What at Is A Family?

A discussion of Family Values

for the 1990s and beyond.


November 12, 1994

Madison Chapter

National Organization For Women


What is a family?

Diversity of Family Structure ; Evolving Parental Roles ; Child Custody Decisions; Challenging Our Prejudice


Shelley Gaylord; Dale Reich ; Tammy Baldwin

Co-Sponsoring Groups

Mothers of Simpson Street ; Grandparents United For Children Rights ;

Shared Parental Responsibility Interest Group ;

Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays ;

Lesbian Parents Network ;The United ; Action Wisconsin ;

Madison Men's Organization ; Families Action Association ;

Legislation for Kids and Dads ; Family Law Education, Inc. ;

Wisconsin Fathers For Equal Justice


Mothers Liberation Resolution

What is a family?

A discussion of Family Values

for the 1990s and beyond

Madison, WI -- November 12, 1994

The Madison Chapter of the National Organization for Women

has invited all of those who attend this conference to discuss the question:

What is a family?

Since its foundation the National Organization For Women has addressed issues which affect families. In 1993, Madison NOW member Madeleine Para proposed to National NOW, a resolution titled "Mothers Liberation" which was passed at the national conference in Boston, Massachusetts. The "Mothers Liberation" resolution challenges this organization to address the needs of mothers, children and fathers. The full text of that resolution is included at the end of this program. In the spirit of that resolution, Madison NOW has called this conference in order to better understand the needs of families in the 1990s and beyond.


Diversity of Family Structure

Today in Wisconsin, family structures vary dramatically from traditional married families, to single parent families, to families built around partnerships with or without marriage which include members who may be step parents, grandparents, gay or lesbian parents or partners. Recent efforts by groups with extremist points of view to monopolize the definition of Family Values fail to recognize that there are many family types with strong values which provide a safe and grounded environment for children and adult members of the family.


Evolving Parental Roles

Society's recognition of the diversity of family types must be seen in the context of the evolving and changing roles engaged in by women and men and in society's understanding of same sex relationships. Feminist movements have dramatically changed the way women plan their lives in terms of how they will invest their time whether it be invested in career, family, or, other activities. As women make these changes from formerly rigid traditional roles, doing so impacts on the lives of men and children. It is not uncommon, for example, to see media coverage of opinion polls which indicate that women are dissatisfied because they are expected to take the majority of responsibility for domestic work when they are putting similar amounts of their time working outside the home as are their partners.

It would seem self-evident that men must share in domestic responsibilities if women are to achieve their career and family goals, and avoid stress overload. But, when advocacy groups push extreme positions which put women and men in adversarial positions they prolong societal adherence to traditional roles and values and slow the progress toward gender equality.


Child Custody Decisions

Today, we ask women and men to discuss how all can move toward equality and at the same time reconsider what we mean by family and family values. There are unlimited topics around which this discussion can be focused. One of the topics that we will address is what role should society take when child custody decisions are made. The history of child custody law has gone from giving priority to men to giving priority to women. Fathers have now organized and developed strategies which have led to fathers successfully winning highly publicized custody cases. These cases have relied on the "best interest of the child" formula to determine that a mother's career drive was not in the best interest of her child and stripped her of custody.

The most prominent child custody case in the state of Wisconsin today was argued at the Wisconsin Supreme Court on October 12, 1994. In that case two women separated after a long term relationship when their son was almost six years old. If society truly desires to advocate for the best interest of children in custody cases, then the question of the importance of a child's relationship to its mother(s), father(s) and extended families must be better understood and addressed. Society must come to understand that women and men, regardless of their adult sexual status, love and care for their children. Because of this love, they provide important lessons and values to their children. Any suggestion that the only moral way to raise a child is in a traditional married family disrupts the potential to celebrate the diversity of families as they actually exist in our multi-cultural world.


Challenging Our Prejudice

The legal issues of child custody thus affect heterosexual and homosexual mothers and fathers. Beyond the issue of custody, many family law issues affect all of us, while others impact on groups uniquely. We hope that those who attend this conference will develop a better understanding of our differences. That we will look closer at the stereotypes foisted upon us by the media and society. That we will focus our minds on the presumption that parents love their children and will do what is best for them, regardless of the parent's gender, marital status, sexual status, preference or orientation. We hope that those of us attending this conference today will challenge our own thinking and consider that many of our own prejudices and suspicions are driven by the media or an absence of contact with someone who is different.

Once we recognize and begin to celebrate our differences, we will to learn to better appreciate the pain of a mother or father who cannot have custody or contact with his or her children, and the pain of a family that is told that providers will not place children for adoption or provide artificial insemination services because of some misguided prejudice.

Clearly there are problems with the way the legal system regulates families. Madison NOW has proposed this conference in order to better understand the needs of children and parents. Madison NOW will not present any agenda or proposal for where we go from here. Madison NOW is here to listen and discover ways that we all can make a better world for the children of the future.



Honorable Shelley Gaylord

Ms. Gaylord will address three key questions affecting families today. First: "If families are so private, why do we have so many laws about them? There is a consistent call to meet the perceived need to support certain types of families through public policies and funding. Although a family consisting of biological mom, biological dad and children is worthy and wonderful for some people, we cannot afford to stigmatize all other family types as we do now. The call to support one type of family is translated into a vast array of laws which concentrate on marital status and/or biological relationships to the exclusion of the reality of informal family structures. But this goes beyond support for the marital family and results in trivialization or punishment of the non-marital family. Marital and nonmarital families have far more shared values and needs than differences. The government should not prefer one type to the detriment of the others."

Second: "What do people do to meet their needs when the law does not offer a solution? People are already trying to meet some of their basic needs through wills, powers of attorney, property and support agreements. The toughest issue is still parenting children. Too many children are being terminated from important relationships without any chance for court review - but it is primarily happening in non-marital situations. Whether you are a grandparent left out or a co-parent to your partner's children, extending protections to nonmarital families, especially to children, will not sound the death knell for marital families."

Third: "How do we fix this? When you refer to people as a "family" what do you mean? Change your own attitudes and actions first. Then talk with others about their attitudes and actions. Work with schools, legislators, health care providers, insurors, employers - anyone who has anything to do with the process. Change is difficult, but it keeps happening anyway!"


Dale Reich

Dale Reich, of Wisconsin Fathers for Equal Justice, will present a message "that centers on the positive contributions that men (fathers) can make to our children. That fathers represent an untapped resource and hold great potential for improving the lives of Wisconsin children. What's been missing is the support needed to make them first class parents. They need the support of government and the community at large to accomplish that goal. Fathers want and need to be with their children, and children certainly want their fathers to be present in their lives. We need to develop a new attitude toward fathers if we are going to provide the greatest support possible for our kids."


State Representative Tammy Baldwin

The days events will conclude with a dinner and remarks by State Representative Tammy Baldwin. Ms. Baldwin will present her goal "to introduce legislation that reflects the real needs and concerns of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and unmarried heterosexual couples in the state of Wisconsin." Ms. Baldwin is currently drafting two separate but related bills one dealing with domestic partnership and the second proposing same gender marriage.

The "domestic partnership bill would create a separate mechanism for legally recognizing and benefiting couples who either cannot or choose not to marry. It would address many of the practical issues that these couples face (such as the unavailability of family health insurance, inheritance rights, adoption and custody rights and many others." The "same sex marriage bill would permit gay and lesbian couples to marry and therefore incur all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that heterosexual married couples now enjoy."


Workshops and Co-sponsors

Numerous co-sponsoring groups, some of whom do not always share the same notions about social issues, including families and family values, will participate in workshops to discuss issues of concern to their members. Some of the co-sponsors will conduct workshops at this conference, others are attending in person and in spirit.


Mothers of Simpson Street

Mothers of Simpson Street are a group of powerful black women organized over a year ago by Louree Holly, neighborhood counselor.

The Mothers of Simpson Street group began meeting on the top of member Magnolia White's (Treasure) car with only three women.

Soon the members began to discuss ways to address drugs, violence and housing problems and concerns about community youth and adult relationships with the school district. Thus the group began to grow and new members became involved. Mothers of Simpson Street has acquired a reputation for "taking charge" and creating positive changes in their neighborhood. The Mothers of Simpson Street take pride in being united black sisters.

The group has made a major impact on Madison as well as on their own community. They have received awards and recognition from Governor Thompson, the Mayor's office, the Chief of Police and the County Executive. The sisters are growing and uniting with pride.


Grandparents United For Children Rights

Ms. Ethel Dunn will discuss the many ways that grandparents can and do serve as resources in providing family strengths and unity, particularly with respect to their role in family preservation and unification. She will offer vignettes from her work as executive director of a referral and information retrieval agency and will talk about the many changes that have occurred in the family during the past twenty years.

Her presentation will enumerate how grandparents today are often called upon to be the stabilizing influence in their children's and grandchildren's lives.

Finally, she will discuss legislative remedies that she feels are eventually coming in our effort to support "Family Values."


Shared Parental Responsibility Interest Group

SPRIG feels that children of divorce need to spend significant amounts of time with each of their parents. Where both parents are fit, the model of joint legal custody and 50/50 physical placement is the ideal. With shared parenting, children can continue their essential parental relationship with both mother and father even though the parents have been divorced. The children spend quality time with each parent. Parents who alternate caring for the children have some "time off" to work late, go to meetings, schedule classes or other activities while the other parent spends time with child. This model works! Children adapt well to alternating households when they feel fully loved and cared for by both parents.

While the number of divorced couples who share parenting of their children in Wisconsin and Dane County has increased, there are still many misconceptions about shared parenting. SPRIG seeks to educate the public, including parents, young adults, divorce attorneys, judges, and guardians ad litem, about the advantages of shared parenting. SPRIG seeks to bring its message about shared parenting to the legislature. SPRIG seeks to collect information about shared parenting from parents and children of divorce.

For this conference SPRIG will conduct a workshop by presenting a panel which includes a natural mother, a natural father, a step-mother and several children involved in shared parenting. In addition, Debra Heuer, M.S., a psychotherapist from Innovative Counseling Services, will speak on the benefits to children of shared parenting and the psychological harm children experience if they are deprived of a significant relationship with either parent. The panel will discuss several models of shared parenting as well as strategies and tips for successful shared parenting.


Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-Flag)

Statement of Purpose-National P-FLAG Federation: To provide a support system for families and friends of lesbians and gays in their effort to understand, accept and support their children with love and pride; to provide education for individuals and the community at large on the nature of homosexuality; to support the full human and civil rights of lesbians and gays; and to speak out and act whenever necessary to defend and enhance those human and civil rights.

The Madison chapter of this national organization has been in existence for nine years. Past and future topics include: coming out to extended family, AIDS, couples, advocacy, discrimination in the work-place and the military, gay and lesbian parenting, religion, and how sexual orientation is determined.


Lesbian Parents Network

The Lesbian Parents Network is composed of over 130 families, and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg.

We have monthly meetings which include support groups, discussions, and time to network. We often celebrate with a potluck and family fun. Free, quality childcare is provided at every meeting. A monthly newsletter keeps our members informed. We strive to a be a multi-racial and multi-cultural group which represents the diversity of our community.

We include single moms, co-moms, adoptive moms, step-moms, foster moms, non-custodial moms, future moms, partners of moms, and, of course, children.


The United

Joined together to affect social change and to provide social service, the men and women who are involved with The United seek to provide assistance in a variety of ways to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and their families and friends. The United was founded in 1978 in order to defend Madison's ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The purpose of The United is "to work toward the creation of a safe, positive environment for all lesbian and gays." The United challenges social attitudes and institutional barriers that prevent full participation of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals in society.


Action Wisconsin

Action Wisconsin is a new organization that intends to aggressively increase visibility for gay, lesbian and bisexual concerns. Action Wisconsin will provide a state wide resource to Wisconsin citizens, the national media and federal leaders. To accomplish these goals, Action Wisconsin is compiling a list of statewide resources of GAB organizations, providing training on grass routes activities and lobbying, holding regional meetings, lobbying state wide and providing information to the general public. Action Wisconsin can be contacted through America On Line at actwis@aol.com.


Madison Men's Organization

The Madison Mens Organization advocates equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal responsibilities for men and women. We believe that since men's and women's societal roles are complementary that liberation for men and women can only come about when both sexes are freed from rigid sexual role functions. We reject victimization and promote empowerment. We believe each man and women should reach for their own star.
Jim Novak will make a presentation on fathering. He believes men and women both parent, that parenting is 90 percent the same, and each sex mothers or fathers. Role specific parenting contributes to the development from a child to a whole adult.


Families Action Association

Motto: "Kids need both parents"
The Families Action Association was formed to address and act upon the inequities and injustices that exist within the family court system. The goal of the organization is to get laws changed.

We, at FAA, feel we have lost one generation of children and unless things are changed, we will lose a 2nd generation.

We are fighting back! FAA supports the presumption of shared parenting. And the enforcement of time sharing. We want an end to child support as alimony. We want equality for men and women and rights for our children. Our children need to have both parents, not just one parent and a paycheck. We look for accountability of support checks.

We bestow a constant vigil for families rights! We are advocates for our children and we are stressing this to our legislators. What benefits our children will benefit us and vice versa. This is our goal and there is no achievement without goals.


Legislation for Kids and Dads

Legislation for Kids and Dads (LKD) is a small group of people who track legislation, lobby with legislators and develop legislative proposals with the aim of improving the legal climate affecting the relationships between fathers and their children. We are primarily concerned with Wisconsin law but spend some time on federal issues. We attempt to multiply our effectiveness by keeping other concerned groups aware of legislative activity that they may not have the resources to monitor on their own and by suggesting ways that they can affect the legislative process to the benefit of children and fathers.


Family Law Education, Inc.

Family Law Education is a non-profit educational agency which teaches people to do mutual-consent divorces on their own. Since 1978, the Do Your Own Divorce service has assisted thousands of people throughout Wisconsin. Supported by modest client fees and occasional grants and contributions, the service includes forms, instructions and lawyer consultations to persons who choose to represent themselves in divorce actions.

John Hendrick is the managing attorney at Family Law Education, Inc. Mr. Hendrick is a Dane County Supervisor and legal counsel to the Wisconsin Child Care Union.

At this conference, Family Law Education will discuss the following questions: Does self-represented divorce empower spouses at a difficult time in their lives? Or does it contribute to the impoverishment of women and children?

Should irreconcilable parents a) stay together for the sake of the children; b) Try to reach agreement on separation and divorce or c) Fight for the best financial and custody results?

Do two divorced parents and their children represent a family or a failure?


Wisconsin Fathers For Equal Justice

Wisconsin Fathers for Equal Justice, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, presumes that the best interest of a child is best served by protecting the child's inherent and constitutional right to a full relationship with both its parents. WFEJ works primarily, but not exclusively, with separated or divorced fathers who wish to claim, maintain or regain the freedom to associate with their children and give their children all the love, protection and guidance a father has to offer.

At this conference WFEJ members Robert Moore and Bennett Stark will each make a presentation regarding the non intact family and then lead a discussion together. Mr. Moore will discuss the topic "Constitutional Principles, Civil Rights, and Family Court." If the founding fathers could come back to life and spend a week with family court commissioners, counsellors, and judges, family lawyers, and divorcing families, they would be appalled to realize how badly our government has betrayed the ideals of the American revolution and the constitutional principles upon which our country was founded. Yet the damage family court routinely do to adults and children alike does not have to continue indefinitely. Once we realize that much of what happens in the family court system is a violation of our fundamental human rights, and realize that these human rights are civil rights "guaranteed" by the United States Constitution, solutions become apparent. Family court will be discussed from a constitutional and civil rights perspective, and new approaches to ending the routine abuse of human and civil rights by the family court system will be presented.

Mr. Stark will discuss public policy as it affects the non intact family. Society does not have a coherent policy toward the non intact family current policy is a patch work quilt of poorly conceived laws and destructive court practices. Children two loving parents. Expecting that one of the parents alone can satisfy the needs of a growing child is unrealistic. Not all non custodial parents want to be a part of their children lives. The legal system should protect the relationship who do and encourage the relationship of those who do not.

Schedule of Workshops

There will be two workshop sessions. At each session attendees will have four workshops to chose from with two co-sponsoring groups presenting at each workshop. The workshops are organized in this fashion in order encourage a mixing of ideas. The conference organizers are making arrangements for this conference on a shoe string budget. As is probably true for all of the activists with the co-sponsors, their time for organizing must come third to their busy work and family schedules. Therefore, there may be some restructuring of this portion of the program.

The location for these workshops will be posted.

Note to Writers:

The organizers of this conference have distributed press releases to the local, state and national media. We believe that there is an interest beyond Madison in alternative views with regard to family values. We encourage writers who attend this conference to make written contributions to publications. Our press list and a list of those involved in this conference is available to anyone so inclined.



Mothers Liberation Resolution

A resolution passed by the
National Organization For Women

Boston, Massachusetts 1993

WHEREAS, 70% of adult women (age 15 and over) are mothers, and

WHEREAS, although the work of raising children is vitally important and deeply rewarding, those who perform this job are expected to work 24 hours a day without pay or time off, and are not even considered to be working, and

WHEREAS, although many fathers want to share equally in the work of parenting, economic and social conditions as well as sex role conditioning force fathers into a secondary role and mothers into the primary role, and much more progress needs to be made in allowing, encouraging, and expecting fathers to take equal responsibility for raising children, and

WHEREAS, the raising of healthy and happy children benefits the entire society, and the society should therefore provide adequate support to the caretakers of children, and

WHEREAS, there is a double standard being applied to mothers in which middle and upper class mothers are told they should quit their jobs for the sake of their children, and poor mothers are told that they are lazy and a burden on society when they stay home to raise their children, and

WHEREAS, there is little recognition of the diversity of types of families and child raising practices that exist, and

WHEREAS, women who have children often engage in on-going struggles to obtain childcare, adequate income, and fair treatment by employers, and they struggle to maintain good relationships, escape abusive ones, get some rest, raise their children well and without sex roles, and have time for themselves, and

WHEREAS, by addressing the range of needs of mothers, NOW will attract many women as members who find themselves dissatisfied with the choices they face and will retain more activists who become mothers, and

WHEREAS, NOW's goal of bringing women into the mainstream of society as full equals cannot be reached for women with children without substantial change in the way mothers are treated, and

WHEREAS, NOW has recognized the need for other female constituencies to focus attention on their special conditions, such as women of color, lesbians, and young feminist,


(1) NOW establish a Mothers Liberation Conference Implementation Committee.
(2) Future national NOW conferences will have an issues hearing for mothers liberation.
(3) NOW develop materials for chapters to raise awareness of and take action for mothers liberation
(4) NOW work toward holding a national conference on the status of mothers in the next three years.


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