Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Good Enough" Marriages Suit Children Just Fine

What is a "good-enough" marriage?
And why is Booth and Amato's 1997 finding, that 2/3 of divorces end "good-enough" not high-conflict marriages, so significant?

Elizabeth Marquardt wrote an excellent piece for the Huffington Post. Here are some excerpts:

"We disagree about a lot of things. Sometimes I think our kids would be better off if we both moved on."

"I've been researching and writing about children of divorce for a decade and I've heard these sentiments over and over. These parents not divorced yet, but they're thinking about it. They're raising children, struggling to make the mortgage payment and pay the babysitter, hoping to get ahead. Meanwhile, their marriage isn't what it used to be. Those pre-kid days of hanging out with friends seem the stuff of dreams now. Talking is mainly about negotiating schedules and money. Weekends are busy getting caught up from weekdays. Is this what marriage is all about? Do the kids really need this?

In a word, yes. Some marriages are plagued by such serious problems -- such as addiction, chronic infidelity, or violence -- that divorce might well be warranted. But social science research shows that about two-thirds of marriages that end in divorce are low conflict. These marriages may feel troubled to the one or both of the spouses, but they are not struggling with the kinds of serious or frequent conflict many imagine when they picture a marriage on the rocks.

It is these marriages -- what some call "good enough" marriages -- that matter so much. To any still-married parent who is considering divorce who may be reading this, I want to affirm that your "good enough" marriage is doing a world of good for your kids. By sticking with -- and working on and believing in -- your "good enough" marriage, you are sustaining one world for your child. You are affirming that the rough and sometimes not-pretty job of holding together one family belongs to you and your spouse, not your child."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Parenting Hall of Shame

Children are special treasures that are entrusted to us to protect. Particularly in the summer, I spot safety risks for children that land parents in the Hall of Shame.
Here is my monthly parenting column from the Home News Tribune.

Each summer I inevitably observe parenting behavior that appalls but not necessarily surprises me. I often say, if there were such a thing as a parenting license, these folks should have theirs revoked.

The first incident took place on my own street, when an SUV driven by an adult cruised by with his sun-roof wide open. An 8 or 9 year old boy was standing up in the sunroof, and waving to passers-by. I cringed and hoped that an Edison patrol car would soon be turning our corner and issue a summons to this driver.

The second incident took place on the West-bound train platform at Metropark. I looked across the tracks to see a little two-year-old girl running back and forth between what appeared to be her parents, standing several yards apart from each other. It appeared that she was enjoying her freedom as she ran back and forth with Amtrak Acela trains speeding by at 100 mph. Having grown up with a mother that had a “death grip” on my hand when crossing busy streets, again I cringed at this irresponsible behavior.

The third incident took place on a recent trip to Florida and although it did not involve safety, it tops my list of bad parenting behavior nonetheless. Near Boca Raton there is a water park named SKIRIXEN. The brochure states: direct from Europe to Florida comes one of America’s first cable water-ski resorts. Imagine waterskiing and wake-boarding with no boat, just an overhead cable to pull you. When the advertisement says, no boat hassles, I can personally vouch for the fact that there is no family recreational activity that is more stressful and has more yelling than renting a boat, equipment, and waterskiing.

I watched the safety video and got the explanation of rules with a group of youths who were all 1/4 my age. A young girl of about 13 years old was standing on the line in front of me, ready to go into the lake but looking hesitant and her father was standing nearby not going in himself. He was yelling at her, “You better go in after all the driving I did to get you here.” Her red face revealed not only embarrassment at her father’s tirade but the fear of a child who clearly did not want to do this activity.

After a lifetime of waterskiing experience, even I was feeling a bit uneasy, since this cable system involves being yanked onto the lake at 18 miles an hour, as opposed to a boat’s pull which gradually increases. It was reasonable for her to be nervous. Incidentally, safety rule #1 at SKIRIXEN: if you fall, look behind you fast to make sure the next skier sees you and avoids running you over.

The father then berated his fear-stricken teen-ager, “I paid $25 damn bucks (expletive toned down by author) for you to try this sport so you better get the hell out there and do it right now!” Although I was disgusted, I have been told on more than one occasion to mind my own business, so I write about incidents in my column rather than confront the guilty party face-to-face. Here are the four violations I would give this dad if I could suspend his parenting license:

#1 – Use of foul language in the presence of a minor
#2 – Speaking in a demeaning and angry tone in public
#3 – Forcing a child to do something she fears
#4 – Making $25 more valuable than his child’s emotional well-being

If I would have spoken to this man, I would have suggested that he forfeit the $25 and thereby gain his child’s respect and trust. He would have then topped the list of his daughter’s role models, rather than the Parenting Hall of Shame.

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Heartbreaking (Adult) Sibling Fights

One of my favorite readers named, “anonymous” responded to my recent post, When an Adult Child Cuts Off a Parent, by sending me a link that she found. It’s a post on that is titled “When Adult Children Fight, a Mother's Heart Breaks” and was written by Jessica Barksdale Inclan. It is well written and poignant.

She describes the distinctly different personalities of her two grown sons; one an anarchist and the other a police-academy aspirant.

Inclan writes, “At one time, these were my happy little boys, my sons who played together all day on the weekends, slept in the same room for years. They both went to the same college, called each other frequently, hiked together, laughed together. But when Nicolas began to become the man he is, their ideologies started to pull them apart. He began to despise all that Alex stood for, and their drives home from Washington State began to get ugly, full of silences or harsh words. Our last meal together, all of us sitting around the table of our new home, was as unpleasant as could be.”

“It's possible that these two will never come back to one another. The fight could be the axe that splits their relationship wide open, forever irreparable. I close my eyes and breathe in hard when I think of them forever at opposite sides. Siblings are the closest relationships in time and age and place. Siblings know each other in ways no one else can, and to see my boys approach an end to this connection is more than I can bear.”

I want to suggest two things:

These two young men drifted apart and have let their ideologies divide them. There will (hopefully) come a time in the future when they will recognize the indispensable nature of one’s nuclear family….and agree to disagree.

Second, I have faith that the (future) spouses and children of these two young men may have a profound influence on this sibling division (or not). If each brother has their own two children (which my research shows is likely) and they each try to prevail upon their own children how important sibling bonds are in life, a major-watt light bulb may illuminate (or not).

You can read Inclan's entire post by clicking here.

And be sure to read some of the frank comments that follow her post such as Debbie who stated:

I do feel a little better because I'm not the only one who is going through this. My two boys will never be friends and will never have a relationship. I think this is sad, but I'm done with all the conflict and unpleasantness. If I could go back in time, I would have had puppies and never any children.
(ASinger: Ouch!)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

When an Adult Child Cuts Off a Parent

I wish I had a more chipper post for Election Day folks; this is just plain sad.

Therapists for years have listened to patients blame parents for their problems. What about the suffering of parents who are estranged from their adult children?

Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist who is an expert on parental estrangement, says that parents often report that a once-close relationship has deteriorated after a conflict over money, a boyfriend or built-up resentments about a parent's divorce or remarriage.

''We live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible,'' said Dr. Coleman, whose book ''When Parents Hurt'' (William Morrow, 2007) focuses on estrangement. ''But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It's about parents who were good parents, who made mistakes that were certainly within normal limits.''

Dr. Coleman himself experienced several years of estrangement with his adult daughter, with whom he has reconciled. Mending the relationship took time and a persistent effort by Dr. Coleman to stay in contact. It also meant listening to his daughter's complaints and accepting responsibility for his mistakes. ''I tried to really get what her feelings were and tried to make amends and repair,'' he said. ''Over the course of several years, it came back slowly.''

(A Singer: there is no simple answer or quick fix here. Coleman correctly states that persistence is the key)

Source: Tara Parker-Pope, NY Times

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Summoned Self or Well-Planned Life...which are you?

A recent column by David Brooks is a real thought stimulator. He illuminates two ways of thinking about your life, that are described by Clayton Christensen who is a professor at the Harvard Business School.

The first is what you might call the Well-Planned Life. Once you have come up with an overall purpose, you have to make decisions about allocating your time, energy and talent. Christensen notes that people with a high need for achievement commonly misallocate their resources. If they have a spare half-hour, they devote it to things that will yield tangible and near-term accomplishments. These almost invariably involve something at work — closing a sale, finishing a paper.

“In contrast,” he adds, “investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. ... It’s not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, ‘I raised a good son or a good daughter.’ ” As a result, the things that are most important often get short shrift.

The second way of thinking about your life might be called the Summoned Life. This mode of thinking starts from an entirely different perspective. Life isn’t a project to be completed; it is an unknowable landscape to be explored. A 24-year-old can’t sit down and define the purpose of life in the manner of a school exercise because she is not yet deep enough into the landscape to know herself or her purpose. That young person — or any person — can’t see into the future to know what wars, loves, diseases and chances may loom. She may know concepts, like parenthood or old age, but she doesn’t really understand their meanings until she is engaged in them.

The most important features of the human landscape are commitments that precede choice — commitments to family, nation, faith or some cause. These commitments defy the logic of cost and benefit, investment and return. The person leading the Well-Planned Life emphasizes individual agency, and asks, “What should I do?” The person leading the Summoned Life emphasizes the context, and asks, “What are my circumstances asking me to do?”

AMS: Just some food for thought as we contemplate our lives and roles as parents and spouses.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Today is Family Day - A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children

The Power of Parenting

Whether you’re cooking a gourmet meal, ordering food from your favorite take-out place or eating on the go, rest assured that what your children really want during dinnertime is YOU! Family meals are the perfect time to talk to your children and to listen to what’s on their mind. The more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.

Please click here to learn more about dinner tonight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

No Silver Lining in Gores' Separation

Heard of the "third age"? Neither did I until I read some of the op-eds on the Gores' separation. Forty years of marriage and now they should explore their freedom and pursue someone new and exciting? This Op-Ed really got my blood boiling.

Here is my monthly parenting column from the Home News Tribune:

When a high-profile couple like Al and Tipper Gore separate from each other, we feel sadness that a 40 year marriage has failed. After 32 years in family therapy, nothing shocks me, but I, too, was saddened by this separation.

However, Dierdre Bair's column in the New York Times on this subject quickly brought my blood to a boil. She authored a book on late-life divorces and described a term that I was not aware of … "the third age,'' which refers to life after divorce. Bair described the "courage'' that these divorcing couples showed as they left the supposed security of marriage. "To them,'' she writes, "divorce meant not failure and shame, but opportunity.''

Bair describes that most of the couples she interviewed did not divorce "impulsively". They mentioned freedom and control for themselves for the rest of their lives. In the true tradition of our consumer-oriented society, these longtime married couples now want "someone new and exciting.''

She alludes to the idea that we leave the "it's-all-about-me'' phase of our youth to get married and raise children. Then, when our adult children leave the nest, we should seek that all-about-me time again. "Women and men alike wanted time to find out who they were.'' Many of her interviews ended with, "It's my time, and if I don't take it now I never will.'' She concluded her column but saying, "So let us not feel shocked or sad about the end of Al and Tipper Gore's marriage. Let us, instead, wish them well and hope that they might enjoy their third age.''

In response to Bair's column, John W. Curtis observed, "There is no mention of the effect on the children, albeit adult. One wonders if the children are in fact happy to see their parents pursuing their third age. And there is the clear implication that those who remain married for life are benighted, craven losers without the guts to pursue their Zen, rather than those whose love and devotion deserve our respect.'' In Bair's all-about-me world, there is also no consideration for the many stakeholders in each marriage: parents, children, and even grandchildren. Their lives, in my view, will never be the same when the patriarch and matriarch divorce.

Another respondent to Bair's column, Susan Stern explained, "The assumption here is that one comes to self-discovery in something approaching a vacuum; free of responsibility, we finally managed to understand ourselves. There are sound reasons for ending a marriage at any time of life, but those Ms. Bair acknowledges, seem both misguided and shallow.''

Now that I understand the third age, it baffles and nauseates me as much another term that has been popularized in recent years, the starter marriage. That's when you give marriage a try and hope for the best, similar to a starter house which presumably you will quickly outgrow. When marrying, couples stand before their family, friends, and God to pledge a commitment. We all need to take steps to assure that our marital commitment doesn't simply fade like the furniture.

Tara Parker-Pope said it well: "If there is a lesson from the Gore break-up, it's that with marriage, you're never done working on it.''

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Middle Class Getting Socked; Divore Rate Dipping?

The Great Recession, as they now call it, continues to bash the middle class and adversely affect family well being. A recent piece by Judith Warner in the NY Times, is as usual, excellent. Some of the highlights:

"Economists may assert that we’re in the early stages of a recovery, but surveys continue to show that the impact of the Great Recession on American families is deep, widespread and grim. A Pew Research poll published last month indicated that more than half of all adults in the U.S. labor force had experienced some “work-related hardship” — a period of unemployment, a pay cut, a reduction in work hours or an involuntary move to part-time employment — since the recession began in December 2007."

"The poor are getting poorer, and the rich, despite stock-market setbacks, are still comparatively rich. The most devastating losses in household wealth over the past two years have been suffered by the middle class. And families are fraying at the seams. The Pew poll showed nearly half of people who had been unemployed for more than six months saying their family relationships had become strained, and a New York Times/CBS poll of unemployed adults last winter found about 40 percent saying they believed their joblessness was causing behavioral change in their children."

"Parents who have jobs are working longer hours than ever. Mothers are taking shorter maternity leaves. The birth rate is on the decline. The divorce rate is declining, too — it’s too expensive for people to break up their households — but that’s not necessarily a family-friendly thing, as a report from the Council on Contemporary Families noted in April: “We know from the experience of the Great Depression of the 1930s that divorce rates can fall while family conflict and domestic violence rates rise.”

Endnote: Our President has much on his plate. I hope (and pray) that he keeps the astronomical unemployment rate at the very top of his domestic agenda until this nightmare is in our rear-view mirror.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Schools Must Diligently Filter Personal Information

Here is my monthly parenting column in the Home News Tribune

What responsibility does a school have in filtering personal family matters that a child might innocently offer in a public display?

This question occurred to me after reading about one mother’s hurt feelings when her daughter’s publicly displayed essay listed Dad as her role model in life and not Mom. I wondered why the daughter wasn’t approached by her teacher who might have suggested that she warn her mother about the essay which would be posted, and discuss why she picked her dad over her mom. This may have softened the blow.

Rather than trying to hypothesize about where free speech ends and where school censorship begins, I contacted my friend Philip who has been the associate principal of a large elementary school in South Jersey for over twenty years. Right off the bat he declared, “It always comes down to common sense, and unfortunately that’s hard to bottle.”

“Our teachers know that essays, computer postings and year-book entries all have to be read carefully while letting children have free speech. But they do not have the right to gratuitously insult people in a school setting. We will not provide students with a forum to be hurtful.”

When I described the essay that caught my attention Philip responded, “When a student says that her role model is her father, that’s not gratuitously insulting to the mother, even if it is a bit hurtful. Maybe the child wants to be a musician like her dad, and not a biochemist like her mom.”

Philip believes that the school should seek out the offended parent and accept some part of the responsibility together with the student. “I would tell that parent that we didn’t intend the essay to be hurtful. It did not appear blatantly hurtful, but since you have expressed that you are hurt, we are sorry.”

He wants students in his school to know that free speech exists, but the school, as an institution, has standards and will not support hurtful speech. Philip expects his students to be sensitive to that. Philip gave an example of an essay that a child wrote about a teacher who he really liked. “Mr. Smith is a great teacher who explains things thoroughly unlike Mr. Jones, who always leaves me confused.” Philip brought the student to his office and explained, “You need to rethink the way you are complimenting person X and simultaneously hurting person Y, so think of a better way to do it.” Philip correctly refers to these discussions as an educational opportunity which is part of their mission as a school.

Providing another example from his school, Philip described a young boy who, in an essay about family life, went into great detail about his parents’ divorce and how the non-custodial parent just picked up and left town. The child was expressing the hurt that he felt, but it was totally inappropriate to display publicly. The teacher grasped the teaching opportunity and the child was able to redirect the essay without the anger. “The teacher brought the student with his corrected essay, to the Principal of the school who complimented his maturity and sensitivity.”

Philip appreciates when parents preemptively share problems at home (in confidence) with a teacher and administrator, so that educators can be on the lookout for behavioral or academic fluctuations. “If a parent fails to warn the school about family matters, be they emotional or health-related, and the school calls home describing behavioral problems, we have already made errors in the classrooms that may have exacerbated the situation.”

In closing Philip urged, “These children are precious souls. Adults have armor to protect themselves from hurt, not children. Anything we can do to make the child’s environment in the school healthy and positive, we are required to do. If we can avoid a situation because we are sensitized by some extra information, we must do it.” To all of you who are students, have a wonderful and safe summer.

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

Friday, July 30, 2010

Recession Lingers, Dating Thrives

The Recession and Families: Post 4 of 4

This severe economic downturn may help the dating scene as people are looking for simple companionship. Click here to read an interesting piece that was written by the Associated Press.

The article explains, "Credit the recession for staycations and bringing us more game-night parties at home. But also give it a shout for spurring more first dates. Economic woes, it seems, unleash something practically primal in many of us who find ourselves without a partner: a hard-wired desire for companionship. Some singles are now hunting for dates with the same fervor others are showing hunting for jobs.

It’s not just the frequency of our dates that’s changing — it’s also the people we’re choosing to spend time with. “They’re looking for something that’s genuine in a world that isn’t very secure,” said Bathsheba Birman, co-founder of the Chicago dating event Nerds at Heart. “With headlines full of why you can’t trust established institutions that you thought you could ... people are re-examining their own values.”

Craig Kinsley, a neurologist at the University of Richmond, said stomach-fluttering first dates also release brain chemicals that can temporarily erase worries, even about 401(k)s and layoffs and falling portfolios and upside-down mortgages."

This last paragraph about brain chemicals reminds me that it has been a while since I featured Dr. Helen Fisher, anthopologist at Rutgers, in a Blog Post. I'll just add that to the summer to-do list.
I hope you are having a safe and enjoyable summer.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Family Life Takes a Hit From Recession

The Recession and Families: Post 3 of 4

What effect does an unemployed parent have on family well being?

Do men take over family responsibilities when their wives become the sole breadwinners?

Michael Luo wrote an excellent piece for the NY Times recently that describes the impact of this recession on families. "For many families across the country, the greatest damage inflicted by this recession has not necessarily been financial, but emotional and psychological. Children, especially, have become hidden casualties, often absorbing more than their parents are fully aware of. Several academic studies have linked parental job loss — especially that of fathers — to adverse impacts in areas like school performance and self-esteem."

Luo describes, "A recent study at the University of California, Davis, found that children in families where the head of the household had lost a job were 15 percent more likely to repeat a grade."

“The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids,” commented Dr. Ariel Kalil (University of Chicago). “The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic.”

"Besides quarrels over money, the reversal in the couple’s roles also produced friction. Dr. Kalil said a recent study of how people spend their time showed unemployed fathers devote significantly less time to household chores than even mothers who are employed full-time, and do not work as hard in caring for children."

A Singer: It's a problem that I labeled Role "Non-Reversal" Syndrome, where men seem to forget how big a burden their spouse bears as wife/mother....and they just forgot to switch roles when their wife works all day and they sit at home. Men at home, must quickly take over the lion's share of household tasks to give their wives some much needed down-time and stress relief.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Recessions's Silver Lining May be: Solidifying the Marital Bond

The Recession and Families: Post 2 of 4

“Judging by recent press reports,” writes Bradford Wilcox in the Wall Street Journal, “the family fallout associated with the Great Recession has been severe.” According to Money & Marriage, a report released recently by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Institute for American Values, the financial pressures associated with the Great Recession can lead to a downward spiral of marital recriminations, tension and conflict as spouses struggle to pay bills, adjust to the loss of a job or find themselves forced out of their home. “This downward spiral is especially likely to unfold when a husband loses his job—a particularly salient reality in the current recession, where more than 75% of the job losses have fallen on the shoulders of men.”

According to Wilcox, “There may be a silver lining in all this financial pain. For most married Americans, the Great Recession seems to be solidifying, not eroding, the marital bond. To be sure, some couples have simply postponed a divorce until the economy rebounds, when they expect to have a better shot at starting new lives.” And anecdotal evidence suggests that a number of couples have responded to the recession by rededicating themselves to their marriages.

"Perhaps more important, the Great Recession is leading some spouses to develop a renewed appreciation for the social and economic solidarity engendered by marriage and family life. While it is true that the recession has been a source of harmful stress for many couples and families, a recent Pew Research survey found that about four in 10 Americans report that the recession has brought their family closer together."

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Not Knowing is Making Us Sick

The Recession and Families: Post 1 of 4

"Psychologists and economists now know that although the very rich are no happier than the merely rich, for the other 99 percent of us, happiness is greatly enhanced by a few quaint assets, like shelter, sustenance and security. Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they were a year ago, happiness is down and sadness is up, we are getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes and depression is on the rise."

Author Daniel Gilbert, in a NY Times article, asks Why? Some of us are clearly suffering in this recession, but it’s not as if we all lost all of our money.
"The reason is because people feel worse when something bad might occur than they do when something bad will occur. Most of us aren't losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don't know whether it will fall or not -- and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they're uncertain about."

"Consider an experiment by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who gave subjects a series of 20 electric shocks. Some subjects knew they would receive an intense shock on every trial. Others knew they would receive 17 mild shocks and 3 intense shocks, but they didn't know on which of the 20 trials the intense shocks would come. The results showed that subjects who thought there was a small chance of receiving an intense shock were more afraid -- they sweated more profusely, their hearts beat faster -- than subjects who knew for sure that they'd receive an intense shock."

A very interesting piece about human nature.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Digital Divide in All its Glory

Here's my monthly column from the Home News Tribune:

Family car trips are very different than two decades ago, when our children were pre-teens. There are still plenty of lunches and snacks to prepare, and the frequent "Are we there yet?'' questions. However the "in-flight'' entertainment has really evolved. Back in the day, for the news, there was the car radio. For music, we had cassettes, and of course some quality time for family discussions.

In contrast, our recent family outing to the nearby Blue Mountain Ski Resort was filled with the latest gear. For directions to Blue two decades ago, we called their 800 number. This time, my son-in-law went to their website and downloaded the directions. He also checked traffic and was able to suggest alternate routes, since his Blackberry is GPS-enabled. Back in the day, I think the only people who were GPS-enabled were Navy Seals and employees of NASA.

We waited until we arrived at our destination to use a pay phone (remember those?) to check voice-mail messages. Nowadays everyone owns a cell phone. Halfway into the trip, my Bluetooth began beeping. It was my brother in Israel who joined three Singer brothers together for our weekly conference call. Years ago, I never would have imagined a three-way call on portable cellular devices connecting Orlando, Israel, and New Jersey. It's hard to miss the good old days when technology makes keeping in touch so much easier.

Lucky for me, one thing remained the same. With my daughters and my son-in-law on board, it was easy to get a legitimate family discussion going. I asked them about the digital divide; I wanted to understand it better and to have the input of my techno-savvy adult children. The responses were mainly directed at what the digital divide is not; it is not an income-related divide. "It's not about poor versus rich at all," stated my daughter, "because everyone has a cell phone these days." A home number will soon be a thing of the past. Anyone with a cell-phone can have internet and e-mail included, not to mention dozens of downloaded songs.

When we finally arrived at Blue Mountain, conditions were epic. We had found out about the conditions in advance but obviously not by calling the snow conditions hotline of yesteryear. My son-in-law's Blackberry displayed the entire ski report on Blue Mountain's website. He had also put out a "tweet'' to his Twitter followers with a few simple keystrokes and within an hour, heard reports about the ski conditions.

As we enjoyed the day, I began to realize the digital divide has a lot to do with age. Middle-agers (myself included), are a bit resistant to the latest technology. For young people, technology is a social imperative.

Regarding the haves and the have-nots, this is also about having an interest in the latest techno-fad, or having no interest. What if a person just wants to curl up with a good non-electric novel once in a while or what if they don't have enough time to keep up with the technology? It takes time to tweet and update your Facebook status. People who have jobs and families likely have less time for these activities.

During our last run of a superb day of skiing at Blue, my children filled one high-speed quad chair and I was assigned to the next random chair with three teenagers who were all friends. One asked me, "Sir, can you take a picture of us with my phone, so I can text it to Mom in the lodge and show her we're having a good time?'' I was happy to help. In the words of Bob Dylan, "The times they are a-changin.''

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

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Anniversary That Deserves No Champagne

We have just passed the 40th anniversary of that much vilified institution, the no-fault divorce. "It is an appropriate moment to re-evaluate how divorce affects families, and particularly children," states Ruth Bettelheim in a recent NY Times Op-Ed.

Here are some excerpts from the Op-Ed:
"As child support is often linked to the proportion of time the children spend with each parent, the days and hours of their future lives become tools for one parent to extract payment from the other. This is a recipe for warfare, with the children’s well-being both the disputed turf and the likely casualty.

In an adversarial custody battle, no one wins, but children are the biggest losers of all. Intelligent legislation could promote the one thing that children of divorce need most: peace between their parents." (It is interesting that no-fault divorce is now practiced in every state except New York.)

As good as Bettelheim’s Op-Ed was, Elizabeth Marquardt’s letter to the Editor was even better:

“Re ''No Fault of Their Own,'' by Ruth Bettelheim the argument seems to be that because parental conflict is bad for children, the solution is to make divorce easier. If only it were that simple. In our nationally representative study of adult children of divorce, Prof. Norval D. Glenn of the University of Texas at Austin and I found that even successful young people are profoundly shaped by childhood divorce.

They described how they had to travel between two worlds, and make sense of their parents' different beliefs and ways of living, something their parents were no longer required to do. Most said their parents did not have a lot of conflict after the divorce. Yet these grown children of divorce report a profound and lonely inner conflict, even when their parents did not fight.

As a culture, we can do better.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chicken Little: Stop Tweeting About the Falling Sky

Susan Gregory Thomas wrote a piece on MSNBC titled, Today's tykes: Secure kids or rudest in history? She adds, "Parents' focus on building self-esteem may neglect compassion for others."

Thomas starts with a couple of obnoxious stories:
A commenter on a recent New York Times’ blog recounted seeing a preschooler purposely trip a woman in a crowded restaurant, and chortle, “‘Mommy, did you see me trip that woman? I tripped her!’” — with no corrective measure from the mother. On, a mortified grandmother recently asked for advice on how to handle her grandson’s relentless public insulting of his own mother, who apparently seemed unable or unwilling to stand up to the mistreatment.

Then she quickly concludes:
Many experts say today’s kids are ruder than ever. And it may have something to do with popular parenting movements focusing on self-esteem and the generation that’s embracing them: Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1977.

How is it that people observe a few bratty, uncontrollable kids and derive conclusions about an entire generation. Actually, when she says "rudest in history" she is stating that today's kids are the rudest kids that mankind has ever seen. And she also acts like there is some data on this somewhere in the world. Should rudeness be added to the 2020 U.S. Census so we can get a handle on it?

All too often, people jump to unfounded conclusions based on a few encounters. Even if it is dozens of encounters, it doesn't mean anything about an entire generation of kids. The real issue, when you read a piece like this, is how you and your spouse feel about the child (children) you are raising. How do you expect them to behave and what are you both prepared to do if they step outside the parameters that you've set?

Amidst her sweeping epic generalizations, Thomas has some valid points such as:
"It may be that today’s parents are so fixated on their children's emotional well-being that they’re teaching them that the well-being of others is comparatively unimportant, says Dr. Philippa Gordon, a long-time pediatrician in Park Slope, Brooklyn, an urban New York neighborhood famous for its dense Gen-X parent population."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You Lost Me at Your Second Sentence, Sue

Susan Goldberg recently ranted in the NY Times about smug parents who do their parenting in public places and “at the top of their highly educated lungs.” “If we’re being honest” she writes, “we have all had the same frightening and ignoble urge to smash their heads in with a brick.” Really Sue, we all have that urge? You want honesty? You’ve got considerable Chutzpa!

Unlike you Susan, no matter how much these “operatic” parents infuriate me I actually don’t have any desire to inflict bodily harm on any of them. Seriously, who writes a parenting article and mentions smashing heads?

Last, what bothers her is this generation of “parental wind bags” with their “painful lack of subtlety” when they speak to their children. Well Sue, you win the painful lack of subtlety award in my book.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Post 100 of This Blog Spans 120 Years

In celebration of Post 100, I present my recent column from the Home News Tribune titled, "Times have changed; so has Grand Parenting".

In it, I describe my grandfather (born 1887) and my grandson (born 2007) and everyone in between. That span = 120 years. I pose the question, has grand parenting changed all that much in the last few decades or is it my imagination? I'd love to hear your comments.

Are today's grandfathers so different from 50 years ago? How different am I from my grandfather Abe Singer (of blessed memory)? Are there genuine differences in our grand parenting styles or is it just a manifestation of my social work background?

I do believe there are very real differences. I will forgo references to a generational shift, the post-war mentality of parenting, and other generalizations for which I have no supporting data. This is entirely personal.

When I reflect on our visits to my grandparents' apartment on Meridian Avenue in Miami Beach, I think of their ground-floor corner unit as being very bright but stuffy. I don't remember the windows being open, nor do I remember the air conditioner being on — and this was Florida.

These scheduled visits to our grandparents felt like they were mostly for their benefit; they were not meant to be fun. Only later in life did I discover that Flamingo Park, which was literally across the street, had the best ball fields, tennis courts and public swimming pool on Miami Beach.

On each visit, we would describe our school work and music lessons. My grandmother prepared homemade snacks and showed us items that she created on her Singer sewing machine (no relation, unfortunately). My father then helped his parents with their bills or by fixing an appliance in their apartment.

We had fulfilled the obligation of visiting our grandparents. There was an air of formality, and we were not allowed to wear leisure clothes. One thing that we three brothers learned while observing the efforts of our father was how to honor one's parents. Our dad was a wonderful role model.

By contrast, here's what it's like when our 2-year-old grandson and our children visit us: It is magical and has the atmosphere of a nonstop celebration. Whether they come to us in New Jersey or we go to their home, we endeavor to have at least one specific fun-filled activity. It is not always relaxing, but it is always memorable.

There is nothing nicer than thoughts of these family outings when I am on my daily commute via NJ Transit. It is as much pure joy as it is a transcendent experience and the antithesis of what I remember as a child.

It is fortunate for my two brothers and me that we saw how over-the-top our parents were concerning our children, their grandchildren. If I have learned how to be an enthusiastic grandparent, it is from my parents, not from my grandparents.

One final point: I remember how my grandparents lived and some of the things that they did, but I have no recollection of what they thought about, and I wish I did. My grandparents experienced the Great Depression firsthand. It would be interesting to hear their perspective about the difficult economic times we are now experiencing. My grandfather served in World War I. What would he say about Iraq and Afghanistan? He lost a brother at a young age; how did that impact him emotionally?

Here's my recommendation to current and future grandparents: write down, videotape, or better yet e-mail your thoughts on life to your children and grandchildren. Enumerate your values and beliefs; describe life's curve balls and how you dealt with them. These will be a source of enormous wisdom for the future generations of your family.

While a close relationship to our grandparents is not as critical as the bond to our parents, the knowledge derived is invaluable. We should take the time to put pen to paper or to type a few digital paragraphs now and then and click "send'' to those individuals we care most about.

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Elderly are 7 Times More Important than the Young

When it comes to government spending that is.

I like David Brooks' recent NYTimes column, "The Geezer's Crusade". It's an insightful look into what Grandparents can do for future generations. Grandparents you ask?

Brooks writes:

"A series of longitudinal studies, begun decades ago, are producing a rosier portrait of life after retirement. These studies don’t portray old age as surrender or even serenity. People are most unhappy in middle age and report being happier as they get older.

One of the keys to healthy aging is what George Vaillant of Harvard calls “generativity” — providing for future generations. Seniors who perform service for the young have more positive lives and better marriages than those who don’t. As Vaillant writes in his book “Aging Well,” “Biology flows downhill.” We are naturally inclined to serve those who come after and thrive when performing that role.

The odd thing is that when you turn to political life, we are living in an age of reverse-generativity. Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them. First, they are taking money. According to Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution, the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.

In the private sphere, in other words, seniors provide wonderful gifts to their grandchildren, loving attention that will linger in young minds, providing support for decades to come. In the public sphere, they take it away.

It may seem unrealistic — to expect a generation to organize around the cause of nonselfishness. But in the private sphere, you see it every day. Old people now have the time, the energy and, with the Internet, the tools to organize."

The last line is pure Brooks: "The elderly. They are our future."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fight More, Bore Less

Linda Carroll wrote a nice piece for MSNBC that belongs in the category of counter intuitive research.

Is boredom really worse than fighting in a marriage?

According to Carroll, experts say that shared challenges and exciting diversions are what make relationships interesting long after the wedding gown has been packed up and stored away. And the opposite, boredom and a dull, daily routine, can kill a marriage, squashing intimacy and romance.

Most research on long-term relationships has focused on eliminating problems such as conflict and tension, explains the new study’s lead author, Irene Tsapelas, a researcher in the psychology department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. But surveys have suggested that boredom may be even more corrosive to a relationship, she adds.

123 Michigan couples (the first marriage for all of them)were interviewed for the study at year zero, year seven, and year 16 of the marriage (not a big sample, but I like the time intervals - author).

Carroll quotes Helen Fisher (research professor of anthropology at Rutgers University) which is always a good idea. And quoting Fisher usually means mentioning the neurotransmitter called dopamine.

People often show up in Dr. Barbara Bartlik’s office ready to bolt from a marriage because they’re bored. “I tell them that changing partners isn’t going to fix the boredom,” says Bartlik, assistant professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “By sharing novel or exciting experiences with your partner, you’re duplicating some of the brain chemistry that fires up at the beginning of a relationship.”

(It goes without saying, which means that I am about to say it anyway.....that I don't advise couples to fight as a way of building a healthy marriage. Click here to see an earlier post describing the research of Dr. John Gottman. He indicates that each normal healthy marriage comes along with a package of irresolvable issues, such as division of household tasks and differences in approaches to child rearing. The key to a good marriage is not the resolution of conflict but rather the regulation of conflict, according to Gottman.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

'It's Complicated,' But Surprisingly Accurate

Movie reviews are not my forte, so I'd like to limit my comments to several important aspects of a thoroughly enjoyable comedy.

This Home News Tribune column was published on February 3, 2010. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, "It's Complicated" focuses on the seemingly rekindled romance of Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) and Jake Adler (Alec Baldwin), who are the parents of three terrific children and have been divorced for 10 years. According to New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis, "Ms. Meyers transforms a divorced couple into a romantic couple, which suggests a belief in love enduring, even after a marriage dies. That sounds wonderfully romantic, or a prescription for pathology — maybe both."

Dargis describes Meyers' movies, which usually focus on independent women, using acting veterans like Streep, who "takes this character and makes you love her, just as Mr. Baldwin does with Jake, who, with his shark smiles and thrusting gut, beautifully conveys male vanity in its twilight."

But my realism detector was registering low numbers while my comedy meter was registering high ones. Connie Ogle (Miami Herald) hit the nail on the head, explaining, "A quick and completely unscientific poll of divorced women in the immediate vicinity indicates that the premise of Nancy Meyer's latest film — that women can't resist romance with their ex-husbands — is more of a fantasy than the flying lizards in "Avatar.' "

Aside from the unrealistic romance-after-divorce main theme of the movie, I found several subplots to be accurate, even praiseworthy. First and most important are the children. How cruel (of parents) to tamper with the unattainable fantasy of the children of divorce, that Mom and Dad might someday get back together. Hats off to Hollywood for not scripting another "they all lived happily ever after" ending.

The Adler children, who are appropriately still devastated from their parents' divorce, observe Mom and Dad sneaking around from one secret rendezvous to the next. The children react with shock and confusion. This is beautifully portrayed by the three twenty something children coddled up together in one bed, waiting for Mom to enter and explain what the heck is going on.

The Adlers appear to be having a pretty good divorce. Worth sharing are Elizabeth Marquardt's poignant words from her book "Between Two Worlds" — "I want to shake loose those glaringly wrong assumptions: that divorce doesn't matter if parents get along. That divorce doesn't matter if the kids don't look like damaged goods. That divorce doesn't matter as long as parents keep loving their children. We also know instinctively that divorce should be a last resort, that even a good divorce is far worse than what some call a good enough marriage."

Last is Baldwin's plea to Streep to reunite as he warmly reminisces about family dinners, aging gracefully together, and how hectic those early years of marriage were when they were raising three young children. (My problem is that I can't enjoy a Saturday night comedy without the research part of my brain kicking in, similar to what my wife mocks as my quirky habit of curling up with a good book — and a yellow highlighter in hand.)

This is another accurate portrayal by Meyers. Plentiful research has shown that marital satisfaction decreases with the arrival of each child. Additional research indicates that marital satisfaction significantly improves when the children grow up and leave the nest.

Unfortunately, Baldwin's character, Jake, left the nest for greener pastures way before his children did. Had he only stuck it out through the challenging times when there were young children at home, he wouldn't be in this complicated mess. Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site —

Friday, January 29, 2010

We Interrupt this Parenting Blog for a Rant

Not that this has anything to do with parenting, but I must rant about my pet peeve: people who stop at the top/bottom of a staircase or escalator and people who come to a complete halt in a doorway. Folks, these are passageways so please keep moving. I normally start singing (aloud) Bob Dylan’s lyrics, “Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.”

Pamela Lewis ranted about this recently in a NY Times article titled, “Don’t you know you’re in the way?” But the focus of her rant was about people on cell-phones. Not me, I am ranting about people who choose the top/bottom of the stairs or a doorway to get bewildered in. TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: That is a very dangerous place to be bewildered, so please step aside. Granted that in the spacious farmland of the Midwest, this is not an issue. But, most people in the United States live and work in cities.

Just be courteous to others and be alert to their safety as well as your own. Now that I think of it…that is a rather important message for parents to convey to their children so I’m glad I blogged about it here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Safety is Foremost and Don’t Use the Word Accident

This is the third in a series of 3 posts on Child Safety

Post 1: Better Safe than here
Post 2: Dr. Singer, Practice what you here

A recent report by the Center for Disease Control concerning childhood injury provides some very useful information. In a Washington Post article, titled “How Kids Get Hurt” author David Brown states, “Around the world, fatal injuries in children total 830,000 a year, a number equal to roughly all the children in Chicago. That’s 2270 a day, of which at least 1000 could have been prevented, experts say.”

Brown interviewed Julie Gilchrist, a physician and epidemiologist at CDC, and one of the authors of the report. Brown explains, “You won’t hear Gilchrist or her colleagues use the word accidents. That word, they say, implies that the events could not have been avoided and the damage could not have been prevented—exactly the opposite message they want to convey.”

STATS from David Brown:
**Childhood injuries cause the nation about $300 billion a year.
**In motor vehicle deaths, the risk that comes with age reflects numerous behaviors and vulnerabilities. As soon as a child is able to exert willpower, risk goes up. Of children four and younger who are killed, 30% are unrestrained. Of teenagers killed, more than half are not wearing seatbelts.

STATS from the CDC Childhood Injury Report:
**On average 12,175 children…zero to 19 years of age die each year in the United States from an unintentional injury.
**Males have higher injury death rates than females.
**Injuries due to transportation are the leading cause of death for children.

The leading causes of injury death differ by age group:
**For children less than one year of age, two thirds of injury deaths are due to suffocation.
**Drowning is the leading cause of injury death for those one to four years of age.
**For children five to nineteen years of age, the most injury deaths are due to being an occupant in a motor vehicle traffic crash.

**An estimated 9.2 million children annually have an initial emergency department visit for an unintentional injury.
**Males generally have higher non-fatal injury rates than females.
**Injuries due to falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injury: each year, approximately 2.8 million children have an initial emergency department visit for injuries from a fall. For children less than one year of age, falls account for over 50% of non-fatal injuries.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spouse Disability Leads to Greater Marital Satisfaction?

The time has come in this blog, to add a new key word: counterintuitive. That word came to mind when I read about one study done at Brigham Young University which found that the onset of physical disability boosts marital happiness more often than not.

Consider these two Findings:
>Both men and women, regardless of age, reported being happier in their marriage after they themselves became physically disabled.

>Men whose spouse became physically disabled also experienced greater happiness in their relationship.

"The numbers show that couples seem to come together when one of them experiences physical limitations," said lead author Jeremy Yorgason, a Brigham Young University professor. The results - published in the journal Research on Aging - are based on information provided by 1,217 married people randomly selected from around the country. Researchers tracked the lives of the study participants for 12 years.

Exactly why physical limitations boost marital happiness is not fully understood by researchers, Yorgason said. One hint from the new study is that in some cases disability brings more couple interaction.

Author: I am always hesitant to be swayed by the findings of one research study, but this one is fascinating. And if it gives hope and support to couples who have been dealt this hand in life, it’s worth its weight in gold.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Reader Insists: Dr. Singer, Practice What You Preach! Now You Decide

Pediatric Nurse Cindy criticized me after reading my October column about the man I saw mowing his lawn with his infant in a snugly on his back. My question remains: Isn't there a big difference between taking action when a child appears to be in danger and the child's parent is right there? Here is my follow-up parenting column on child safety published on January 3, 2010 in the Home News Tribune:

If you see a child in a dangerous predicament, would you intervene? Assuming your answer is yes, what if the danger unfolds in the presence of the child's parent? That's a different story and I'd recommend using common sense. It burns me up to see a parent acting irresponsibly. In fact, a Connecticut mother was recently charged with a felony (risk of injury to a minor) after police discovered that her 3-year-old child wandered from their home alone and crossed a busy street.

Home News Tribune reader Cindy took umbrage with my October column that described an irresponsible father mowing his lawn with his infant in a snugly on his back. Didn't the father recognize this as a dangerous situation? Cindy insisted, "Most inexcusable is that you did see the danger Dr. Singer, but did nothing. As a marriage therapist, I am quite certain you could have communicated in an appropriate and effective way, the danger of the situation and the risk to this young child. Practice what you preach, Dr. Singer! Child safety is everyone's responsibility." You won't be surprised to learn that Cindy (an RN) worked in pediatric I.C.U. for 5 years, and now works at a children's rehabilitation hospital, where the primary diagnosis is traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury.

Cindy wants to change me from being a passive observer of human behavior into an activist. But I wonder if child safety is really everyone's responsibility? Or is it only in the absence of the child's parent?

Here's my absence-of-a-parent story that took place last January in Jerusalem in the Old City. My wife, daughter and I sat down to a slice of hot pizza in an outdoor cafe on a chilly afternoon. I noticed a mother nearby with an infant in a stroller and a young Israeli boy (about 4 years old) with a huge knapsack on his back. A few minutes later, I glanced back and saw the boy, but the woman and infant had disappeared. Had the woman forgotten her toddler? The young boy shuffled away alone and I put down my pizza, grabbed my knapsack, and followed him.

My wife asked where I was going, and I responded that I think a mother just walked away and forgot to take her toddler. The little boy proceeded up dozens of steps, which overlooked the Cardo archeological excavation, and turned right onto a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. I was 20 feet behind the toddler, when my daughter came running after me and reprimanded, "Dad, you are going to get arrested for stalking that little boy! He obviously knows where he's going and if he turns around and sees a six-foot American man following him, he'll be scared to death."

Nearby, a middle-aged woman asked us if everything was OK, and I expressed my concern that this child wandered away from his mother, and is lost and walking the streets alone. She replied, "I live nearby, and he's not lost. Children in this neighborhood usually walk home from school by themselves. It's like the old days when people felt safe about their children being on the streets."

As a father, I could not sit and eat lunch while a little lost boy (in my mind) was wandering through the streets alone. I now understand that there are significant cultural differences when it comes to child safety, and the question of whether child safety is everyone's responsibility. Bottom line for me: in the absence of a parent, take action when a child appears to be in danger.

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