The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part II

Last week, in Part I, we began this discussion of Judith Shulevitz’s The New Republic article, “The Grayest Generation,” in which she lamented the societal and biological risks of older parenting.

 

Men over 50 are three times more likely than men under 25 to father a schizophrenic child.

Fertility doctors do a lot of things to sperm and eggs that have not been rigorously tested, including keeping them in culture media teeming with chemicals that may or may not scramble an embryo’s development.

Commonly used, “Clomid . . . came out particularly badly in a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that rang alarm bells about ART [assisted reproductive technology] and birth defects,” reports Shulevitz. “ICSI (intracytoplasmic) sperm injection shows up in the studies as having higher rates of birth defects than any other popular fertility procedure.”

A child with trisomy-18

Trisomy-18 child. Photo: Emilyscookiemix.com

While she recognizes that women do not want to cut their careers short for the sake of having kids, Judith points out that if they don’t have children, they’re denying themselves s full life.

But older parents have emotional disadvantages. “Procrastinators” become members of the “sandwich generation,” caught between toddlers tugging on one hand and elder parents sharing the latest updates on their ailments. Elderly grandparents provide less support than their younger counterparts.

What haunts her about her own kids is the gamble of dying before they’re ready to set out on their own.

And these problems could proliferate if  “aging parents are, in fact, producing a growing subpopulation of children with neurological or other disorders who will require a lifetime of care. Schizophrenia, for instance, usually sets in during a child’s late teens or early twenties. [British psychiatrist] Avi Reichenberg sums up the problem bluntly. ‘Who is going to take care of that child?’ he asked, ‘Some seventy-five-year-old demented father?’”

The birthrate has dropped by a significant 45 percent around the world since 1975. By 2010, the average number of births per woman had decreased from 4.7 to 2.6.

While Shulevitz is making compelling arguments about older parenting, ones with which we agree, the goals of her arguments are where we part company. She makes the case that society needs to reform itself so that parents become parents at earlier stages of life. That way there will be fewer disabled children, more individuals to care for older generations, and enough workers to replace the aging people who will be better able to adapt to new technologies. She concedes that fewer people means less demand for food, water, land and energy.

Let’s start with the latter first. As we have written on several occasions, when societies move into the middle classes, their per capita consumption of food, water, land and energy skyrocket. Bigger homes, conspicuous consumption, wasted water, cars, heating and air conditioning; you get the picture.

It seems to us that there are three choices for the career-focused. Have your career or your kids. If you want them both, do as many others have done, and burn the candle at both ends earlier in adulthood. But making kids in order to provide preceding generations with a support system is selfish, reckless, and the world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme. We have to stop at some point. Are the projections of 10 billion-plus devourers of natural resources, clean air, and water by the end of this century not enough to scare the bejeezus out of us?

 

The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part I

The average age of first-time mothers has increased by four years over the past half century, according to science editor Judith Shulevitz in the December 20, 2012 issue of The New Republic. Many professional urban couples are postponing making babies until their 30s and early 40s. The downside is, as Shulevitz herself has experienced, recent rises in developmental disorders.

            Some examples: The average new mother from Massachusetts is 28; in Mississippi it is 22.9. The Asian American first-time mother is 29.1; African American 23.1. A college-educated woman has a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older.

           Shulevitz decries late-in-life reproduction, due to the amplified risks to the child and because delayed childbearing will result in a shortage of younger people to support, and replace, their progenitors. While we agree with the former, we dissent from the latter because of its societal self-serving motives. 

Judith Shulevitz

Photo: jtsa.edu

           Judith and her husband weren’t ready for parenthood until she was in her mid-30s and her husband was “forty-something.”  The doctor started her on a regimen of ovulation-stimulating hormones. The most popular fertility drug is clomiphene citrate, marketed as Clomid, or Serophene.

            If the Clomid didn’t work, she might move on to: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), or even ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). The Clomid and IVF worked.

            “My baby boy seemed perfect. When he was three, though, the pediatrician told me that he had a fine-motor delay.”  He needed occupational therapy for his mild case of “sensory-integration disorder.”

            She soon found what she describes as, “a subculture of a subculture: that of mothers who spend hours a week getting services for developmentally challenged children. It seemed to me that an unusually large proportion of these women were older.”

            Subsequently, the couple had a “natural” daughter. But Judith found herself meeting women of approximately her age with kids who had Asperger’s, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and sensory-integration disorder.

            As we have previously discussed on this blog, and in our book, Enough of Us, according to the Centers for Disease Control, learning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays are on the rise.  Between 1997 and 2008 there has been about a 17 percent increase in these disabilities. According to Shulevitz, one in six American children had a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier.

            Scientific evidence indicates that aging bodies of potential parents should elicit more cautious behavior than they apparently do. Would-be parents consistently underestimate how sharp the fertility drop-off can be for women after age 35. Inversely, the chances that children will carry a chromosomal abnormality, such as a trisomy—which includes Patau and Edwards syndromes—increase.  Patau syndrome gives children cleft palates, mental retardation, and an 80 percent likelihood of dying in their first year. Edwards syndrome, features oddly shaped heads, clenched hands, and slow growth. Half of all Edwards syndrome babies die in the first week of life. In previous posts we have given the examples of the unfortunate offspring of politicians Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

            The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2–3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties. When born to an older mother: spontaneous abortion, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, cerebral palsy, and low birth weight—leading to chronic health problems later in children’s lives—increase.

            Researchers suspect a link between the 78 percent rise in autism over the last decade and the rise of parental age. One theory “is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb airborne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and herbicides.”

We will continue this discussion next week in Part II of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Grandparents by the Millions Have to Do it all Over Again

Typically, most parents with grown children fervently hope (and oft times pray) for grandchildren – so much so, that prospective grandparents sometimes pressure their own offspring to bear a little darling or three. But given the present situation in which grandparents are stuck with childrearing a second time around, the adage “Be careful what you wish for,” is worth heeding.

            According to the 2010 US Census, about 7 million grandparents have grandchildren younger than 18 living with them.  Of the 7 million:

  • 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under age 18;
  • 580,000 grandparents who are responsible for grandchildren under age 18, have incomes below poverty level; 2.2 million have incomes just at or above poverty level.;
  • 1.9 million married (or separated) grandparents care for their grandchildren
  • 670,000 grandparents who are caregivers for their grandchildren have a disability

Photo courtesy grandparentscafe.com

Photo courtesy grandparentscafe.com

Millions of grandparents provide a home that saves their grandchildren’s lives both emotionally and physically. It’s a good thing these kinfolk are involved and willing to spread their love. However, the price they pay is a big one. They are not always prepared for their new role. They must frequently make the shift from grandma and grandpa to mom and dad, which isn’t natural or easy. Usually they have to deal with the emotional and health issues that accompany their grandchild, not to mention learning to navigate the educational, legal, social and health care systems.  It’s no wonder that a grandparent who rears his or her grandkid experiences more symptoms of depression than grandparents who are in the traditional role of enjoying their grandchildren sans raising them.

Besides the financial burdens of being a caregiver for grandchildren, grandparent marriages can suffer due to the jolt of a suddenly changed lifestyle.  In her article, “Kinship care and marriage: Raising grandchildren can create marriage difficulties!” Beth Q. Beck, former director of the Children’s Service Society of Utah, lists plenty of reasons for disagreement in kinship care marriages. Two big ones are:

  • Differences over whether grandma and grandpa agree that kinship care must be provided at all;
  • Nourishing the marriage falls by the wayside because the grandchildren require so much time and energy.

Ms. Beck describes a recent study at the University of Chicago, in which 12 of the 39 grandmothers who participated reported that the negative impact of raising grandchildren on their marriage was significant. Only three said that caring for their grandchildren strengthened their relationships with their husbands.

In an interview with a New Jersey social worker, Fox Business columnist Casey Dowd tried to shed more light on the increase in “grandfamilies” over the last decade. Social worker Janis Marler told Dowd that according to 2010 Census findings, a philosophical shift in the child welfare system has added value to placing children with relatives rather than in foster homes. A 2008 law signed by President Bush, encouraged this change. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act mandates that child protective service agencies provide notice to grandparents and relatives within 30 days of a child’s removal from parental custody.

So, dear grandparents, beware of what you wish for!  Think about the possible consequences of pressuring your progeny to create more humans when we already have Enough of Us. The ultimate burden may well fall on your shoulders.

Oppose Abortion and Oppose Subsidized Contraception? It’s a Recipe for Disaster

Across America the righteous right seems to have no shortage of barriers in its arsenal that are designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to obtain safe, legal abortions. When these very same folks also oppose government-sponsored or insurance-sponsored family planning (read: contraception) they fall into the category of biological Luddites.

As part of a study published last October 4 in Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis gave more than 9,000 women and teenage girls free contraceptives.  Participants were 14-45 years of age, at risk for unintended pregnancy, and willing to start a new contraceptive method.

The number of accidental pregnancies fell to between 62 and 78 percent below the national average. Teens are at particularly high risk for unintended pregnancies and, therefore, abortions. The study concluded that free contraception could reduce the number of abortions in the United States by a whopping two-thirds.

When we hear the likes of former senator and would-be presidential candidate Rick Santorum as well as Catholic contraceptive naysayers, decry the idea of government involvement in the contraceptive “business,” it leaves us scratching our heads. We have no argument with the church instructing its adherents about how to deal with their own genitalia. That’s their business. But when you comprehend the realities of unwanted pregnancy, it seems to us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; the “cure” in this case being abortion.

The research found that providing free, reliable birth control to women could prevent between 41 percent and 71 percent of abortions in the United States.

Three-quarters of the women in the study elected to use long-acting contraceptive methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants, which have lower failure rates than birth control pills. In the United States, IUDs and implants have initial costs in excess of $800 that sometimes aren’t covered by health insurance, making these methods unaffordable for many women. We can only guess that the insurers don’t want to fork over more than 800 bucks for each fertile female client when the insureds might be able to provide their own individual-use contraception.

IUDs

Copper (l) and hormonal intrauterine devices

According to lead author Professor Jeff Peipert, MD, “The impact of providing no-cost birth control was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies. …We think improving access to birth control, particularly IUDs and implants, coupled with education on the most effective methods has the potential to significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in this country.”

Health-care professionals insert IUDs and implants, which are effective for five to 10 years, and 3 years, respectively. They provide superior effectiveness over short-term methods. But only a small percentage of U.S. women using contraception choose long-term implanted methods for a variety of reasons, including expense and fear of implanting devices into their bodies. “Unintended pregnancy remains a major health problem in the United States, with higher proportions among teenagers and women with less education and lower economic status,” Peipert says. “The results of this study demonstrate that we can reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and this is key to reducing abortions in this country.”

As for those who cannot see the forest for the trees, doesn’t it make more sense for state and federal governments to provide contraception, and to require insurance companies to do so for those low-income folks who are lucky enough to have coverage, than for the government to pick up the tab for pre- and post-natal medical care of mother and child?

In addition, we wonder what other burdens—like education, housing, child support services, and healthcare—such families, especially single-parent households, will impose on society. We say that regardless of the immediate financial costs, Enough of Us already inhabit this planet. So let’s cough up the 800 bucks every three or five or 10 years and save ourselves all the other potential costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poor Parents May Encourage Failure in Their Children

                Should low income families have children? Many would say it’s unfair, even un-American, to preclude would-be parents from having kids before they climb a socio-economic ladder to the middle class. Should those who yearn for children be penalized because they might never earn a decent wage? There is no easy answer. But we, as a society, need to consider several issues.

            In a column entitled “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” in the December 9, 2012 New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about anti-poverty programs in the Appalachian hill country of Kentucky that, ironically, work against children. If a child who qualifies for a monthly $698 Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) because of an intellectual disability, attends literacy classes and learns to read, the youngster’s family will no longer collect that check. As a result, some poverty-level parents obviously don’t “go for broke.” Instead, they pull their kids away from their only hope for a successful future – the reading program. 

            Because of illiteracy, many kids from poor families remain unproductive as they reach adulthood. Instead of joining the military, which offers an opportunity for some young adults to escape the poverty of rural America, they stick around in “them thar’ hills” and depend on food stamps and disability payments. 

Appalachian cabin. Photo – SUNY Geneseo

           Kristof points out that about forty years ago, SSI was designed to aid children with mental retardation and/or severe physical difficulties. As time went by, the diagnosis that qualified young people for SSI became “fuzzier,” and less related to specific disorders. The resulting problem is that 8 percent of all low-income children in America now receive SSI payments. This amounts to $9 billion-plus and creates quite a burden on taxpayers.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof

The real shocker is that low-income families with questionable scruples have a stake in their children failing at school. Consequently, many of these kids become failures in life. They transition from the SSI dole they receive until age eighteen to collecting adult SSI benefits, and they become  stuck in a cycle of poverty. Due to their parents desperation to keep the SSI cash cow “milk” flowing, 1.2 million children across this country have essentially “learned” to fail.

            Adding insult to injury, because SSI is means tested – meaning benefits depend on family income – some parents avoid marriage in order to qualify for higher benefits. Yet, single-parent families produce five-fold as many kids growing up in poverty as do two-parent families.

            A mother of two who lives in the hill country told Kristof, that “her $500 car had just broken down and she had to walk two miles each way to her job at a pizza restaurant.” He says,“That’s going to get harder because she’s pregnant with twins, due in April.” Is it fair that she’s voluntarily bringing two more children into the world when their chance for failure might well trump their meager chance for success? Everyone must decide for themselves in this free country of ours. But there is much our society can do to stem this behavior to the benefit of all.

            We believe that government programs should be more proactive in discouraging poverty-stricken  young adults from making kids in the first place. Consider this:

  • Children from low-income families tend to do more poorly on tests, have lower graduation rates, and are less likely to attend or graduate from college than their middle-class counterparts. 
  • Poverty affects a child’s brain. When comparing the brains of children ages 9 -10, from both low- and high-income families, the prefrontal cortexes showed that the “poorer” brain was akin to that of a person who had suffered a stroke. Poverty also affects a child’s IQ and behavior.
  • Children who live in a low-income family usually suffer from malnutrition. In this case malnutrition means not eating enough healthy foods, or eating too many unhealthy foods. Parents stretch their precious dollars by buying cheaper, processed groceries. The results are obesity, vitamin defiency, and myriad health problems for the kids.

Let’s boil this down to a simple mathematical formula: poverty + illiteracy + single parenthood = stupidity. We agree with Nick Kristof – some of SSI funding should be diverted to programs like Save the Children, which work in areas where kids aren’t going to school and where parents are unable to read to their children. But we also believe that schools should be teaching our formula to kids before they’re old enough to get pregnant.

Disabled Children, Dedicated Parents, and the Uncertainties of Temperament

We are about to expound upon issues raised in the new book, Far From the Tree—Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. Unfortunately, we have not read the book (because we have been closeted away trying to make the final, or shall we say the final, final, final edits of our own book, Enough of Us.) We understand that this is the epitome of chutzpah, but let us explain.

Author Julie Myerson reviewed Solomon’s tome in the November 25, 2012 New York Times Book Review. We feel it suffices to rely upon Myerson’s review because it is so supportive of Solomon’s work – it ends with the phrase “this wise and beautiful book.”  As reported in Myerson’s review, Solomon’s work provides object lessons for potential parents who might be in denial about the possible exigencies of reproducing.

Solomon argues that “there is no such thing as reproduction.” There is only production, meaning parents produce new individuals who may bear traits quite different from those of their progenitors. Often, as we have pointed out many times in our current ebook and on this site, those differences entail very difficult lives for both offspring and their parents. Myerson begins her review, “How does it feel to be the mother of a teenage dwarf who’s desperate to start dating? What if you love the daughter you conceived when you were raped but can’t bear to be touched by her? And, as the father of a happy, yet profoundly deaf son who’s forgotten how it feels to hear, how do you deal with your memories of the times you played music together?”

Solomon, a psychiatry lecturer at Cornell University, spent 10 years researching his book, and interviewing 300 families with disabled children. He likewise delves into his own depression earlier in life, stemming at least in part from coping with his homosexuality.

Myerson writes in referring to Solomon’s work, “…despite the fact that we never know quite what — or whom — we’ll produce, it’s one of the least bitter truths of human existence that, regardless of what pain and anguish they put us through, we never ever regret our children. ‘It is not suffering that is precious,’ he notes when recalling the depths of his depression, ‘but the concentric pearlescence with which we contain it.’”

In researching our own book we have found quite contradictory instances. An extreme example is Lionel Dahmer, father of madman and serial torturer-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. Lionel’s book, A Father’s Story, expresses profound regret.And the younger Dahmer showed no childhood signs of his potential for hyperpsychotic behavior, so his parents had no idea how “far from the tree” their son had actually fallen.

Solomon enumerates just one disability that elicits no rewards – schizophrenia. “’The suffering of schizophrenics and their families,’ he writes, ‘seemed unending and singularly fruitless.’”

As Julie Myerson describes Solomon’s work, he makes the argument that in spite of the amount of sorrow, grief, anxiety, and the like, “most of the families Solomon describes are grateful for experiences they would have sacrificed everything to avoid.”

This reminds us of the classic horror movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which large pods from space land on Earth. The pods foam open and issue forth replicated versions of nearby humans.  Then, when the people fall asleep, the replicated bodies absorb their respective consciences, leaving the humans emotionless, uncaring, and unsympathetic to any situation

Kevin McCarthy about to torch a pod in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – Allied Artists, 1956

that would normally have elicited emotions that make us human. Those in fear of the pods would go to any extent to prevent their emotionality from being stolen. But for those whose sympathetic emotions the pods drained away, their new personalities are so ideal to them that they now proselytize the conversion of their souls and join their fellow emotionless acolytes in victimizing their neighbors.

In other words, Solomon’s conclusions about never regretting one’s children may beg the question. Not many people would desire a child with severe disabilities. We guess that most folks, if they knew that pregnancy would deliver them a child with a pronounced debility, would opt not to get pregnant, or to have an abortion, if the latter was not objectionable to their values. But, like the victims of the pods, once the child is born, they would, perhaps instinctually, embrace and love the child. After all, he or she would be their child.

The case we are making is this. Producing a disabled child is not some far-fetched unlikely occurrence. Mental and physical illnesses and disabilities occur all the time. Think of how many such instances you know of. Add to that the children who grow up to be drug addicts, criminals, ne’er-do-wells and losers in general. That should give anyone pause who isn’t ready to cope with the potential dramatic difficulties of raising a child, Solomon’s research and “pearlessence” notwithstanding.

 

The Unfortunate State of Many American Children

Let’s stir things up from the get-go. Just as the best way to protect soldiers is to keep them out of unnecessary (read: most) wars,  the best way to protect children from lives of misery is to prevent them from entering such lives. We never anticipated that we would again see a time when America would be in such dire straits. And it’s usually the children who experience the worst of it.

President of Children's Defense Fund

Marian Wright Edelman – photo: Children’s Defense Fund

In a recent essay on the Reader Supported News Web site, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) President Marian Wright Edelman lays out a frightening case for how bad things can get in still-rich America for so many unfortunate kids. The CDF has just released The State of America’s Children 2012 Handbook. It’s not a pretty picture.

Let’s start with the most dramatic. Guns killed kids in the United States in 2008-09 in greater numbers than all of U.S. military personnel who died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . combined . . . since both wars began.

There are more than 16 million poor children in the United States, almost half of whom live in extreme poverty. How sad is it that homeless shelters, child hunger, and child suffering have become everyday facts of life since the financial collapse of 2008?

There are now 10 states plus the District of Columbia that have poverty levels above 25 percent. Twice a minute another child is born into poverty.

On this site and in our ebook Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we make the case that we Americans need to cut down on our baby making, or at least give it a lot more thought before creating new lives. And we would hazard a guess that if you are astute enough to be reading our blog, you probably think that you are not among those whose children are likely to fall into the dark hole of poverty.

Keep in mind that there were 1.4 million bankruptcy filings in 2009, more than 1.5 million in 2010, and another 1.4 million in 2011. Add to that mortgage foreclosures of about 3.8 million in each of 2009 and 2010 and another 2.7 million in 2011.

Add to that job layoffs and you can see how bearing children can be a risky business, even for many who think they can offer prospective offspring a secure and happy life. As we make the case in our book, even those who are born into comfortable middle-class families are far from being guaranteed happy, healthy lives.

As Edelman writes: “I hope this report will be a piercing siren call that wakes up our sleeping, impervious and self-consumed nation to the lurking dangers of epidemic child neglect, illiteracy, poverty and violence. It’s way past time for those of us who call ourselves child advocates to speak and stand up and do whatever is required to close the gaping gulf between word and deed and between what we know children need and what we do for them . . . . please educate yourself and others about the urgent challenges facing our children . . .”

While she makes the case that America must give its children the help and hope they need, we make an additional argument, and one that comes equally from a position of caring for the happiness of kids. Why don’t we discourage the idealized images of happy, laughing, life-enriching children in favor of presenting realistic portrayals of the downs, as well as the ups, of creating new lives?

Miss Edelman urges that every person make a difference “if our voiceless, voteless children are to be prepared to lead America forward.” We would add that we need to educate would-be parents of the pitfalls and responsibilities of parenthood. And we should start while they are themselves still in school.

How does having kids affect the quality of one’s happiness?

          The question has often been raised: How does having children affect how much happiness there is in a person’s life?

          Now a new twist on kids vs. joy has entered the arena. If kids reduce the quantity of happiness, how do they affect the quality of whatever happiness remains?

          In an opinion piece on CNN.com, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, writes about that very question.

Amitai Etzioni, photo CNN.com

          He acknowledges that many fathers feel, “that it interferes with romance and tends to make them feel neglected by their wives.” He even cites a 2004 study among parents that found that among 16 various activities, taking care of kids ranked above only housework, their jobs and commuting in its “enjoyableness.” (Who knew there is such a word?)

          So far, so good. But here is where Etzioni embarks on the road less taken. “The question is not how much happiness children bring or take,” he asserts, “but how good is the happiness?”

          This brings to mind a scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, in which Diane Keaton asks Woody’s character if he’s ever had the wrong kind of orgasm. His response: “My worst one was right on the money.”

          How, we wonder, do the criteria for happiness compare?  Is quantity more important than quality or do we settle for happiness that is merely “right on the money” but greater in quantity than waiting for the “right kind” of happiness? Is occasional, intense happiness “better” than frequent, pretty good happiness?

          Here is what we believe is the crux of Etzioni’s assertion: “We need to return to a precept that social philosophers and religious texts have long extolled: that a good life is not one centered around squeezing as much pleasure out of life as possible. Pleasure of the kind celebrated by those who would rather go out for dinner than stay home with their infants, watch TV than change diapers and gamble than attend a PTA meeting — is Sisyphean. No sooner does one gain this kind of pleasure than one is lacking it again. No wonder it has been called the hedonic treadmill.” What self-congratulatory babble this is.

          Does he really believe that we who are childfree are rushing out to dinner, heading for the nearest casino, or just vegetating in front of the tube? What about those who volunteer to help forlorn animals or the less fortunate, write books and blogs, or get involved in local political, environmental, or ethical causes?

          In fact, we often find that those who have kids are much less aware of the greater community around them.  They seem to be the ones with gas-guzzling SUVs and minivans, whose garbage bins are filled to the brim, and who are clueless about societal issues that don’t relate directly to their kids’ schools.

          He claims that children provide a unique “other” in their parents’ lives.

          The good professor also assumes that kids in and of themselves are a positive. In the years of research we have conducted in preparation for our book, Enough of Us, we have learned what a high-stakes gamble raising children can be. There are considerable risks that the joy parents expect from their kids may be displaced by sadness, disappointment, grief and even despair.

          Its sounds like Mr. Etzioni is merely defending his own fatherhood of five in the face of all the evidence that parents tend to be less happy than the childfree. To his credit he says that while he lost a son (he does not go into details) and has suffered a fair amount of other grief in relation to childrearing, his kids have blessed him with much joy.

          But here’s the kicker. He says he now has “a whole slew of grandchildren.”

          “What fun—and no diapers to be changed.” Evidently Etzioni’s child-based joy doesn’t give a crap (pun intended) about their environmental impact.

            Amitai Etzioni, enjoy your life but please don’t judge the quality, or lack, of happiness in mine.

Why Women Still Can’t Have it All – Part 2

            Last week we looked at the conundrum women face, according to politics professor and former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, in choosing between a high-powered career, a spouse with a professional vocation, and being an available and competent parent. Her article appears in the current The Atlantic. “I mean that women should be able to have the same choices as men,” Slaughter explained on the PBS News Hour.

          Our only objection is that we know few, if any, men who get to exercise those choices. Slaughter paints a picture of the professional world for women as being akin to that of the 1960s as depicted on TV’s Mad Men.

          We would venture to say that most professional men would like to have a spouse with a career of her own and, if they have kids, be able to give the kids all the daddy-time they could handle. But who says that in modern America the primary parenting role is synonymous with motherhood?

          Ms. Slaughter appreciated the fact that when she was a Princeton professor she could work hard but set her own hours. Her husband, too, is a professor. But then Hillary Clinton called upon Anne-Marie to join her in the State Department. “And the minute I got myself into the kind of job that the vast, vast, majority of working women have, where I was on somebody else’s schedule and really had a boss I adore . . . I realized I couldn’t make it work with my family.

          “And that’s when I really decided that it’s time to have another round of conversation and make another round of changes that will allow both working mothers and fully engaged fathers to have better choices.”

          Really? Parents need to work out these contingencies before they become parents. They need to set their priorities and their goals before they set out to add their progeny to the gene pool, unless they’re the Gateses or Trumps or Spielbergs and can afford an army of full-time help. And even then, nannies cannot substitute for daddies and mommies. In the chapter “Impact on Parents” in our book, Enough of Us, we discuss these issues at some length.

         Slaughter seems to be a very compassionate person and concerned mother. On more than one occasion she had to leave Washington for  home in order to deal with one of her troubled teenage sons, despite the fact that her husband had become the primary at-home parent. And she had to commute between home and D.C. every weekend.

          Naomi Decter, a public relations firm vice-president and mother of three, appearing on the same News Hour show, countered Slaughter’s assertions. “I think it’s time to stop the whining and accept the world for what it is. . . .  No one can have it all. Men can’t have it all either. And I think the changes Anne-Marie is talking about are lovely ideas.

          “I’m fortunate enough myself to be able to work from my home, although all my children are all grown. And I was fortunate enough to be able to do that when they were young as well.  But the sad fact is, that is not going to work for most of the world. And no one is ever going to run the U.S. State Department in their P.J.s from the kitchen table.”

          Slaughter says that with technology, society can allow parents to, say, work from home one day a week. We wonder, what then for non-parents? Do they get the same benefits or does that mean that those who show up at work every day bear an extra burden compensating for their absentee colleagues?

          So what’s the solution? Easy, don’t have kids, or keep one parent at home, or don’t have the misfortune to have a prestigious, glamorous, high-powered profession in another town.

           “I think it’s a pointless and circular conversation. I think, you know, we’re saying, if women ruled the world, then women would be able to rule the world,” says Naomi Decter. “But until women rule the world, they won’t be able to rule the world.”

           “We all have choices that we have to make in life . . . And those choices may be different between men and women because of their nature and because women actually have the children and give birth to them.

          “But men have to make choices, too. Sometimes, we will make choices that we regret . . . And I think we need to stop thinking that we’re going to engineer some kind of a world where all of our problems are taken care of for us.”

          Amen, sister. Amen.

Women Still Can’t Have It All? Duh! –Part 1

What’s wrong with this picture? Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, and was formerly its Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She is an academic, a foreign policy analyst, and a public commentator. Slaughter served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from January 2009 until February 2011. She is an international lawyer and political scientist who has taught at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, and is a former president of the American Society of International Law. Anne-Marie has two sons. And while she worked at the State Department in Washington on weekdays, her husband, also a professor, took responsibility for the kids on weekdays. She just wrote an article that appears in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Evidently, Professor Slaughter doesn’t believe she has it all.

We think that there is a fine line between having it all and having everything. There’s an old joke that goes like this:

A man takes his first-class seat next to a woman on a plane. They engage in conversation. He glances down at her hand for a moment and comments, “That’s some ring!”

“Do you like it?” she responds.

“I’ve never seen a gem that large.”

“That’s the Klopman diamond.”

“Very impressive.”

“But it comes with a curse.”

“Really? What’s the curse?” He asks.

“Klopman.”

While Professor Slaughter worked in Washington for two years, her 14-year-old son, an eighth-grader, skipped homework, was disruptive in class, failed math, and was “tuning out any adult who tried to reach him,” periodically necessitating her dropping everything to hop a train back home to Princeton.

Anne-Marie Slaughter. Photo: Princeton University

Slaughter appeared on last Tuesday’s PBS News Hour with two other guests, discussing the issues raised in her piece. And while she admits the article is aimed at a particular demographic – namely, “highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place,” she acknowledges that millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. These include single mothers, those trying to find work, and those whose spouses are unable to find jobs.

Ms. Slaughter makes the case that she wants women to have the opportunities for having it all the way men do. What she fails to understand is that men, too, rarely get to have it all. Let’s put the Brad Pittses and Angelina Jolies aside for the moment. They have it all, at least apparently, for the time being. What “normal” man gets to follow the career path he wants and have a wife who brings in an adequate income and gets to spend all the time he would like with his kids, hmmm?

Having kids is a choice. The world, as we point out in our book Enough of Us, does not need more of them. They threaten the ecology of our fragile globe as well as their very own sustainability. And for the most part, parents are not even sure why they wanted the kids they have. So if the people in Slaughter’s demographic decide to reproduce, work out the game plan before you go out on the field. Make sure you have a husband with an open mind. And whatever you do, don’t ever get divorced. Because if you do split, it’s going to throw both a monkey wrench and chewing gum into the works.

In the second installment of this post we will explore some of the criticisms of Professor Slaughter’s article.