Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Divorces Are Delayed as Real Estate Values Plummet

John Leland's interesting piece in today's NY Times is titled, "Breaking Up is Harder to Do After Housing Fall."

Click here to read the article which describes how some couples are delaying divorce and staying together because there is so little equity remaining in their house to divide up.

Here is the letter I wrote to the editor of the NY Times:
What a fascinating silver lining in the “crashing real estate market”, that couples will think twice or thrice about their divorce plans. I’m not happy about diminished real estate, but I’d be happy (for the affected children especially) if the 50% divorce rate came down a notch.

Monday, December 01, 2008

USA Today's Sharon Jayson Cites Dr. Singer on the Ideal Age for First Marrriage

It's a fascinating topic with many points of view and research studies that point in different directions. I was happy to speak to Sharon Jayson of USA Today about this subject and that she devoted an entire column to it.
To read her column in USA Today click here
Could we please keep this vital discussion going? Please see my Delayed Childbearing post below for my two columns devoted to this topic and thanks for your input.
Dr. Alan Singer

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Delayed Childbearing Consequences: Parents Warn Your Adult Children by Dr. Alan Singer

Encourage Children to Start a Family Sooner than Later (First of two parts) was published on 9/5/08. Click here to read it in the Home News (while the link lasts).

Consequences to Delayed Childbearing (second of two parts) was published on 9/19/08. Click here to read it in the Home News (while the link lasts).

You can also read Parts 1 and 2 from my earlier blog post by clicking here (This link will remain).

These columns have generated more debate, by far, than any other topic I have blogged about. Stay tuned for a future column that will describe the irate emails I received.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

It's Not About the Flatware: Newsweek "My Turn"

I found this essay in Newsweek to be informative...and a bit disturbing as you can see from the comment I posted to the Newsweek site

Ed Goldman's "My Turn" described the world he plunged into, one in which people "fall in and out of love sequentially". Social scientists also refer to the trend as serial monogamy. His description of he and his wife's first, second, and third marriages is very thorough. But in my 30 years as a family therapist, I get bad dreams from reading scary quotes like, "Our first marriages were relatively brief misjudgments"...yikes!
Thankfully, most couples that I have assisted over the years, care deeply about the enduring and vital institution we know as marriage.

Dr. Alan Singer

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Family-Size in the New York Times

Click here to read an interesting article by Virginia Heffernan, that describes a cable tv show about "supersize" families.

I believe that supersize families can certainly be superhealthy families, but it takes resources to do that. Parents have to have the ability to give attention and finances.

What worries me more in Heffernan's article, is her quote from a mother who has two children (a normal American family size) and one on the way. She states, "Most of the time I feel like I'm gonna go insane." My concern and my research obsession is the effects of family size decisions on family wellbeing...more to come in a future posting.

You may click here to read my previous column about a wonderful large family, the Weitzners.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"In Vitro We Trust"

Here is my letter to the New York Times re Peggy Orenstein's recent article. Click here to read the article.

Peggy Orenstein's "In Vitro We Trust" was well written and she is correct: the 3 million babies born worldwide via IVF are a miracle. But, can't we call a spade a spade? IVF is not the solution to a long standing medical challenge like diabetes or heart disease. IVF is one solution to the growing trend of infertility which is a consequence of intentionally delaying childbearing in the last 3 decades. Many couples, who use IVF, chose to delay childbearing for their own convenience.

As marriages are delayed, so are children, which results in significantly more multiple births as well as pre-term babies. While lauding IVF as a miracle, can't we also remind couples that decisions have consequences that can be heart-breaking? Just because a breakthrough is discovered, doesn't mean that we should become more dependent on it, considering its huge emotional and financial toll.

Dr. Alan Singer

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Nine Couples Share Secrets to a Lasting Marriage by Dr. Alan Singer

Here is the 2nd of 3 installments about the nine couples I interviewed who are celebrating 30 years of marriage. I hope you find their responses as insightful as I did. It was published in the Home News Tribune on July 15, 2008

When nine central New Jersey couples who are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary were asked what is the secret of a 30-year marriage, most couples gave a one-word answer. Maybe they thought the question was, what is the "secret password" of a long-term marriage? It was intriguing that this question received quite brief answers. "Patience" (Heather and Arthur). "Endurance" (Leibe and Susan). "Communication" (Steven and Diana). "Respect" (Susie and Barry). And Mitch, with his wry sense of humor, responded: "Inertia."

Let's assume that you heard the old adage about what counts in real estate: location, location, location. Based on the majority of responses from these nine couples, the secret of a 30-year marriage is: compromise, compromise, compromise. This gets to the heart of marital longevity. Do couples with enduring marriages make the transition from "me" to "we" better than couples who don't? A marriage where compromise is a basic component will be able to change and evolve, since each marriage is a dynamic entity.

Dr. Bill Doherty (University of Minnesota) refers to marriage as a "continual learning process." That's an important perspective, considering the physical and emotional changes that occur as people age. Finances, geography and careers change as well. And changes in family size tend to have a direct affect on marital satisfaction (mostly negative). Leonard and Linda, in relating the secret of a 30-year marriage, repeated two well-known mantras: 1. Try to see things through each other's eyes. 2. No matter how upset you are, never go to bed without saying "goodnight" and "I love you."

The follow-up question was, What is the most important expectation(s) that you have of your spouse on a daily basis? One reason I asked this question has to do with some fascinating research from the University of North Carolina. Wouldn't you think that couples who have very high expectations of marriage tend to be disappointed if it fails to meet those expectations and that they will not have good marriages? Not true.

"Dr. Donald Baucom found that people with the highest expectations for their marriage usually wind up with the highest-quality marriages. This suggests by holding your relationship to high standards, you are far more likely to achieve the kind of marriage you want." (Dr. John Gottman, "Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," 1999).

Mort and Lisa expect each other "to keep in touch on a daily basis." Surely, we hard-working Americans endure stress and anxiety each day. But, that shouldn't prevent us from seizing a few minutes to touch base with our "better half." Several couples warned of the problems that result from letting job frustration spill over into family life. Susan expects Leibe to come home each day and be happy to share in her day as well. Arthur and Heather expect each other to be "kind, friendly, considerate, caring, and sharing each day." Leonard and Linda want each other to be "trustworthy, honest, loving, and supportive."

Robin and Michael provided this insight: "We expect mutual interest and support in each other's trials and tribulations and a sense of pride and gratification in each other's successes and achievements." Robin added, "Our marriage has gotten progressively better with the last five to seven years being the absolute best!" (emphasis hers). When I dug deeper into their response, they stressed the importance of couples preparing themselves for children. Numerous research studies have shown a measurable decrease in marital satisfaction with the arrival of each child. Children are the most wonderful of blessings, but the reality is that they add significant stress to a marriage.

"Early in the marriage, you are still learning how it works," explained Robin, "and then child-rearing sort of gets in the way of developing your relationship." Robin and Michael made it through those difficult years of young children and new careers. Unfortunately, not all couples are as lucky. Robin's explanation of why the last five to seven years have been so marvelous: "Our children have grown up and are more independent, giving us more time for each other."

Last is the advice that Lisa and Mort give to their grown children in their search for the right spouse: "Look for a warm, caring spouse and someone who will be your best friend." It is no coincidence that John Gottman's research (1999) strongly emphasizes this same idea. "The determining factor," claims Gottman, "in whether wives feel satisfied with the passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship. Some men and women come from the same planet, after all."

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's Web site www.FamilyThinking.com or e-mail DrAlanSinger@aol.com "Be Counted" columnists are members of the public.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Love Never Fails by Robin Fisher (Star Ledger 7/11/08)

Looking toward celebrities as role models for family values? NOT
Click here to read the article in NJ's Star Ledger.

My letter to the editor:

Society would be best off not to look toward celebrities as role models for family values. The most tragic point in Ms. Fisher’s article is the 50% of marriages in the U.S. that end in divorce. One million divorces annually mean 2 million spouses and 1 million children per year. That’s 3 million new individuals each year coming to grips with divorce.

With respect to Mr. Schick, love is NOT all that you need. Spouses need to be committed to the institution of marriage as much as to each other. Second, infidelity does not always mean that a marriage must end. Last, regarding Mrs. Herdje’s comment, “You have to know when to cope, and when it’s time to give it up.” In my 30 years as a Family Therapist (except if there is abuse present) I am the last one in the room to give up on a marriage. Research has shown that 2/3 of American divorces involving children, are of couples in low-conflict marriages. Further, 86% of unhappily married people who stick it out, find that 5 years later, their marriages are happier.

Dr. Alan M. Singer

Children's Physical Activity Drops from Age 9 to 15 According to NIH

New research shows what we've known for many years. Television, computers...aka "screen time" are leading to a continual decrease in physical activity for children. Click here to read the NIH News release.

I pose the following question to parents: What statement will be more effective in getting your children to be more active? "Turn off that TV and go outside and play" or "Please join me in taking a walk now"

According to Dr. Philip Nader, author of the study, "Even walking for as few as 15 minutes a day would provide health benefits."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Newsweek's "Having Kids Makes You Happy"

Newsweek (7/7/08) had a good article on children decreasing marital happiness, which is a known research finding. Click here to read the full article.

Here is my Letter to the Editor:
If the foundation of our society has become, “Am I happy enough”? then it is correct to assume that children will play a smaller role in our lives. In my 30 years as a Family Therapist, I have never encouraged couples to have a child and I am a very happy father of four children.

“To carry on the family name” or “because most couples have kids” are among the lousiest reasons I know, to have children. The desire to start a family must come from a deep longing that will withstand emotional stress, financial strain, and yes —even logic. Children bring a much deeper sense of fulfillment than one’s own personal level of happiness.

Dr. Alan M. Singer

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dr. Singer Discusses Delayed Childbearing on Fox 26 Houston

Please click here to see Dr. Singer on Fox 26 TV - Houston describing his Delayed Childbearing column.

The Press Release on my Delayed Childbearing column attracted the attention of the producer of the Morning Show in Houston. My brief appearance on the show had an interesting start.

Do you remember the old routine...."You know you're going to have a bad day when........i.e. The Sixty Minutes Television crew is waiting for you as you arrive at your office"? Well, in Houston...at 7:30 am, it went like this: You know you're going to have a rough day, when you arrive for a TV interview at Fox, and the Fox helicopter is following a car on the freeway being chased by Police. And what's more, that freeway is smack next to the TV station. I knew there was a chance that I would be pre-empted.

Lucky for all, the chase ended after 45 minutes, and there was 1 arrest and no serious injuries. I went on Fox26 as scheduled and in my shortened time allotment, still managed to describe the main points of the column.

Due to the shortening of the segment, the anchors did not have the opportunity to ask two excellent questions on their script: Why do you appeal to the parents of young adults, instead of the adults themselves? and When do you suggest that newlyweds start a family? Oh well, there's always next time.

Let me know what you think. AS

Delayed Childbearing Podcast: Dr. Singer Interviewed by Kelly Damron

Please click here to listen the to the Podcast on the Twin Peas website.

Particiapting in my first podcast was a terrific experience. Kelly Damron saw the press release for my column on Delayed Childbearing and asked for an interview. She sent me her excellent book, "Tiny Toes: A Couple's Journey through Infertility, Prematurity, and Depression".

She forwarded some sample questions and we conducted the interview via skpe since she is based in Phoenix. She asked terrific, insightful questions and I hope that my answers will be helpful to couples. AS

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Parents-Tell Your Adult Children: Don’t Delay Childbearing by Dr. Alan Singer

Attribution: Journalists have permission to reproduce this column in full or in part, provided they attribute authorship to Dr. Alan Singer and this website www.FamilyThinking.com

Click here to see Dr. Singer's YouTube video on this column

Too many parents approach issues in their adult child’s life with the unspoken rejoinder, close your mouth and open your wallet. Parents often give no advice, even when they have serious concerns. Thirty years as a family therapist and 28 years as a father, have taught me that parents should voice their opinion to their adult child about two specific issues: getting married and not waiting numerous years before having children.

The Domino Effect
In recent years, the trend of delaying marriage has caused a domino effect on other trends which have a significant emotional cost for families and an enormous financial cost to society. The dominos are: delayed marriage—delayed childbearing—augmented infertility—elevated multiple births—increased rates of pre-term births and caesarian sections. My goal in this column is to describe these decisions to delay marriage and childbearing and the resulting consequences. I will offer some suggestions that parents might use in dealing with their adult child.

Of the 4.1 million births registered in the U.S. in 2005, 37 percent were born to unmarried women (CDC). Some of the reasons that couples cohabit include: convenience, economy of savings, preparation for the marriage commitment, and apprehension about the high divorce rate. But these couples are actually practicing non-commitment. Even if they eventually marry, they have less satisfying marriages and higher divorce rates than spouses who did not first live together (National Marriage Project). If the unmarried biological parents go their separate ways, where does that leave the children?

If I am perhaps describing your adult child, don’t you want the best possible family environment for your grandchild? Wouldn’t you consider voicing your opinion to your son or daughter, knowing the irrefutable research finding: the best environment to raise children is two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage? You might respond that you don’t want to “meddle” or times have changed and it’s not like the old days when parents spoke their minds. My response mirrors a recent mass e-mail: don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

Adult Children Do Listen
Please don’t misunderstand me: Parents should not tell their grown child everything on their minds. But, in matters that are crucial for their well-being, they must speak up. My three decades of research into family size decisions have shown that adult children are aware of and appreciably influenced by the attitudes of their parents. One of my own survey research findings is the importance of family-of-origin family size as a predictor of total family size. The decisions our parents made about family size tend to have a significant impact on our own decisions.

In fact, reliance on the advice of parents has been described in the National Survey of Student Engagement (2007) which questioned 313,000 randomly selected college students. The survey revealed that young adults follow the advice of both parents more than twice as much as they listen to friends. So, if your son or daughter informs you that he/she wants to live together with a “significant other” for a few years, possibly even have a child or two, don’t respond with that 1960’s expression, do your own thing.

The First Two Dominos
Couples, who do choose to marry, are waiting longer to do so.
According to the Census Bureau, between 1970 and 2000, the median age at first marriage for women increased by 4.3 years to 25.1 years; for men the increase was 3.6 years to 26.8.

In tandem with the later age at first marriage, is the decision to delay childbearing. The mean age of mothers in the U.S. was 24.6 in 1970 which increased to 27.2 in 2000 (CDC). Approximately 20% of women wait until after 35 to begin having children (www.ASRM.org). Consider that birth rates for women 35-39 and 40-44 years (which have risen steadily in recent years) each increased 2% in just one year, 2005 (CDC).

Why do these delays occur? Education and career, which are positive trends, are important factors in women’s decisions to delay marriage and motherhood. From 1970 to 2000, the percent of women having completed four or more years of college nearly tripled and the female labor force participation rate increased by 39% (CDC 12/11/02). The availability of contraception allows couples to delay childbearing while strengthening their relationship, establishing careers, and amassing enough assets to settle down for a secure and comfortable future. But how emotionally secure and financially comfortable are they going to be down the road? Will their marital bond be able to withstand the stress imposed by infertility, multiple births, and pre-term infants?

The decision to delay comes with consequences that take their toll on spouses and society. The miscarriage rate (34%) is triple for women 40-44, compared to those ages 20-29 (10%). The risk of having a Down Syndrome child increases from one in 1250 for a 25 year old mother, to one in 30 for a 45-year-old mother (ASRM). Infertility, the next domino, affects 7.3 million people in the U.S., representing 12% of the women in the reproductive age population (CDC). A healthy 30 year old woman has a 20% chance each month to get pregnant; a healthy 40 year old woman has a 5% chance each month (ASRM). Secondary infertility, which can follow the birth of one or more biological children, is more prevalent than primary infertility. The emotional toll from the long-term inability to conceive a child can be devastating to spouses. Common feelings include: frustration, jealousy, anger, isolation, sadness and guilt. Self-image and self-confidence are affected as well.

Frequent visits to physicians interfere with careers and regardless of which spouse has the physical problems, most of the tests and treatments focus on the woman’s body. People typically assume that infertility is the woman’s fault and that adds to the stress (Abby, Andrews and Halman. Journal of Marriage and Family, May 1992). The financing of infertility treatments is considerable. Each in vitro fertilization cycle costs more than $12,000 with many couples requiring multiple cycles. The total cost for all types of fertility treatments exceeds $3 billion per year.

Remember when your child was young; you didn’t want to spoil her by giving her everything she asked for at the mall. But you knew which gift she really wanted and you waited for the right occasion to give it. Now, imagine your feelings of helplessness, when your adult child wants nothing in this world more than to parent a child. You can be supportive and optimistic, but there is no department store that sells what you wish you could buy.

Multiple Births
The huge number of couples undergoing fertility treatments has tipped another domino, multiple births. About 45% of Assisted Reproduction Techniques pregnancies result in twins and 7% in triplets or more (March of Dimes). The birth rate for twins in the U.S. rose steadily between 1990 and 2004, climbing an average of 3% annually for a total increase of 42% since 1990, and 70% since 1980. “Two related trends have been closely associated with the rise in multiple births over the last two decades: the older age at childbearing (women in their thirties are more likely than younger women to conceive multiples spontaneously) and the widening use of fertility therapies” (CDC 12/5/07).

Increased fetal risks include: higher chance of miscarriage, birth defects, and the mental/physical problems that can result from a premature delivery. Fetal mortality rates are higher for a number of groups, including: women who are 35 and over, unmarried women, and multiple deliveries. “Twins are 5 times and triplets are nearly 15 times more likely than singletons to die within a month of birth” (CDC 12/5/07). Maternal risks include high blood pressure, diabetes, and hemorrhaging”. Multiple gestation is associated with more depression, lack of sleep, financial difficulties, and marital discord (ASRM).

One method of reducing the risks is Multi-fetal Pregnancy Reduction. When there are four or more fetuses present, the number is reduced to one or two. This technique is used in an effort to increase the likelihood that the pregnancy will continue.

Remember when you taught your child decision-making, such as which friends she could invite for a sleepover or how she should spend her hard earned allowance. Did you imagine that one day you might be giving support to your child in her decision to proceed with multi-fetal pregnancy reduction?

Pre-Term Babies
More than half of twins are born pre-term and approximately half of twins and almost all higher order multiples start life with a low birth weight. Data from 2005 indicates the premature birth rate is continuing to rise, with more than 525,000 babies or 12.7% born prematurely (March of Dimes 12/5/07).

Preemies tend to encounter these difficulties: low birth weight, breathing problems, underdeveloped organs, risk of infection and risk of cerebral palsy (NICHD). Researchers, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine (1/17/02) concluded, “Very low birth weight participants had a lower mean IQ; educational disadvantage associated with very low birth weight persists into early adulthood.” And the emotional toll? Preemie families face a stressful new world. Parents may only enjoy a brief encounter with their baby before she is whisked away to the NICU for weeks, even months. And the financial toll? More than $26.2 billion per year. “Direct health care costs to employers for a premature baby average $41,610—15 times higher than the $2,830 for a healthy, full-term delivery. Additional costs to employers in lost productivity average $2,766” (March of Dimes, Cost to Business).

Remember when you taught your child patience, such as waiting for a mail-order gift to arrive or standing in line at Disney World. Now, imagine how you may need to give strength to your child as she waits patiently for her baby to come home after months in the NICU.

Caesarian Sections
The last domino is the soaring number of caesarian deliveries (1.25 million per year). The current c-section rate of 30.3 percent is triple the 10.4% c-section rate of 1975 (ACOG Stats and Facts 2007). Mothers of multiples are more likely to have c-sections and a growing number of doctors and patients are scheduling c-sections for their own convenience. The cost of a c-section ($13,441) is twice that of a vaginal delivery, with the national total exceeding $17 billion per year (ACOG). And the human price tag? Risks for mothers include: anesthesia, increased bleeding, chance of infection and blood clots in legs, pelvic organs, and lungs. Risks for the baby are inactivity from the anesthesia and possible breathing problems (March of Dimes).

The trends described above are not small blips on the radar screen; they are continents. They are years in the making and would take a major upheaval to reverse by even a percent or two. My real hope is that these trends will not continue to increase. I also hope that with the catastrophic divorce rate in the U.S. hovering at 50%, not one more marriage will succumb to the marital stress caused by these trends. But as long as parents are either too shy or too worried to put in their two cents, these emotionally devastating and costly trends may continue to surge.
Remember how it took courage to sit down with your pre-teen and explain the birds and the bees? Summon that courage again and tell your adult children your opinions on the importance of marriage and the timing of children.

Remember when your child was in grade school? You soccer moms and side-line dads, who ran yourselves ragged in your minivans because violin, astronomy, chess, swimming and painting weren’t enough—you also insisted that your child go to Math camp. Didn’t you believe that all the hyper-parenting was in your child’s best interest so that she would have the best chance to succeed in life? Do you want to see your adult child go through the frustration, pain and sometimes grief from the trends described above? And the possible negative consequences for your grandchild?

Final Thoughts
It is vital to remember the "context" that a parent would have this discussion with an adult child. You cannot just spring this topic on your grown child out of nowhere. You need to communicate and demonstrate the values of marriage and parenthood to tweens and teens, long before they are ready to be independent. Second, you have to convey to your grown children that you are willing to help them raise their children, to the extent that you are able. You cannot simply give lip service to the trends and consequences described here; you need to step up to the plate and offer your services and resources. Be willing to put your time, energy, and money where your mouth is, not only for the personal joy of bouncing a grandchild on your lap, but so your grandchildren can reap the benefits of significant contact hours with YOU....their grandparents. Don't you want to help your adult child start a family while you are young and have the energy and health to be helpful in addition to joyful? So please don't be cheap. Your offer to help your children financially in the early years of marriage can make all the difference in the world to a young couple who is determined to be self-sufficient. I’d like to change the rejoinder to open your mouth and open your wallet too.

When your newlyweds tell you they are in no hurry to start a family, will you be prepared to respond? Children do respect the opinions of their parents, and truly need to hear them.

Please comment on this column at DrAlanSinger@aol.com

Supersized Family Big on Parental Love, Sibling Support by Dr. Alan Singer

When you see a family with a huge number of children, is your first thought....how can they possibly manage? In this column, I discuss several large family stereotypes, but more importantly the conluence of sibling support. The Home News Tribune published this on May 28, 2008

In order to give you a complete picture of life in a large family, I first asked Rabbi Norman Weitzner and wife Naomi how many children they have. His response: More than 10. Her response: Not enough.

When asked why they won't give me the exact count, Norman responded, "It hurts childless couples to describe the size of a big family so I don't want to." Naomi's approach: "When you quantify the size of a group of children, you don't differentiate individuals and you should, because each one is a separate person."

Back in the 1970s, when they lived in Boulder, Colo., where Norman directed the University of Colorado Hillel, a reporter with an anti-large family bias asked their 7-year-old son, "Don't you feel bad you have so little time with Mom and Dad because there are so many kids at home?" Their son responded, "Oh no, just the opposite. When one parent is busy, there's always someone else to play with." As a large family in the heyday of the Zero Population Growth movement, they used to get plenty of dirty looks. Naomi recalled overhearing a woman say to her friend, "What can we do, they are using up all our oxygen."

Even though I have no anti-large family bias, I still felt the need (not sure why) to question them on large family stereotypes. One by one, they shot each down. When I asked about safety, Naomi described the "buddy system" rule for bicycle riding. "They could never ride without a sibling, and once it really paid off because my son fell off his bicycle and was badly hurt. His brother flagged down a car and sent them to our home urgently." Naomi insisted, "Our children know that we are not out for No. 1 all the time; we're also out for No. 2, or No. 3, which is how we raised them." The rabbi added, "Kids in a large family know that they have to share with other people; they are not as self-centered."

When I asked how they survived what had to be a three-ring circus at times, they explained the importance of being well organized. Each child had a job to do, and jobs were rotated monthly.
Was there time for recreation? "Sure," Naomi responded, "if they wanted a day trip on Sunday, I'd point out their unfinished household chores and give them a time deadline. Things happened — zoom!"

I inquired about the amount of time they gave each child, based on dividing up the parental hours per day. Naomi took umbrage at my question: "Tell me, Dr. Singer, today's latchkey kids, who come home to an empty house or to the maid, are they all from large families? The amount of time a parent has is not related to the number of children. I don't subscribe to the thinking that if you have six kids, each child gets one-sixth of your love. You can read a story to three children and you can take three kids on an adventure hike. A child does not feel less loved because his siblings come along on a trip."

The last stereotype we discussed was the resentment of older siblings who are placed in a caretaker role. The rabbi explained, "Someone asked if our firstborn daughter, who was followed by many sons, resented being the oldest. I suggested to him that we wait and see what my daughter decides for her own family size when she gets married. Well, she has many children of her own, so the proof is in the pudding."

Enough about stereotypes; let me describe some fascinating sibling insights. The Weitzners are quite proud of how well their children look after each other. Four of their married sons and their families live within one block of each other in Brooklyn, N.Y. "It is not to be believed how much they help each other," Naomi says. "When one of them moves to a new house, they all get together, pack the furniture, and load the moving van, even if it means lowering a couch from a second-floor balcony." "My son, who is in home construction, will go to his siblings and retile their kitchen floor at no charge," says Norman. "My son the lawyer did all their house closings for free." "One of our sons often says to his siblings, "If you ever need money, just let me know." Naomi adds. "Can you imagine?"

Certainly, credit for the success of this large family belongs squarely in the hands of Norman and Naomi. Dr. Richard Weinberg, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, stated in Child Magazine (September 2000), "Indeed, parents — not family size — have the ultimate power to shape their children's lives. If parents are patient and caring and want to invest in their kids, they can have lots of well-adjusted children." "And," add the Weitzners, "plenty of prayers and tears directed toward the Creator, who is the third partner of every set of parents."

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's blog http://www.familythinking.com/ or e-mail DrAlanSinger@aol.com. "Be Counted" columnists are members of the public.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Copter Parents Best Climb to a Higher Altitude by Dr. Alan Singer

If parents hover above their adult children and frequently swoop down to intervene on their behalf, how will those children mature and be responsible for themselves? And now, a new trend--submarine parents? This column was published in the 3/28/08 edition of the Home News Tribune

Hovering parents that install Web cameras in a child's college dorm room or accompany children to job interviews are referred to as "helicopter parents." How big a problem is this? It's hard to say. But getting parents to teach their children to be responsible for themselves is vital. If hovering parents frequently swoop down to run interference for their offspring, their children won't have an opportunity to grow up.

Recently, the 2007 Report of the National Survey of Student Engagement (Indiana University) indicated that intervention by family members does not blunt student engagement, learning, and development during college. This optimistic data comes from more than 300,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 610 four-year colleges and universities. Helicopter parents, those in frequent contact and frequently intervening on behalf of their children, reported: Higher levels of engagement and more frequent use of deep-learning activities, greater gains on a host of desired college outcomes, and greater satisfaction with the college experience.

According to the survey, seven of 10 students communicated very often with at least one parent or guardian during the academic year. Electronic communication was more common than face-to-face. Further, 13 percent of first-year students reported a parent frequently intervened to help solve problems, with another 25 percent saying a parent sometimes intervened.

And what is the electronic communication device of choice? The cell phone. Dr. Graham Spanier, president of Penn State, in a lecture to the National Council on Family Relations observed, "The first thing that happens when a freshman moves into the dorm, is that he hooks up his computer. Next, his mother makes his bed." Spanier went on to explain that the most interesting trend of recent years is that there is no more crying when the parents leave, thanks to cell phones. Every freshman has one. In his own survey of Penn State students, he found that within 48 hours of drop-off at college, freshmen have spoken with a parent seven to eight times on average.

Dr. Bill Doherty of the University of Minnesota explained, "This is a serious problem that extends into the workplace, when HR professionals have to field calls from Mom and Dad about Samantha's job interview, performance or benefit package." When I questioned Doherty on whether college students really need any parental supervision, he stressed that the human brain does not mature until age 25 and it is a good idea for Mom and Dad to look for signs of trouble and be prepared to intervene. Signs of trouble include slipping grades or a break in the regular schedule of communication. "But when it comes to handling their college course work and relationships with teachers and friends," added Doherty, "this is a time for kids to do their own negotiating, with Mom and Dad as mentors."

Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman does not think helicopter parenting is a big problem, writing to me, "The awareness of what the kids of whatever age are doing is not control, just monitoring." Pittman does not object to parents knowing what kids are doing, as long as parents don't think they need to control it. He sees no problem, as long as the copter is far enough above and concluded, "A parent is not a probation officer. Rather than trying to catch kids misbehaving at this age and distance, we talk with them. If we make that process pleasant enough, they'll talk back."

I wonder if I am also a helicopter parent. Judge for yourself after reading this anecdote. Recently, while in Florida with my family, I suggested to my 17-year-old that we try an introductory scuba course at Pennekamp State Park in the Keys. I experienced the wonders of diving in Eilat, Israel, and wanted her to have a chance. Before I knew it, we were 35 feet below the surface with our instructor. I began to panic, but not about myself. What had I dragged my daughter into for the sake of having a good time? We human beings are land-based creatures who don't breathe compressed air from a bottle. I couldn't appreciate the magnificent reef, because I was too nervous about my daughter.

There's no talking under water — only sign language. I couldn't understand why my daughter kept giving me the OK sign. How could she possibly be OK 35 feet deep, surrounded by parrot fish, snapper, and barracuda that swam within inches of us? My hyperventilation resulted in our instructor cutting the first dive short because (no surprise) I was running low on air. As we surfaced, I expected to bear the brunt of her fear, disappointment and possibly tears. Instead, she described it as "exhilarating and awesome."

My paranoia about her well-being was entirely my agenda, not hers. Thankfully, we had a terrific second dive together that I enjoyed as a normal person. How big a problem is "submarine parenting"? It's hard to say.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's blog http://www.familythinking.com/ or e-mail him at DrAlanSinger@aol.com "Be Counted" columnists are members of the public.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Home is the Heart of Learning and Where Education Starts by Dr. Alan Singer

The ETS does some things other than scaring teenagers with those 3 dreaded letters--SAT. In this column, I describe a terrific study that was recently sponsored by the ETS. This column was published in the Home News Tribune on 02/20/08.

Three letters send shivers down the spine of most academically conscientious teenagers — ETS. Or maybe you know the Educational Testing Service by the better-known abbreviation — SAT.
SAT questions "are developed by a prestigious team of world-renowned academic experts, who get them from "Jeopardy!' " according to humor scholar Dave Barry. In fact, Barry says "the original idea behind the SATs, as stated in the ETS's Official Historical Statement of Goals and Purposes, was "to sell a huge quantity of No. 2 pencils that we ordered by mistake.' "

When I came across a recent research study published by ETS, I was gratified to learn that there are products of this company that are not designed to primarily put fear in the hearts of adolescents. And what a terrific piece of research they produced, "The Family: America's Smallest School." In the introduction, the study's authors, Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley, state, "Improving a child's home environment to make it more conducive to learning is critical if we are to improve the educational achievement of the nation's students." Toward reaching this goal, the authors suggest, "We need to develop cooperative partnerships in which families are allies in the efforts of teachers and schools."

I called Richard Coley to chat about the study. He directs the Policy Information Center of the ETS. "This report seems to have struck a chord," Coley said, adding, "ETS has conducted research reports that go back over 20 years."

Here are several types of family and home conditions that research has found to make a difference in children's cognitive development and school achievements:

Parent-pupil ratio: "In selected international comparisons, the U.S. ranks the highest in percentage of single-parent households, and Japan ranks the lowest." The number of U.S. children who live without two parents has declined to 68 percent (from 77 percent in 1980). An astonishing 44 percent of births to women under age 30 are out of wedlock. "Being raised by a single parent in itself steepens the odds considerably," explains Michael Winerip (The New York Times, December 9, 2007). "On average," suggests Winerip, "the child with a single parent is 2.5 times more likely to repeat a grade." Children need as many contact hours as possible with their parents. I have urged it before in this column, and it bears repeating. Children need quantity time with parents, not just quality time.

Family finances: "Income is an important factor in a family's ability to fund the tangible and intangible elements that contribute to making the home an educationally supportive environment," explain the authors of the study. "Nationally, 19 percent of children live in poverty, and 11 percent of all households are food-insecure. One-third of children live in families in which no parent has full-time year-round employment."

Literacy development: Income has relevance to this category as well. The study's authors found, "By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family, and about 35 million more words than children in welfare families." Can we agree that talk is not cheap? The spoken word is vital to each child's education. And the written word? There is an income disparity in this category as well. "Sixty-two percent of high socio-economic status (SES) kindergartners are read to every day by their parents, compared to 36 percent of the kindergartners in the lowest socio-economic status group."

The most interesting finding of the study, in my opinion, is the ability to predict two-thirds of the large differences among states in the National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth-grade reading scores. Four family-home factors stand out, and — to some degree — each is likely to be related to the others: single-parent families, parents reading to young children every day, hours spent watching television (35% of eighth-graders watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday) and the frequency of school absences (one in five students misses three or more days of school each month). Therefore, if you want to help your children academically, keep your marriage strong, read to/with your children frequently, discourage excessive "screen time" and monitor your children's attendance at school carefully.

And one more interesting tidbit that the study's authors found: Make sure your child has a desk or table where he/she can study. Eighty-six percent of U.S. eighth-graders do, which is just above the international average. In our phone conversation, Coley stressed, "Not all kids have a quiet place to study, and they certainly need it."

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's blog http://www.familythinking.com/ or e-mail DrAlanSinger@aol.com "Be Counted" columnists are members of the public.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Marriage Veterans Share Conflict Resolution Secrets by Dr. Alan Singer

I interviewed 9 New Jersey Couples who are celebrating their 30th Wedding Anniversary this year. You'll see their terrific insights in this first installment covering conflict resolution, that was published in the Home News Tribune on 1 /23/08

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, there are 20 percent fewer couples reaching their 15th, 20th and 25th anniversaries. This new data comes as no real surprise but does address a major problem for families from a different direction. Rather than describing the enormous divorce rate, this survey shows a decrease in the number of long-term marriages.

For a better understanding of long-term marriages, I decided to survey nine Central Jersey couples who are celebrating 30 years of marriage this year (as are my wife and myself). Here is the collective wisdom of the couples who responded to the survey. Incidentally, half of the respondents are grandparents. Multiplying 30 years by two spouses by nine couples means that you will be benefiting from almost 600 years of marital experience here!

Since all of the sage advice from these couples will not fit into one column, I decided to begin with a practical topic: marital disagreements. I asked the marriage veterans what method of resolving marital arguments is most effective for them. The research of Dr. John Gottman in his Seattle Love Lab at the University of Washington indicates that each normal healthy marriage comes along with a package of irresolvable issues, such as division of household tasks and differences in approaches to child rearing. The key to a good marriage is not the resolution of conflict but rather the regulation of conflict, according to Gottman.

Couples who choose divorce to escape from low-conflict marriages often do not realize that with a second marriage they are likely to encounter a new set of irresolvable issues. Researchers Paul Amato and Alan Booth discovered that two-thirds of American divorces (involving children) are of couples who are in low-conflict marriages. Worth noting is that, from a child's point of view, these marriages are "good enough." Author Linda Waite, in her book "The Case for Marriage," found, "Eighty-six percent of unhappily married people who stick it out find that, five years later, their marriages are happier."

It is within the context of that encouraging research that I would like to share some comments of the 30th anniversary couples. Lisa and Mort believe that "listening to the other point of view and considering the possibility you might be wrong" is the most effective method of resolving a disagreement. Similarly, Robin and Michael stated, "Put yourself in the other person's shoes." They suggest that the key to conflict resolution is "remembering to look at the situation not only logically but with empathy for your spouse's feelings and emotions."

Susie emphasized that she and her husband, Barry, try not to let things fester. Their response points out the need for open, clear communication between spouses and the importance of "not taking things too seriously." Susie's method of choice is to "frankly express disappointments and disagreements with each other."

Steven and Diana emphasized the need for direct communication, as did Larry and Judy, who stated, "We discuss the problem and try to resolve it, but that is only after we spend time away from each other to cool off." The need to "cool off" was mentioned by other couples. Linda and Leonard try not to speak to each other at all before calming down. They stress "thinking before speaking," so that they don't regret it later. Linda considers what caused the argument and determines what they can do in the future to prevent hurting each other. She added, "We try to be more sensitive to each other's feelings."

Susan's humorous response shows her honesty and candor: "I try to cool off but sometimes my screams can be heard all around the world — yes, that was me last week!" For her and Leibe, "The most effective method is to talk it out or maybe just let it go." "Eventually you learn to forgive," Susan concluded, "if not always to forget." Last are the candid comments of Heather and Arthur: "We're not so good at resolving disagreements . . . between one passive-aggressive partner, and one upfront emotional partner, our disagreements tend to be very difficult."

"But compromise is certainly the best solution," Heather urged, "or when one partner swallows (his or her) needs in favor of Shalom Bayit" (Hebrew for "Peace in the Home"). Here is Linda's postscript: "Marriage is the best mistake we could have ever made, and may we be here to answer these questions again after 60 years of marriage!"

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a Marriage Therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's blog http://www.familythinking.com/ or e-mail DrAlanSinger@aol.com