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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Why Families Matter

Aired January 3, 2000 - 4:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BOBBIE BATTISTA, CNN ANCHOR: Elephants know something we ought to remember: Families do matter more and more all the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN BECKERMAN, PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY: We need to have other people around who can teach us what it is to be human. And if we don't learn that, then we've got nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: This may be a guide for survival in the new millennium.

RIZ KHAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, many of us rang in the New Year surrounded by family.

BATTISTA: But the comfort and the benefits of family extend well beyond special occasions, and even throughout much of the animal kingdom.

CNN's Colleen McEdwards explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, here comes her sister and her family.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That word may sound strange, but look at the body language. Most animals live in what social scientists are increasingly comfortable calling families. They consider elephants especially familial, because like humans, they're often nurtured and raised in a strong matriarchal society and have the ability to feel emotions, such as love.

Randall Moore has been observing elephants for 30 years.

RANDALL MOORE, CAMP ABU DIRECTOR: It's always the sense of touch that's reassuring. It's reassuring one another, always constantly touching.

MCEDWARDS: At Botswana's Abu camp on the Okavango Delta, Moore cares for elephants who previously endured difficult circumstance. Some had been caged in zoos, others orphaned young, while still others suffered abuse by animals in the wild. Today, these elephants live and interact among each other as individuals and families do, in an effort to care for the young and ensure they'll survive and thrive.

Food and water are shared here. Each elephant in the community seeks to protect the other. They learn from one another. They even grieve together.

Recently, Randall watched remarkable in this elephant community when one was pained over the loss of her child.

MOORE: The whole herd gathered around to give her support, you know, and consoling her in the days and weeks after the baby died.

MCEDWARDS: Indeed, this is a community, a family. Anthropologists say families, all types of families, evolve as the best way to ensure survival.

BECKERMAN: We were born helpless, and naked and utterly without any kind of ability to take care of ourselves, and so we have to be carried constantly by our mothers from birth for quite a while, for a longer period of our lives, proportionately, than for any other animal.

MCEDWARDS: Dr. Steven Beckerman, a cultural anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, believes that families take many forms, but almost without exception, humans use some sort of cooperation to ensure children survive and thrive.

BECKERMAN: A human being who hasn't been raised around other human beings, who doesn't know a language, doesn't have social expectations, doesn't know social cues, doesn't know how to read other people, and their intentions and their feelings, somebody who knows none of that is, in an important sense, not even a human being, sort of an incomplete thing, a monster in a classical sense. So for those reasons, we need to have other people around who can teach us what it is to be human. And if we don't learn that, then we don't make it.

MCEDWARDS: Admittedly, says Dr. Beckerman, families can easily be shaken by terrible times -- disaster, war or famine. It's the opportunities afforded them for coping with disaster that makes all the difference in the world.

South Africa -- its history hasn't been a friendly one for families, who endured discrimination and hardship under the sanctioned policy of racial segregation, apartheid.

For the Boyloyee family of Soweto, an extended family, including grandmother, mother, son, daughters, aunts and uncles, years of political and economic repression had taken an enormous toll, but they did have each other, all under one roof, providing a strong support system for the family.

WALTER BOYLOYEE: You know, you may not know what that role is; it's when you are in dire straits that you actually tend to put people in little boxes and say, ah, that's the person to call ASAP.

MCEDWARDS: During those difficult times, one issue, above all else, was overriding by the family matriarch. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We did encourage them to go to school. Like you know, education plays an important role. Because if there was like things like struggles and all that, but we had in mind that they have to be educated. We have to make meals so that they can go to school.

MCEDWARDS: By 1994, apartheid was dismantled, and millions of black South Africans, like Walter and Mamohapi, sought a chance for a better life outside Soweto.

Today, they're part of South Africa's emerging middle class. Walter has a good job at a bank. Mamohapi is skilled as a teacher. Today, they own their own home in a racially-mixed suburb near Johannesburg, something unthinkable in the past. Today, they have a greater sense of security. And by staying together during tough times under apartheid, today they're more confident as individuals.

MAMOHAPI BOYLOYEE: I really enjoy living here. I really like it. Mostly for me, it's privacy, really, and tranquillity, piece of mind.

W. BOYLOYEE: You have more time to think out here than back in the township.

MCEDWARDS: But prosperity has brought new, somewhat unexpected challenges to them. These days, neither Walter nor Mamohapi has the time they'd like to visit with their family back in Soweto, the same family who stuck together like glue through apartheid, and they worry that their daughter is missing out.

W. BOYLOYEE: We're too far from family. We like to talk to them on the telephone. She misses them. She wants to go there. Because of other commitments on this side of the world, we can't find time to go there.

MCEDWARDS: Even so, for the Boyloyees, Soweto is no longer a place they seek to escape. Rather, it's home. It's where their roots are, where they long to gather, where the family is and where life seems to matter most. So it stands to reason, whatever form our families of the future take, the sense of hope, of fundamental importance for human survival may just be the family's most enduring trait.

Colleen McEdwards, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KHAN: When we come back, we'll talk about the changing shape of families.

BATTISTA: We'll talk to three experts on family trends, relationships and how today's changing families fit into the world's culture.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KHAN: Well, joining us to talk more about how families are changing, in Los Angeles, Gail Taylor, the founder and president of Growing Generations, a gay and lesbian-owned surrogacy firm serving the gay community worldwide.

BATTISTA: From Washington, Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation. He studies the relationship between family, community and social problems.

KHAN: And from London is Juliet Mountford, head of research and policy development at the Family Policy Studies Center, which examines family trends.

Thank you all for joining us.

Patrick Fagan, I am going to start with you there, in Washington D.C., and let's get a definition from you: What exactly is a family nowadays? What does it constitute, as far as a person is concerned?

PATRICK FAGAN, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, everybody -- well, almost everybody, the worldwide data is that 85 percent of people across the world see the family, the natural family, as the married mom and dad with children. Obviously, that isn't what all families are, but that is what worldwide about 85 percent of people agree is the family.

BATTISTA: Juliet, is there a truly objective and universal definition of a family, and has it always been that way throughout our culture?

JULIET MOUNTFORD, FAMILY POLICY STUDIES CENTER: No, absolutely not. The family has changed throughout history. And I think what we're seeing at the present time is the family in transition. So I don't think there's one single objective in definition, and I think that the definition will change as time progresses.

KHAN: And of course it is with the work you're doing, Gail Taylor, because you're trying to secure greater family rights for gay and lesbian couples. What particular difficulties do you face in trying to create an equal status as far as gay and lesbian couples are concerned?

GAIL TAYLOR, GROWING GENERATIONS: Well, I think that what happens is that society has created boundaries and stereotypes of what people's roles are of a family and roles are as parenthood. And I think what is showing to becoming evident is society's acceptance of diversity in parenthood and as families, and that there in no typical, normal standard family, families come in all definitions and shapes, and sizes and colors.

BATTISTA: Let me come back to Patrick then, because I'm curious as to where you feel this leaves the traditional family in this ever- changing landscape, and whether or not you see a return to that model in the future.

FAGAN: I suspect there will be a turn, because the natural married family always is and will remain being the strongest. It has the most resources, it has the gift of love from both the father and the mother to each other and to their children. And it is in that love and the stability of that that people thrive best. And on all measure, every single one in all research all across the world, the traditional, natural family is the family that produces the strongest next generation, the one with the greatest strengths and the one with the least difficulties, and at the least cost to society, to the taxpayer and to the future.

BATTISTA: If I could ask you, when you say "natural," what do you mean by that? And how is that different from tradition. In other words, would a natural family -- would an adopted child be included in a natural family?

FAGAN: The natural family, let's get that, comes from the nature of the sexual act, which is mom and dad, the man and the woman, coming together to produce the child. And the natural family is the one, then, that institutionalizes that, institutionalizes the marriage and the family. And that's natural. Everything about that is natural. There is no rejection. There is the coming together in love. All other family forms do involve some aspect of rejection, either by the father of the mother or of one of the other before or after marriage, or of the children. And hence, they are all, not in individual families but as groups, they are weaker. And...

KHAN: Well, Patrick, before we continue with more on some of those issues you raised talking about natural families, because I'm sure that Gail will have some comments on that as well, let me get across to Juliet in London and just broaden it a little bit, because one of the things Patrick spoke about was the next generation being strong and thriving on the love and so on.

what about the situation we face as we turn over to the year 2000, of so many conflicts, so many refugees, so many orphans. Let's get your perspective there from London.

MOUNTFORD: Well, I think from the European perspective, definitely, the biggest problem or issues we see with families is the relationship breakdown. And we're seeing an enormous amount of families being disrupted by, perhaps, divorce and relationship breakdown. And this is really an issue which is going to effect an enormous amount of children. We know that research shows that nearly 30 percent of children born in 1972 will experience the divorce of their parents, and we believe that this might be an enormous issue for family security and family formation.

BATTISTA: We have to take a short break here, and we'll continue with our guests and the issue of family right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KHAN: You're watching CNN's continuing millennium coverage. And on this part of the program, we're looking at the future for the concept of the family. And we have three guests answering your question. I'm going to get straight to Gail Taylor, who's the founder and president of Growing Generations, which gives gay and lesbian surrogate family support and acts as an agency.

And, Gail, I'll get you to respond to some of the thoughts that have come up in the program about the idea of the next generation being strong because of experiencing the natural family. What's your view on that?

TAYLOR: Well, I think one of the things that makes a family is the desire for a child to be created. And that's a strength. But children who are created in conscious relationships that are dedicated to giving love and support and guidance through a lifetime is something that's really important. And it is the concept of people coming together as a group to build families that I think creates strength.

BATTISTA: Patrick, let me ask you in the time that we have left here what you feel is the biggest threat to the traditional or natural family?

FAGAN: The growing acceptance of sex totally disconnected from the marriage and from the child. Once that's accepted, many different -- all sorts of things, actually, are natural consequences. It takes a lot of energy to channel sexuality into the love of a man for a single woman and then within the family. There are a lot of things, our media, our ideas in the universities, even the whole technological pace that divides families, as we saw earlier in the program in South Africa, all of these things are whittling away at the work that has to be done, the hard work, the struggle to keep this love united.

BATTISTA: But that acceptance by society has been growing over the last 40 years. And I was reading an article where anthropologist Helen Fischer was quoted this morning. And she predicted that was not going to change, that sex outside marriage was not going to change in the next millennium.

So, Juliet, I'm wondering, how do we reconcile all of this as we look ahead?

MOUNTFORD: I think it's just a complete era of challenge. You're quite right about the attitudinal shift that has to happen as we see the demographic shift.

I mean, just quickly taking an example from the U.K., three out of 10 children born in this country today are born outside marriage, and that has to be an enormous challenge for the future.

KHAN: Well, let me squeeze in one very quick question -- there are only a few seconds left here -- and, Gail, ask you, the work you're doing, do you expect it to be more accepted in the coming millennium now?

TAYLOR: Absolutely. I think that families of all social structure are becoming more accepted and that the concept of family is something that is used to actually create families, families created in many different ways.

KHAN: Right.

TAYLOR: And there are children being raised and parented by many different concepts of what constitutes a family, not just what's considered the natural family but there are many children raised by grandparents and aunts and uncles...

KHAN: All right.

TAYLOR: ... and a village, creating...

KHAN: Gail...

TAYLOR: ... families.

KHAN: ... I want to thank you. Sorry, because we have to leave you all there.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

KHAN: Gail Taylor, Juliet Mountford and Patrick Fagan, thanks to all of you.

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