when Kate became a mother, she refused to parent her son similarly. But without those scarring experiences, she wouldn’t be as good a parent as she is today, so for that, she’s thankful.

Smother-motherLike many new parents, I swore I would not raise my child the way my mother raised me. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see where I’ve succeeded, where I’ve failed, and better understand her choices.

Primary on the laundry list of intended differences was allowing my son to separate in age-appropriate increments. I had experienced my mother as smothering—demanding my presence, my interest in her interests, my adoption of her opinions. As a teen, I decided the word “smother” was derived from the word “mother” despite contrary etymological evidence.

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If I Could Do It Again, Would I Still Wait to Have Children?

Published in Role / Reboot: Make Sense of Men & Women March 19, 2012
Article by Kate McGuinness

wait to have children?Focused on a demanding career as an attorney and married to a man who refused to become the “default parent,” Kate McGuinness waited too long to have a biological child. So she adopted a son, ended her marriage, and wouldn’t change a thing.

Childless women often view their declining fertility with ambivalence. Jennifer Westfeldt, director and producer of Friends With Kids, recently said, “I kept feeling like I’d wake up with absolute clarity, and I haven’t. And we have a pretty great life together. The chance that we’ll regret it doesn’t seem like a compelling enough reason to do it. I may wake up tomorrow with that lighting bolt, and I’ll have to scramble to make it happen.”

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Neither Parent Nor Friend

By Kate McGuinness
Published in Role/Reboot

February 22, 2012

From personal experience, Kate McGuinness shares advice—and warnings—with a friend who recently became a step mother.

Recently, I attended the wedding of a friend who was marrying a man with two children from a prior marriage. Like one-third of all marriages in the United States today, this one would form a stepfamily.

Before my friend accepted the groom’s proposal, she had asked about my experiences as a stepmother. I’ve played that role twice, each time marrying a newly-divorced man with two sons. And, no, I wasn’t the home-wrecker. I didn’t know either of them before the decision to split had been made, but the assumption that the stepmother was to blame is common.

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What to Do When You’re the Breadwinner in Your Relationship

By Kate McGuinness
Published in Jezebel, Role / Reboot and Fem2pt0.

What to Do When You're the Breadwinner in Your RelationshipWhat to Do When You’re the Breadwinner in Your Relationship

Mass media has trumpeted a market research study’s conclusion that young, single, childless, white women living in cities out-earn their male counterparts. Feminists would love to embrace the results, but, in fact, the analysis has many flaws, including the failure to account for educational differences. That hasn’t stopped The New York Times from characterizing this finding as a global “trend” and predicting large scale changes in gender roles.

Despite my skepticism about these conclusions, I want to offer a bit of advice to women who are the sole or primary breadwinner in a committed relationship. As a former Biglaw partner and general counsel of a Fortune 500 company, I’ve played that role—three times.

Based on my experience and those of my second wave feminist friends, I’ve concluded the key factors in the success of such a relationship are (i) the reason for the income disparity and (ii) how the primary earner regards the reason. Are you supporting a stay-at-home dad or mom, a day-trader or a would-be novelist?

A stay-at-home parent is clearly adding value to the family. But how will you feel when you come home after a week of 16-hour days and find your struggling artist playing Mario Kart as an antidote to writer’s block? That’s something only you can decide.

Don’t think I devalue personal pursuits that aren’t potentially gainful. I’m now happily married to a man who devotes his day to spiritual practice. What’s vital is that I respect his choice. But, in truth, I doubt that I would have been so accepting when I was billing 2500 hours a year.

Assuming you and your partner agree that you will be the primary breadwinner and support his or her activities, there are some practical steps you can take to minimize the rough spots.

Discuss up front the responsibilities that the other spouse will have. Start with the general but conclude with details. How many days of the week is he or she responsible for childcare or cooking? Who cleans the house and schleps the laundry?

Also, be clear about budgeting. How much do you both want to spend on items such as housing, vacations and eating out? These are issues all couple should address, but couples with widely disparate incomes may be more likely to encounter an unexpected obstacle: ingrained penny-pinching.

If the partner generating less income has been in that position for years, it may be very difficult for her or him to understand why vacationing at an expensive resort might be a good choice. Airing expectations about what constitute “reasonable” expenditures will be helpful, especially in regard to discretionary items.

Another sensitive subject may be investments. Knowing the personal cost of breadwinning, you may be reluctant to let your significant other have an equal say, or any say, in how hard-earned dollars are invested. Your partner, on the other hand, may feel you don’t respect his or her judgment. There’s no right answer to this quandary, but you should talk it out in advance.

I suggest you memorialize the results of these discussions in writing. Am I suggesting a pre-nuptial agreement? That’s not necessary for budgetary guidelines, but, yes, I do endorse pre-nups.

Pre-nups can be emotional minefields, but they often make economic sense if, as one feminist economist suggests, marriage is viewed as a defined contribution pension plan. Before you rule out a pre-nuptial agreement, consider whether you agree with how your state treats property acquired during marriage. Nine states, including California, have community property laws (50 –50 split) and the rest mandate equitable distribution.

The primary breadwinner isn’t the only party who can be protected by a pre-nup. If you live in an equitable distribution state and your partner will be assuming childcare and homemaking responsibilities, agreeing upfront to a 50-50 split would protect him or her.

Another factor is whether your partner is obligated to pay alimony or child support. A sudden increase in income—that is, your income—could motivate a former spouse to seek increased payments. Similarly, your partner’s liability for other debts should be considered.

If you decide you want a pre-nuptial agreement, there are ways to broach the topic that may minimize hurt feelings. If you’re already married, the law now recognizes post-nuptial agreements that address the same issues. Signing one may be especially desirable if one of you has stopped, or is about to stop, working to take care of children.

Whether you’re allocating assets and income before or after marriage, certain steps are required to create a valid agreement:

● The agreement should be in writing. Some states also require notarization.

● Each party must be advised by his or her own legal counsel.

● Each party must fully disclose assets and liabilities.

● Each party must sign the agreement voluntarily.

With or without an agreement, you’ll find the role of primary breadwinner challenging, demanding and, I hope, satisfying.