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