For Bonita Lejejs, family is everything.
As do three-quarters of parents queried in The Times Orange County Poll, Lejejs says she has a very close relationship with her children. And, just as she has felt close to her own parents in adulthood, she expects to be close to her children when they are adults.
"My fantasy is that when my children (Sofie, 12 and Nick, 14) are grown up, we will still be close," said the 47-year-old Dana Point woman.
While economics, divorce, remarriage and other factors have changed the shape of many families, three-quarters of the Orange County parents surveyed say their families are very close. Just 3% say they are not close at all to their children.
The feeling of closeness is dominant in all groups--but especially so in families with young parents. In older families, more say they feel only somewhat close.
All but 18% of parents with children living at home say they feel very close to their children.
In follow-up interviews with parents who participated in the poll, some talked about the double-edged process of developing a bond of intense closeness with children and then letting them pull away.
When their children are ready to move out of the house, Lejejs said, she and her husband hope that while remaining close, "they will be independent and won't require us to complete their lives."
Mark Jasper, an unemployed aerospace worker in Anaheim, says he feels very close to his son but expects to be only somewhat close to him once he becomes an adult. He says it will be hard to see Nathan, 9, move away someday, but he's prepared for that.
"I love him a lot. I want to be there for Nathan no matter what age he is. But I also don't want to be the kind of parent that manipulates (a) child's future. When you bring up a child, you learn that you just have to let go of them little by little," Jasper said.
Jasper, 40, said his lack of a job places a strain on the family, but that it hasn't hurt his close relationship with Nathan. "My wife, Gayle, and I are involved at his school. We feel that's very important. I play baseball with Nathan. We go swimming, to the mountains and to the beach."
In describing his relationship with his parents, Jasper says that while he loves them and would take care of them should they need his support, he is only somewhat close to them. He sees his mother and father, who live in Las Vegas, about once a year. Otherwise they have only occasional contact--such as on holidays. "I'm not much of a phone-caller or a letter-writer," he said.
While 82% of Orange County parents with children at home said they were very close to their children, only 55% said they were that close to their parents. Still, two-thirds expected that they would be very close to their own children once they were old enough to move out of the house.
Kelley Boero, 32, a Newport Beach mother of two, said that although her parents live in Sacramento, she keeps in close contact, telephoning them three to five times a week.
"I'm very close to my mom and dad, and I think our children--Isabel, 6, and Armand, 4, will be that close to us when they are grown," Boero said.
Boero, who grew up in a rural area, said there were not so many distractions from family life there. In urban Orange County, she said, there's no space for children "to run free," and there's "too much shopping."
Boero said that she and her scientist husband Francis are very family-oriented. "He does science experiments with the children. We bake bread together. We go camping. And we don't have a television," Boero said.
Kimberly Claytor, 33, of Costa Mesa, said facing adversity has brought her closer to her children.
She is the mother of four--three from a marriage that ended in 1984 and a fourth from a current relationship. When she divorced, she was 24, and her children were ages 3, 2 and 10 months. After her divorce, Claytor went back to college and now works as a lab technician at UCI.
"When I look at 24-year-olds today, I think back that I had three kids when I was that age, and I realize I was really growing up myself then and was immature. I realize that all of us seemed to grow up together."
The ups and downs they have weathered--including the death of her mother--have drawn her and her children very close, Claytor said. "Life isn't easy, and we don't pretend that it is. We are very open with our feelings."
She has been in no rush to marry again, although she is in a committed relationship with the father of her youngest child, age 2. "If the commitment is there, it's there. If it's not, it's not, and a piece of paper won't make a difference," she said.
Claytor, whose parents divorced, said she has a very close relationship with her father, who lives in Santa Barbara, and was also very close to her mother, who died in 1985. She says she expects her close relationship with her children will continue when they are grown. "I think they will be there for me," she said.