Parent Consider Children's Challenges in Public Life

Chief Justice Rehnquist has said: “There’s no way in the world that you can squeeze one more minute out of any day or one more day out of any year. It takes time to be a good husband and a good wife. It takes more time to be a good father and a good mother.”

Judges and their spouses invest the time to be present to their children and to help the young people in the family grow and develop. Those who like to read all the latest information on parenting are not likely to find references to parenting in a public life situation. Judges and their spouses learn a lot about high-visibility parenting from other judges and their spouses. Sometimes parents have learned from their mistakes. Experienced judicial parents know there are no perfect parents, and no perfect children, but that doing one’s own best at parenting reaps rewards. Judges and their spouses know that relationships do matter.

Judges report having to change gears between courthouse and home. At their workplace their role is to decide between disputing parties and their advocates. At home as spouses and parents, judges often listen without deciding anything. With their families, the goal of confrontation is not to decide who wins or loses, but to seek reconciliation.

Judge’s children are often in awe of their judicial parent. They would compare themselves to their parent under any circumstances, but even more so when a parent is a judge whose name is a household word where they live. Teachers, classmates, and friends assume common interests and abilities within the family. That might not necessarily be the case. Judges’ children may desire an unusual amount of parental approval and involvement when they are constantly compared to a highly visible parent. Certainly if the child’s skills and activities are quite different from those of lawyers, they benefit doubly by parental appreciation and encouragement.

The families of trial judges confront considerably more public family life challenges than do appellate judges, and are often remarkable in their ingenuity in handling them. Many appellate judges and their spouses have served also at the trial level. Often having statewide focus, they may encounter so many trial judges and their families that they can see patterns and share what works.

United States Court of Veteran’s Appeals Former Chief Judge Frank Nebeker, who encounters hundreds of judges every year through his judicial education projects, sees a trend toward younger judges who have families at home. The need for public family life education may become even greater in the future. Lawyer Andrew Lemmon (LA), son of Former Louisiana Justice Harry Lemmon and Federal District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon, sees many advantages to growing up in a judicial family. He urges sharing of information helpful to children in public life.

Communication Works
Communication is the basic issue in judicial families according to Dr. Steven P. Shearing, spouse of Nevada Justice Miriam Shearing. It’s important for families to be able to discuss the impact of public life issues as well as other topics on all people in the family whether children are at home or grown. Former Chief Justice Henry Frye (NC) sets times to talk with his grown sons at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, as their schedules allow. One son is a trial judge ready to share ideas about public family life management.

Keeping communication open with your family is key according to Dorothy Baca, spouse of former New Mexico Justice Joseph Baca. She says it is very important for judges to listen to what their family and others say early on. During a nationally prominent civil trial, their daughter felt free to call Justice Baca right away when a customer at the bridal shop where she worked “lit into her” about the case. Her Dad was able to give her some facts to help her understand what was happening to help in dealing with people she encountered. The comfort of his availability also helped build their relationship. With open communication intact, the family shares the challenges of public life, but notices mostly the opportunities involved.

Compared to many other families, discussions in judges’ homes are often focused on public service and social policy issues. Children have an opportunity to look beyond themselves and develop a healthy concern for others. They get to meet fascinating people because of the judge’s work. Judges’ children are included in banquets and other public events where they hear inspiring speakers and learn extraordinary social skills. They develop quality contacts and perspectives that last a lifetime. They are sometimes able to see new places by going along to judicial meetings, and enjoy being in conversation with other judges’ children. Judges’ children are proud to be connected to a parent who is highly respected in their community. 

Will We Talk About Controversial Topics and Court Cases?

It is vitally important that persons coming into a courtroom are assured of fair and impartial treatment. Confidentiality about home discussions may have been learned when the parent was still a lawyer, but becomes even more valuable in public life.

Justice Elizabeth Lacy (VA) often felt constrained about talking with her family about current events and controversial topics when her sons were young. She didn’t want to be quoted on particular issues. She did talk, but was careful about what she said. Conversations turned more to what her sons were experiencing or thinking. Justice Lacy believes people usually think of family as a place where you can say what you think. But for a judge this is not always the case. She has learned that she is freer to discuss many issues with fellow judges at judicial conferences.

Justice Miriam Shearing (NV) thinks that whatever is part of the public record in a court case can be discussed at home with spouse and children to prepare them to understand and to answer complainers with accurate information. When vicious attacks occur during a political campaign, she advocates making special efforts to equip children to cope and to respond.

The family’s discussions of the news become even more important than when the judge in the family was in private life. Especially during high-profile trials or those that involve peers, judges’ children benefit from conversations before the next day of school that will prepare them for questions and comments. Some families routinely discuss the day’s headlines at breakfast to get ready for the day. Some children in the judge’s family will approach these matters differently than others. One wants to talk with peers who make comments. Another avoids any conversation about the news. Parents can help each child adopt a stance comfortable to the whole family.

Families See the Uniqueness of Each Person

JFI Board Member Mary Moyer (OH) points to the uniqueness of each child as she thinks of public family life issues confronting children. She places a high value on working with children to encourage them to make sound choices based on an inner sense of right and wrong. 

The Oklahoma Judicial Conference Auxiliary, founded by JFI Board member Barbara Lumpkin, devoted an entire spouses’ program during a recent annual judicial meeting to understanding, appreciating, and learning how to work with the Myers-BriggsĀ­ Type Indicator for personality types. Others discuss the unique temperament types or styles.

Considering the temperament types involved is useful when listening to the perspective of parents experienced with public family life. What works with the particular individuals in one family will not necessarily work for another. Extroverts gain energy from people contact. Introverts gain energy in their time alone. Some people gather information from concrete, visible facts, while others rely on intuition. A huge percentage of lawyers are the types who critique, evaluate, and decide based on objective data. Others in their family may make situational and subjective choices based on harmony with people. Most lawyers want only relevant information, make lists, and enjoy a planned, predictable existence. Some of their family members may be inherently spontaneous, flexible, and easy-going. The chances of having at least one very orderly person in a judge’s family are high. Family dynamics may be similar for many judges’ households.

Chief Judge Frank Nebeker remembers being a teenager when his father was a judge in Utah. Frank felt he was especially vulnerable to arrest with any driving mistakes, so he was cautious. Another judge’s teenager, an extrovert, may be motivated to follow the local driving or drinking laws because any infringement may be reported on the front page of the newspaper. Another teenager may be naturally motivated to be careful because of internal signals. Each parent may come at this issue from a different perspective as well. To the extent that love and respect for the uniqueness of each person in the family is honored, parents and children alike can take the approach that works best for each individual and the entire family.

Adults who have grown up in a judge’s household amuse and amaze their parents when they talk about their experience as children. When called upon to serve as panelists in programs for teenagers currently living with judges, they discover they may not have thought much about their circumstances before. They seem more positive than negative about experiences that may have seemed challenging when they happened. For instance, several have reported that not being able to have a beer party at their home or attending a beer party seemed catastrophic to them as teenagers, but seems advantageous as they look back on it.

One man who admits he didn’t like being in a highly visible public family growing up said he vowed never to have anything to do with public office as an adult. Today he is serving in office just as his father did. He has particular patience with his own children’s frustrations, but emphasizes to them the advantages available to them. Judges and their spouses can learn from Hubert Humphrey, who encouraged his son to stop fighting his heritage and start working with it.

How Do Children Relate to Political Campaigns?

Political involvement of children is often routine where judges campaign for their own office. While one child thrives on public appearances, another might abhor them. Children appreciate parents’ consideration in this matter and conversation about their role. Helping the child understand the bigger picture in which the election occurs can excite their enthusiasm.

When teenagers and young adults who live in the judge’s household want to become personally involved in political activity apart from the judge’s own campaign, it is important to consult the code of judicial conduct or call the judicial ethics director for the judge’s particular jurisdiction.

Benefits Outweigh Challenges for Children

In JFI interviews with experienced parents, they say that the benefits for children far outweigh the challenges of being part of a highly visible judge’s family. Most say there are some things they would have done differently. New judges and their spouses are encouraged to seek out veterans of judicial family life who live in the community or nearby to ask them what has worked for them. Experienced judicial parents chat with other judges and their spouses at judicial conferences for more ideas. The National Judicial College, the New York University School of Law Institute for Judicial Administration, the University of Virginia Master’s Program for Judges, the American Bar Association, the American Judicature Society, the National Bar Association, the American Judges' Association, many state judicial educators, and others welcome judges’ children to come along for judicial education conferences. In many cases there are programs available for children while the judges are in meetings.