Thursday, March 30, 2006

When "New Dads" Are Thwarted by "Gatekeeper Moms"

From Po:

A few weeks back, when I was writing on Myths of the New Fatherhood, I got some letters. I could have written about this at that time, but I wanted to do some research to support the anecdotes.

One letter was from a New Dad. Married with two boys, one 3 years old, the other 7 months. His wife was absolutely a believer in the idea of sharing the childraising. On principle, she insisted her husband carry his weight. But he felt like she frequently wouldn't let him fulfill that expectation. She often criticized his parenting - you're not carrying the baby right, for instance, or with the older boy, you're not helping him into his clothes correctly. This New Dad wanted their infant to go through sleep-training - moving the baby out of their bed, and training him to sleep through the night. His wife wanted this, too - but at a different pace. And she seemed to hate that her husband had his own opinion.

Another letter was from another New Dad, living in Southern California. He and his wife shared the childraising duties of their two young girls, and he felt fully supported by his wife. Their close friends and extended family saw him as a fully-capable parent. He had spent a few months as a stay-at-home Dad. In his case, the judgment he received wasn't at home. It was at their preschool, and at the playground and birthday parties that he took his girls to. At the preschool he felt shut out. The staff would not interact with him as much as they would with his wife or the other moms. At the playgrounds and parties, he feels he is being watched, judgmentally, to see whether he can handle tantrums or blown diapers. Women are too quick to step in and offer help, skeptical that a Dad can handle his girls all by himself.

I have heard this kind of story often enough that it needs to be addressed. In doing so, please don't accuse me of ignoring the larger story, which we wrote about in earlier posts (Instant summary: men need to do more!). I recognize that this phenomenon - of men being blocked in their best efforts by wives and other women - is a dynamic that affects only the small percentage of men that are New Dads. But among the New Dads, it's a very common experience.

If you're a New Dad out there, and you're nodding your head while reading this, please tell me about your experience.

Sociologists have a name for this, and they've been studying it. Their name for it is "Maternal Gatekeeping." They've attempted the difficult task of gathering data, but none of their data jumps out at me as being particularly decisive or informative. We don't know how many men experience it, and we can't distinguish whether men deserve the criticism (i.e., they're really holding the baby wrong).

However, the sociologists' theoretical frameworks - which have evolved out of their interviews and polling - are worth sharing.

We do know this though:

1. How much time a man spends on housework and parenting has no correlation with how much money their wife earns. In other words, it's not like women with higher paying jobs - usually more educated - have husbands who necessarily carry their half around the house. You might think educated men = more enlightened men, but that correlation isn't there.

2. When it comes to how housework and parenting chores are divided, which is more influential: the husband's beliefs and expectations, or the wife's beliefs and expectations?

Answer: the wife's beliefs and expectations. In other words, she's more likely to get what she wants than he will get what he wants. This is true whether "what she wants" is a traditional division of labor or an egalitarian division of responsibilities.

I'll restate that one more time, to make sure it sinks in. His background and views are not as important as hers. So if he had caretaking male role models, that's great. But it's more important whether his wife pushes him to be a New Dad, and whether she is really ready to share the reigns. That's per the sociologists who study the correlations.

Often, the general public perception that men can't nurture the kids or clean the house as well as women becomes self-fulfilling. Primed to a point of suspicion, wives become watchful and critical, quick to take the baby or the mop and "do it myself." Many mothers feel like they can't completely take their eye off the situation.

Here's some of the reasons Gatekeeper Moms inhibit their husbands from being a New Dad:
  • If push comes to shove, the mom is usually the one who is ultimately responsible for these kids and the home. It's not an elective for women, as it is for men. And since they consider themselves ultimately responsible, they are going to make the decisions.

  • Mothers hesitate to share family work because they enjoy the authority, privilege, and status their position gives them in the family.

  • Childraising is so stressful already that it's easier and faster if one person be the decision-maker. A woman wants her husband to help - but not to question her.

  • A man might need a learning curve to master the art of being a New Dad - but a mother can't sit by and just let her husband make mistakes with something as precious as a child.
What results, in these marriages, is a kind of Boss-Employee arrangement. The wife does half the work, but all of the scheduling and planning and oversight. She's the Boss. She delegates half the work to her husband, but with the expectation that he follow her lead and do it her way (and only her way). To their friends, they might look like a modern couple, co-parenting and sharing responsibility equally. Until you catch them upstairs at the dinner party, hissing at each other over whether the baby is ready to go down for the night. He is unhappy doing his part unless he can also be an equal partner in decisions, while she gets over-the-top frustrated by his occasional failures, such as forgetting the diaper backpack on the kitchen counter at home.

How do you fix it? I wouldn't pretend there's an easy answer out of this box. But in couples where there is true collaboration, the factor most cited for making it work is "appreciation." Perhaps, if a husband gave his wife more strokes of appreciation for what she's doing, and she gave more positive encouragement ... the era of the Gatekeeper Mom will no longer be necessary.

If you're a geek interested in more detail, check out the article on "Maternal Gatekeeping" by Sarah Allen and Alan Hawkins at Brigham Young University from the Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Optimist or Pessimist on Education? - What I'm Seeing

From Po:

Being an Optimist on this topic isn't easy. It requires the following:
  1. Being stubborn about forming an opinion based on the aggregate numbers, and not letting your opinion be broken by the absolutely tragic stories of educational injustice, which will always be there.
  2. Properly factoring in the consequences of the immigration boom.
  3. Recognizing that education today is a continuing process, far into adulthood.
  4. Understanding that optimism is the only way this problem gets fixed (in the places it's being fixed.) Only by believing it can be better will people invest in their schools and make it better.
When I look at the big picture, the factor I'm looking for is social mobility - an ability to rise up. I want to see children get to college from families where nobody has been to college. I want to see graduate students from families where nobody has been to graduate school.

I was in Kansas last year, speaking at a small liberal arts college in Topeka. I asked the room, by a show of hands, how many of them were the first generation in their family to attend college. About half the hands shot up.

I asked this same question at the University of Missouri Kansas City. And at Rutgers. And at Schenectady Community College, and at Pierce College in Tacoma. Every time, about half the hands shot up.

When you talk to the Deans of these campusses, they have a private fear. They are worried that too much has been promised to these kids. They worry that the institutions and the parents have told these kids that "if you go to college, that's the only way to get a good job." The Deans recognize that so many young adults are being steered to college today that there might be no way there will be enough good-paying jobs for them all. There's a worry that we'll flood the job market with college grads who have to end up managing a Pizza Hut for $9.50 an hour.

So this begets two questions. 1. Is it true, what I observe, that the young are flooding colleges? 2. Will the mix of jobs in the future be in sync with the mix of educated and uneducated potential workers?

I'm going to save #2 for another post, but to #1, the answer is "yes." 45% of the students who took the SAT last year had parents without college degrees - meaning, they are trying to be the first in their family to go. In 1955, just under 2 million students (under age 25) were in college. By 2003, over 10 million students (under age 25) were in college. That's a five-fold increase.

What about older students (over age 25)? The population of older students has tripled since 1973.

This trend is true in graduate programs as well. 41% of med-school students come from families where neither parent has a graduate degree of any sort. 57% of law-school students are from such families.

What this tells me is that our masses - the great big middle class - is managing to get more and more education. Ashley might be right, that we're creating a permanent underclass among the poor. And I feel terrible about it. I'm not pretending that our educational system is serving everyone. But I'm looking at the long trend. there's always been a permanent underclass - that's not new. The average child is far better off today.

Mind you, I'm not saying our educational system is good, and I'm not saying it's bad - I'm saying it's marginally better today, and will be marginally better in the future.

As I noted in my introductory post, being in school doesn't necessarily mean they're learning. But being in school is better than not being in school. I riffed in my last post on the failing academic preparation of students entering the California State University system - students who are supposed to be the "Top Third" of California seniors. On the other hand, look at the University of California system - which is supposed to accept the "Top Tenth" of high school seniors. (Shortcut: if you're a B student, you can go to the CSU system. If you're an A student, you can go to the UC system.) When I was going to college, 25 years ago, it was fairly easy to get into UC Santa Barbara. It had a reputation of being a party school. Today, students with 4.0 GPAs aren't getting in. There are so many bright students entering the system that students with perfect GPAs are being turned away.

In the last 50 years, the educational system has had huge ambitions. It decided to educate the masses, rather than just the few - and it has. It decided to eradicate the disparity between girls and boys - and it's done such a good job that now boys are lagging. It decided to eradicate the disparity between races - and that's working. The disparity is still present, but the gap between whites and blacks is around its lowest, and the gap between whites and hispanics is at its lowest.

Those were huge ambitions. The kids are in the system now, and the system can be bettered. I believe the next 20 years will be a period of very slow improvement at all levels.

- The Immigration Factor

One of the reasons we can't see our own improvement has been the flow of immigrants into our schools. For instance, I live in San Francisco. My son, who is five years old, has been assigned to attend an elementary school about a mile from our house. I'm not sure what I feel about this. The school's test scores have a lot of room for improvement. Compared to all California public elementary schools, on a scale of 1 to 10, my son's future school rates a 7. But it's a school where 76% of the incoming students are classified as "English Language Learners." When you compare this school to the California elementary schools with a similar student body (similar proportion of ELL students), our little school rates a 10. It's not a great school. But it's doing a great job considering the students it has to teach. Will I send my son there? Like any parent, I will do everything I can to get him into a school that rates an 8 or a 9 or 10, or to a school that has only 30% of students learning english. But I'm not going to criticize the district, when they have so many students speaking so many languages.

11 million U.S. adults are "nonliterate" in English, meaning they can't read and write. But of these, about 8 million aren't native speakers of English. They read and write in another language.

In my last post, I mentioned the paradox in a 20-nation study. How can we be at the top or near the top in sending children to college, but near the bottom in English literacy? Answer: English isn't the only language spoken here.

- Education Doesn't Stop at 22

Since I wrote "What Should I Do With My Life?," I have heard from thousands upon thousands of readers who have gone back to school to retrain in another field. The community colleges and adult education programs have exploded. This kind of career-change might be self-driven, or it might be an economic necessity after being laid off. Usually it's a bit of both. But in a shifting economy, people will always need to be going back to school. And here's the bonus: I have found that grown adults can master subjects that gave them fits in high school or college. Usually, when they go back to school, they're motivated - and that makes all the difference.

So, as the academic performance indexes say, some of those students at Rutgers or UMKC aren't learning a whole lot at college. I believe many of those will be back in school, ten or twenty years from now. In fact, I believe most of the straight-A students will also be back in school.

You might be shocked at how common it is to take some form of adult education training that is outside of a formal school. I'm about to throw out a BIG number. In 2003, a third of all Americans over age 16 took some form of training that is outside of a certified school program. That's 68 million people. They did it to brush up on knowledge for their job, and to learn something completely new, and to help change jobs.

So when we argue that our kids aren't prepared, I think we're missing something. Maybe a big chunk of the kids will get their preparation later.

- The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

When you look at schools that have been turned around, how does it happen? It starts with a few teachers and a few parents and a few administrators convincing the rest that improvement is possible. Parents of bright children stop pulling their kids from the schools and sending them to private schools - they give it a shot. Teachers revamp their curriculum and try harder. Administrators change some of the rules to allow these schools to try it their way.

This is one of those social problems where scolding and criticizing make it worse, not better. Only be being optimistic and showing leadership do we make it better.

Money is absolutely necessary. Money works. By and large, the states wth highest expenditure per student have the highest graduation rates and/or the highest number of students who go to college.

But voters hate throwing money at problems if they think the money is washed down the drain. Money will only be allocated to our schools if we collectively have a more favorable opinion that our schools are good institutions and the money will be well spent. I believe that the relentless pessimism and criticism of our schools has created a downward spiral. People start thinking our school system has failed, and so they stop caring when politicians cut education budgets.

This is a situation that calls for optimism and encouragement.

Optimist or Pessimist? (Education) -- In this Week's News

From Ash:

While we're spending a couple days exploring some of the larger issues in education, there are a couple new reports focusing on the successes and failures of the Bush Administration's "No Child Left Behind" legislation. And both of these reports seem to be grappling with the same issue in much the same way we are: should we be optimistic or pessimistic about these results? No one seems quite sure.

The Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition ran stories on a new report by the Center on Education Policy on the effect of "No Child Left Behind." The L.A. Times (on 3/29/06) ran "Math, Reading Crowd Out Other Classes," while NPR did "Reading and Math Gain Ground with Education Law," (audio, 3/28/06).

According to those reports, CEP has found that "No Child Left Behind Law" has resulted in students' improved over-all academic achievement, particularly in math and reading.

Of course, there are critics disputing the results because of flawed methodology (I haven't yet read the report, so I don't know either way).

But what seems to be of greater concern and debate is that the students' improvement in math and reading has come at the expense of almost all other school curricula; history, social studies, science, the arts, are being taught less because of the increased focus on the two core subjects. There's a potent argument here. Without reading and math, a student might not have the basic skills to master the other subjects. (e.g., You can't do well in Chemistry if you can't do the math. I remember that all too well.) But, on the other hand, subjects like music and the arts are consistently shown to entice reluctant learners into studying the core subjects, so to shorten those may jeopardize getting those students to be interested in school in the first place.

The White House seems to share the concern of educators on this point -- at least where science is concerned. Today, Associated Press is reporting that President Bush is floating adding tests for science proficiency to the "No Child Left" math and reading requirements.

On the other hand, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has begun her retirement by writing an editorial with Roy Romer (former Governor of Colorado, now head of Los Angeles schools) in yesterday's New Hampshire Union-Leader, bemoaning the President's shortsightedness on focusing on math and science to the neglect of social studies, US history and government. They make a compelling argument that (Cue "America The Beautiful") essentially studies of math and science are commerce-driven -- they're about jobs and competitiveness. But the study of our larger society will protect our democracy -- to help us here as well as help us export our democratic ideals, not just our widgets.

While the debate over the subjects taught continues, there were also reports on just where the act is having the most effect. The Washington Post today ran "States Have More Schools Failing Behind." In that article, Paul Basken writes that preliminary reports show that more than a fourth of the states are not meeting the required progress required under "No Child Left Behind" -- and that some states may be manipulating their results. (But that means that three-fourths of them are.) As the article explains, not only is federal funding, etc. involved on a larger level, but individual families and schools are impacted as well. For example, if states' school don't consistently improve, parents must be allowed to transfer their children out to other schools.

And of particular interest for me was the LAT's observation that the "No Child Left Behind Act" is having a disproportionate effect on urban schools: 90 percent of the schools that have been identified as failing are in urban areas.

Since I'm here -- Morning Edition also had two other features on education yesterday. Of these, I found their prose piece "The Cost of Dropping Out" (a box-companion article to their report "Helping Dropouts Break The Cycle of Poverty,") the most interesting -- quite a fascinating glimpse into how dropping out of high school can impact a person's entire life, from the jobs he holds to poor health care to even a lower life-expectancy. (The site will also has a link to a longer factsheet on drop-outs; it's meaty information as well if you really want to get into this.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Optimist or Pessimist in Education -- What I've Seen

From Ash:

Do you remember that horrible school shooting -- I think it was last November? Right around Thanksgiving? What a tragedy – a 16-year-old boy shot right in front of the school while recess going on – hundreds of kids who were playing were now suddenly running for their lives. What? You don’t remember hearing about it on the news? But it had all the makings of network -- school shooting in broad daylight -- a fatality -- little kids screaming in terror --

But the teen who died was black. And the terrified little kids were black and brown. And it was the third murder in Mid City Los Angeles in a single week. In other words, it didn’t even make local news.

Not that I had expected it to. Because it wasn’t the first time I had children from that school sobbing in my arms after a shooting. No one wrote about that time, either. Not even me. Of course, I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “It’s gonna be okay, Honey” -- all the time knowing that was probably a lie.

Yes, I get to be the pessimistic one again. But a pessimist is just a broken-hearted optimist, in case you didn’t know that. At least, that’s what’s happened in my case. I was optimistic -- but now I’m broken-hearted, exhausted, and more than a little pissed off. In other words, a pessimist.

Actually, I’m -- well, comparatively -- optimistic about American education on the whole -- how far we’ve come in just a few decades. But at the same time, I’m terribly concerned -- over the fact that we’re also creating a permanent educational underclass.

Today’s Washington Post has a diary of a few high school students in a famously-demanding school with classes in quantum mechanics and a real observatory for astronomy class. I think I’m supposed to feel sorry for these overworked, overachievers ready to storm Harvard and MIT. But I don’t.

Because the kids I know don’t have homework on the weekends, because they aren’t allowed to take books home with them. The kids I work with don’t have pencils. Yes, you heard me correctly. Kids I know just sit in class watching the others take notes, because they don’t have anything to write with. Day after day, they get an “F” on the homework they didn’t do -- because they didn’t have anything to write it down on. There’s no special room in the gradebook for children too poor to buy paper.

Of course, whenever I hear about something like that, I quietly hand the kid’s mom all the cash in my wallet and order her to go straight for school supplies. But there’s only so much cash in my wallet . . . . And I know that there are a lot of kids -- millions -- just like them that I don’t even hear about.

The fact of the matter is that one-third of U.S. school children are poor enough to be eligible for the free- or reduced-fee school lunch program. 29 million children are fed each month. There’s a poignant WalMart commercial about a child who is hungry in his school cafeteria, so his friends give him parts of their lunch. In my experience, it isn’t just one kid -- it’s every child in the community. And the question isn’t “Who needs help?” The question is just “Which kid’s the worst off this week?”

The high school graduation rate has risen in recent years -- and the achievement gap between black and non-Hispanic whites is still there, but it’s narrowing: 80 percent of black adults have high school diplomas compare to 89 percent of non-Hispanic whites. For Hispanic adults, however, just 57 percent of them have a high school diploma. That’s a “less developed world” figure, people, that we should consider a national crisis.

Do we just write off almost 10 million people from ever having an education?

Apparently, the answer’s yes.

And do we stop this from continuing? At least save the next generation?

Apparently, the answer’s no.

I’ve been running a small, free, volunteer tutoring program in inner-city Los Angeles for about seven years now. And, well, I think “start a tutoring program” is pretty much a definition for “optimism.” Since then, we’re a ragtag group, and I basically suck as an administrator, but we’ve helped over 300 children -- some for just an hour or two, some twice a week for five or six years now.

Our tutoring “poster child” was flunking out of second grade when she first arrived. After just six sessions of tutoring, she found herself with the school’s highest score on the annual Stanford achievement test and the 98th percentile in the state. And she’s been at the top of her class in the seven years since.

Am I proud of that? Does all that make me hopeful? No. I’m proud of her. But, mostly, it just pisses me off. Because it’s proof of just how little it takes to change a child’s life around.

And we just aren’t willing to do it.

Everyone says, “We need to do something about our inner city schools” – but when you tell them about an actual opportunity to make a difference -- something as easy as spend an hour to help a child read -- they pretend they didn’t hear you.

We move to neighborhoods so our kids can go to better schools -- then we send our kids to even better private schools. And it’s not that I blame anyone for that: if I was a mom, I’d probably do it, too. Of course you want the best for your child.

But there are millions of kids out there who not only don’t get the best, they get shit. And I mean that fairly literally. Since some of my kids have gone to schools known for bathrooms that don’t have running water. The schools in the best parts of town are the best financed. The kids who already can have private violin lessons get more of these riches in school. My kids need the best school twice as much because they don’t have those resources anywhere else.

In some ways, that the poverty and poor education is so pervasive, perhaps it’s a blessing, because the kids don’t know how bad off they are. Until, that is, they accidentally brush up against the rest of the world. A high schooler I know started crying when an actress asked if she could learn the girl’s pronounced barrio accent: the girl had never before known she had an accent. And more than once a child has come back from a miserable time in Mexico, because they were openly laughed at for how badly they spoke “their native tongue.” I took a promising young 8th grader to a private high school that I knew gave full scholarships. Instead of being thrilled by the school’s endless resources, he was just intimidated by the rich, white faces around him and got the Hell out of Dodge as fast as he could.

So we just lower our expectations. If they don’t write themselves off, we do it for them.

One angelic tiny kindergartner absolutely refused to learn to read. When we asked why, she said it was because her teacher had told her that brown people didn’t need to read anyway.

No, I’m not very optimistic today.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Optimist or Pessimist? - The Future of Education

Should you be an optimist, or a pessimist, about the education a child born today will receive?

Will that education be appropriate for the mix of jobs that are likely to be available?

In the public dialogue, not many are optimistic about this. Good news doesn't make headlines. And the bad news is frightening. But consider this one statistic:

* In 1920, only 16% of children graduated from high school.
* Today, 84% of children graduate from high school.

We're doing a better and better job keeping more kids in school for longer.

On the other hand, "graduating" doesn't mean what it used to. We might be using schools to babysit our children, not educate them. In a 20-nation comparison, the U.S. ranked #3 for the highest percentage of the population getting college degrees, and ranked #1 for the highest percentage getting graduate degrees. Sounds good, right? Actually, in those same studies, the U.S. came in 18th (out of 20) on literacy, and our high school graduates' literacy rate ranked 19th (out of 20). Consider that there are 30 million Americans with "Below Basic" literacy skills, and a quarter of those have a high school diploma. So they graduated, but with a piece of paper, not a basic ability to read and write. On to college the other students go. In California, the California State University system is supposed to be taking the top third of the state's high school seniors. Yet 6 out of 10 CSU students had to take remedial classes, and 5 out of 10 were considered "not academically prepared to be in college" - and these are the Top Third!

Is an average child today better off than in the past? Are we better off sending more kids into and through the educational system, even if the school isn't transforming most of them into the brilliant masses we hope for?

How do Commmunity Colleges and Adult Education fit in?

Pessimism is the easy take here. But if you look at the numbers ten ways and sideways, what do you really see? Should you be an Optimist or a Pessimist about the future of education?

Optimist or Pessimist? - The Basic Framework

From Po:

I'm not going to fix our school systems.
Nor am I going to singlehandedly fix our families.
I'm not going to push the frontiers of science, either.
Nor am I going to ease real estate prices.

But I do care about the future, and I do wonder what my stance on the future should be. Should I be optimistic or pessimistic about the future? My children today are 5 and 1.5 - and should I feel good about the world they will live in, or should I be scared and protective?

Will they get good educations?
Will there be jobs for them after?
Will they ever be able to buy a house?
What will their families look like, and their friends' families?
Will the world be at war?
Will the borders be open to travel and immigrants, or will this become more difficult?
Will science bring important innovations, or will there just be a ton of hype and marginal scientific advancement?

"Optimist or Pessimist?" is a framework Ashley and I will be using over the coming month to discuss various issues.

Each of us decides whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Philosophers suggest that the benefit of having very low expectations is that when a crumb of good news comes your way, you can enjoy it. You prepare for the worst, and when the worst doesn't happen, you're pleasantly surprised. You never come out the fool if you're a pessimist. Public pessimism is also kind of finger-pointing that applies social pressure to fix more, do more, make changes. There are times we need to get angry to be heard.

On the other hand, optimism is itself transformative. Optimism is encouragement and a pat on the back for what we've accomplished. Optimism elevates people who aspire. We're more likely to invest - and try to improve it - if we believe success is possible. For this reason, optimism might be appropriate, even when the statistics aren't encouraging.

Sometimes, it's worth being an optimist just because everyone else is a pessimist, and it's fun to be contrarian.

Were we generally more optimistic, in our past? I think so, but I wasn't alive before 1964 so I can't really say. If we've become more pessimistic, as a society, what have been the consequences - has our attitude made things better or worse?

On the issues Ashley and I will be tackling, there is evidence on both sides. There's reasons to be optimistic, and plenty of ammo to be pessimistic. I consider them close calls. On some issues, Ashley and I will be on opposite sides. On some, the same side.

If you've read my work the past few years, you have probably sensed my inherent optimism. Journalists aren't usually optimistic - they have to cover so much bad news that they become jaded about the state of our world. I get my optimism from the people I've interviewed. Traveling the country, hearing the struggles of ordinary people, I see such thoughtfulness and caring and aspiration that I cannot help but feel upbeat about the basic nature of people.

Ashley too is a lover of common people, but she is presented every day with problems she can't ignore. Because she tutors children in a central Los Angeles barrio, she sees wonderful children being steered into marginal futures. She is an obsessive researcher who uncovers frightening statistics in report after report. As a former Clinton administration speechwriter, every day she heard from constituents in desperate need of more help. She says I'm more spiritual than her, but I say her religious faith is much stronger than mine. In the posts to this blog over the last month, you might already sense her skillful and shrewd skepticism - such as whether there's enough New Dads to make a difference, and whether single mothers seeking donor sperm is a good alternative for anyone but the rich. I can't predict that she'll be more pessmistic than I, but I'm curious where she's going to land on each of these issues.

Our first "Optimist or Pessimist?" posts begin later today. We'll start with one dear to me, since my son is applying to kindergartens. Should you be optimistic or pessimistic about the education a child born today will receive?

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Petrified Forest - SUMMARY POST

From Po:

* In 1976, 10% of women age 40-44 had no children.
* In 2004, 19% of women age 40-44 have no children.

What's going on here, we've asked? It used to be a tenth of women never had children - now it's a fifth of women. A major demographic change has happened in thirty years.

Is it just that people aren't pairing up, aren't even getting married? We know there's a lot of skepticism about marriage out there, but if you've read WDILTP, you'll remember from the halftime chapter that while we might delay marriage, we still get around to it. For the women turning 40 this year, over 83% of them had already married by the age of 35. And the Census Bureau expects about 92% will marry at some point in their lives. Pairing up, it seems, is still very popular.

The crucial words there might be "at some point in their lives." You can marry right up until the day you die, but biological children have a window of time. And that window is shrinking quickly. I don't mean the window is closing on us ... I mean that a woman today is expected to do some other things before she has kids - she needs to go to college, she needs to gain her independence, she needs to get her career going ... and she has fewer years left in which to pair up with the right person, and fewer years even then to get pregnant. It's no wonder, with all that going on, that another tenth of our society can't manage to get it all worked out in time.

Unfortunately, many women who haven't pulled all that off are labeled as having "chosen" to forego bearing children ... when it's not been their first choice at all.

But this "So Much To Do - So Little Time" explanation doesn't fully explain the doubling in childless women. The numbers are similar for men. Let's be honest: the decision to have a child can be scary. We might be reasonably well-off today, but it seems that the tradeoff has included greater uncertainty about our future. With such uncertainty looming, and with nobody able to see more than a year or two into their own future, making a decision that will impact the next 20 years (having a child) is hard to make.

So when I used "The Petrified Forest" to describe the big group in the middle who's scared of having kids, readers backed me up - yes, becoming a parent can be terrifying. It's hard enough to just take care of ourselves.

Thirty years of divorce culture has been a factor, too. But it's been a factor both ways. For every guy who doesn't want to get married or have kids because of what went down in his own home, there's another guy with the same backstory who senses redemption in marrying and having children.

Ashley looked into the theory that it's mostly liberals who aren't having kids - is that partly why the country has shifted to the right? It might be, if not for the Hispanic women keeping the fertility rate high in the blue states.

So the optimist in me still finds solace in the fact that over 4 out of 5 women (and almost as many men) will overcome all these stated obstacles and manage to have children.

Lastly, we've met some women who have decided to take men out of the equation, at least temporarily. One less piece of the puzzle to find, one less problem to avoid. Sperm can be bought. It's not cheap, and the few thousand women each year who do it are very wealthy and very white ... (37 times more likely to be white than black.) Ashley gave Jennifer Egan a shellacking for the way she told this story, but to me, in a world where it's so easy to be pessimistic and so easy today to find reasons not to have children, I found only admiration for the women willing to raise a child alone.

So I'll put it back to you, readers:

How did you decide whether to have children, if you were a person who had your fears?

And how do you counsel someone (a friend, a daughter) who is confused about whether to have children?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wanted: A Few Good Sperm -- The Facts Egan Couldn't Find (Or Didn't Want to Share)

From Ash:

I thought more about “Wanted: A Few Good Sperm,” the cover story by Jennifer Egan in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine -- an article about single women who are choosing to have children via sperm donors rather than within marriage or, even committed relationships. I even started doing a little research of my own.

Egan may be even-handed in showing the good and the bad of these specific women, but she is so selective in the facts that she presents about the larger issue that I feel manipulated, rather than free to make up my own mind about what really matters. I don’t feel any more educated about whether or not sperm bank mothering is really on the rise. I don’t feel like I have any handle on who is doing this.

Here are a few additional examples of some of the points which I think Egan should have addressed:

1. There is more data available on the "single mothers by choice" than Egan claimed -- and had she included that data, the piece would have read quite differently.

2. Egan profiled only wealthy women, but she didn’t sufficiently acknowledge that -- or even the costs of their procedures.

3. Egan minimally reports on some women and children’s efforts to find the donors -- but doesn’t report on the efforts by donors to preclude that from happening.

4. What if the donors are lying?

Taking them one at a time ....

1. There is more data available on the "single mothers by choice" than Egan claimed -- and had she included that data, the piece would have read quite differently.

First, Egan begins the article by saying that no one has any firm numbers on “single mothers” by choice, because the recordkeepers don’t distinguish between “single mothers by choice” and unwed teenagers. But she then offers that the National Center for Human Statistics (NCHS) has observed an increase in older unmarried women giving birth. Actually, that information is available from the very agency Egan cited. First, the NCHS’s Fertility, Family Planning, and Reproductive Health of U.S. Women: Data From the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth has tables on women giving birth, by the “wantedness” of the child, as well as whether or not the pregnancy was unintended. And they break the data down by age, marital status, religious affiliation, ethnicity, economics, education. They even include scales on how hard the women were trying to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy at the time. Now, I haven’t analyzed every line of those reports, but I think somewhere in there, they’d have gotten pretty close to giving Egan the numbers she wanted. And if not, a phone call to NCHS would probably take care of the rest.

Since Egan’s article is really exclusively on artificial insemination, she could have reported on the numbers of women who seek medical help to become pregnant. Or Egan might have cited the actual number of single, unmarried, childless women who had artificial insemination as of 2002. But she didn't report on any of it -- and it's all available in that same report.

Instead, Egan artfully reports the number of sperm vials a single company sells to single women -- 9,600. She doesn’t want to tell you how many actual women that represents. She more likely hoped that you think to yourself, “That’s just one company, and that there are many more out there,” so that you’ll multiple that number by "x" -- instead of divide it by the 7-to-15 vials it takes to get pregnant for the average woman.

Here's the numbers Egan couldn't find. By the year 2002 - the year of the report Egan cited - approximately 677,000 women (under age 44) had tried artificial insemination procedures at some time in their life. Only about 55,000 were single, not cohabitating, and childless (i.e. the single mother by choice scenario). So less than 1 in 12 of the women trying artificial insemination are Egan's trendsetters. How many of them give birth? In a quick search, I can’t find a hard number of births for just single women by artificial insemination, but we can triangulate our way to a good guess. In a January 2006, A-1, Times article, "Are You My Sperm Donor," Amy Harmon reported that there were about 40,000 annual births from sperm and egg donation, for both married and unmarrieds. We don't have just the sperm number. (That's a funny sentence to write.) 1/12th of 40,000, minus the egg donors ... we're talking in the range of two or three thousand.

Under three thousand births to single mothers by choice through artificial insemination .... That’s compared to 2.3 million single women that same year who had become pregnant by accident.

2. Most of the women profiled were educated and wealthy, but Egan didn’t sufficiently acknowledge that -- or even the costs of the procedures.

Egan failed to report that of the women who had artificial insemination, the vast majority were white. By "majority," I don't mean 51%, either. Oh no. Look at these numbers: For every one black woman undergoing artificial insemination, there are about two Hispanic women doing so, and a whopping 37 white women trying it. In other words, white women make up over 90% of the women trying AI.

Those numbers are easily available, too - but I'm sure Egan didn't want to quote them.

Not only that -- the reason that Egan’s interviewees seemed to come from privileged or at least well-off economic backgrounds is because those are the only women doing this. Per that same report on fertility, the women trying AI report far higher levels of education, and far higher incomes. They're twice as likely to have a college degree (than an average woman), and twice as likely to have an income "greater than 300 percent of the poverty level," which is the highest bracket the Census records.

It’s true that, in terms of who she profiled, that is who the article is about. But Egan doesn't admit that’s the only group of women she could really profile. Conversely, she just says that “everyone agrees” that the number of women who do this is growing. (Now, if Egan had done an article about that -- “Educated White Woman With Trust Fund Seeks Father for Her Kids” now that’s an article I’d have found pretty fascinating. And I would want to know why that is -- as a matter of fact, I still wonder why these women haven’t found anyone. All I know is most of them seem to serially choose to be in relationships with men who don’t want kids, and, rather than lose the losers, the women head for sperm banks.)

Egan never reports what a single woman has actually spent on the total process to become pregnant -- not even what a single artificial insemination procedure costs. The closest she comes is telling us about the cost of sperm and the fact that one woman exceeds her insurance coverage. (I’m surprised any of it’s covered under insurance at all.) Egan never reports on the costs of preliminary tests, the doctor’s appointments or procedures.

The closest she really gets to saying just how much money this costs is saying that it’s “untold thousands of dollars.” An unfortunate choice of words on her part. Because it is no one’s fault but Egan’s herself that the fact remains untold.

3. Egan minimally reports on some women and children’s efforts to find the donors -- but doesn’t report on the efforts by donors to preclude that from happening.

While Egan mentions the efforts some mothers and kids are putting into finding their donors or their genetic half-siblings, she fails to even mention the efforts the donors and the sperm banks are using to prevent this from happening. Her Times colleague, Harmon, did a much better job at exploring this issue in her January piece. In that piece, Harmon addresses the public health, legal, ethical and psychological issues of identifying donors-- for not just the donors, but the birth parents and the children.

4. What if the donors are lying?

Egan mentions that donors’ sperm is held for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases -- but she fails to address the problems identified by Harmon, and a psychiatrist I discussed the issue with: donors may lie. Never once does Egan or any interviewee ever question the veracity of these purportedly amazing donors’ biographies. She says it’s as easy as buying shoes -- just compare the bios on the internet. But Egan herself has written about how much people lie in things like on-line dating -- when they know they are going to get caught. So for her to never even address this as an area of possible concern is fairly amazing. And the truth is that some donors do lie about their backgrounds: they are doing it for the money. So are the sperm banks: they have a financial incentive to make the men as attractive as possible, with absolutely no way to check up on any of this. And yes, there are the widely reported handful of horrible cases of doctors using their own sperm.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Petrified Forest – Why I Have Kids (When I Always Said I Wouldn’t)

From Po:

I promised this post last week, so I apologize it’s taken this long to arrive.

Today, many of us face the choice of whether to have children.

The question I want to pose is, “Can you use a rational process to make a decision about a mystical journey?”

Part 1. – High School Philosophy Class

A boy spends most of his childhood and teens unable to listen to reason. Around the age of seventeen, he suddenly matures to a point that not only can he listen to reason, he can use his mind to reason logically all on his own. It’s a thrill akin to a race car. He suddenly wants to apply reason everywhere, and see how much he can figure out, or how much damage he can cause. Anything that defies logic is called out and ridiculed.

In my twelfth-grade philosophy class, twice a week the socratic dialogue ground to a halt. Inevitably, one of us boys demanded to understand how one of the girls could believe in God. If she would just admit that it was a matter of faith, we wouldn’t have had a problem. But when the existence of God was portrayed as a logical conclusion, then we wanted to pick apart the evidence on which such a conclusion was made. Was it the occurrence of miracles? Was it diversity of our planet’s species? Please, tell us, we begged – luring the girls into our new race car.

I made a girl named Drea Cable nearly cry once, and I felt terrible afterwards. That was the last time I tried to apply a logical/pragmatic/reasoning schematic to what is entirely a mystical phenomenon. Just because I couldn’t prove that God existed, I wasn’t going to deny the existence of a God.

Part 2 – Falling in Love

In most decisions we make, there is a point at which we jump from Reason to Faith, from Plan to Hope. It’s the moment at which we turn off the “choice” part of it, and we accept fate.

This is true in love. We try to pick our partners smartly. We look for partners who share our hobbies, who touch us the way we like to be touched, who bring something into our life we have missed. We look for someone we can help and be helped by. We look for someone who pays their bills and understands commitment. All of that analysis takes about 3 seconds. Then we start saying things like, “This is the one, I’ve got a feeling.” Or, “We just have a connection that I can’t explain.” Falling in love goes from pragmatic to mystical in the blink of an eye.

And we accept this. In our society, women talk endlessly about what they’d like in a man. And men think about what they’d like in a woman (without much talking about it). But when faced with an actual choice – a real live human being – that schematic is tossed. We go with our gut and hope it works out.

Part 3 – Do You Want Kids Someday?

When it comes to choosing to have children, we also apply a pragmatic schematic. We tend to overintellectualize. As I wrote in Chapter 2 of WDILTP, “The evidence is tabulated. Every account is weighed – every account of sleep-deprivation, diminished sex life, a promotion passed over, and social events missed. The Petrified Forest sits like a jury, considering the facts, making their calculations, collecting more evidence. In our society today, parenthood is on trial.”

I certainly put parenthood on trial. I kept my own personal list of Pro’s & Con’s. The decision weighed on me heavily.

I had some significant Cons on my list.
1. As the child of divorce, I was all-too-aware of how hard it can be on a child if the marriage doesn’t work out.
2. The financial responsibility terrified me, since my writing income fluctuated wildly year to year.

When I did the math, the Pros never quite seemed to surmount the Cons.

My life was going pretty good, and I just didn’t want to risk screwing it up.

One day I recognized that being so logical and smart about this decision was perhaps inappropriate, and not the way to make this decision at all. I was only willing to “move ahead” if I could be sure that the Cons weren’t going to ruin it. That was an impossible test. I was trying to control the outcome. With a child, you can no more control the outcome than you can use a logical proof to demonstrate the existence of a God.

The real question was, “Am I willing to cede control, and let nature take its course?”

Part 4 – Psychological Factors

My exaggerated fears of divorce and financial crisis came directly from the financial crises my parents had after their divorce.

For a long time, I proudly embraced those fears. They had made me wiser. I considered them part of my basic nature. I wasn’t going to deny my nature.

But then, I got this notion that there had once been a little boy version of me. Did he not have a nature, before his parents split up and had such money problems? If so, what was his nature?

By the time I had this thought, I was almost 35 years old. My parents were long past their money problems. They had stopped fighting each other years ago. Why was I letting that one period of my past (years 11-18) determine the entire outcome of my life?

Part 5 – Observations

Most people who say “I’m too selfish” are actually demonstrating the exact kind of cognitive self-awareness it takes to raise a child. The people who are really too selfish to be good parents never look at themselves so clearly. In other words, the mere act of saying “I’m too selfish” proves you aren’t.

If this ever departs the world of abstraction, and you are presented with a real live child, then I fully suspect you'll go with your gut and hope it works out.

Everyone assured me that if I ever had children, I was going to love my kids dearly. Nobody mentioned how freely my kids would love me back.

The choice to have a child is deeply personal, and nobody should intrude or proscribe.

A Few Good Sperm – Thumbs Up from Me

From Po:

This post regards Jennifer Egan’s cover story for last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine on single women who are having babies with donor sperm.

Ashley and I both knew this story was coming out, and we had our fears about it. When we finally got to read it, Ashley’s take was, “Worse than I feared.” My take was the opposite, “Better than I hoped.”

Egan tells the stories of two women, and along the way invokes some anecdotes from another half dozen women. Egan doesn’t judge these women, but she tells their stories fairly, showing us just who they are – for good and bad – and lets us do the judging. I think that’s good journalism.

I came to this article with a checklist of probable/possible falsehoods, having done some research into it myself.

1. Does Egan pretend it’s easy to get pregnant by sperm donor?

2. Does Egan pretend more women are doing it than actually are?

3. Does Egan perpetuate the false stereotype that single women are all alone (many single women have steady boyfriends, or are cohabitating with a man)?

4. Does Egan hide the fact that the women who do this are somewhat-wealthy – that it’s an option, but only for women with a good income?

5. Does Egan ignore the possibility that some of these women are single because they’re too picky, too prone to idealization, or drawn to losers?

6. In setting up the “thrilling logic” of avoiding the ex-husband problem, does Egan fail to indicate that having an ex-husband to share raising the child with – difficult as that is – might be easier than having nobody to help at all?

Quickly, let’s go down my checklist:

1. Easy pregnancy: Both main subjects are still not pregnant by the end of the article, and don’t seem any closer to getting pregnant. The journey looks hard, and it looks costly.

2. Overhyped Trend: Just by nature of it being a cover story in the Times mag, we’re going to falsely conclude that this is a big trend. But you can’t fault Egan for her story getting the cover. In the text of the article, she says its “thousands” of women who do this each year – which it is. (Trendwise, that’s miniscule). Egan dangerously hints that it might be tens of thousands, but she gives us clues to do the math. I wish she had done the math outright, but I feared worse on this point.

3. Single doesn’t mean alone: Both main subjects are actively looking for boyfriends and still willing to marry. Other women mentioned have boyfriends.

4. Province of the Yuppie: It’s clear throughout the article (with one exception late in the piece) that this is the province of the well-paid few – the kind of women who buy Manolo Blahniks and can throw down ten grand cash for sperm.

5. Do they make poor choices in men: During the months the article chronicles, we are exposed to just enough details about one woman’s dating life to draw whatever conclusions we want to draw about the way she picks men. Egan hints at the possibilities quite delicately.

6. Thrilling logic: Egan does come back later in the article to state the usefulness of having help in raising a child – even the kind of help an ex-husband can offer.

Throughout the article, these women make some darn annoying statements. They shop for sperm with the kind of dismissiveness they shop for shoes, they compare babies to dogs based on sheer pseudo-science, and they seem utterly ignorant of the challenges resident to the years ahead. The line that made me wince was when one subject disses a sperm donor because his parents were “pretty boring professionally.” Yikes! To me, this was the article’s greatest strength – it revealed who these women are, and what they’re like. It let us judge. I know Ashley smirked in disgust at those quotes, and she was supposed to: these women were just caught talking out of the sides of their mouth at one point, and Egan nailed them. People say smart things, and they say noble things, and they say stupid things. Egan chose to include some of the stupid things that were said. In so doing, she was bringing some balance and fairness to the portraits.

So these women don’t sound so wise, and they don’t sound beautifully noble. So what? They’re willing to try raising a child, as a single mother – I think that’s a hero’s journey no matter who you are. And I have complete confidence that the wisdom and nobility will come later; it’ll be taught to them, by the grace of raising the child. If they sound selfish today, they won’t be selfish five years from now. Their child will have taught them selflessness.

One line sounds truly damning, at first glance. It’s so juicy it was selected as a big pull-quote by the editors. “My feelings about what I want from men right now are really changed. I don’t actually want a big relationship. Now I want occasional companionship and sex.” I suppose, if you haven’t been around single women raising children, that line sounds atrocious. But hold your judgment. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s realistic. Divorced women with children commonly adopt this philosophy. They feel they can’t afford to bring a man into the lives of their children – its too risky if it doesn’t work out. But they don’t want to be celibate for 18 years either.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"Wanted: A Few Good Sperm" Needs More than A Little Common Sense

From Ash:

The cover story of yesterday's New York Times' Sunday Magazine is an article, "Wanted: A Few Good Sperm," written by Jennifer Egan. The piece profiles single women who are choosing to give up on finding the right guy, but are instead opting for the right sperm donor -- i.e., they're becoming pregnant via sperm banks and artificial insemination. I was outraged by the article and an On Point radio interview of the author. I couldn't stop ranting about it -- until Po asked why this was upsetting me so much. An entirely reasonable question.

I'm not making any moral judgments here against single mothers. I don't object to single mothers who become pregnant via sperm banks. But do I object to the way this story was told.

If Egan's to believed, being a "single mother by choice" is socially-accepted, morally-acceptable, and technologically-successful. It’s the new thing to do.

I disagree. It's still rare. It's still controversial. And it's very expensive. And most importantly of all -- getting pregnant is the easy part of single motherhood. A scant few paragraphs of the very long article touched on the challenge of raising the child alone. By limiting her focus to the pregnancy narrative, Egan presented an idealized, glamorized view of single parenting -- a view that ignores the fact that a child's life is at stake. It was irresponsible, and it just can't go unchallenged.

By choosing to tell the stories of wealthy women, Egan made the process of having a child seem much easier than it is (and by making it seem easy, she encouraged women to try it). The first woman she introduces us to is an executive who compares herself to Sex in the City's Carrie Bradshaw. Later, we meet an heiress with a graduate degree. These are women who can afford nannies. Most of us can’t afford day care – we beg our mothers and neighbors to watch the kids while we’re at work.

Meanwhile, Egan does not include a single opposing voice in the entire article. Not a family member who's upset, a sociologist who is questioning, a minister who says it's a sin, a bio-ethicist who's worried about the biological and moral implications, not even a boyfriend who's pissed that his girlfriend wants to have a stranger's kid and not his. Not one person ever says, "This is a bad idea."

Egan blithely says the social stigma of unwed motherhood is largely gone, and offers no real support for this statement. Did she ask anyone in the Bible Belt how they felt about this? Does she know that single parents stay out of churches because they fear being shamed if they go inside?

If the social stigma is gone, then why did no source for the article let Ms. Egan use their real name?

This was the paragraph that angered me the most:

"Discussion of single motherhood nearly always leads to talk of divorce. More than a third of American marriages end that way; often there are children involved, and often the mothers end up caring for those children mostly on their own, saddled with ex-spouses, custody wrangles and nagging in-laws. Considered this way, single motherhood would seem to have a clean, almost thrilling logic — more than a third of the time, these women will have circumvented a lot of pain and unpleasantness and cut straight to being mothers on their own." (emphasis added)

Egan fails to recognize that the women she’s interviewing - educated women in their 30s and 40s - have a lower likelihood of divorce, and that couples with children are also less likely to divorce. So the justification of "you may as well start as a single parent because there's a one-in-three chance you'll end up as one" is a disingenuous non sequitur.

Egan and the mothers she profiles seem largely unconcerned about anything post-pregnancy. The first woman profiled is an executive, who works extra hours to have the baby, and lives in a Murphy-bed single room. Egan never asks, "So where's the baby going to sleep?" or "You took on a promotion to have the baby -- but what are you going to do when the baby's born?" (Those questions must have been asked during the interview, and the absence of answers in the piece is suspicious.)

Another of Egan's subjects feels free to have meaningless sex now that she's going to rely on a sperm bank. Another, who already has a young child, has a long-term relationship that she knows is doomed -- but she doesn't seem concerned that her son might be hurt when the couple ultimately separate.

Still another one of Egan's mothers is choosing her donor based on his weight, because "If I have a girl, she wants to be skinny, and if she can eat what she wants, that's perfect. You don't have to get in fights about food." And she wants the child to have "a darker skin color so I don't have to slather sunblock on my kid all the time. . . . mixed dogs are always the nicest and the friendliest and the healthiest? If you get a clear race, they have all the problems. Mutts are always the friendly ones, the intelligent ones, the ones who don't bark and have a good character. I want a mutt."

That bears repeating. The New York Times is holding as representative of a new wave of motherhood a woman doesn't want to "deal with the father," and who is trying to genetically engineer her baby so that she will have less arguments with the child over food, she won't have to waste time with the child's suntan lotion, and so that the kid will be friendly and not bark much.

If she's representative of a growing trend, it's a Huxleyian nightmare that I hope no one will applaud.

Speaking of Huxley, I was chilled by the ways in which some mothers chose the donors, then began forming "families" with other children born of the same sperm donor. But wasn't the whole idea of this that the fathers weren't necessary -- so why is genetic make-up enough for these women to search for their children's siblings? Still others are happy not to have the burden of a partner, agreeing not to know who the donors were -- but they have already decided they'd find the donors later on, always intending on them to involved with their children anyway. It's a shotgun wedding a la Brave New World.

These women feel free to have meaningless relationships, because they removed the reason to have a meaningful relationship for themselves -- ignoring the fact the children might also benefit from such a relationship. They don't want to wait. They don't want to "deal with the father" . . . until they decide they want to. They don't want to deal with other relatives. These women aren't willing to put up with the most minor of inconveniences to have kids. They can't even deal with sunblock.

News flash: kids are inconvenient. If frequent applications of sunscreen are the worst of your concerns, you are either incredibly lucky or neglecting your child.

In other words, I see little difference from these women and the teenagers who have children because they want to feel important. They're both equally immature, with the same irresponsible reasons to have children. And Egan never calls them on that.

Of course, ultimately, it's how the kids turn out that's really important. And again, Egan doesn't attempt to address the issue. Instead, she admits that little is really known about how they'll fare, but she then optimistically refers us to an unnamed study saying that, so far, they turn out better than children of divorce. That's not a legitimate basis for comparison: children of divorce often do terribly, in large part because of the trauma of the divorce. Show me a longitudinal study of these children compared to those raised in couples, that is controlled for parental education and economy, and then we'll have something to talk about.

I don't think experts can make or break a piece, but if she can't find an expert, then you'd expect that she'd include the reaction of adult children of these women. But there isn't any at all.

Again, when you leave that out of the story -- especially one as long as that piece -- that to me, seems like advocacy.

Now, as I said, I don't have anything against someone being a single mother. They're braver than I am. And I know that single mothers can and do a fantastic job with their kids. But to assert that single motherhood has a "thrilling logic" because it avoids "nagging in-laws," while never addressing the other issues that come with single parenting, is asinine.

And I really worry that there are women out there who are going hear of this report, think it's a growing trend, and look to the examples of these women. They'll consider going to the sperm bank because it's now apparently a viable option.

If you're headed to the sperm bank to be a single mother, bravo. But don't do it without knowing the true plight of single mothers in our country:

1. Half of the unmarried women who gave birth last year are in poverty.

2. Their kids are disadvantaged in terms of psychological functioning, behavioral problems, education, and health. They're significantly more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed and are more likely to have a child before the age of 20.

That Egan's article completely ignored this is why I'm so mad. Younger women will read her article and think, "Hey, this is doable -- look at the internet support groups ready to help me -- no one will criticize me -- and it's easy -- Egan says it's no harder to buy sperm than it is to buy shoes."

My heart breaks for what lies ahead for those women. And I'm really worried for the children.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Myth of Childless by Choice - One Response from a Reader

From Po:

I just got this comment in, provoked by our thread on the Petrified Forest and the myths of Childless by Choice. I thought it was worth upgrading to a post of its own. It's authored by Julie McGreer:

"My situation is much like you describe: over-educated, married late, infertile due to my "advanced age" at 41 years.

"All along I'd been making choices, but never realizing the full array of consequences.

"That's the deal, though. We don't understand all of the consequences of our choices, and therefore, end up with some pieces of our lives that aren't part of the grand design we envisioned for ourselves.

"I wonder sometimes if these huge aspects of our lives (whether we have children, who/if we marry, whether we choose to be a doctor or lawyer or stay at home parent) involve much choice at all. . . but a whole course in philosophy is compounded into that question, and is much too much for this short space. Let me say, however, that we aren't the only ones who have dealt with such fickle twists of fate. Perhaps the spin we put on our our angst is different, however, in this time, in this place.

"My Grandmother was adopted by her aunt because her biological mother, Sally, died of the flu and my Grandmother's biological "Papa", Lawrence, GAVE UP THE CHILDREN (his daughter and son) because it was improper for a man to raise children alone. Bottom line is, it was probably just too hard for a man to work on dusty fields from sunrise to sunset and somehow care for two small children simultaneously. So he gave them up, writing occasional postcards to his children, signing them "Love, Papa." How hard was that? My destiny feels pretty cushy, compared! What did all of the players think of this then? Probably thought of it in terms of "old time religion", but the feelings must have been the same.

"The majority of my professional life has been spent in the field of human services, and I am also an avid observer of people in my spare time. I've come to conclude that every life has it's challenge. Being childless is one of mine. This challenge slaps me hard against the cheek nearly every day: when my friends complain about the difficulties of raising children, when I see pregnant women abusing concaine, when I hear of a teen mother who believes her life is wrecked by the intrusion of the baby in her womb.

"This may not have been my choice, but it is my life. Ultimately, I believe the quality of my life will be the same, with or without children. It's a big lesson in paying attention to what has been given, instead of focussing on the one missing piece.

"When I am able to do this, I realize how very lucky I am."

Thanks, Julie.

Friday, March 17, 2006

If a Tree Falls in a Petrified Forest ...

From Ash:

Three parts to this post.

Part 1.

In a previous post, I mentioned that in the research on work-family balance, the vast majority of people think they're at least somewhat successful at it.

That's completely bewildering to me. I'm already terrible at the work-life balance -- and it's just me I'm responsible for. I don't have a family on the other side. Perhaps that makes it easier for me to have that balance out of whack (i.e. nonexistent) -- because I don't have kids calling me at work asking when I'm coming home. Maybe they'd force me to realize that I don't actually have to stay in the office until 10:30 pm for the fifth night in a row.

But I’m staying late at work to pay bills. And those bills won’t go down with kids. They'll go up. If anything, I'd have to find more demanding, higher paid work than I have now, just to make ends meet, let alone provide a child a comfortable living. I'm profoundly overwhelmed by the schedule and demands put upon me now. And you expect me to do more? And -- someone's whole being -- his psychological development, his physical growth -- his very life is at stake?

Po's friend meant the Petrified Forest appellation as an insult, but I don't take it that way. In fact, I'd say, "Hell, yeah!" How could you not expect me to be petrified at the thought? There's that old saw about "If you're not scared, you just don't understand the situation," and I think that applies here.

Part 2.

Let me tell you a story.

I was raised to want more. More opportunities, more success, more wealth, more responsibility. More, not less. And nothing along the way changed that. When I was unemployed for a while after college, my mother didn't say "Get a man." She said, "Get a job." When I finally got the job and was on my way, everyone (myself included) asked, "So when's the promotion?" Not "So when's the wedding?"

A few years later, I'd found myself in Washington D.C. working at the White House during the day, and attending Georgetown Law School at night. That Christmas, I invited my family to visit me in D.C. I promised to show them a great time if they got there. They did, and I did. I introduced them to V.I.P.s. -- the men and women literally running the world. Private tour of the West Wing and Oval Office. You name it, we did it.

My tour included a stop at my Law School. Midway through, my bored grandmother interrupts me with, "But all I want to know is when you're going to get pregnant. I've given up on you getting married -- but do you think you could shack up with someone for a while and give me a great-grandchild? I'm not going to live forever, you know."

I stuttered, and managed a quip about how she'd have to live for many more years, until I was out of school and in a good job. But I was devastated. Here I was thinking I was finally accomplishing something with my life, so proud that I could share it with my family. And now, suddenly, after 28 years of pushing me to really do something, it turned out that they couldn't have been less proud, even less interested in what I had done. Gramma didn't give a rat's ass about law school or the White House or getting to see President Clinton go Christmas shopping. All she wanted was to see me with a baby. And my parents seemed to agree with her.

When my grandmother died a few years later, that day was all I could think about. I'd never given her that great-grandchild. In her living memory, I would always be a huge disappointment.

Part 3.

I'm kicking myself because I didn't save the clip. But a while back, members of the Japanese government were debating what to do about their dangerously low birth rate. After the experts explained how women have less children when they are educated, and the more education, the less children they have, one member of Parliament basically asked, "Well, then why don't we just stop educating the women?"

You can imagine the castigating he got for that one. Of course he apologized and took it back. I mean, in practice, it's got to be right up there with "Let them eat cake" for realistic answers to a problem. But I actually give him some credit for having the stupidity to say out loud what everyone else was thinking. Because, for a brief moment, at least the guy saw the problem and admitted that there's a cruel, troublesome myth of new expectations being put upon women.

And some, like me, didn't know that. We bought into it all. Not only that, we were told that the heroines of Women's Lib had made sacrifices for us all -- and we had to do the most with those new opportunities that they gave for us.

But according to my grandmother, every day, I drive to work and take my life further in the wrong direction. Having kids now -- not that I could -- not that I would -- but that would mean admitting she was right and I was wrong and all this has been a waste.

Petrified? Damn right I am.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Boy Around Sisters

From Po:

Back on March 3rd, my post mentioned that the research on New Dads showed that a man today was less likely to be in the mold of these New Dads if he grew up with sisters. I theorized his sisters might be first to get roped into housework and caring of siblings.

My friend and fellow Grotto-dweller Victor Martinez was reading the blog, and sent along this delicious poem, which made me both laugh and cry. I just had to share it with you.

Victor, by the way, won the National Book Award in 1996 for his novel "Parrot In The Oven: Mi Vida." His book of poetry was "Caring For A House." This poem, Sisters, was first published a couple years ago in a lit mag called Oxygen.

Victor was raised between six sisters; three on one side, three on the other. "They pretty much spoiled me rotten," he said.


My sisters hate me for the shrine
our mother built around my laziness,
the kneeling altar they were forced to care for
and embellish with flowers.

Now they’re tired of my whining embrace, and want
nothing more than to fix my head
between the tumblers of their breasts and
squeeze me like the ripened pimple they say I am.

My sisters mouth a zero
for the faith they have in me. One scolds me,
and with a deadly look of milk, says, “You deserve
the earth to bury you
inside the same grave you’ve tried
to reduce me to.” Another claims there’s
never been any truth to my kingly words,
other than what a crown of shit, attracts.

Don’t mess with us now, brother, say my loving... loving
sisters. We will fly into you on the wings
of our knitting needles, unstitch you
in every seam. Lift one finger to have us
attend you, and we will scorch you back
to the dampened bed
of our mother’s small spittoon.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Petrified Forest - A Geopolitical Perspective?

From Ash:

Yesterday, USA Today ran a piece by Phillip Longman, "The Liberal Baby Bust", which was adapted from his similarly themed piece, "The Return of Patriarchy", in the current issue of Foreign Policy. Personally, I think the Foreign Policy piece is the more persuasive of the two. But both have some intriguing points worth mentioning -- particularly in light of our discussion on childlessness.

In the "Liberal Baby Bust," Longman argues that American and European progressives and secularists have either no children or significantly less children than their religious and conservative counterparts. Longman writes:

"In the USA, for example, 47% of people who attend church weekly say their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, 27% of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.

"In Utah, where more than two-thirds of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 92 children are born each year for every 1,000 women, the highest fertility rate in the nation. By contrast Vermont — the first to embrace gay unions — has the nation's lowest rate, producing 51 children per 1,000 women."

Later in the piece, he continues, "This dynamic helps explain the gradual drift of American culture toward religious fundamentalism and social conservatism. Among states that voted for President Bush in 2004, the average fertility rate is more than 11% higher than the rate of states for Sen. John Kerry."

Through facts like these, Longham argues that progressives and secularists have a value-system that they cannot pass onto the next generation because there literally isn't a next generation to pass those values onto. Conservatives and religious, on the other hand, have another generation inculcated with its views, and that generation becomes proportionately larger -- and therefore its views become proportionately increasingly dominant.

Longham's case has a lot of intuitive appeal, but it isn't perfect. First, he deals with religiosity and political conservatism as if they were the same thing -- which they aren't. Second, he attributes birth rate to religion and political views, but doesn't address the impact of other influences -- education, ethnicity, immigration, economic status, etc. I think he'd have a stronger argument if he'd addressed those issues.

But this got me thinking. I compared the maps of age at first marriage, married couple households, unmarried couples, in the Census working paper, "Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the U.S. . . ." the Census thematic maps of educational attainment and family size, and the CNN 2004 Election Results Map. And wow -- all but one of them were almost identical: framed the red-blue states amazingly consistently. Compared to the "red states," "blue states" all have higher ages at first marriage, higher college-educated populations, more unmarried couples and fewer married couples. Each one of those factors, independently, has consistently been found to lower the number of children a woman has. (For example, the longer a woman stays in school, the later she begins to have children, and the fewer she has.) Which supports Longham's thesis.

The only one that really didn't seem to gel was the one that would seem to really prove Longham's point the most: the family size map.

If Longham's right, then I would think that the "red states" should have consistently, significantly, bigger families -- but they didn't. Which makes me think of another key fact that Longham didn't address -- the fact that it's only (largely immigrant) Hispanic women who are keeping the U.S.'s fertility rate at the "replacement rate" of 2.1 -- and, at least, traditionally, we would consider them to be religious conservatives but political liberals.

All of which makes me think that religion and progressivism alone are worthy topics to address, but we also need to take those other factors into account. Perhaps Longham can in a follow-up, which I'd love to read.

Because of those questions, I think Longham's Foreign Policy piece is more persuasive. In that, he takes a broader historical view of how one political view can trump another by sheer size alone. From ancient Greeks to today, the idea is basically that if there are more of you, you win. Once you've won, by sheer numerical dominance, you fundamentally change the society. And, along the way, we can expect the numerically smaller groups to have less and less influence.

Which makes for some really intriguing thinking when we consider the fundamentally changing demographics of the world -- that the Western industrialized nations that have populations that are simultaneously shrinking in birth rate and aging, while the developing world's population is both growing and much younger.

I don't think either article is going to necessarily change anyone's decisions about having children. As Po has said, more articulately than I shall even attempt, having children is a personal decision based on factors and facts only that person can know. But I do think that Longham's pieces do lend further support to the fact that there are larger societal factors at work -- that childlessness may be less a "choice" but an outgrowth of time and place.

(Oh, by the way, if you can get to it, there's an equally intriguing Foreign Policy article on how the Chinese one-child policy is resulting in a societal crisis: the population has become so disproportionately male that there are millions of men who will never marry -- that the culture is now almost institutionalizing brothels as the only opportunity for them to have sex -- that there are so few women that there's apparently a boom in kidnapping them to force them into marriage.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Petrified Forest - Myths of "Childless by Choice"

From Po:

We throw around this phrase, "You can't choose your family."

I disagree.

Maybe you can't choose the family you come from, but let's be honest - we do choose whether to live in the same state as our family, and how often to see them, and whether to call them once a day, once a week, or once a year.

And when it comes to forming your own family, we increasingly exercise choice. We choose whether to marry, we choose who to marry, we choose which friends to be part of our local family. We choose whether to bring our elderly into our homes or keep them in their own homes. Women have economic rights and legal rights are aren't forced by law to remain in bad marriages. Young adults can get jobs and move away from their family. Choice is everywhere. Not every aspect of family life is a choice, by any means. But more of it is regarded as a choice, today, than any time in history.

In the 21st century, we are free to remain sole, unattached individuals if we so choose. You can have your career and friends and find myriad ways to help people in need and have a life rich in a sense of "connectedness" - without any of it being family. In the 21st century, if you're going to have a family - be it the family you come from or the family you form - you have to choose to be together.

One of the ways we exercise conscious choice is when to have children, and whether to have children. Of all our choices, it's the least irreversible and carries the most responsibility. It's one of the weightiest decisions we face.

But because of this notion - that having a child can be a matter of choice - throughout our society there is a misconception that anyone without a child must have consciously chosen to do so.

For decades now, the media has been misreporting this phenomenon, and further entrenching the misconception. We agree that more women are remaining childless, for longer - but we disagree that for all these women it's an actual "free" choice.

  • Pinned down by financial limitations, unable to afford the life she'd want for a child, a woman might "decide" not to have a baby - but that's not her first choice.
  • Married to a workaholic with a temper, a woman might opt not to have a baby for fear her husband will never be around - but that's not her first choice.
  • In a career that punishes a woman for leaving the field for any significant length of time, a woman might decide not to jeopardize her career - but that's not her first choice.
  • Unable to find a suitable partner, a woman might consider having a baby all by herself, then decide, ultimately, not to - but that's not her first choice.
  • Having bought the media hype that she can wait until 40 to bear children, a woman might discover that medical science's magic isn't living up to that promise.
  • Having fought breast cancer or ovarian cancer for years, a woman might decide not to put her body through the incredible risk of carrying and birthing a baby - but that's not her first choice.
  • A healthy, strong, 40-year old woman might have a uterus that can't carry a child, because her mother took Thalidomide as a sleeping aide in 1964.
  • A woman who tutors kids every single night at a church in a low-income neighborhood might "choose" not to have her own child, because she's already got children in her life that she loves.
  • A woman who spent her teens and young adulthood raising her younger siblings after their parents died might decide she's already given plenty to children, and needs the rest of her life for her own growth.

Unfortunately, when the media covers this trend, they don't trot out examples like these. They begin with an anecdote about a successful, wealthy professional woman who is married. She could afford a child, and she could carry a child, and she is not scarred by her past in any significant way. She's choosing to not have children, and she espouses the joys of non-motherhood - a career still on track, an uninterrupted sex life, and an active social life.

Then a statistic is thrown out - such as this one, and it's a doozy:

  • In 1976, 10.2 % of women age 40-44 had no children.
  • In 2004, 19.3% of women age 40-44 have no children.

Percentage-wise, it's doubled.

We, the reader, are left to conclude that all those modern women must be like the woman in the opening anecdote - choosing freely not to have children.

When in fact that conclusion is completely unfair, and doesn't recognize the stressors and limits upon women. (And men, too).

It's harder and harder to get in a position where having children is a free choice. First, you have to educate yourself, go to college, take out loans. Then, you have to get your career started, and get it going strong enough that you can leave it for a year or more. Somewhere in there you're supposed to find a partner. You might also have devoted several years to working hard to buy a home. Then, you have to be lucky enough not have an illness or be scarred the way you were raised. And be in a city without terrible schools.

If you've managed to do all that, and still be under-40ish, then you face the choice.

In my next post, I'd like to explore one particular subset of these scenarios - the borderline cases. What if you're just unsure about having kids? What if you feel scarred and confused by the way you were raised, to the point you've grown up with very mixed feelings about the whole endeavor of being a parent? I heard this so many times, and I felt it myself. I call it a subset, but maybe it's a huge subset.

If that's your scenario, how do you work through the decision of whether to take on this huge responsibility of parenting? How do you tell whether your fears are legitimate deal-breakers, or they're just regular fears that need to be worked through and overcome?

Where Do We Get This Stuff?

From Ash:

Just in case you're ever wondering where we get the statistics and other research we mention in the blog, no, we're not making this stuff up. The original source material -- and much more -- can be found in the related pages in our Factbook, which we really hope you're looking at as well. In our mind, they really go together.

If you have a particular question, please feel free to email us ( and we'll be happy to tell you about what we've found.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Are Young Adults Today Failing to Grow Up?

From Ash:

In yesterday's post, I talked about how I'm not convinced that there's a growing trend in the U.S. of "boomerangs" -- adults moving back home. But I did say that there is evidence of a transformation in just what we think it means to become an adult, and that's what I want to talk about today.

These are, by the way, two separate issues -- and part of the problem with most of the articles I took to task yesterday is that they blurred the issues together -- again, probably due to the fact that that's exactly how Viacom pitched the subject to the media -- Failure to Launch was tied into boomerangs so that they could also sell their boomerang-themed book.

But actually, the movie's characters didn't move back home -- they'd never left to begin with.

And that's touching on a much more fascinating topic that is well-worth exploring: the transformation of adulthood.

Unfortunately, just as the articles about boomerangs err on the side of exaggeration, most articles covering this topic have attention-grabbing headlines like "Young People Today Take Longer To Grow Up!" and are written to make it seem as though younger people are basically immature -- that they are either incapable of becoming mature adults -- or that they are simply refusing to, pretending they are still adolescents. Those articles -- designed to make the baby boomer reading audience feel superior, but not meant to shed some light what is really going on -- are easy to spot. They use disparaging terms like "failed adults" and ask questions like "Why Won't They Grow Up?"

Sociologist Frank Furstenberg and others have identified that there has been a significant decline in the number of young(ish) people who have fulfilled the "traditional benchmarks" of adulthood in the past 40 years. These are the traditional benchmarks we're talking about here:
  • leaving home,
  • finishing school,
  • getting married,
  • having a child,
  • and being financially independent.
It's true in 2000, only 31 percent of men age 30 had done all of those things, whereas in 1960, 65 percent of men had completed that list.

But that's where most media both start and stop (if they've even gotten that far), when it should be just a starting point for their reporting.

Because Furstenberg didn't stop with the decline in fulfilling traditional benchmarks. Instead, his team also found that if we apply a standard of modern benchmarks -- which are defined as: leaving home, finishing school, and being financially independent, and does not include getting married or having children -- then the vast majority of young adults had in fact fulfilled those benchmarks.

But either way, benchmarks can be misleading as a way to judge people. For instance, a woman who dropped out of high school at 17, got pregnant at 18 and was kicked out of her parent's house for it, and now lives alone on welfare - she is, by those benchmarks, fully grown up.

Meanwhile, according to the traditional benchmarks, the following individuals have also failed to complete the process of growing up:

  • Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (hasn't gotten married, has no children)
  • Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton (has no children)
  • Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter (only married to his work, has no children)
  • Congressman and former Presidential Candidate David Kucinich (who didn't get until married after having run for President, and is still childless)
  • Former First Lady Barbara Bush (never held a job, dropped out of college, always dependent on family's wealth)
  • Former head of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan (no children, and uh, he's like almost 100)
  • Academy-Award winner George Clooney (hasn't gotten married, has no children -- George -- call me.)
  • Billionaire media tycoon Oprah Winfrey (still hasn't married Steadman, has no children)
Now that I hope we have permanently ended any debate on if traditional benchmarks are the only way to determine adulthood, let's talk about what is really going on.

What we expect from "adults" is fundamentally changing.

We are grown-ups. We just don't have the vocabulary and new symbols we need to prove our case. So we may still feel like we're kids, and fear that, at this rate, we may never grow up.

As Furstenberg and his colleagues explained, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was marriage, children and the ability to support a family that made a boy into a real man. For men, education wasn't really an issue. So men finished their schooling, got a job, got married, and had kids in that order. Which means that men have always completed their benchmarks at ages older than the women have. The day of their "launch" into adulthood was the day they finished school, whenever that was.

For women at that time, marriage and children were synonomous with adulthood. They moved straight into their new husband's home when they got married and they never actually achieved true financial independence. Instead, they just ended their dependence on their parents by becoming dependent on their husbands instead. And thus they fulfilled 4 of the 5 traditional benchmarks of adulthood with a single "I do."

An adult at that time had finished school -- but he wasn't necessarily educated. In 1948, two-thirds of American parents were under 30 years old, and had no education beyond grade school -- little more than an eighth grade education.

In 1960, less than 8 percent of Americans over the age of 25 had a 4-year college degree. By comparison, in 2000, over 25 percent of Americans over 25 had at least a 4-year degree, if not even more than that. Indeed, the population of under-25 year olds in college has increased five-fold since 1955 -- from just under 2 million to over 10 million. But perhaps even more significant is that the percentage of Americans aged 20, 25, and 30 enrolled in school from 1960 to 2000 has also doubled.

So in 1960, most men and women had "finished school" early -- checked off that benchmark -- but they weren't in any way what we'd consider "educated." And experts like Furstenberg now believe that a 4-year college degree isn't just something a select few should aspire to, but basically a prerequisite for just being able to cut it in the middle class.

Another thing to consider is that from the 1960s to 1989, men and women were getting married -- really the defining event in adulthood -- at an aberrationally early age. They were getting married at an age younger than couples got married in 1890! They were so young that, in 1961, the U.S. had both the highest marriage rate and the lowest age at first marriage of the entire industrialized world. Sociologists at the time were worried about it (rightly so, as it turns out -- which is why the divorce rate started skyrocketing a few years down the road.).

The other thing to consider is that, in decades past, there was a clear series of events that defined you as an adult. Schooling, job, marriage, kids, in that order. But now, we fulfill each of those benchmarks separately, and in no particular order.

No longer can a woman automatically become an adult just with a single throwing of the bouquet. Kids leave home at the age of 18 when they go to college, but they may still not have jobs and they're still living on Mom and Dad's dime. (And we don't consider that a bad thing -- instead, most think it's a blessing to be able to afford to do that.) In fact, schooling continues for so long, that many have jobs, get married, and / or have children before finishing their educations. Couples get married but never have children, while still others have children without getting married.

We've also changed what we count as having fulfilled those benchmarks. Just as our definition of finishing school has really become "be an educated person," "getting a job" now means getting a good job. We may not count the McJob as a fast-food server or entry-level gofer as enough to make us a grown-up.

And for women, we really mean financial independence now -- switching from Dad's credit card to your husband's doesn't cut it any more. Even for stay-at-home moms, we still feel like they should be able to work and pay the bills, even if they aren't doing it right now.

The problem is that we still think of adulthood as a series of defined events. And we hurl the labels of the events around. But we don't admit that they mean completely different things than they did 40 years ago. May not even apply today.

Say, for example, a 35-year old working, married mom is an adult. No doubt of that, right? But what if she gets laid off from her job, is forced to be financially dependent on a family member (be it a spouse or parent), and, when she can't find a new job with her experience, she goes to grad school? Is she no longer an adult? That's completely crazy. But it would seem to be true, under both the traditional and modern standards.

The fact of the matter is that we have a new understanding of what makes a grown-up in practice, on an individual level. But we've failed to come up with a new vocabulary for it; we can't quite figure out particular, universal tasks that define adulthood. Rites of passage (graduations, marriage) that used to define phases of life -- now just mark shifts in personal responsibility. For me, the fact that I was legally able to rent a car on my own when I turned 25 made me feel more like a grown-up than when I got my first real job. My best friend just got married at the age of 37. When he told me he was getting engaged, I said, "Wow, congratulations." But it wasn't until a couple months later when he told me that he was trying to buy a house, that I said, "Holy Shit -- you're a grown-up!"

Every newspaper article that broaches the subject of a transforming adulthood, invariably trots out the 35 year old whose mother still does his laundry. (As does the lead character in Failure to Launch.) But that doesn't make him someone who refuses to grow up. That makes him spoiled and selfish -- no matter how young or old he was. The news reports make these people seem babied, when they are really just pampered.

The media reports completely ignore that most of the benchmarks are defined by class and culture. I can't go into the cultural difference in this post, which is long enough, but we have to recognize that Americans expect middle and lower class kids to go out on their own, and as early as possible.

But different rules apply for the rich; we don't expect Paris or Nicky Hilton to give up all the family money and move out of the hotels and houses. We're perfectly happy that the Kennedys all get together at the family compound in Massachusetts and the Bushes have a lovely one in Maine. And their kids aren't failed adults, even if they've never had a job or done anything on their own. If they do accomplish anything on their own, we're surprised and congratulate them. And if rich parents actually force their kids out the door, it's both lauded and controversial. (One of the fathers Po writes about in his book did just that -- and because of it, the guy's now featured in newspapers and having glowing editorials written about him.) And if they don't, we still plaster their kids' pictures on tabloids.

We don't say a millionaire heiress with a personal maid hasn't grown up. We just say she's rich, spoiled, and luckier than we are.

But a middle class 30 year-old has a mom who still picks up after him? He's a "failed adult."

Of course, his mother, who is grateful for his contribution to her mortgage -- one she might not be able to make on her own -- probably would not agree with that assessment.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Failure to Launch -- or Failure to Respect the Facts?

From Ash:

While I have to send a hearty congratulations to Viacom, Paramount, and Simon & Schuster for the release of the new Paramount film, Failure to Launch (which AP just announced had rocketed to the top of the box office chart in its opening weekend), I have to shake my head in both awe and disappointment about one aspect of the film's release.

One of Viacom's strategies in promoting the film was in announcing that it was representative of a growing social trend of U.S. adults, aged 18-40+ who either never leave the family home -- or are "boomerangs" -- they move back to live with their parents after being out on their own for a while. To that end, on February 28, 2006, Viacom generously sent out a joint-entity press release for the film and Boomerang Nation, a year-old book published by one of its own subsidiaries, contact information for Elina Furman, the book's author (who, they helpfully noted, was available for interviews), and a single U.S. Census statistic supporting their argument.

By my count to date, at least seven major metropolitan newspapers took the bait. In addition to reviews and/or other articles directly relating to the film, in the past two weeks since Viacom sent out that press release, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Herald, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Indianapolis Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hartford Courant and Philadelphia Daily News all have run articles about adults not leaving the family home and/or "boomerangs." Ms. Furman has also recently appeared on The Today Show and Geraldo. (Oh, and articles about boomerangs are also appearing across Canada and the U.K. as well.)

Of these, every piece mentions the film, and five did interview Ms. Furman or mentioned her book. (The most shocking of which being The Today Show and Boston Herald, both of whom had Ms. Furman comment on the accuracy of the film as if she's an independent expert -- who, not surprisingly says that the film is accurate -- and utterly fail to acknowledge that Viacom is literally sending her out as a flack for the film. But then, none of the other articles mentioning her explain it's a cross-promotion, either.)

If there's any doubt that the editors looked no further than the press release when assigning the article -- just over half of them mentioned that there's also a similarly themed Fox television show premiering this week.

All of which amounts to what I'd consider a spectacular home run for Viacom . . . and a spectacular failure for journalism.

Not only did the news outlets take the bait -- and double-up on the time they devoted to the Failure to Launch topic, not only did they highlight a year old book -- but they also reported on a trend which, after a year of researching, I can honestly say I do not think exists.

In case you missed that -- the boomerang trend doesn't exist.

Now you may be thinking, "But, wait a minute. I've been seeing reports about this new trend for a couple years already -- so how can you say that it doesn't exist?"

You are absolutely correct: you have indeed seen a spate of articles covering this. From books to talk shows -- even a cover story in Time Magazine. But you're trapped in a media echo chamber.

There is an fascinating transformation in how we as Americans become "adults" -- and that is taking longer. And I'll go into just how and what is going on in my next post.

But boomeranging? It's:

a) not new, and

b) not a trend.

In fact, the very idea of it being a new trend is false. I've found articles worrying about adults moving back home for more than two decades. Even the term "boomeranger" has been around for about 20 years -- an entire lifetime for one of the so-called "new boomerangers." Put that another way -- reporters have been writing about these darned boomerang kids since before these darned boomerang kids were born.

In the San Francisco Chronicle piece, C.W. Nevius -- who is usually a great reporter but who missed this one -- does include what is an absolutely priceless quote from Claude Fischer, a professor at U.C. Berkeley, that should be plastered up on the wall of every newsroom in the U.S.:

"A social trend is whatever is happening to a newspaper editor and the editors' friends.''

I couldn't agree more, Professor! Unfortunately, the sociologist's warning didn't stop Nevius.

First, as "proof" of the Boomerang phenomenon, the main fact relied upon by Nevius -- and several of the reporters -- are the Census numbers for men and women still living with their parents at the age of 18-24.

In 2003, Nevius and the others solemnly report, 55 percent of 18-24 year old males and 46 percent of females were living with their parents.

And I'll be the first one to admit that does look really high.

But it doesn't support the claim that there's a new boomerang trend.

Because the percentages for 18-24 year old men living at home in 2003 are not higher than in recent times. They're lower.

In fact, the highest percentages of men living at home were more than 20 years ago – in 1984! – when 62 percent of them lived at home. And 54 percent of men that age lived with their parents in 1970 and 1980.

So in the last 30 years, the percentage of young males living with their parents has risen a whopping 1 percent!

And there were actually a few less men in the next age bracket (25-34) living at home in 2003 than there were in 1983.

If that's a significant, upward trend, it's the strangest one I know of. And hardly what I'd call newsworthy.

Now there's a more significant increase for 18-24 year old women "living at home" -- but that's not surprising. Women traditionally have left home younger than the men, because they get married younger. But now, more women are putting off marriage and going to college.

And did I mention? 2003 wasn't the highest year for 18-24 year old women living at home, either: 1999 was the highest year. That's more recent, but still, long enough ago that none of the women who were in that age group then, are still in it today.

I'm actually surprised the increase hasn't been much greater. Because the Census counts people who live in college housing as still living at home. In 2000, of the 13.2 million who were 18-24 and scandalously were "still living at home" -- over 2 million of them (14 percent) were actually living in their college dorms.

So we should expect the numbers of adult children at home to be significantly higher than it was in earlier decades (and continue to grow), because more people are going to college – and living in dorms or staying home while they do it. (A fact entirely overlooked by all the articles. And which is hardly what I'd call a "failure to launch.")

But instead, the growth doesn't seem as exponential as the growth in college attendance has been -- which indicates that it is the economy which is really the chief force that drives you home.

Similarly, Nevius writes, "Among those age 25 to 30, the figures were 13.5 percent and 7 percent, respectively." Once again, the highest percentages for both sexes were actually ten years ago -- 1996, when 16 percent of men 25-34 and 9.0 percent of women 25-34 were living at home. And it's generally been going down since then – though there was with a bump up from 2001-2002 with the change in the Post-September 11 economy and environment.

If I am going to call this many publications onto the carpet, I better be very clear, so that there's no mistake. To recap: what really looks like it is happening is that staying with the folks or moving home is cyclical -- when the economy gets tight, jobs are scarce and housing costs are enormous, people move back home. There was a noticable increase in the percentage of young(ish) adults living at home. Definitely. And it lasted for quite a few years.

But the percentages have leveled off in the past couple years and returned to those almost identical to those decades ago. It's not a new straight steep line on a chart. It's a good old-fashioned bell-curve -- and a pretty low curve at that.

And we're not even on the high point of the curve. We're just in a high point of media interest about it.

Of course, a headline like "People leave home as they find jobs and the economy improves" isn't exactly breaking news.

And all of which I guess explains why Failure to Launch is #1 at the box office, and why I'm not working in the Viacom PR department, why Ms. Furman is on Today and I'm not.

Tomorrow -- the real changes in young adult lives.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Petrified Forest - An Explanation

From Po:

The second chapter of "Why Do I Love These People?" is called "The Trial," which refers to the way parenthood has been put on trial by modern society. We don't just have kids automatically anymore. We think about it first. We debate its merits. We wait until we're ready, if ever. We fear the sacrifice that parenting requires.

I certainly came to parenting this way. I used to tell everyone, "I'm never having kids." Then I'd go into waffle-mode for a few years, saying "I don't know if I want to have kids." I had a real reluctance there.

So I was interested in stories of other people who, like me, used to say they never wanted children, but became a parent anyway. That led me to Rosa Gonzalez, whose story I tell in the chapter. Rosa is an incredible mother, but her first child was an accident, and growing up she never wanted children.

I'm going to quote from the book: "Now, there are cities full of professional women and men who wholeheartedly echo this feeling. They go around saying things like 'I’m too selfish to be a mother,' and 'I’m not a baby person,' or my favorite, 'I love my life too much to do that to it.' A friend of mine calls them The Petrified Forest – people who would freeze their life in time if they could. “Manhattan’s turning into a Petrified Forest,” my friend mocked. I winced when she said this, because I used to be one of them."

That passage has angered some readers. Specifically, the phrase "The Petrified Forest."

I didn't use this term without a lot of careful thought. In that passage I'm clearly applying the phrase to men and women who go around saying:
  • 'I’m too selfish to be a mother'
  • 'I’m not a baby person'
  • 'I love my life too much to do that to it'
In other words, I apply the phrase to people who have specifically chosen never to have kids because they're unaccustomed to making sacrifices.

I don't think the passage suggests that "Petrified Forest" refers to all single women who don't have kids. Because you can be 45 and not-a-parent for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you never met the right person to raise a kid with. Maybe you can't afford the financial responsibility. Maybe your work just doesn't make it realistic. Maybe you can't conceive, or can't carry a fetus to term. Maybe you have an illness. Maybe you were terribly mistreated by your parents, or by a previous boyfriend or husband, and just being alive is enough. Maybe you don't want kids, but it has nothing to do with being selfish or unable to make sacrifices.

I've had two emails from readers who imagine I'm grouping all of those together and calling them "The Petrified Forest" - and that I'm suggesting they've ALL not had kids because they're too selfish.

If that's what I meant, they'd have every reason to be furious.

One woman who emailed me had stopped reading the book and was so mad she wanted her money back. She was in her 40s, and she just hadn't met the right guy. She had considered having a baby by herself, but only considered it. She wanted to meet the right guy and have children, life just hadn't unfolded that way. I couldn't understand why she thought that what I wrote referred to her. She wanted children, and she was prepared to sacrifice if she met the right guy. I thought I was talking about people who didn't want to make any sacrifices.

When we emailed back and forth, she soon realized I wasn't lumping all childless women into the "too selfish" category. But it left me wondering why my words had been mistaken in the first place. I eventually came to this realization: these single women in their 30s, 40s and 50s are so often maligned, so often lectured "you ought to be home having babies." They hear this from their mother, or a friend, or in some media tidbit. The criticism never seems to respect the trials they've dealt with: not finding the right guy, financial concerns, abuse history, fertility concerns. They're accused of being "childless by choice," when it really hasn't been a choice.

And so when I come along and criticize men and women who are afraid of making sacrifices, it's understandable that some of these women hear the same old political battle cry, "you ought to be home having babies."

Do I tell readers of this chapter that we all ought to be having children? A few readers who posted to Amazon have taken it that way, but I state very clearly my philosophy later in the chapter: "The decision to be a parent is a personal one. Nobody should intrude on that process of discernment. But it is a mistake to assume that the decision can be reckoned with tools of analysis – with a scorecard – when it is fundamentally a mystical experience."

And the book heralds the stories of many individuals who don't have children, such as Jen Louie and Brian Olowude and Andrew Ervin Bennett. I must have interviewed a hundred people who didn't have children.

You can read the whole chapter in question right here. To me, it's not just a story about reluctant parenting. It's about how we can choose our family these days, but just because we've chosen this family doesn't mean we can escape the inevitability of having to make sacrifices. Learning the virtue of an occasional sacrifice is necessary to keeping a family together. Seeing the beauty in an occasional sacrifice is what the story teaches.

I completely understand that my words are being misheard on account of stupid, spiteful, damaging remarks that are constantly shelled upon single women of a certain age.

So I'd like to run a few posts over the next couple days about this topic - the myths around "childless by choice," and the unfair ways that single women of a certain age are characterized in the media. I'd also like to be able to talk honestly about how people I interviewed have managed this life passage - whether they ended up with children in the end or not, and whether that was a choice or something out of their hands.

By the way, "Single Women of a Certain Age" - I hope nobody takes offense at that phrase. It's the title of my dear friend Jane Ganahl's anthology. It's a great book, and many of my friends were contributors.

Guess the 5 States

From Po:

This is one of my all-time favorite statistics that came out of our research on The Factbook, and I'm going to use it to wind my way into what Ashley just posted about.

Okay, there are 5 states where fully one-third of all same sex couples in that state are raising a child in their home.

Guess which states?

I asked this in bookstores, and the audience guesses were: "California? Massachusetts? Vermont? New York?"

Nope. There are more gays and lesbians (proportionately) in those states, but they don't raise children as much.

Okay, this shocked me the first time I read it. The 5 states are ...

Mississippi ... Louisiana ... South Carolina ... South Dakota ... and Alaska.

The reddest of the red states!

In those 5 states, fully a third of gay and lesbian couples are raising a child.

How is that possible? Well, it comes right out of what Ashley was posting about. 95% of children with a gay or lesbian parent aren't adopted or fostered. A vast majority of those 95% were born into a heterosexual couple, and sometime later Mom or Dad finally came out of the closet. Usually (not always) a divorce is involved. Often Mom or Dad didn't come out of the closet until after the divorce. Or years later.

So in those 5 red states, people tend to marry younger and have kids early (and get less education - the three always go hand in hand). Many gays and lesbians don't figure out or admit their sexual orientation (even to themselves) until their 20s or 30s - and later. By then, in those 5 states, they're likely to already be married and raising kids.

I interviewed a woman in Louisiana in just this situation. A realtor by trade, she married young and had a girl and a boy three years apart. Her husband became a bit of a scumbag, and they divorced. Her ex-husband fled the state to avoid paying the child support he owed. He rarely showed up to see his children. A single-mother in her 30s, she finally began to admit her sexual orientation to herself. She started seeing another woman, on the side, but didn't come out to any of her adult family for another two years. She still has not come out to her children - now in high school. And she's terrified to do so. Because her kids are soaking up this message in our society that "gays and lesbians shouldn't be parents." She fights that bias, but the kids will often side with their peers just to fit in. She's terrified of the ridicule her kids might receive if she tells them the truth. She's going to wait until they get to college.

You might wonder, "hey, that's a pretty good story. Why isn't it in your book?" Well, it's because she is still in the closet, at least to her kids. I kept thinking, "she'll tell them, and I can write her story." I'm still waiting.

I am still waiting on a lot of stories just like it. During my interview phase for the book, I was contacted frequently by men who were both gay and an immigrant to the US or UK. Because they came from countries with cultures where there is still a great deal of shame in being gay, they felt they could never come out to their families. Their parents were "too traditional." They already had the confusion of being an immigrant to deal with - they weren't prepared to add "gay" to their troubles. With a few of these men, I followed up and continued interviewing them for two or three years. I figured, "any day now, he's going to call, and finally have told his sister, and she'll have told the parents, and it'll all be in the open." Then I could write his story. And I'm still waiting. On every one of those leads.

Same Sex Couples -- "Brokeback Marriages" Are Indeed A Part of Modern Life

From Ash:

Brokeback Mountain didn't win Best Picture on Monday, but that hasn't stopped an article in Tuesday's New York Times from being one of the currently most emailed articles of its website.

The article addresses the prevalence of what it calls "Brokeback marriages" -- those with straight women married to homosexual men. In it, it references a 1990 University of Chicago report that found somewhere between 1.7 million to 3.4 million American women have been married to a man who was gay or used to be gay before their marriage.

Thank goodness someone else in the media is starting to talking about this.

According to a 2000 report in Demography, analysis of the 1990 U.S. Census found that 28.7 of the women who identified themselves as lesbian had been previously married. Another 1.2 percent said that they were lesbian and were still married at the time of the survey. 17.2 percent of the men who identified themselves as gay in the 1990 U.S. Census had been previously married, while another 1.3 percent said that they were gay and still married at the time of the survey.

Analysis of two other preeminent U.S. surveys – the National Health and Social Life Survey and the General Social Survey – showed the number was even higher: 46 percent of lesbians and 30 percent of gay men were either married or previously married. (And those numbers may actually be low, because they required the respondents to openly admit their sexuality -- and you have to think that at least some couples fill out the surveys together -- and if they've lived in a closeted relationship this long, are probably not going to come out over a blind response survey.)

It isn't just that gays and lesbians have been married -- but they've also had children within their relationships.

There are an estimated 3 to 5 million children in the U.S. with parents who had a previous, ongoing heterosexual relationship but are now gay.

The numbers are difficult to say with any real certainty, but some experts estimate that only about five percent of the 250,000 U.S. children (12,500) being raised by same-sex parents were adopted. For the other 95 percent -- 237,500 children -- most of them are the biological children of one of the parents.

Recognizing this has huge implications for the debate on same-sex parenting and same-sex adoption. Because in those debates, the "gay couple" prototype that we imagine we're talking about is two dads in Florida who want to adopt a baby from China, or two moms in Ohio who are buying sperm from a sperm bank. But that scenario (in our mind's eye) is only 5 percent of who will be affected. The prototype we should hold in our mind is the Other 95 Percent - kids who might be in junior high, with parents who were once married, and now one of those parents is gay or lesbian.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Coming Attractions - Blog Topics in the Near Future

1. Some incredible misconceptions about same-sex families are going unchallenged in the media.

2. My controversial use of the phrase "The Petrified Forest" - to describe people who are afraid to have children. There's been some objection to this.

3. Optimist or Pessimist? Which one should you be, when it comes to:
* the education the average person will get
* the state of the family
* book publishing

Do Men Change Diapers - SUMMARY POST

We began this thread with the conundrum: how come every Dad I know is a New Dad, but nevertheless the statistics on father-participation have barely budged in 20 years?

It's great how the values have changed. Men everywhere seem to be doing more for their families. We gave credit to the moms who raised us. We gave some credit to the wave of divorce that broke up families 30 years ago, but gave the children of that divorce exposure to moms working and dads doing dishes. We don't give credit to sisters - apparently sisters made you less likely to be a New Dad (I'm teasing here). We learned even in Shanghai, men are intent on being New Dads.

Yet we also recognized that values haven't changed. The #1 Father's Day present is still a necktie. The indelible symbol of white collar work. Men go to jobs, that's what they do. And while some men stay home, it's still a puny fraction.

It turns out our kids are getting the message, though. When asked why their dads should be Father of the Year, not many said "because he has a job." They were twice as likely to say it "because Daddy cooks." And the #1 reason, by far, was "because Daddy loves me."

Do Men Change Diapers? - One of the original Mr. Moms

From Po:

During my research, I interviewed one of the original Mr. Moms. (I’m going to withhold his name and other identifying details – for reasons that will be clear later). His experience was harsher than most stay-at-home Dads today. He was a trailblazer, and I think it helps us remember how much has changed for the better in the last twenty years.

Like most arrangements, it began as a convenience, nineteen years ago. His wife was pregnant, but she had a fast-track job with Apple Computer. He had just published a book, and so it seemed easier if he stayed home with the baby for awhile. Back in 1987, not many men would have even considered this option. So why’d he?

Well, because he had been married before, and it had been a by-the-book traditional marriage. He worked at a bank, wore a suit, et cetera (this was back in Minnesota). His wife raised their two children. They’d married young. At the age of 27, he had a major existential crisis. He began to wonder, “Is this all there is?” If all he had to look forward to was an occasional promotion … The script he was following had little drama or suspense. In their divorce proceedings, he did not get joint custody, only “reasonable visitation.” His ex-wife didn’t know why he wanted any custody at all – what did he know about raising kids?

So when he married again, five years later, he was open to doing it different. He didn’t want to follow society’s script. That was partly why he married a woman with a good career. And that was how he ended up taking care of their two boys – now 18 and 16.

It wasn’t supposed to be permanent. That one book he’d written was supposed to turn into a whole series of books, and he expected to be running seminars and producing events. He wrongly anticipated that he could keep his career in the air despite being the caregiver. He had a vision that it’d be “like taking care of a puppy. Feed it, play with it, let it go back to sleep.” He was proved wrong, but he stepped up to the challenge, and put his boys first. It was hard, though.

Back then, when he asked to hang around the preschool and watch his son, he was told it was against the rules for a man to be around the school.

He thought he wasn’t wired for being a full-time parent. He said men focus on the goals, while women are comfortable with the process. Once in a great while, a man can note a milestone, “great, my kid just learned potty training.” But those milestones are few and far between. So he took parenting classes. He asked his wife to take the classes too. She didn’t.

He figured by the time his sons were in middle school, he could go back to his career. But his older son suffered from ADHD and was sent to a special ed school after he became violent one day at the regular public school. Our Mister Mom worked with him endlessly that summer, taking him to a Buddhist camp, then an Outward Bound camp, then a trip to Vancouver. The next year, he was admitted back into the main public school, and has been getting nothing but A and B grades since.

Later, Mister Mom volunteered at his sons’ schools, running after school classes teaching students to do art in the style of various modernists. The moms asked him to be President of the PTA. They said nobody wanted to do it, because the meetings lasted four hours. He agreed to be President, but on the condition he could run the meeting properly – following Robert’s Rules of Order, with motions, debates, and votes. It worked, but he heard endless complaints.

He felt like the Mom’s Club always shunned him. One mom got cancer, and every mom was there for her, bringing over meals for her kids – and our Mr. Mom was there too with his meals. But when he had a heart attack a year later, nobody helped him out with his family. He couldn’t use his leg for a long time. They sent flowers, but nobody thought “his kids are missing their caretaker.”

His biggest issue with his wife is that she spoils the boys when he’s trying to establish rules. She never follows his lead.

A year into our interviews, he wrote to tell me his wife was divorcing him. This was hard to take for him, but at least he figured that he would take the traditional mother role in this – his wife would move out, while he stayed in the house with the boys. However, she pressed for the house and custody of the boys. This is being litigated, so I don’t want to reveal anything more.

I was never really sure what to learn from his experience, what to take away. His was a lonely journey.

I guess I include it because I can imagine men might be able to read this and think, “Boy, he wasn’t treated fairly.” And I just hope that the next time you hear of a stay-at-home mom who's husband divorces her after she spent 18 years raising his kids, we have just as much compassion for her. Because a guy being put in this situation is a rare thing, while women every day are put in this situation, and we barely notice – since it’s not a new story. We've heard it before, we tune out.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Do Men in China Change Diapers?

From Po:

Some funny news out of Shanghai.

The Shanghai-based Youth Daily polled white collar men aged 28 to 32, asking if they’d be willing to be stay-at-home husbands – provided their wife was willing and able to be the bread-winner. They asked this question in four cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and the results in all of the cities was pretty high, but in Shanghai a whopping 73% of these young men said “yes.”

A couple things about Shanghai. First, it’s got a rollicking business climate right now, to the point everyone I know in Hong Kong says “the real action’s in Shanghai.” So I think of Shanghai as a place to go and fast-track your career. It’s not a place you think of going because you want a balanced life. So that 73% of men here said they’re willing to be a house husband is shocking.

Most are probably frustrated with their jobs. And keep in mind that men in Shanghai already have a somewhat metrosexual reputation.

Nevertheless, it suggested how drastically values have changed in China. Or have they?

It was funny to watch the inevitable backlash. Several columnists weighed in, ridiculing Shanghai men, and then on the message boards, people took up this question – “would you consider your husband staying home?” Some of the men seemed open to it, but most of the women were totally unsupportive and said they’d never consider marrying a man who wanted to stay home. They couldn’t bear the idea. They wouldn’t accept “that kind of lifestyle.”

In other words, these men wanted to be New Dads, and everyone else in China laughed at them.

Last note: always keep in mind –73% of men said they’d be willing, but that didn’t mean any one of them was actually about to quit and do it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Do Men Change Diapers? - Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? Apparently Not.

From Ash:

Crucial to this notion of "Honey Dads" is the gap between What Men Think and What They Actually Do. (I.e., they often think they're doing more than they actually are).

There are two studies I'm thinking about that really underscore the difference between perception and reality.

In one study (which I briefly referred to in a previous blog but it's worth considering further), sociologists around the world asked husbands how much housework they did and how much their wives did. Then they asked their wives the same questions. Almost without exception, around the world, the husbands thought they did significantly more housework than their wives thought their husbands did. Now, both of them were probably at least somewhat inaccurate, but it was striking that not only was there a consistent difference between the spouses' views, it was usually quite significant.

But the study that has really caught my attention is one I heard about last night.

That study was examining what sociologists call "distance regulation." In this context, we're not talking about physical distance, but emotional distance -- how family members are able to be emotionally intimate, but also how they are able to function independently. So, for example, it's testing if you're comfortable telling an embarrassing secret or crying in front of your kids, compared to your ability to trust your daughter to decide on a new boyfriend without demanding to give him the Third Degree.

If parents fail to strike the proper balance between emotional intimacy and allowing their children to be independent, particularly for adolescents, their children may suffer from a range of psychological disorders -- from alcoholism to eating disorders to depression -- and participate in more at-risk behaviors.

And so far, it's the fathers' distance regulation that seems to be the more important of the two parents: to the point that if the fathers are better at it, juvenile crime rates are supposed to go down.

Now, here's where this all gets scary. Just as the husbands had a very different view of their participation in housework, they apparently have a very different view of . . . well, the rest of what's going on the family.

In a study of distance regulation, fathers (who were actively involved with their families), mothers and their teenage children were all asked to describe what was going on in their family. The mothers and teenagers basically said the same things -- they essentially agreed on what was going on within their family.

Dads, however, had a completely different take on the family. Just how different were the dads' takes on how things were? Well, statistically, if the moms and teen daughters were on Venus, the dads weren't on Mars. They were in the next solar system.

Literally, the statistical models analyzing the families' comments came back with the finding that the fathers' views of their families were so different, so completely irreconcilable with the comments made by their wives and children, that the men shouldn't actually be the fathers of those families. Instead, they must have been someone else's dads and husbands.

It's like one of those Marie Claire articles. There are three columns -- moms, dads and kids. You're supposed to read each one's quotes and figure out who belongs in each family by matching the quotes. The moms and kids, you figure out with ease -- sure, they have different opinions on things, but you can tell they are at least talking about the same subject. But none of the fathers' quotes match the wives' quotes or the kids's. And it isn't that fathers disagree about the same thing (like the moms and kids do). No, they are not even talking about the same issues. And the only possible explanation is that (with apologies to MC) the magazine editors put the wrong fathers' quotes in the article.

So fathers' ability to maintain a balance between emotional intimacy and independence are the key to their children's development . . . but fathers have a completely different perspective than everyone else in the family as to what the issues and needs of the family are (and if you add the housework study I mentioned, how much they contribute to the family as well).

And what is the most troubling of this is that the fathers participating in this study were supposed to be those who were actively involved in their families -- presumably the "New Dads" we keep talking about.

You'd think that actively involved fathers should be more on the ball as to what's going on in the family -- more in tune with the concerns of their wives and children. But they weren't. Which means either: they are involved, but not in what is really important (they may do the carpool but not the family's emotional inner life); and/or they are somehow completely immune or just plain ignorant as to the family's concerns and feelings.

And -- if all that wasn't bad enough -- if that's what we can expect from the involved fathers, then we probably can expect even worse results from fathers who aren't involved.

(Although it's sort of hard to imagine worse results than being told you know so little about your son that, statistically, you can't be his father, which just goes back to maybe the involvement of "New Dads" is just a fiction, because it's just on such a superficial level.).

My head is spinning.

If you want more details, check out the report here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

When Men Stay Home, Why are they there?

From Po:

When you’re talking about stay-at-home Dads, it’s important to distinguish between the long-term ones and the temporary ones. Most lifers started out as temporary – the arrangement just stuck. But usually it doesn’t stick for more than a couple years.

In 2004, the Census reported there were 147,000 stay-at-home Dads, which is more than double the 1995 figure of 64,000. This counted as a major trendline, and there were tons of news stories about this new alternative. Men choosing to care for their kids! What a story! However, a little perspective is needed. Consider this: for every 1 stay-at-home father, there were 56 stay-at-home moms. In other words, men had ridden this surge, and were now doing 1.7% of the stay-at-home duty. We might have broken the 2% barrier by now. Boy, 2 percent! Stop the presses!

Extremely rare was the news story that bothered to mention this. So we the people got the impression that men were suddenly pulling their weight … when we were really just pulling 2 percent of the weight.

Meanwhile, there were actually a ton of guys staying home that same year. In fact, nearly 1 million married men stayed home that year. Of those, only 16% were staying home to watch the kids. 45% were staying home because they were ill. In other words, a man was three times more likely to stay home that year because he was ill than because he was taking care of the kids. 11% stayed home because they couldn’t find a job.

So I think it’s great we men feel that staying home is an option, even short-term. I just think it’s misleading to get all the ink, when women still do 98% of the work.

Lots of studies have been done on stay-at-home Dads. They fill out a lot of questionnaires. Asked why they do it, the #1 response has to do with the fathering they experienced as children (they either didn’t have a father around, or in some cases they had a very nurturing father.) But a close #2 is that their wife had a better job.

In my next post, I’ll discuss one man’s experience as a stay-at-home lifer.

Do Men Change Diapers? - Why Kids Think Dad (and Mom) is Great

From Ash:

Every year, kids write essays on "Why My Daddy (Mommy) Should Be Father (Mother) of the Year." Sociologists studied over 3,000 of such children's essays to see just why children thought their parents should be recognized as extraordinary. It's a great report I really enjoyed reading: the kids's responses were, in turn, enlightening -- they're adorable, heart-melting . . . and a little troubling. Here are a few of the leading responses.
  • "My Daddy Loves Me." 49 percent of kids say that one of the reasons their parents should be "parents of the year" is that their parents love them. A higher percentage of the children actually mentioned "love" when talking about their fathers – but at least some analysis indicates that's because it's, uh, filler. They don't really understand what daddies do, so they say "love," when they can't think of anything any else.
  • "My Daddy Cooks For Me." 27 percent of kids say that parents cooking for them is a reason their parents should be "parents of the year." Dads get credit for a specialty item (he makes me pancakes); Moms are described more generally (she makes me dinner). Cooking is the third most common reason you should give their parents the award – right behind "love" and "nice" – and it's almost two to three times as important as any other specific task the kids mention. So it isn't just a man's heart apparently that can be won through his stomach.
  • "My Daddy Has a Job." Most research finds that fathers believe providing financial support for their children is their most important contribution to raising their children. If you're one of those fathers, here's something you need to know: your kids don't agree with you. 10 percent of the kids said that their parents should win the award because they work. And twice as many kids say that their fathers should get the award based on their work than say moms should get it for working. But twice as many kids think that Daddy should get the award for "cooks for me" than for working hard. The fact that Daddy has a job is also behind the fact that "Daddy plays with me" and "plays sports with me."
  • "My Daddy Spends Time With Me." 11 percent of kids say that one of the reasons their parents should be "parents of the year" is that they have time for their kids. More kids give their fathers credit for this than moms, despite the fact they actually are spending more time with their mothers.
  • "Daddy's Not Like Other Dads." Daddy usually deserves the award because he's exceptional: he's not like other dads, he does things the kid perceives are not required of him. For example, he works more than other dads, or he spends more time with me. And generally, Daddy should get the award because of specific fun things he does with me, not the fact that he's raising me. Moms, on the other hand, are said to be worthy of the Mother of the Year award when they are the prototypical mommy -- she does the things mommies are supposed to do (cooks, cleans, takes care of me).
  • "He Helps My Mom Take Care Of Me." A frequent theme the researchers observed was that dads are worthy of the award because they help Mom with her responsibilities. Examples they offered of this: ". . . he even makes dinner when my mom's at work." "He helps my mom whenever mom is tired, he helps my mom with whatever she didn't get done." "He helps my mom take me to my classes . . . ." "If my mom doesn't want to cook dinner, he will take us out . . . ."
  • "He's Fun." According to the kids, dads should win awards because they are the fun, lenient ones: they'll say yes and do something with the kids when Mom has already said "No." They think dads are winners when they are peers who do fun things together. Mom, on the other hand, is in charge of the children's lives, the one who provides for their needs.

Do Men Change Diapers? – One Mom’s Impact

From Po:

As promised in an earlier post, this is about how my Mom taught us to be New Dads.

My mom went to college in the late 1950s, and she married in 1960. She had three sons in six years. In 1972, my parents divorced. Within ten years, many of the families on our block would divorce. But at the time, we were the first. (One of my mom’s greatest friends had divorced just prior, but they didn’t live in our neighborhood). It was enormously hard on my mom. Her parents criticized her, rather than supported her, and she was shunned by many of the people she considered her friends. She jumped into the workforce, relegated to the kind of administrative work that society considered appropriate for women. Her three rambunctious boys were on the verge of puberty.

Much of that time is lost to confusion. My memories are fragmented and aren’t ordered chronologically. But there is one exception – one clear thread, within the chaos. My mom was concerned with what kind of men we boys would turn into. And whenever she could bring this topic forward, she touched on it.

1. She wanted to be sure we didn’t grow up thinking that cooking was “woman’s work.” So she taught us to cook, from an early age. Once a week, we were supposed to cobble together dinner. I can’t say that I did much more than boil hot dogs and make cinnamon toast until I was twelve, but she had planted just enough of a seed that by high school we were really learning to cook all of the comfort-food basics. My familiarity with food helped me get jobs in restaurants, from seventh grade on.

2. Mom wanted to make sure we learned the language of emotion. She didn’t want us to turn into the Stoic Man, who pretends to hold his feelings in check merely because he doesn’t have the capacity to discern his feelings and articulate them. We were classicly uncommunicative, shoveling through dinner with our heads down. Every night, she’d pry words out of our mouth, make us verbalize our confusions about girls, about school, and about our parents. She made us talk. She didn’t want feelings to be taboo. We were prone to fighting each other, and I’m sure much of her coaching and coaxing was an attempt to get us to use words, not fists. The less we bottled up inside, the less we’d strike out as a way to get heard. I pretended to a reluctance, but I was honestly grateful that she gave us a place where it was safe to put our emotions into words.

My mom retired last year. She worked for thirty years, and she has a part-time job now, which she talks about and enjoys. But I don’t think she would ever say that her job was her life’s work. I think her sons were her life’s work.

When I look back, I was hardly a cook, and I was hardly expressive. But I was maybe just good enough at those things to get over the hump, and to find, as a young adult, that I had some facility in these areas. I wouldn’t be a writer today without those years my mom pushed me to articulate. I’m also a great cook and a serious foodie. I don’t mind cleaning the kitchen every night – I think of it as just part of the art of being an efficient cook.

Confession/clarification: I don’t do half the work around the house. I do a lot, but my wife does most of the grocery shopping and laundry and emptying of the dishwasher. Other than that, it’s close to equal. But I make better eggs, so my wife gets a fancy breakfast every weekend morning. And I rub her feet every night. (While watching Sportscenter.)

Re: Are New Dads more likely to have grown up in divorced families?

From Po:

I’ve been combing the databanks to test my hypothesis that New Dads might be slightly more likely to have grown up in divorced families. I found some other intriguing correlations, as well as some other data that might suggest I’m on track.

First, I found a study that said New Dads are usually married to women who also have a heightened involvement in caregiving. (This was caregiving of both children and elderly). It’s possible that New Dads simply choose to marry very nurturing women. It’s also possible that these men are simply following their wife’s lead and stepping up when prodded, “Oh, Honey …” But because a New Dad is likely to be married to a highly-involved mom, the result is that he’s still not doing half. He’s doing more, but she’s also doing more, so he’s still behind …

The same study also found that if a man grew up with sisters, he is less likely today to be a New Dad (he makes a smaller contribution to caregiving). Brothers had no affect. I speculate that with sisters around, the girls are often first in line to be roped into cleaning and cooking and caring for the youngest siblings. Without sisters around, a boy is more likely to be called on to help mom out. And he’s more likely to be comfortable wearing an apron when he grows up.

Now, this next one is almost right on point:

A study from last September was focused on the sub-category of stay-at-home fathers. Just for reference, there are somewhere between 100,000 to 150,000 stay at home fathers in the United States (the number fluctuates year to year with the economy). This study found that these men became more involved with their children because their own fathers were not involved in their upbringing. In other words, you’re more likely to be the kind of Dad who changes diapers if your own father wasn’t around to help when you were in diapers. You want to be there for your children, because you know what it was like to grow up without a father.

Don’t take that wrong – I’m not saying that unfathered boys turn into better Dads. Across the board, we know the opposite. But within that aggregate, there is a subsection of men who have consciously chosen to learn from their experience and be the kind of Dad they never had.

That was certainly what I heard in my interviews. Men (and women) aspired to be the kind of parent they never had.

Okay, my internal gyroscope is calling out to me, saying “Bring out the bullshit detector.” My hypothesis here is that a husband is more likely to be a New Dad if he came from a divorced home – uh, really? More so than if he had two married parents who were a constant presence? I gotta admit, my hypothesis suddenly sounds fishy … Let me revise, then. Let me excise the “more likely” from my hypothesis – and not speculate on comparable percentages. I’m really just articulating a dynamic: Many of us began our life in homes where labor was divided in the traditional way – father as provider, mother as nurturer. When they divorced, we were suddenly exposed to a gender-blurring in our role models, and we were roped into the housework … and this helped us be New Dads today.

Do Men Change Diapers? - International Cultural Notions of Fatherhood

From Ash:

And lastly, a little from around the world . . . .

In Belgium, despite ongoing publicity campaigns highlighting the "New Man" and the "New Father," Belgian fathers still see their role in the family as the breadwinner – even though less than 25 percent of couples in Belgium actually follow that traditional model. And while Belgian fathers are becoming more emotionally involved and expressive with their children, only a minority are actually take an equal or more share in actually raising the child.

In the Netherlands, young married couples seem to be sharing household responsibilities more or less equally at first, but "[t]he moment they become a family, the equal sharing of tasks comes to an end. . . . The most prevalent pattern is that of a family where the father is working full-time and the mother is working for an extra income that, in most cases, amounts to a half-time job or less."

Of children in Cuba being raised by single mothers, 85 percent of the children's fathers were either completely or partially estranged from the mother and child, according to a 1980s study. 56 percent of the mothers couldn't even tell you where the father of their children lived.

Looking forward to when the kid's 18? Try "never" -- In Iran, fathers are expected to support their children until the end of their lives. Financially, he may at some point stop being the provider, but emotionally, he never does.

In China, the cultural concept of parenting is expressed in axioms such as "strict father, kind mother," and that "men take care of things outside the family, whereas women take care of things inside the family." But the reality is more complicated than that. Chinese fathers are thought of as more disciplinarian than they actually are, while their marriages are becoming increasingly companionate. And Chinese parents actually have a more equal division of household labor than Western couples -- largely due to the universal work policies put in place during the Communist era.

Do Men Change Diapers? - Gender Differences When Work and Family Conflict

From Ash:

62 percent of American married fathers report that they've missed family obligations because of work -- a much higher percentage than that of married mothers (37 percent). And 55.7 percent of married fathers report that work has kept them from doing normal housework (compared to 40 percent of the mothers).

Still there's little difference in the number of fathers and mothers who believe they are successful at balancing family and work. 84.7 percent of American married fathers believe they are at least somewhat successful to completely successful at balancing work and family obligations, compared to 85.7 percent of mothers.

Because of responses like these, researchers have determined that for American fathers, making sacrifices at work due to family obligations negatively affects the way American fathers view their ability to balance work and family, while American mothers are more upset when they have to make sacrifices at home due to work.

In other words, American fathers are more upset when they have to leave work early for a PTA meeting. And the exact opposite is true for mothers: they are more upset that they missed the PTA meeting because they had to work late.

Do Men Change Diapers? - Old Notions Still Trump New Values

From Ash:

I just love these stats:

While 96 percent of Australian fathers surveyed believe that mothers and fathers should have equal responsibility in bringing up their children, about 75 percent think that mothers are better nurturers and are better suited to raising children. And half think that preschool children need their mothers more than their fathers.

Uh, so how does this work, exactly? If moms are better at raising kids, and the kids need moms more than dads, then what, exactly, is the "equal responsibility in child rearing" the parents are supposed to share?

My hunch is that the dads answered that fathers should have an equal share in the responsibility because they felt that was the answer they were supposed to say, whether or not they really believed it, or if it applied in their own lives. It just feels wrong to say, "No, parents shouldn't share in the responsibility of raising their children." But the other questions, which seemed more specific, and didn't seem to have a societally-expected "right answer" got answers that were closer to the men's real feelings and experiences.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Do Men Change Diapers? - Are New Dads more likely to have grown up in Divorced Families?

From Po:

Are New Dads more likely to have grown up in divorced families?

By all means, my mother was the dominant force in teaching me what kind of future-husband to be – her lessons on this were quite explicit (more on this in a later post). But there was a push-pull dynamic. My mom was pushing us to learn to clean house, cook, do laundry, and learn the language of emotion. It helped, I’m sure, that my Dad pulled in the same direction. When I went to his house, I saw him doing the very things my mom was telling me to learn (except perhaps the language of emotion).

From the age of eleven onwards, I spent a fair amount of time living with my father. I remember it being every other weekend, and a full month during the summer. In addition, during the school year, one of us three brothers spent a Wednesday night at Dad's, for one-on-one time. At the end of my freshman year of high school, I moved to my father’s permanently, and stayed there until I left for college.

Before my parents divorced, my father worked and my mother was a homemaker. So after the divorce, I watched my Dad constantly doing what had once been called “woman’s work.” He did the laundry every night, he cooked dinner (usually a piece of meat, a baked potato, and some iceberg lettuce salad – with a can of fruit cocktail on the side). My Dad liked his homes clean, so he was a stickler for picking up clothes, wiping the counters, and mopping the floors twice a week. At times, it felt like I was in the Army – “get on that mop, private!”

I rarely got to see my Dad work at his job, but I constantly got to see him cook and clean.

I haven’t seen any statistics on this, but it does set up the question: is it possible that a father today is more likely to parent in the New Dad mold if he came from a so-called “Broken Home”? This would be an interesting twist on the public shaming that divorced families received during that era. What if, in breaking homes into two, it actually helped give rise to a new type of father two decades later? All gender roles were blurred. We watched our moms work, and today we're comfortable with having working wives. We watched our dads clean and cook, and so we do more around the house as adults. Living under a single-parent (in either home) we were constantly recruited into the housework as a necessity - because every helping hand was needed.

I think back to my guy friends from high school. Those of us today who are most “New Dad” – (including that we married women with careers) – all came from divorced homes. Of those, not all got to see their fathers doing housework, because they did not get to see their father at all if he lived across the country. In that case, their mothers were the sole role model. Either way, because we came from divorced homes, we saw our parents (be it one or two) doing housework, cooking, and providing nurturing when necessary. We certainly did not have fathers who were able to perpetuate old stereotypes about the division of labor in a home.

For sure, New Dads come from every imaginable background. In my interviews, I hear every side of it. The correlation I suggest may not be there. But it has me wondering …

Do Men Change Diapers? - Honey Dads and Bitter Moms

From Ash:

Okay, so here's the thing about Honey Dads. It's not that I think all men are completely uninvolved couch potatoes. And I'm not saying that fathers and husbands aren't working as hard as they can for their families.

But, as painful as the truth is -- Honey Dads have to really take a good hard look at what they are really doing on their own accord, and what their actual contribution is. Because the unfortunate fact is that, survey after survey show that men just aren't doing as much of the domestic work as women are. And what may even be worse than that, husbands think they contribute more than their wives think they contribute. That may sound silly, but the disparity between men and women's contribution in housework and child rearing is a frequent, serious cause of marital unhappiness -- especially for wives.

So if your wife thinks you're a Honey Dad (and statisically, she does!), then you have a problem.

And before you say you're not a Honey Dad -- consider these facts. American women put in additional five hours a week in housework once they are married, while marriage doesn't significantly effect the number of hours a man does.

American women do 70-80 percent of the total domestic work -- regardless their employment status. And such disparity isn't just in the US: in a 16-country survey, only one country (Russia) had men doing the same amount of housework as the women. If they don't work, they do even more. But unemployed men, on the other hand, don't signficantly increase their own domestic work.

When American women become mothers, they spend more time at home, with the kids and doing the work of the household. When American men become fathers, they spend more time at work. They don't increase the time being caregivers, but being the good old fashioned breadwinner at the office.

For every boy aged 12 to 18 in a family, the dad does almost one hour more of housework -- but the mom does three hours more. For every girl that age in the house, Mom does an extra hour of housework -- and Dad doesn't do anything extra at all. Which has to mean that the Mom of all boys is doing three times as much work -- and the Mom of girls must be having her daughters help out -- not the sons, and not the father.

In fact, a recent study determined that women aren't just doing more -- they even spend twice as much time just thinking about what needs to be done than men think about it. Not only that, men seem to overestimate the time that they actually do work.

So Honey Dads have to address this issue. They need to do it to resolve what could be tension in families. We need to address the issue as a society because things will have to change . . . or not. Meaning we all seem to take for granted now that women work before having a family, and many if not most will likely continue to work once they have children.

But recently, sociologists have been thinking that we may have actually hit a saturation point with women in the workforce -- that the amount won't really increase much further -- might even decrease -- because women simply aren't shaking off the women/gender role of domestic goddess.

There's a good, solid article in today's New York Times about this -- that the problem of work/life balance and mother/gender roles in housework, etc. may have flatlined the growth of women in the workforce. (And, for once, I'm positively delighted to note that a reporter talked to all the right people. I'm actually a fan of most of the quoted experts (Bianchi, Madden, Goldin, Blau) so, kudos to its author, Eduardo Porter.)

I'm not saying that I think all women should work, and you can't be fulfilled as a stay-at-home mom. But we need to recognize that it's becoming clearer and clearer that the Mommy Track isn't just an option, but is, instead, a societal and practical requirement.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Do Men Change Diapers? – Myths about the New Fatherhood

From Po:

We’re hearing a lot about “The New Fatherhood” – men who are committed to their wives, who do their full share of housework, and who nurture their children intimately.

Ashley and I are going to explore this phenomenon over the next few posts. It came up in my interview-research frequently, and in our Factbook statistical research constantly.

A few comments to start us off:

1. These New Fathers do exist. I’m one, my brother’s one, my best friend’s one. If you’re reading this, then you’re more likely to be one too. We exist! And we’re a good thing, for families and society.

2. However, we don’t show up in the statistics. In the aggregate, men are not doing very right by their families, on any measure. Be it doing housework, making child support payments, or being monogamous – there’s no indication that a groundswell of New Fathers have budged the numbers. You would think if there were several million New Fathers fully pulling their load, the aggregate numbers would show some improvement. We are left to conclude that there are not as many New Fathers out there as we think.

3. Certainly, a lot of men think of themselves as being in the mold of the New Dad. But that doesn’t mean they actually live up to the billing. Ashley nicknamed them “Honey Dads.” It almost sounds like a compliment. But “the truth is, they're really only doing things at their wives'/mothers' request. She's the one who initiates everything, from telephoning relatives to calendar family activities to remembering that today's recycling day. The more she does, the more he does. So he may be so busy he even really thinks that he's the equal. But what he doesn't realize is that he doesn't really do anything until he hears: the all-important... ‘Oh, Honey, could you ...?’ Without the ‘Oh, honey,’ nothing would really happen, and it's really the wife/mom who's carrying the burden of domestic life. He's really just a spare hand she calls upon.”

4. Statistically, we are closer to some semblance of gender equality than in the past. But we’re still a long way from 50/50. And we didn’t get to this point because men are suddenly doing a lot more housework. Actually, what’s happened is that men no longer expect their wives to do so much housework and cooking. It’s that women are doing less, not men doing more.

We all agree that more New Fathers is a good thing. Even Honey Dads are useful to have around. So we’re going to explore the question, “What factors make a man more likely to be a New Dad?” What shapes a man into being one?

As well, we’re going to ask whether New Dads are really just acting like Old Moms. In assuming the role of nurturer, how do men hang on to their masculinity and swagger? Is manhood being redefined? I’d love your input here. I’m going to draw upon some of my interviews with single fathers and with stay-at-home Dads. The latter are a fascinating phenomenon. During the recession a couple years ago, stay-at-home dads were announced as a major trend. But there was nothing major about it. In addition, most of these dads only stayed home because they were laid-off while their wife was not – it was less a choice than an improvised and short-term solution. This is contrasted to the few stories I collected of true, lifelong/dedicated stay-at-home Dads.

We might bring in the history of father-participation in families (going back 40,000 years), and some cross-cultural views on fatherhood.

Lastly, I’m going to post about my own struggle with how to characterize this issue when writing Why Do I Love These People? I interviewed many New Dads, (because I was looking for them). Meanwhile, in story after story, I heard about fathers who neglected their children, who slept around, who worked too much, who were emotionally unavailable, who hit their children, et cetera. So was I right to assert, in my book’s introduction, that “Men Do Care”? Like many other authors, I called The New Dads a trend, even when I knew the true statistics didn’t back me up. Was that the right call?

Census Ending Important Surveys on Families

Today's Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration is eliminating funding for current Census Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). While the article explains that SIPP reports on families' economic status -- with a particular focus on the poor -- that's actually just a portion of SIPP's research. SIPP reports on everything from how families provide their kids with child care to the rate of marriages and divorces in the U.S. SIPP studies family labor participation; health care coverage; children's living arrangements; housing affordability; families' economic well-being, just to name a few. I use the SIPP reports every day. And I'm appalled to see these end. Particularly since, according to a Census Statement (see the page attachment), funding for the current survey drops out in September, and they don't even have specific plans for what will replace it -- which won't happen until 2009, according to the Post.

So there will be no Census data on how many Americans are without health insurance or without day care or can't afford to buy a home for three years. (Check out the SIPP Comparison of its reports and others to see just what information is being lost.) Why can't SIPP continue its present work until a new procedure is in place, or, at least, they have made actual decisions as to what will replace it? The only answer I can think of is that the Bush Admin wants both candidates and voters alike to be uninformed on these issues -- throughout an entire presidential campaign cycle. It's just shocking. Absolutely shocking.