Thursday, December 24, 2009

Avoid Divorce: Marry an Agricultural Engineer

True love may be the key to a long and happy marriage – but being a dentist or an agricultural engineer helps, too, according to new research.

A paper that correlates occupations with divorce and separation rates, to be published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology (author: great name for a Journal) reveals that those employed in extrovert and stressful jobs are highly likely to divorce, as are those who work in the caring professions.

Dancers, choreographers and bartenders have around a 40% chance of experiencing a relationship breakdown. But also at high risk are nurses, psychiatrists and those who help the elderly and disabled. Conversely, agricultural engineers, optometrists, dentists, clergymen and podiatrists are all in occupations which carry a 2-7% chance of family breakdown.

It's all described in a recent article in The Observer based in the U.K.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Helping Others is Rather Self-Serving

Psychologists claim that it is frequently the giver, not the recipient, who reaps the largest psychological gains from a gift.
Here is my monthly Home News Tribune column that was published on November 30, 2009.

In a New York Times article about gift-giving, Tara Parker-Pope wrote about the importance of gifts in helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends. She described the "potlatch," which is a ceremony that celebrates extreme giving. Some native cultures have engaged in this ritual for thousands of years. "Although cultural interpretations vary," Parker-Pope explains, "often the status of a given family in a clan or village was dictated not by who had the most possessions, but instead, by who gave away the most."

Random acts of kindness abound but only if you know where to look. Here's something that I witnessed recently and there is no better time than the Thanksgiving season to share this story.

Last summer, I was riding on a crowded rush-hour subway in New York when the following display of altruism unfolded. Scout's honor, that there is no author's embellishment in my description. A young woman in her twenties was seated next to the subway door and saw an elderly woman trying to board the subway as the doors were closing. The young woman reached out her hand to hold the door, and the elderly woman successfully shuffled in. She shouted "Thank you!" as she was catching her breath.

Noticing drops of water all over the elderly woman's coat, the young woman said, "Darn! I can't believe it is raining and I forgot my umbrella at home!" The older woman reached into her huge multi-colored shopping bag, grabbed something, and said to the young woman, "Here's a disposable poncho that I carry around in case someone ever needs it." In response, the young woman jumped up, thanked her, and insisted, "Please take my seat." The older woman responded, "That's not necessary: I only have two more stops." At that point, five other people on the bench seat slid over so that these two new friends could sit beside one another.

When stories like this unfold in front of my eyes, I instinctively look around to see if someone is about to yell, "Smile! You're on Candid Camera!" (That tells you my age). I was so moved by this brief experience that I immediately wrote down the details of the story.

In difficult times people seem to help one another, even complete strangers. Maybe in the post-Sept.11 era in which we live, the awareness of our enemies who want to harm us motivates us to seek out family and friends and to be kind to others on subways and in supermarkets.

Take a wild guess at what researchers are discovering. Studies have shown that when you help others, you actually help yourself. The finest description of the health benefits of altruism and compassion comes from Dr. Dean Ornish in his Newsweek essay titled, "Love is Real Medicine." Ornish explains,

"Instead of viewing the time we spend with friends and family as luxuries, we can see that these relationships are among the most powerful determinants of our well-being and survival. We are hard-wired to help each other. Science is documenting the healing values of love, intimacy, community, compassion, forgiveness, altruism and service. Seen in this context, being unselfish may be the most self-serving approach to life, for it helps free both the giver and recipient from suffering, disease, and premature death."

On that note, have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a Marriage Therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Monday, November 30, 2009

Guys: For Longevity, Marry Smart

Swedish scientists discovered that long life and good health have nothing to do with a man’s education and everything to do with his wife’s. Men married to smart women, live longer.

This cute piece comes from UK’s the Sunday Times.

It makes a solid point about the health benefits of marriage, which are quite well known. Here is the link to the actual research……a very impressive sample size of 1.5 million people studied over a 12 year period.

If you speak UK, please translate for me:
Green and Blacks
Tea towel
Car bonnet

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This Bogus “Winter Babies” Research is Starting to Get Interesting

The idea that babies born in winter months are less intelligent is raising its ridiculous head again.

But a recent Wall Street Journal article that my son-in-law sent me is surprisingly good. It describes how sound research methodology is being applied to the question of winter babies and intelligence.

Factors that were studied include:
Mother’s educational level
Age that a teen drops out of school
Vitamin D (winter babies get less sunshine)
Pesticides in surface water

This article changed me from a cynic on this topic to an interested observer.
To see all of my Winter Babies posts, click here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Global "Burden" of Preemies (I Call it Tragedy) But No Mention of - Don't Delay

A new March of Dimes study found that over one million babies worldwide die each year because they are born too soon, according to the first report to estimate the "global burden" of premature births.

Liz Szabo in USA Today states: “The preterm birth rate in the USA is especially high: 12.7% of all babies are born early, according to the March of Dimes. That rate has increased 36% in the past 25 years, partly because of an increase in elective cesarean section, an increase in older mothers and the growing use of assisted reproduction, which increases the risk of twins, triplets and higher-order multiple births, the report says.”

She added, “Doctors can do far more to save preemies than they could only a generation ago but they still have no reliable way to prevent preterm birth. At best, doctors can delay delivery by a day or two — just long enough to give women drugs to mature their babies' lungs.”

Discussion in Szabo's article only addresses medical solutions. Was I off-base when I suggested that parents should tell their adult children not to delay starting a family? In a May 2008 post, I suggested that these trends are sequential: delayed marriage, delayed child birth, infertility, increased multiple births, and increased number of pre-term births. I believe that we need more than a drug-related medical solution to this mammoth global tragedy.

Care to discuss?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Better Safe Than Stupid

Here is my monthly Home News Tribune column that was published on October 29, 2009. Doesn't it just burn you up to see a parent acting ridiculously irresponsible?

A parent must assume full responsibility for their child's well-being at all times, from infancy to when the child starts school, and then some. That's why something that I saw recently left an indelible impression on me.

One fall afternoon, I passed by a house in my neighborhood and observed that a man in his thirties was mowing his front lawn. Nothing shocking so far, but then I noticed a child, perhaps one year old or less, in an infant snuggly on his back.I stopped my car and stared in amazement because I thought I was hallucinating. This man was pushing a noisy power mower (with no bag to catch the cuttings) and his infant is strapped to his back for the ride.

Confirming my initial observations, I drove away wondering what this man could be thinking. I tried to put myself in his shoes so as not to be too judgmental. Maybe he is a single father who is adversely affected by this recession and can't afford a baby-sitter for one hour (feeble reason). Maybe he loves his baby, works long hours, perhaps on the night shift, and longs for this precious bonding time (ridiculous reason). Maybe he thinks his baby enjoys the ride on Daddy's back and experiencing the great outdoors simultaneously (absurd reason).

Aside from the danger of dropping the baby or the baby falling out of the infant carrier is the bizarre assumption that this baby might be enjoying him/herself while inhaling dust and fiber from the grass cuttings and being assaulted by the deafening sound of a rattling mower engine. And what a magnificent view of Dad's sweaty neck.I controlled myself from stopping the car and telling this man what I thought of his parenting skills. I want to assume that this man cares about his precious charge but just didn't consider how enjoyable this might be for his child.

More inexcusable is that he did not recognize this as a dangerous situation.
Tragically, injury is the largest cause of child death in all developed nations, accounting for nearly 40 percent of deaths in the ages one to 14. These statistics are compiled in UNICEF's Innocenti Report Card.The report further states, "Taken together, traffic accidents, intentional injuries, drownings, falls, fires, poisonings, and other accidents kill more than 20,000 children every year in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations."

Traffic accidents form the largest category of causes of child injury and death. Interestingly, boys are 70 percent more likely to die by injury than girls. In every situation, parents should first determine if the circumstances are completely safe and then look at it from their child's perspective asking, "Are we having fun yet?"

Endnote: Not that you asked, but here's my (somewhat paranoid) list of recreational activities that are prohibited for each of my children due to safety concerns from yours truly:
• Motorcycles and convertibles (on the Turnpike versus 18-wheelers?);
• Hot air ballooning (just take pictures of them);
• Parasailing (200 feet high and your life depends on a rope?);
• Spear fishing and underwater shark encounter (can you tell I was raised in Miami?);
• Extracting cobra venom (Google "Bill Haast Serpentarium");
• Hang-gliding and skydiving (no explanation needed);
• Bungee jumping (not even worth discussing).
I think we've had a good deal of family fun over the years, despite the lack of participation in the aforementioned list of activities.

And wherever my children go, I always caution them: Have safe, be fun!

Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Please comment on this column via his website

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is the Idea of a Lifelong Marriage Obsolete?

This is a superb piece in the WSJ by Kate Hymowitz. Among her excellent points:

“Higher-income, college-educated couples are far more likely to get married and stay married than their less-educated and lower-income peers.” The typical divorce is not of mid-life couples who are bored, 20% of marriages break up within 5 years. She provides excellent statistics and a good grasp of the “marital satisfaction decreases with children” paradox.

My favorite line: (re happily married empty nesters) “Perhaps it’s the joint pride of a difficult task completed”.

And the title question’s answer is….NO

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On Shpielkas Waiting for a First Child

Here's my monthly Home News column which appeared on September 22, 2009 and was titled "A First Child, and Many Anxieties". Arlene and Jeffrey are a tremendous source of information and inspiration.

When I first met with Arlene and Jeffrey, (click here to read my previous column) they had just finished their first year of marriage and were grappling with the questions:

When is the best time to have our first child?
What's the best spacing between our children?
What is the ideal number of children for a family to have?

One decision has been made; they are expecting their first child in three months. We met again recently to talk about their new perspective on life, labeled "transition to parenthood" by social scientists. Our discussion focused primarily on the uncertainty of life with an infant, striking the right balance of work and family, and their dreams for their child.

Arlene's second, third, and fourth months of pregnancy were very difficult, but she's feeling much better now. On seeing the first sonogram, Jeffrey commented, "It was a very moving experience to see the arm move and hear the heartbeat, but I didn't start crying."

Arlene shared her anxiety, but not about delivery; rather, about motherhood: "It means a lifetime of responsibility; it's life-changing! "I am excited but nervous, because I have no idea what it's going to be like. I'm an only child and didn't have any other babies at home growing up."

Arlene emphasizes that she had a happy childhood, but she always wanted a sibling. "My friends were jealous of me and said, "You have your own room and your own toys.' My reaction was, "Oh yeah, big deal. I wanted to share it with a sibling.'?"

Echoing Arlene's anxiety about child rearing, Jeffrey remarked, "We haven't talked about this much because we have no idea what this will be like; I have no idea how this works with a newborn." We discussed infancy for a while and it turns out that they have several good books at home. Jeffrey has actually read more about babies than Arlene so far.

On the topic of Jeffrey's long work hours, Arlene complained, "Sometimes he works ridiculous hours late at night, even from home. Then he's exhausted and we don't spend quality time together. "I enjoy time with him. I'm used to it and I feel like I need it. Now I worry with the baby coming soon, how does everything get balanced? When the baby arrives, it will add another whole level of busy-ness."

Sensing her frustration, Jeffrey responded to Arlene, "I have made certain work-related changes, and you see that. I have people working for me, and I have a lot of help these days to get all my consulting jobs done." I am encouraged by this productive dialogue between them, because they are grappling with the timeless issues of parenting and the work-family balance, which families have dealt with for centuries.

Rest assured, Arlene and Jeffrey are good communicators in a very strong marriage. They will make it through this phase of their family life. As we concluded our session, I asked about their dreams and hopes for their forthcoming child.

Jeffrey hopes for a healthy baby, and "to raise our child in such a fashion that he/she grows to become independent, enjoys life, and has a lot of opportunities." Arlene wants those things as well and is hoping that their child will be respectful. She explained, "I am excited to see who we created and how our two personalities are going to become part of our child. Sure, I am curious about appearance too, but mostly personality."

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Monday, September 14, 2009

From Bed to Worse: and this Column is Rated "G"

This column is about spousal behavior in bed, and it is rated "G" because my children read my columns, and because it is not about intimacy at all. The subjects to be covered here are sleep research and marital communication.
The Home News Tribune published this piece on August 31, 2009.

As Dr. Paul Rosenblatt, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, explained to Kate Murphy of the New York Times, "Sleep is no longer viewed as an individual phenomenon."

Rosenblatt's research includes interviews with couples who suffered unimaginable tragedy. Spouses would explain to Rosenblatt that, "They dealt with their grief by holding each other and talking together in bed at night." It indicates how sharing a bed impacts couples and their sense of well-being.

Further, it surprised Rosenblatt how many people say that they are alive today because they share a bed with their spouse. A woman's seizure was immediately noticed by her husband. And there are other stories of couples where one spouse had a heart attack, stroke, or went into diabetic shock.

Most couples report that the bed is where they talk, and since most Americans sleep at night, there is also something about late night that enables couples to open up and connect. Rosenblatt suggests, "The bed is where they found privacy and were able to leave behind the distractions and separate interests that keep them apart during the day."

But there are significant issues that affect a couple's sleep dynamic. There are conflicts over bedroom temperature, watching TV, and reading in bed. Perhaps the biggest problems are snoring and insomnia, in which the behavior of one spouse negatively impacts the other and may result in sleep deprivation.

That brings me to a disturbing trend in home design (although this recession may very well put a damper on this). Separate bedrooms, separate sleeping nooks, and his and her wings are described by Tracie Rozhon in the New York Times. The issues of snoring, children crying, late night e-mail, and heading for the gym at 5:30 a.m. are some examples of what created this trend of separate sleeping arrangements in perfectly good marriages.

Rozhon cited a survey of the National Association of Home Builders which predicts that more than 60 percent of custom homes will have dual master bedrooms by 2015. One woman from St. Louis, quoted in the article, is a light sleeper who battled for years with her husband's nocturnal restlessness. She took action by reconfiguring their condominium and adding walls to create separate bedrooms. What is the advantage to separate rooms? "My husband is still alive; I would have killed him."

A good perspective on what's being called "home-sleeping-alone" comes from University of Michigan sociologist, Pamela J. Smock. "The growing need for separate bedrooms also represents the speed-up of family life. Once women's roles have changed, and the need for extra space eases the strain on the relationship, if one of them snores, the other won't be able to perform the next day. It's not necessarily indicative of marital discord."

A professor of otolaryngology wrote a letter to the editor and described snoring, which may signal the presence of obstructive sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea increases one's risk for depression, heart disease and stroke. He suggests that it be treated before building separate bedrooms. "In my practice," he emphasized, "I have seen countless couples able to sleep in the same room again."

For a wealth of information on sleep disorders, visit

Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Thursday, September 10, 2009

College Students’ Healthy Sense of Entitlement – Aren't They Confusing Level of Effort with Quality of Work ?

I believe that unwarranted praise of children is a contributing factor in this entitlement psychology. Here's a welcome back to college post.

Max Roosevelt wrote an excellent piece for the NY Times. He interviewed Prof. Marshall Grossman, who has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.” He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.

“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”

Roosevelt added, “A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Seeing the World Through a Child's Eyes

The things that fascinate adults may not impress children at all and vice versa. In my latest Home News Tribune column I discuss this topic.

You can try to impress young children by showing them the wonders of the world, but it might not be a good investment of your time. What you think will leave them awestruck doesn't, and the seemingly minor details of life will amaze them. So don't try to predict what will fascinate them. Instead, just observe, listen, and learn.

An article that sparked my interest in this topic appeared in The New York Times: "Test Subjects Who Call the Scientist Mom or Dad." In it, Pam Belluck describes scientists who use their children as research subjects. Studying their own children allows researchers a more in-depth investigation. Their children make reliable participants and are willing subjects in an era of scarce research funding.

One MIT professor embedded 11 video cameras and 14 microphones in ceilings throughout his house; he recorded 70 percent of his son's waking hours for his first three years. He amassed 250,000 hours of tape for a language development study that he called "The Human Speechnome Project," according to Belluck.

Similarly (and don't tell my daughter and son-in-law) I am constantly studying my toddler grandson's every move and word, but without cameras and microphones. I cherish the opportunity to watch his growth and development up close and in real time. I soak up every detail of what he sees, hears, touches, and interacts with. The phone rings and he says, "Uh-oh," which is an interesting reaction. He's fascinated by a daddy long-legs bug and pursues it with no fear whatsoever. I was yelling, "Yuckee bug ? don't touch!" and he continues on his mission to investigate how something so small can move so fast on its own.

He could say "up" or "outside" to me, since he regularly uses these words, but sometimes he'll simply choose to walk over and grab my finger, start pulling, and take me exactly where he wants us to go. Dare I attempt to guess what he's thinking, or what he finds interesting? Not a chance.

Recently, when my grandson was visiting our home, there was a backhoe on our block excavating a basement for a new house. I came home from work, ran inside, grabbed my grandson and his jacket, and hurried down the block to watch the backhoe with him. The machine operator saw us, waved, and beeped his horn. In my mind, I couldn't imagine anything more exciting for a little child to experience. That's when my grandson turned, pointed and screamed "Ball!" He was thrilled to point out to me that there was a basketball sitting nearby on another neighbor's lawn. That which I figured would mesmerize him, clearly did not.

Do adults know what impresses young children? Try asking our "father-in-chief" of the United States. While appearing on the "Tonight" show several months ago, President Barack Obama described how impressive the ride is in Marine One. The helicopter lifted off the White House lawn and headed for Camp David. Below, symbols of our nation's history were in full view.

Soaring higher, they flew over the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Monument. Quite an impressive sight, don't you agree? Sasha Obama, while scanning the amenities of the presidential helicopter, was oblivious to the magnificent view, and asked her Dad, "Can I have one of those Starburst candies in the jar?" She was appreciating Marine One on her own childlike level and her father was intuitive enough to understand that.

This column is dedicated to our grandson on his second birthday.
Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his website

Friday, August 14, 2009

Too Much Sunscreen; Too Much Paranoid Parenting

Summertime Week post 5 of 5

In see-saw parenting, moms and dads go from one extreme to the other. The sun is evil and constant use of high SPF sunscreen has resulted in: most American youngsters aren't getting enough vitamin D, and that deficiency is associated with an increased incidence of risk factors for cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke, two new studies find according to Ed Edelson in U.S. News and World Report.

One study, by Dr. Michal Melamed, found that 9 percent of young Americans -- 7.6 million -- were vitamin D-deficient, with blood levels under 15 nanograms per milliliter, and that 61 percent -- 50.8 million -- were vitamin D-insufficient, with levels between 15 nanograms and 29 nanograms per milliliter.

Adequate vitamin D intake can be achieved with 15 minutes a day of exposure to sunlight or consuming fortified milk, bread and other wheat products, among other foods. "Parents should focus on modifiable risk factors," Melamed said. "Children should not always be on the computer or watching television. They can drink more milk, rather than using supplements."

Summertime Week post 5 of 5 (we’ll resume in 2 weeks folks, gone snorkeling!)

Summertime Week Posts:
1. Children gain more weight in summer than during school
2. Summer books: Bad Parenting stories are so funny (not)
3. (From the We-Kid-You-Not-File) Summer Strolls: the direction your stroller faces could affect your baby's language development
4. Seriously, is this summer camp?
5. Too much sunscreen; too much paranoid parenting

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seriously, Is This Summer Camp?

Summertime Week post 4 of 5

Camps with full-time parent liaisons?
Summer camp as a secret vacation from Ritalin?
Have meddlesome mothers and fathers forgotten that one main point of overnight camp is to give children a chance to solve problems without parental assistance?

And what is "fading parental morality"?

Tina Kelley described the changes in summer camps in her article in the NY Times. Most high-end sleep-away camps in the Northeast now employ full-time parent liaisons. The job is “almost like a hotel concierge listening to a client’s needs.”

Kelley states, “The liaisons are emblematic of what sleep-away camp experts say is an increasing emphasis on catering to increasingly high-maintenance parents, including those who make unsolicited bunk placement requests, flagrantly flout a camp’s ban on cell phones and junk food, and consider summer an ideal time to give their offspring a secret vacation from Ritalin.”

And are camp WebCams helping matters?
“I have parents calling and saying they saw their child in the background of a picture (on our website) of other children and he didn’t look happy, or his face looked red, has he been putting on enough suntan lotion, or I haven’t seen my child and I have seen a lot of other children, is my child so depressed he doesn’t want to be in a picture,” said Jay Jacobs, who has run Timber Lake Camp in Shandaken, N.Y., since 1980.

According to Norman Friedman, “They’ll give their child two cell phones, so if they get caught with the first one, just give it up and you’ll have the second one to talk to me,” he said. “That’s widespread, not isolated. I call it fading parental morality. What they’re doing is entering into delinquent behaviors with their children. And what kind of statement is that to a child?”

Summertime Week Posts:
1. Children gain more weight in summer than during school
2. Summer books: Bad Parenting stories are so funny (not)
3. (From the We-Kid-You-Not-File) Summer Strolls: the direction your stroller faces could affect your baby's language development
4. Seriously, do you call this summer camp?
5. Too much sunscreen and too much paranoid parenting

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Direction Your Stroller Faces Could Affect Your Baby's Language Development

Summertime Week post 3 of 5

Are forward-facing strollers having a negative effect on babies’ language development?

Britain’s National Literacy Trust commissioned Suzanne Zeedyk’s research team to look into this question. Forward-facing strollers are by far the most common, but babies in them are the least likely to be interacting socially. Zeedyk, a senior lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Dundee, described her research in the New York Times.

“Of course, infants do not spend all their time in strollers, but anecdotal evidence suggests that babies can easily spend a couple of hours a day in them. And research tells us that children’s vocabulary development is governed almost entirely by the daily conversations parents have with them. The core message of our findings is simple: Talk to your baby whenever you get the chance — and whichever direction your stroller faces.”

(My thoughts: the "core message" impresses me about this research. The rest doesn't excite me too much.)

Summertime Week Posts:
1. Children gain more weight in summer than during school
2. Summer books: Bad Parenting stories are so funny (not)
3. (From the We-Kid-You-Not-File) Summer Strolls: the direction your stroller faces could affect your baby's language development
4. Seriously, do you call this summer camp?
5. Too much sunscreen and too much paranoid parenting

Friday, July 31, 2009

Bad Parenting Humor; Not Funny if you ask me

Summertime Week post 2 of 4

A number of books are in stores this summer and they attempt to describe the lighter side of bad parenting. It's Sick.

I support things in families which help both children and parents like marriage, for example. Strong marriage benefits spouses and their children. Along come several books that reveal and even brag about incidents of bad parenting. Ellen Gamerman’s Wall Street Journal article does a terrific job of describing this new trend. Actually, I pray that it is not a trend in fact, but rather just a trend in print.

Instead of “not funny,” our young son (two decades ago) used to say, “N-O- Funny, Daddy,” if he did not like something that I had said. And that’s the feeling I got when reading sections of Gamerman’s article such as, “When her two young sons first started walking, a mother in California would gently push them over.” The thinking was that her sons would be better off developmentally by crawling, first. A physical therapist told her to do this. It gave the mother a “nasty thrill.”

Friends, this is garbage and it nauseates me. A website is described that logged 500,000 confessions from women in 2 years. If these admissions on websites are towards the goal of better parenting, fine. But if this is one big joke, I respond with “N-O-funny!”

And You? do you find humor in these mischievous confessions? Am I being too old school here? Let’s hear your comments.

Summertime Week Posts:

1. Children gain more weight in summer than during school
2. Summer books: Bad Parenting stories are so funny (not)
3. (From the We-Kid-You-Not-File) Summer Strolls: the direction your stroller faces could affect your baby's language development
4. Seriously, you call this summer camp?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summertime...and the livin is...Weighty

Summertime Post 1 of 4

American children are heavier than ever.
Many people point their finger at schools: snack machines, high calorie lunches, and curtailed daily exercise. Jane Brody wrote in the NY Times, "Although schools are hardly off the hook, a study published in The American Journal of Public Health, which tracked the physical condition of 5,000 children as they passed through kindergarten and first grade, found that the biggest gains in body mass index occurred in the summer when parents had sole responsibility for their children’s diets and exercise opportunities." So keep an eye on your children folks. And be sure to lead by example: when you go out for that much-needed ice cream this time of year, remember all the low-fat and low-sugar options that are just as refreshing.

Summer is also an opportunity, an ideal time to start children on a wholesome nutritional track and to encourage enjoyable physical activities. Brody (as usual) gives some great suggestions in this article.

Summertime Week Posts:
1. Children gain more weight in summer than during school
2. Summer books: Bad Parenting stories are so funny (not)
3. (From the We-Kid-You-Not-File) Summer Strolls: the direction your stroller faces could affect your baby's language development
4. Seriously, you call this summer camp?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Huffington Post Interviews Alan Singer

When Huffington Post announced the "All For Good" campaign of the White House for national service, the release stated: "In troubling times it's important for us to come together and lend a hand to our community".

I wrote to HP and described my volunteer work in central New Jersey with couples who need marital therapy and have been hard-hit by the recession.

Stephanie Harnett of HP interviewed me and you can read her article here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Commitment to Marriage is No Joke (My Turn - Newsweek) by Dr. Alan Singer

What irked me about Ed Goldman's "My Turn" essay was when he stated regarding his 3rd wife and himself, "The fact that our first marriages were relatively brief misjudgements." That motivated me to post a comment on the Newsweek website. Ed Goldman then commented on my post. Click here to read the tale as it appears in my monthly Home News Tribune column.

June is for weddings, so here's a column on marriage. Ed Goldman used the "My Turn" space in Newsweek Magazine to describe his three marriages. In his essay, "It's Not About The Flatware," he focused on his current (third) wife Candy, and how they are melding their furniture, flatware and appliances, which were "acquired over a combined 75 years of adult life."

Candy's second marriage was abusive; Ed's second marriage lasted for 29 years, when his wife was tragically taken by breast cancer. Ed's essay is meaningful and well written, but one comment that he made irked me. Ed described something that he and Candy had in common, "The fact that our first marriages were relatively brief misjudgments."

So I took my outrage over to the computer and posted the following comment at the Newsweek Web site: "Ed Goldman's essay described the world that he plunged into, one in which people fall in and out of love sequentially. Social scientists refer to this trend as serial monogamy. His description of his 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 statements like, our first marriages were relatively brief misjudgements; yikes! Thankfully most couples that I have assisted over the years care deeply about the enduring and vital institution we know as marriage."

I said my piece and I didn't think about the comment I posted until something made me wonder if anyone ever posted other comments about Ed's essay. I went back to the site and had a look. Lo and behold, I saw that Ed Goldman himself had replied to my comment six months prior. Ed stated, "While I appreciate Dr. Singer's comments, I'd like to point out that my second marriage lasted almost 29 years until the death of my wife. I believe that says something about my belief in the enduring and vital institution we know as marriage."

I was embarrassed and immediately posted this comment: Holy Toledo, Ed! I apologize for being so rude. I never imagined that one should look back at a Web site where one posted a comment. I told Ed that I did not mean to minimize the potential that second marriages have for success. I meant to maximize the potential for a marriage to be the one and only marriage for an individual, not his/her first marriage, and certainly never referring to it by the nauseating label of a starter marriage.

I will never forget the scolding that I received from the rabbi who married my wife and me. When I jokingly referred to my one and only wife of 32 years as my first wife, he admonished me, saying, "Joke about other things, Alan, that's really not funny."

On a related note: There is immediacy to the Internet that I have not adjusted to yet. The rule is, NOW is what matters. You write NOW; others comment NOW. This describes the popularity of Twitter and the importance of posting one's status on Facebook. By tomorrow, nobody will look back at yesterday. I missed my NOW moment with Ed Goldman and there's no looking back. I'm not sure it even pays to discuss whether this is good for relationships and society because it has already swept in and is the new reality. We might as well enjoy it. Does anyone still remember typing a letter on a Smith-Corona and mailing it to someone via the U.S. Post Office?

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stress Gene Found in Infants (we kid you not)

Stress Week installment 4 of 4
If Discovery Channel presents Shark Week for your entertainment each summer, then we at can present "Stress Week" so that you enjoy a stress-free and fun-filled summer.

Everyone gets stressed, even babies, according to a recent Newswise release. Now, it appears how infants respond to stress is linked to if they have a particular form of a certain gene, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Just as significantly, researchers say they have also found that good parenting – as early as within the first year of a child’s life – can counter the effect the gene has in babies who initially do not respond well to stressful situations.

“Infancy is an important time for developing behavioral and biological processes,” said the study’s lead author, Cathi Propper, Ph.D., research scientist at UNC’s Center for Developmental Science. “Although these processes will continue to change over time, parenting can have important positive effects even when children have inherited a genetic vulnerability to problematic behaviors.”

Propper said the study found both genes and parenting were important to the development of how infants’ brains help regulate cardiac responses to stress.
Propper said the findings suggest that although genes play a role in the development of physiological responses to stress, environmental experiences – such as mothers’ sensitive care-giving behavior – can have a strong influence, enough to change the effect that genes have on physiology very early in life.

“Our findings provide further support for the notion that the development of complex behavioral and physiological responses is not the result of nature or nurture, but rather a combination of the two,” Propper said.

We hope you have enjoyed Stress Week here at and have a wonderful summer!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making Kidergarten Less Stressful (huh?)

Stress Week installment 3 of 4
If Discovery Channel presents Shark Week for your entertainment each summer, then we at can present "Stress Week" so that you enjoy a stress-free and fun-filled summer.

Peggy Orenstein recently lamented (in the New York Times magazine) that in the old days, kindergarten was a place to play and not even consider something as ridiculous as homework. She criticizes the multiple choice tests and early-literacy measures that are administered to millions of very young children.

“According to Crisis in the Kindergarten, a report released by the Alliance for Childhood, all that testing is wasted: it neither predicts nor improves young children’s educational outcomes. More disturbing, along with other academic demands, like assigning homework to 5-year-olds, it is crowding out the one thing that truly is vital to their future success: play.”

Orenstein emphasizes, “Play — especially the let’s-pretend, dramatic sort — is how kids develop higher-level thinking, hone their language and social skills, cultivate empathy. It also reduces stress, and that’s a word that should not have to be used in the same sentence as “kindergartner” in the first place.”

And have you heard the acronym KGOY? — Kids Getting Older Younger — it is the marketers’ explanation for why 3-year-olds now play with toys that were initially intended for middle-schoolers.

Seriously folks, would you want your kindergartner doing homework each night?

Upcoming - the Final installment for Stress Week:
Post 4: Stress Gene Found in Infants (we kid you not)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Scenes of Real Nature Reduce Stress more than High-Def Plasma Can

Stress Week installment 2 of 4
If Discovery Channel presents Shark Week for your entertainment each summer, then we at can present "Stress Week" so that you enjoy a stress-free and fun-filled summer.

Technology can help unlock the secrets of DNA but can it substitute for nature? Apparently not, according to a new study that measured individuals’ heart recovery rate from minor stress when exposed to a natural scene through a window, the same scene shown on a high-definition plasma screen, or a blank wall. The research done at the University of Washington, showed that when people spent more time looking at the natural scene their heart rates tended to decrease more.

“Technology is good and it can help our lives, but let’s not be fooled into thinking we can live without nature,” said Peter Kahn, a UW associate professor of psychology who led the research team.

And what the heck is environmental generational amnesia?
Click here to read the entire Newswise release.

Coming attractions for Stress Week:
Post 3: Making Kindergarten Less Stressful (huh?)
Post 4: Stress Gene Found in Infants (we kid you not)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Money Stress Means Marriage Stress

Stress Week Installment 1 of 4.
If Discovery Channel presents Shark Week for your entertainment each summer, then we at can present "Stress Week" so that you enjoy a stress-free and fun-filled summer.

Mary Jo Rapini, a psychotherapist in Houston suggests, Stress and anxiety can erode trust between partners." (True)
She adds, "The key to getting through this crisis is to realize that the financial problems are not going away overnight and to communicate your fears." (Also true)

But you have to read what she says in the paragraph that starts, "Couples need to remember that money is symbolic."
My response to Mary Jo: my electric bill, phone bill, car and house notes, are not at all symbolic....they are, in fact, quite concrete.

Coming attractions for Stress Week:
Post 2: Scenes of Nature Reduce Stress (prn)
Post 3: Making Kindergarten Less Stressful (huh?)
Post 4: Stress Gene Found in Infants (we kid you not)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Keri's Decision to Remain Childfree by Dr. Alan Singer

Keri objected to my column on the consequences of delayed childbearing. This column was published in the Home News Tribune on May 29, 2009. Be sure to take note of the strangest interview question I ever the next to last paragraph. I viewed our correspondence as a valuable experience since I don't get many opportunities to dialogue with articulate, child-free individuals. I don't know about you, but I have not and would not try to convince anyone to have a child. Doesn't it need to be an intrinsic desire?

Keri wrote to me last year with objections to my column on the consequences of delayed childbearing. Here's a taste of her passion on this topic: "If my mother tells me one more time to hurry up and give her grandbabies, I will get a voluntary hysterectomy and send her my uterus in a jar, so she can control it from the comfort of her own home.''

Keri lives in Hawaii and is a 10-year military veteran working as a defense consultant. She rejects the sacred cow of American natal worship and explains, "I have no desire to have children, and deeply resent a patriarchal-societal norm that says I need to have one.''

I viewed our correspondence as an opportunity since I don't get many opportunities to dialogue with articulate, child-free individuals. Keri accurately describes the disadvantages of children and I have incorporated her perspective into discussions with couples who are considering having children: "I dislike children; the noise, chaos, mess, and clingy neediness. With few exceptions, a child is all of these 24/7. It's the nature of children as they figure out the world.'' I feel it's important for couples to understand this reality and not live in a dream world of adorable children with perfect sleep schedules.

What upset Keri the most? She was raised in a religious household where she was told that her only worth as a female was as a wife and mother. As an athletic youth, she challenged boys and pushed herself past her limits. "To me,'' Keri added, "wife and mother are synonymous with stagnation.''

She is annoyed by the sexist notion that women are not fulfilled unless they become mothers. ""As a feminist, I hold that every woman has the choice to strive to whatever she desires, whether that means being a mother or not. Men are not criticized for not being real men if they don't have children, or called selfish.'' As a father, I wouldn't want my daughters believing that women can only be fulfilled if they become mothers.

Keri is also bothered by the idea that a parent always knows what is best for their adult child. "If I lived the life my mother says is healthiest, I'd still be married to my EX and miserable. She's my mother, but that doesn't make her insightful or correct.'' And Keri suggests that parents send this message to an adult child: "I trust that you are capable of thinking for yourself. Here is some information to help you reach the best decision for YOU.''

Keri had an insightful response to (admittedly) the strangest interview question I ever asked: I know you don't want a child, but if you had one, what kind of mother do you think you'd be? "I'd like to think I would be competent at raising a healthy, intelligent, well-adjusted adult. I swore to care for my godchildren if anything happened to their parents. I'd do my best to give them a stable, loving home, in which they were listened to and valued.''

Our correspondence educated me, especially Keri's conclusion: ""Choosing to not have children is merely exchanging one set of life complications for another. It neither destines one for a carefree life with lots of disposable income, nor does it doom one to a loveless life of regret and empty arms. In the end, life is what we each make of it. I've chosen a life without children because I'd rather deal with those complications instead of the ones that come with the kids.''

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his website

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Close Families Raise...More? Less? (Pick One) Independent Adults

New research at the University of Haifa found that, contrary to common belief, young adults who maintain a close or moderate relationship with their parents exhibit greater independence in their personal lives than those who have a distant relationship.

In her research, Dr. Irit Yanir evaluated how a parent-child relationship is connected to one's ability to fulfill society's expectations in terms of settling down and establishing an intimate relationship. According Dr. Yanir, a close relationship with parents is one in which children talk with their parents often and regularly spend time together (eating meals together, for example), and one in which a child feels comfortable sharing his thoughts and experiences with his parents.

"An independent young adult is one who exhibits independence not only in his day-to-day life but also in the emotional sphere, and who makes his way in life with emotional and intellectual autonomy," she explained.

While a close relationship is often viewed as a sign of dependence, the research results show that those with close relationships with their parents were more financially self-sufficient, more independent in their day-to-day lives, professionally stable, felt more mature and were more likely to be involved in a stable intimate relationship. Those who maintained a distant relationship with their parents and tended to make choices out of a need to rebel against their parents' expectations were less independent into their late 20s.

So what answer did you pick for the title question? This research is a bit counter intuitive, but fascinating nevertheless. Do you think this helps make the case for the importance of eating dinner together?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Spouse Spats Mean Long Life?...apparently yes

According to preliminary results of a University of Michigan study, "Couples in which both the husband and wife suppress their anger when one attacks the other die earlier than members of couples where one or both partners express their anger and resolve the conflict."

Researchers looked at 192 couples over 17 years and placed the couples into one of four categories:
*Both partners communicate their anger
*In the second and third groups one spouse expresses while the other suppresses
*Both the husband and wife suppress their anger and brood

Get a load of this stat folks: "When both spouses suppress their anger at the other when unfairly attacked, earlier death was twice as likely than in all other types."

Granted that this is not a huge study, but it is still a very interesting one. The lead author of the study Ernest Harburg explained, "If couples have good parents they can imitate, that's fine, but usually the couple is ignorant about the process of resolving conflict. The key matter is, when the conflict happens, how do you resolve it?"

A final note: This release has a rather misleading title: "A Good Fight May Keep You and Your Marriage Healthy". It is not that fights are good for marriage; it's that anger suppression is bad.....and you can quote me!

So are you ready to drop those hyped up fish-oil potions that promise longevity and try something that really screaming at your spouse? JK

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Multiple Births Dilemma: Newsweek "My Turn"

With increased fertility treatments, the U.S. birthrate of twins has more than doubled in the past 30 years and the number of triplets has increased significantly. Parents often face a horrific decision.

Somewhat overlooked, are the surges of neonatal deaths, developmental disabilities, as well as other long-term problems. (I have described the consequences of delayed childbearing in several previous blog posts.)

Mark Evans, an Obstetrician and medical geneticist, described the procedure known as selective reduction in a recent Newsweek, My Turn. "This is accomplished - usually at 3 months gestation - by reducing the number of fetuses down to a manageable number, usually two."

What does selective reduction accomplish? A woman who is pregnant with quadruplets, has a 25% chance of losing all of her babies, but she can decrease the loss rate to about 5% by reducing to twins.

Question: How would you and your spouse respond to your doctor if he/she recommended selective reduction?

Monday, May 04, 2009

In Truth, Didn't We Create Octomom?

With our glorification of bizarre behavior, Raina Kelley correctly makes the point that we dare the emotionally needy to shock and appall us; then we slam them.

Kelley raises some solid issues in her recent essay in Newsweek.

She labels it as beautiful and exasperating, that our democracy gives people the freedom to have as many children as they want. She describes money and how having lots of it really does make the work-home balance thing a lot easier. And on the ethical question (described in an earlier blog post) of how many embryos should be transferred to a woman, Kelly states, "While the cost of IVF is usually mentioned, most of these experts conveniently forget to mention how few states force insurance companies to pay for IVF treatment."

She concludes that Octomom should be a warning to us that by sensationalizing her, "We're inviting more trivialization of the most sacred aspects of humanity."

How about you, have you had enough of those large family reality shows?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When Mom is on Your Daycare Payroll by Dr. Alan Singer

Can you imagine hiring a grandparent to be a paid nanny? Here is my monthly column that the Home News published on 4-27-09. Have you ever employed one of your parents at home or at your place of business? Did you set expectations clearly? If so, how?

Kelly contacted me after reading my column on delayed child-bearing. When she told me that she and her husband, Dave, hired her mother as their nanny, I interviewed them about their unique arrangement. Of the 18.5 million preschoolers in the United States who receive day care from a relative, 23 percent receive care from grandparents (Census Bureau). I called the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor and AARP, but they had no data on grandparents who are paid for child care.

Kelly and Dave (both CPAs) live in Arizona with their 4-year-old twin daughters. They did not want community day care because their twins were born prematurely and their lungs weren't fully developed. "We didn't want them getting sick all the time." Two years ago, Kelly told her mom that they needed to hire a nanny and if her mom would move from Colorado to Arizona, they would pay her a salary.

She lived in their home for a bit and then she found an apartment of her own. Difficulties in their arrangement seemed to be related to expectations. Kelly: "Early on we talked about expectations, and I treated her like an employee. I prepared a chart of her days off each year, rate of pay, and what her nanny duties were." Dave recalls, "We learned that Kelly's mom needed structure, because she is a doer, not a creator. We want stimulation for our daughters, not just a baby sitter. We're not paying her to read a magazine while the girls watch a movie. I expect more from a nanny than from a baby-sitter. In her mom's defense, she never had been a nanny before."

And there were other problems, because Kelly's mom took a big step in moving away from her friends and leaving a job that made good money. "She is a very sociable person and put no effort into making new friends in Arizona. The decision was stressful and when she got here, I'm not sure this is what she anticipated." Dave was disappointed: "When you stay with someone for an extended period of time, you help out. She didn't do any extra work in our house."

Kelly now realizes that her mother has difficulties with the two distinct roles. "We treat her like an employee, when she's here as a nanny. We treat her as Nana on the weekends. She's having a hard time with the distinction about her identity, plus she doesn't like being dependent on us for income but she is." At the heart of the matter are Kelly's and Dave's expectations, which they did not clearly spell out. Kelly's mom didn't know those expectations and it created conflict between Kelly and her mom, and between Kelly and Dave.

Despite the problems, Kelly has put great effort into showing respect to her mother, explaining, "I'm not sure how to address my mom, because I don't want to talk down to her because I'm the child." Kudos to Kelly for her sensitivity. Dave concluded that in family situations such as these, you need to be crystal clear about expectations in advance. "When all is said and done," Dave emphasized, "We know she takes good care of our girls, and they are safe with her." Dave added that when the girls get sick or hurt, the hierarchy of who the girls want attention from first is: 1. Nana 2. Mom 3. Dad. Even after she moved out to her own apartment, the girls would plead, "I want my Nana!"

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Friday, April 24, 2009

Obamas' Marriage Inspires Millennials

He may not have cured all the ills of our economy as fast as we want (as if) but i don't ever recall this much positive buzz about a presidential marriage.

A recent Newsweek article describes how the Obamas have the kind of marriage, equal and devoted, that millennials aspire to. "Veering from 50's era subservience (the Reagans) to boomer dysfunction (the Clintons) the Obamas are two independent individuals who also appear to be (surprise!) in love."

It appears to be a relief to young couples today to see that the sort of marriage they hope to have - equal and devoted - can actually exist.

Talking Points:
Do you think that political couples should be role models for our personal lives? Does the Obamas' marriage inspire you?
Do you think their marriage is inspiring to young couples today?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Siblings: Fewer Kids Share a Room these Days

Fewer children are sharing rooms these days because of larger houses and smaller families.

An article in the Miami Herald by Jodi Mailander-Farrell explained, "Sharing a room was once a childhood rite of passage, ranking right up there with waiting for the bathroom and fighting over the last piece of lasagna at dinner." But homes are 38% larger than 20 years ago and (as noted many times on American families are shrinking. About 20% of all U.S. children under age 18 have no siblings at home (Census Bureau).

"The fallout for today's kids? Many of them --unlike their parents and grandparents--never share a room". "Having a room of one's own is a very American concept," describes Mailander, "It's a product of our emphasis on individuality, not to mention proof of our economic success."

According to George Scarlett, chair of child development at Tufts University, "Our culture makes the assumption that children having their own bedrooms and sleeping by themselves is a good thing, but most other cultures think just the opposite."

For my other posts on sibling support, click here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sisters = Happiness

Sisters Breed Happiness While Brothers Breed Distress.
In order to appear cultured, I pulled this from a BBC News release.

This post is actually for my daughters (who read this Blog) to empower them to rib my son (who does not). Personally, I wouldn't know what this article is talking about since I'm one of three brothers and have no idea what having a sister is like. Professionally speaking: One study of 571 much impact does it have? Interesting but not earth shattering.

According to the study, having daughters made a family "more open and willing to discuss feelings." While "boys tend to internalize problems and in families where there are lots of sons....that can cause problems." Discuss

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Recession Depression? Maybe You Suffer from Hyperopia, Like Me

Eureka, my condition has been diagnosed! Consumer psychologists call it hyperopia, which is the medical term for farsightedness.
The condition is the result of people looking too far ahead. In Oversaving, A Burden for Our Times, John Tierney explains, people are "so obsessed with preparing for the future that they can't enjoy the present, and they end up looking back sadly on all their lost opportunities for fun."

As for me, If I do have "saver's remorse", then why am I not remorseful? My wife and children have not altered their spending habits one bit. However, I currently won't spend a dime on anything but gas for my car and I have no regrets. I do not feel it would be responsible of me to buy any unnecessary (fun) items at this time, especially when my in-box at home is filled with: the car note, gas/electric bill, credit card bill, insurance statement, phone bill and they are all screaming out, "pay me first".

But, missing out on life's pleasures is a big concern. That's why I took my children to Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania recently for a fantastic day of skiing that was pure fun. And there are tons of low cost activities that families who enjoy the simple pleasures of life can partake in, like when the Township tennis courts open for the season. A recession can't mean a cessation of fun for families. It means you need work on lining up some good-quality low-cost enjoyable activities.

Bottom line: I believe there has to be a national confidence shift before we hyperopiacs will be ready to seek treatment for our condition.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Taking Responsibility Trumps Sibling Rivalry in Biblical Brothers Story by Dr. Alan Singer

Aren't the residual effects of brotherly hatred sadly evident to this day in many regions of the world?
My essay in the Home News Tribune (published on 3/26/09) discusses the Bible, an area in which I claim no expertise. But I always find the story of the brothers to be a compelling one and so I discussed it in my monthly column. I believe there is more to learn from the story than the repercussions of sibling rivalry.

After reviewing the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers, I am not convinced that the main lesson is about sibling rivalry. Let me preface this by claiming no expertise in Bible study; rather, a long-time fascination with the details of this story about a father, a favorite son and his jealous brothers. My curiosity is motivated by the following questions: Do any of the parties fully accept responsibility for their actions? What lessons are there in this story for modern-day families?

The brothers' animosity begins with Joseph's tattling on his brothers to their father Jacob. This caused his brothers to hate him and this was exacerbated by not one but two dreams, each of which Joseph repeated verbatim to his family. The dreams, which described how his brothers would bow down to Joseph, further infuriated his brothers.

Their father, Jacob, according to the Bible, "Loved Joseph more than all his sons" and made him a unique gift, a coat of many colors. The Talmud (Tractate Sabbath, page 10, side 2) states, "A man should never single out one son among his other sons, for on account of the silk which Jacob gave to Joseph in excess of his other sons, his brothers became jealous of him and the matter resulted in our forefathers' descent into Egypt." The Talmud is unambiguous in its critique of favoritism.

But, is sibling rivalry a justification for homicide? Clearly not. The brothers plotted to kill Joseph, then threw him in a pit, and despite his cries for mercy, the brothers broke bread together. This was followed by the staging of his death, from the attack of a vicious animal. Upon hearing of Joseph's fate, Jacob tore his garments and mourned the loss of his son.

One specific comment by historian and biblical scholar Rabbi Berel Wein got me thinking. He explains that Judah is the one who changes the course of events by offering himself as a guarantor for Benjamin's safety. In so doing, Judah "accepts responsibility," an important new theme in this story. The brothers do recognize the consequences of their own erroneous actions, explaining, "We saw his heartfelt anguish (Joseph's) when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come from us."

But biblical commentaries do not let the brothers off the hook. One commentary (Sforno) states that the brothers found no cause for remorse in the sale of their brother, only for hard-heartedly ignoring Joseph's pleas for mercy. Further, in the Yom Kippur prayers, there is a description of the tragedy of the Ten Martyrs, which was precipitated by the sale of Joseph by his 10 brothers, who never did ask for forgiveness. And, aren't the residual effects of brotherly hatred sadly evident to this day in many regions of the world? Therefore, the answer to my opening question is no, since no one in this story fully accepts responsibility.

And I believe that taking responsibility for one's actions is one of the most useful lessons we can role-model for our children and give over to them. We must enable our children to make decisions for themselves and give them an awareness of the consequences. More than just a tale of sibling rivalry, the timeless lessons of Joseph and his brothers provide meaningful insights into parenting and responsibility.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good Questions About Miraculous Births

Infertility doctors are getting better and better at delivering miracles.
A recent piece in the Baltimore Sun titled, Limiting Reproduction asks some excellent questions:
Is it responsible for a woman to bear children regardless of her age and number of babies involved?
Is it ethical for fertility clinics to facilitate a paying customer's pregnancy simply because they know how?

The article (correctly in my view) suggests that it may be time for federal and state government to consider legal rules and boundaries for the fertility industry. Authors Pertman and Cahn describe a 60 year old woman who travelled to India for IVF because Canadian doctors deemed it unethical to treat her.

For my other posts on infertility please click here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The White House Experiment in Child Rearing

Fathers: Running the U.S. is like running a family.
I like Lisa Belkin's essays. Her piece "Father in Chief" recently appeared in the NY Times. It's because our new President seems to be such a good father that the comparisons are numerous.

"Like governing", Belkin tells us, "parenting is messy".
A good parent must tell the truth; shielding children from reality rarely works and leads to distrust. While pushing his stimulus plan, President Obama said the action was needed to keep a "crisis" from spiraling into a "catastrophe". Truth is good.

A good parent listens, asks questions, hears all views, and then decides. Obama listened and he called it bipartisanship.

A good parent admits mistakes like when Obama admitted that he messed up with several cabinet recommendations.

"Maybe we want to know that Dad can be fallible except when he actually is."

Friday, March 13, 2009

There's A Tremendous Impulse to Altruism Genetically in Mankind

Well isn't that headline good news?

The nation's woes are inspiring people to make generous gestures to acquaintances, employees, and even strangers.

Take 2 minutes to read a terrific piece by Judy Keen in USA Today. Yes, the times we are in are economically miserable, but there are some terrific people out there doing great stuff. Like Scott Haag in Milwaukee, who is offering his 75 workers $2000 toward a new car and $1000 for a used car.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Kids Make You Happy (Not): More Discussion

"The key to happiness in life is low expectations" (author unknown).
Research that shows Kids don't make you happy does not trouble me in the least. I am happy that my wife and I decided to have kids and we have 4 wonderful children, 2 of whom now have terrific spouses. Click here to listen to Robin Simon, Sociologist at FSU, discussing last summer's Newsweek article on this very topic.

But, have I been a "happy" Dad all day-every day, since becoming a father 29 years ago? Of Course Not.
Do people have children as an antidote to depression? (I hope not)
Do people have children because they look around at the world and think, "Everyone with children....they look so happy"? (I don't think so)

The decision to have children needs to be made knowing that there are rewards for parenting which are deep and fulfilling to be sure. But, one of the rewards, if you asked me, is certainly not automatic happiness. There is abundant happiness in parenting; it's just not 24/7.

So if you're thinking of having kids to bring you happiness, please think again.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Shiri is Right; Everything's Bad for You

Overprotective parents and environmental hazards, how do we strike the proper balance?

My friend since childhood Shiri, is fond of saying, "When you think about it, really everything is bad for you." It is true to a certain extent. How do parents make the best choices for their children without becoming overprotective helicopter parents?

Peggy Orenstein wrote a great piece titled, The Toxic Paradox. She cites numerous examples that people panic about: lead in synthetic athletic turf, Bisphenol A in dental sealants, mercury in tuna, microwaving in plastic.....and she raises the question: What, in our time, does "safe" even mean?

There truly are a billion (since billion is the new million) things to worry about because we parents want to protect our children from harm. But along comes the journal Pediatrics in 2004 and explains that jittery parents have more to fear from fire, car accidents, and drowning than from toxic chemical exposure (with the exception of lead that still threatens the health of millions of children).

"You can't raise your kid in a bubble" Orenstein correctly points out. So here are my thoughts: when research is clear and numerous studies point in the same direction, then for example, you stop smoking. You learn to adapt and you change your ways, it's common sense. When we were kids growing up in Florida, going out in the sun for a few hours was beneficial because you received some much needed Vitamin D. Now you can receive much feared skin cancer such as melanoma. So you adapt, you spend less time in the sun and whenever you venture out in summer, use sun screen.

You cannot panic at every research study (coming attractions: do forward facing strollers hinder language development in infants?) but you cannot ignore them either. You have to trust someone. So when you are pregnant, bring your questions to your Ob/Gyn. When you have children, bring your list of "Is this harmful to my child?" to your Pediatrician.

Try to parent from your guts, not just from your brain!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Splitting Up to Make Ends Meet?

When you can't sell your home and you have a good job offer elsewhere, what do you do? You and your spouse might consider splitting up for a bit. Welcome to the commuter marriage.

This article on NPR covers some key issues. Census Bureau stats show that the number of people moving from one state to another has dropped 27% last year. As I said in an earlier post, there are certainly challenges in one of these commuter marriages, but I believe it is possible for a strong marriage to endure this; but not for a sustained period of time.

Everyone has a part in the goal of selling the house and ending the commuter marriage. Enlisting the kids to help is a good approach. The biggest challenge is to keep the house clean because potential buyers can stop by at any time. "We're a lot cleaner than we used to be" comments Nannette Dillon who gets her children to pitch in. Her daughter said, "We have to clean up after we have friends over...we had a snow day and all we did was clean." I believe it's an excellent way of teaching children responsibility. Nannette stated that it's not all about the money, "You need to be happy and for us, we're making the decision that our family needs to be together."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Research Status: Babies Born in Winter are Less Intelligent

This research is still as bogus as when I blogged about it last month, but since my son-in-law says that simply mentioning this topic will draw major attention to my website....well hey, I'm always up for a good experiment. Folks, correlation is not causation and please click here to read how I approched this topic previously.

Can we please discuss some research that is more interesting?
Like Liz Szabo's article on just how early children get rhythm. It's a small study, but a fascinating one. 2 and 3 day old infants can perceive musical patterns and even take note when a drummer misses a beat! The researchers suggest that it's possible that babies are born with a musical sense because it helps communication.
It's a short and fascinating piece.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Inspiring than His Bailout, Obama's Marriage

The First Couple is generating alot of buzz about happy marriages. Jocelyn Noveck's piece in the Washington Post is a delight to read. Their "21st Century White House Marriage" is setting high standards for our country. A number of important themes are touched on by Noveck including: date night for couples, balancing professional success with family stability, displaying affection, and spouses as best friends.

One off-the-wall comment from a NY mother and author, "It worries me because, how many years have they been married, and they're so romantic?'s total pressure!"
My 2 cents: It's good pressure lady; get over it.

My only question was: why did my son-in-law (who reads the Wash.Post daily) not spot this gem and email it to me for the blogosphere?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Large Family ShowBiz Boom and More

Kate Zernike does a masterful job of describing large families and barely mentions the world's newest octuplets (big plus).
She describes 3 TV shows on TLC at the beginning of the article (click here to read it).

Then she delves into some key elements of the discussion:
*Smart women choose career; ambitionless women have children
*Large families are presumed to be really rich having children as status symbols, or really poor living off the dole
*Large families have an economy of scale
*Large families are some of the Greenest families

ENDNOTE: When I am asked by couples, "How many kids do you think we should have?" my response is always: as many or as few, as long as you think it through. To read my other posts on large families, please click here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Brief Encounter with President Obama by Dr. Alan Singer

Do you know how long I have been waiting to write my little meet-the-President story? Years. This column appeared in the February 11, 2009 Home News Tribune and was truly great fun to write.

My brush with fame took place in the spring of 2006. I was waiting for an elevator in the U.S. Capitol building when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama appeared next to me. Here is our brief exchange:

SINGER: "Senator Obama, I want to thank you for your inspiring remarks. (One hour prior, Obama addressed our delegation.) It was nice of you to take the time in your schedule to speak to our group."
OBAMA: "You are very welcome (shaking my hand and glancing at my ID badge). Where are you from, Dr. Singer?" (Bell rings; elevator door opens and we step in.)
SINGER: "I am from New Jersey, and Senator Obama, I can see why they say you are a rising star in the Democratic Party."
OBAMA: "Thanks, that's very nice of you, but you actually just stepped into an elevator that is for senators only. Sorry."
SINGER: Oops! (Stepping out of the elevator.) So nice to meet you and best of luck to you."

So much for my face-to-face encounter with our new president. As I pressed the button to ascend in the bank of elevators designated for the general public, I never would have imagined that I had just shaken hands with the future president of the United States.

There are millions of Americans whose dreams and hopes are now fulfilled by virtue of the fact that President Obama was elected and now serves as our commander in chief. While contemplating my own dreams and hopes for our new president and our country, I came across a recent survey by the Lifetime Television Network. The research titled "Every Woman Counts" is a compilation of data based on the responses of 600 American women.

The nonpartisan "Every Woman Counts" campaign is an effort to engage women in the political process. Seventy-one percent of the women surveyed believed that the economy should be the No. 1 concern for the Obama administration. Health care and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the next highest priorities. According to the news release on the poll, "The plurality (35 percent) of women said they will know that Barack Obama is attending to the needs of women if he addresses the issues related to families and work — life balance, while 22 percent said they will hold him accountable based on the way he handles the economy. One in ten said they will base their review of the Obama administration on whether he deals with pay equity."

I was gratified that "67 percent of women said that President Obama should not consider gender at all when appointing his Cabinet, and should just focus on qualifications." But, I believe it is unfortunate that 65 percent of the women surveyed believe that male and female candidates are held to different standards on the campaign trail. Male candidates, they indicated, have the edge on: being taken seriously by voters; being covered seriously by the media; addressing issues such as national security/terrorism, and addressing the issue of the economy.

Another positive note from this research had to do with the candidacies of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. "Eighty-six percent of the women surveyed said that young girls and women in their lives would be more likely to take an interest in politics thanks to the experiences of these women," according to the survey.

And to the man in the senators-only elevator, it was a privilege to shake your hand and wish you good luck, because you really do have your hands full.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Agreeing With Coontz on Marital Satisfaction

I never thought the day would come that I would completely agree with Stephanie Coontz. When I have read her books and essays, on average, I am about 30 - 40% in sync with her thinking. Her recent op-ed in the NY Times was tremendous. Titled "Till Children Do Us Part", the essay describes research of the Cowans which is fascinating. Marital satisfaction decreases with the arrival of each child; this we know. According to Coontz the Cowans found, "The average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into being parents, disagreed over it, or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born."

I did not find myself disagreeing with anything that Coontz said. In fact I benefited greatly from her essay and I highly recomend it.
Click here to enjoy it as well.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Jerusalem Postscript

As I boarded the plane for the flight back to New Jersey, I bought my last copy of the Jerusalem Post. In it, was a full page article by Judy Siegel, titled "Consultants in the Baby Business". It's a fascinating desrciption of the Puah Institute for Fertility According to Halacha (Jewish Law), which was established in 1990 and run in Jerusalem by R. Menachem Burstein (

Recap: We started our visit just as Israeli troops were returning from Gaza. The debate was raging on....was their mission accomplished or not? As we left, the war was old news an the debate was all about the coming Election in Israel.

My interview with Mayor Shaul Goldstein will take some time to write up and transcribe. It provided some terrific insight into community support for marriage, childbirth, and families of soldiers at war.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #5: Divorce in Israel

Divorces have gone into the 5 digits for the first time in recorded Israeli history, with 10,225 Jewish couples divorcing in 2008 (Matthew Wagner, Jerusalem Post). What I find interesting is that the divorce statistics were not released from a demographic agency (in the U.S. it would be the Census Bureau) but rather from the Rabbinical Court Administration. Further, Wagner's article states, "The Rabbinical Courts are empowered by law to impose sanctions to coerce one of the sides, usually the husband, to give a get (the document of Jewish divorce). These sanctions include blocking exit from the country, freezing bank accounts, halting welfare payments, and suspending drivers licenses." There was no discusssion in the article re why the divorce rate increased.

On a different topic, I interviewed Mayor Shaul Goldstein of the Etzion Block of communities (just south of Jerusalem) re the role of communities in marriage and childbirth celebrations. As I waited for Mayor Goldstein in the lobby of the Shalom Hotel in Bayit Vegan, candidate Bibi Netanyahu appeared. When I quickly grabbed for my camera, let's say it didn't evoke many friendly faces amongst his security team.
Look for a future post on the Goldstein interview.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #4: Legend and Heartbreak

Two stories about the war in Gaza are still spreading like wildfire here in Israel.

The first story is that 2 Israeli soldiers in Gaza were told by a woman as they were searching house to house that they should not enter a particular house and she told them to go in the opposite direction. They listened to her and saw the house that they had intended to infiltrate, explode in a massive fireball. "Who are you" they asked the woman who saved their lives. She responded, I am Mother Rachel and she walked away.

The second story is of the father of a young soldier killed by friendly fire. He televised a message to the Israeli tank unit that caused the mishap and the tank unit received the message, even as the family sat shiva (Jewish week of mourning).

Here is an excerpt from Matthew Wagner's article (Jerusalem Post Jan 11, 2009)titled, Family of IDF soldier Who Fell to Friendly Fire: 'Everything that happens Must be for the Better'
Rabbi Amos Netanel, whose son Capt. Yonatan Netanel was killed by friendly fire several weeks ago in Gaza, told the Israel Defense Force tank crew that fired the fatal shot he wasn't angry. "You did not kill Yoni," Netanel told them. "Yoni sanctified God's name at the exact time that it was decreed in the heavens. You were the sacred messengers who carried out God's will. Better that your pure hands kill him and not the defiled enemy hand. Evildoers could not have hurt him." At Rabbi Netanel's request, the IDF Chaplaincy helped him contact the tank crew, currently fighting in Gaza, before the Sabbath.

"The family very much wanted to communicate our message to the soldiers before the Shabbat," Netanel said. "It was something that we wanted to resolve."
Netanel told the tank crew that he and his family were conscious of the fact that casualties caused by friendly fire were part of every war. "Under this working assumption Yoni went out to war, under this working assumption we sent him out to battle. We accept this as part of the struggle to overcome the enemy, and we love you and embrace you." We cannot control what happens in this world. We can only control how we react."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #3: Israeli Marital Disagreements

When Ezra, our tour guide, asked the group: Do you know what the 2 biggest disagreements in Israeli marrages are? he quickly got my attention.

1. Hot versus Cold: The temperature of the home and the car are an ongoing source of conflict. I can certainly identify with this as my wife claims that I have a "broken thermostat". For most of our 31 years of marriage, I have been hot and she has been cold.

2. Chol Hamoed Tiyulim: "Chol Hamoed" days are the in-between days of the holidays of Passover (in the spring) and Sukkot (in the fall). Husbands and wives have this basic disagreement: whether to travel the beautiful land of Israel from top to bottom in day trips....or to just sit home and be couch potatoes.

Postscript on previous blog post re lack of rain: This is the worst January rainfall in recorded Israeli history according to today's Jerusalem Post.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #2: Divorce and the Aguna

The daily newspaper is a good way to get the pulse of a people.
While most of todays's front page articles of the Jerusalem Post pertain to President Obama, peace in the middle east and the truce in Gaza, there was an interesting front page article relating to the "Aguna" (literally a chained woman). In this painful predicament, a husband refuses to give a "get" (hebrew word for divorce document) to his wife and thereby divorce her.
It is an intiguing story that spans the globe titled, "From Jerusalem to Jakarta"
I tried to get the link posted here, but did not suceed. It is an indication that urgent social concerns here in Israel rank up there with peace and politics.

Selfish note: The weather has been magnificent here. It's selfish because there is no commodity as valuable here in the middle east as water. It's the rainy season and Israel needs the water desparately.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jerusalem Installment #1: Parents of Soldiers

If you want to know what the people of Israel are thinking, go straight to the source: the taxi drivers. At the exact moment when our new president began his speech, our taxi driver, while speeding through narrow Jerusalem streets, turned the volume way up. "Nasee" (hebrew for President) Barack Obama began his inaugural speech with simultaneous hebrew translation. Our driver, like other Israelis are not convinced, as many members of the US media seem to be, that this Gaza campaign was timed to end before Nasee Obama took the oath of office.

As far as the parents of Israeli soldiers in Gaza who I have spoken to thusfar, there is a split in opinions between:

1. Thank God they are coming home.
2. Mission not accomplished; they are pulling out of Gaza too soon

Stay tuned from gorgeous sunny (slightly chilly) Jerusalem.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Are Commuter Marriages (a temporary necessity) Detrimental to Couples?

The NY Times had an interesting piece recently by J Conlin called "Living Apart for the Paycheck"
The Census Bureau reported in 2006 that 3.6 million married Americans (not including separated couples) were living apart from their spouses. It quotes Prof. David Popenoe, who I've known for many years; he's brilliant. There are certainly challenges in one of these marriages, but I have to say that I believe it is possible for a strong marriage to endure this, but not for a sustained period of time. One of the best points Conlin makes is how the bulk of the responsibilty for the children falls on the at-home mother. She has to be the disciplinarian while her husband comes home from afar and gets to be "Mr. Fun". Nice plug for Skype too (Online Maven take note!). It's a quick and worthwhile read; I recommend it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

MSNBC's Melissa Schorr Cites Dr. Singer on Delayed Childbearing

My recent conversation with Melissa Schorr resulted in a nice shout-out on today's MSN home page. She approached the topic from many interesting angles and I thanked her for our talk. Bottom line: these are scary times economically speaking, and having a child is a decision that is tied directly to family finances. Responsible parenting means giving careful consideration to your finances, your marriage, and your desire to parent before having a(nother) child. I suggested in my original release, that parents who delay having a child for a year or so in tough economic times is understandable; delaying for 3 or more years could cause some very undesirable consequences.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

President Obama Should Promote National Service

Steve Waldman wrote and interesting piece for the Huffington Post that caught my eye and stirred my imagination.

He contends that the Obama administration may be about to squander an historic opportunity, because the economic recovery plan doesn't include a large-scale national service program. National service members can work on permanent and cost effective national improvements such as energy efficiency or improving schools. He suggests that a "soft goal" would be to plant forever the idea in the minds of most young people (and many seniors) that one of the most fulfilling and useful things they could do is serve their nation for a year or two.

Click here to read his entire post.

I want to take it one step further during these stressful times of increasing unemployment and home foreclosures. I believe it is time to think about giving one day a month to help others by using our profession skills, especially to help those who recently lost their job or their house. As a family therapist, I will set aside one day per month to help couples strengthen their marriage and not charge them a fee. I believe that President Obama and his administration are going to need all the help they can get.

So Here Goes: If this recession has wreaked havoc on your family finances and your marriage is suffering because of it, contact me via email for a marital therapy session at no cost. I rent space in central New Jersey (Highland Park to be exact). Please consider your driving distance before emailing me and briefly describe your financial predicament.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Private Time Indispensable to Marriage by Dr. Alan Singer

Here is my 3rd and final column describing the couples I surveyed who are celebrating their 30th Anniversaries. It was published in the Home News Tribune on December 17, 2008. Robin and Michael refer to marriage as "an evolving state". Is that a good thing? Read below and I invite you to post a comment.

Nine New Jersey couples who are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary this year responded to a survey I conducted. This is the third and final column devoted to their responses. I asked each couple what they wanted more time for. Responses included: we want more time together, family vacations and watching our grandchildren grow up. In the fast-paced, two-career family paradigm that is so prevalent, what couples want is more time together. But, two comments concern me. Susan explained, "I wish I made more time for myself and my husband, but in my life, everyone else came first." And Heather stated, "Once the kids were born, we never made time to be alone, just the two of us." Whoa! Red flag!

When couples have a child, they tend to put their marriage on the back burner. That is one reason that researchers have found that marital satisfaction tends to decrease with the arrival of each child. After life-with-a-newborn settles into a routine, couples must dedicate themselves to nurturing their marriage as much, even more than nurturing their children. Children need their parents to have a strong marriage first and foremost; to be Super Mom and Super Dad comes second.

These couples believe that the institution of marriage has changed in 30 years and not necessarily for the better. Susie and Barry: Divorce is less of a stigma. Larry and Judy: People give up too easily and get divorced without trying to resolve their problems. Linda and Leonard added, "Marriage is not a toy, that if you don't like it you find something else; It's a lifetime commitment." Professor Bill Doherty (University of Minnesota) in a lecture delivered in 2001 refers to marriages today in the context of our consumer society where everything is temporary: "New is what sells — the past is meaningless. Only the future counts. Will my rewards be there in the future and am I getting enough out of this relationship?"

Last are several responses to the question, what is the most important thing that you learned about marriage? Most important to Linda and Leonard is, "The effect of being loved and showing love can only make you a better person." (Research supports them on that.) Suzie and Barry go a step further: "Love is not enough to sustain a marriage; you have to work on maintaining the love and the relationship."

Robin and Michael learned that marriage is "an evolving state." That response intrigued me, so I asked them to elaborate. "Nothing in life stays the same; it changes each day with each new experience and the challenges that life presents." They added, "As we grow and mature and are molded by what life brings us, it necessarily affects marriage. The hope is that your spouse helps you through those changes and that your relationship is flexible and can accommodate change."

In a 1998 lecture, psychologist John Gottman similarly describes the importance of "shared meaning." He contends: "Everyone is searching for the meaning of life in this journey of ours. The idea of creating this meaning together with someone else in a family is very key in building this friendship in marriage using the narratives, metaphors, symbols, roles, goals, and rituals that make life meaningful. This has a great impact on friendship in the marriage and on buffering transitions in the marriage, such as partner-hood to parenthood." Thank you to the nine couples who participated in this survey and Happy Anniversary!

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site