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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

Big Brother Tells Mom and Dad to Stand Aside



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The Daily Mail reports that a school district in Long Island, N.Y. will start monitoring students’ heart rates, exercise routines, and sleep schedules via electronic bracelets in an effort to tackle the obesity epidemic. School districts in New Jersey and Missouri have similar programs.

Hm . . . monitoring kids’ health, activity level, and sleep habits . . . I thought those things used to be behaviors parents monitored.

If you’re keeping track, kids now get breakfast, lunch, and dinner in schools. And now, thanks to government nannies, their home life is going to be monitored. Nope, that doesn’t seem creepy at all. 

Justin Bieber’s Biggest Fan



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It’s hard to keep up with pop stars who might be relevant to my kids’ lives. For a time, my children liked Miley Cyrus because of her catchy songs and her fun Disney sitcom Hannah Montana. When she filmed her movie in my hometown of Columbia, Tenn., we were even extras. (In the carnival scene, we were the hot, sweaty people in the crowd of hot, sweaty people. Please, no autographs.) Her life’s trajectory has been quite a “teachable moment,” as we talked about faith, family, and the high price of fame.

Since then, we haven’t really discussed many other celebs. (The kids don’t have a huge pop-culture diet, thankfully.) For example, they know who Justin Bieber is, but probably can’t name one of his songs. Nor can I. However, I read this article about a book by Cathleen Falsani (Belieber!: Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber) which talks about the young superstar’s faith. The article, written by Jean Yih Kingston, begins by describing his biggest fan:

Like many victims, she didn’t tell anybody about her years of sexual abuse. When she was a teenager, she resorted to drugs and alcohol to numb her pain. She left home at fifteen, lived in a house with a bunch of guys, became a thief, and skipped school. By the time she was seventeen, she was so desperate she tried to violently take her own life by running onto a busy street in front of a truck.

Fortunately, the driver swerved and the girl landed in a psychiatric ward instead of the morgue. A youth minister visited her many times and spoke to her about God’s love. Eventually, she felt God’s presence within her while alone in her hospital room. After this experience, she cleaned up her act and even went to church. But she was drawn back to her old lifestyle and drugging friends. At eighteen, she became pregnant.

Who was this fan?

Sometimes it’s easier to turn off the television and refuse to let our children know about pop culture. After all, we’ve seen so many stars and athletes who proclaim to have faith end up renouncing it to sell more records or to make more headlines. However, I’m using these stories to talk to my children about the pitfalls — and opportunities — of life. 

Against all odds, I always hope someone like Justin Bieber can keep fighting the good fight. Maybe, after reading the kids the story about “Justin’s Biggest Fan,” we might become fans too.

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Dear British (and U.S.) Moms: Be More French?



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Jemima Lewis writes in The Telegraph:

British women need to toughen up to match the French.

Good Lord, is there anything French women don’t do better than us? First we’re told that French Women Don’t Get Fat; now another hit book, entitled French Children Don’t Throw Food, invites us to marvel at their parenting skills. Written by Pamela Druckerman – an American mother of three, who lives in Paris with her English husband – it examines why French children (unlike ours) commonly sleep through the night at two months, eat adult food without complaint and don’t behave badly in public; and why their mothers (unlike us) manage to look so chic and sexy.

The answer, it seems, is to toughen up. From birth, the French teach their babies self-discipline. A French infant is more likely than a British one to be left to “self-soothe” at night. Picky eaters are given no quarter. You don’t eat your tripes à la mode de Caen? You go to bed hungry. Tantrums are likely to be met with a smacked bottom (something the British middle-classes now regard with horror); schools favour learning by rote; and children are seen but not heard. Because their children are better behaved, mothers have more time to themselves in which to co-ordinate their lingerie and stay thin.

The rest here.

French mothers, “Tiger” mothers, it’s all so confusing. How about more common-sense moms?

Jay-Z & Fatherhood



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Forgive me, I was distracted with New Hampshire earlier in the week when young Ivy Blue Carter was born to Beyonce and Jay-z.

To welcome her into the world, Jay-z did what he does: Wrote and recorded a song, “Glory.” He describes the pain an anxiety of miscarriage. And the wonder and joys of new life and a whole new understanding of and appreciation for creative genius.

The most amazing feeling I feel

Words can’t describe the feeling, for real

Maybe I paint the sky blue

My greatest creation was you: Glory

False alarms and false starts

All made better by the sound of your heart

All the pain of the last time

I prayed so hard it was the last time

Your mama said that you danced for her

Did you wiggle your hands for her?

Glory! Glory! Glory! Sorry..

Everything that I prayed for

God’s gift, I wish I would’ve prayed more

God makes no mistakes, I made a few

Rough sledding here and there, but I made it through

I wreak havoc on the world, get ready for part 2

A younger, smarter faster me

So a pinch of Hov, a whole glass of B

The song — with child crying in the background —  has already hit the Billboard charts.

A warning: The song has harsh language. It gets dark, as he talks about his own father. 

The Nasty Politics of Parenting Research



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A reporter from CitizenLink asked me late last week to comment on a story coming from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It’s a straightforward family-research story; a helpful, but not surprising finding: the type of homes kids come from has a huge impact on their educational success. Larger even than type of school they attend. But findings like this have been understood since the celebrated 1966 Coleman Study and before.

So I commented that this finding “supports over three decades of consistent research showing that kids who grow up in a home with their married parents tend to do better in all measures of educational attainment than their peers being raised in single, divorced, and cohabiting-parent homes,” Then I concluded by explaining, “Moms and dads both matter here, as well as the type of relationship between them.”

Such a statement would not raise an eyebrow by nearly anyone, including most sociologists studying family form and child educational outcomes. But today such a statement is raising the hackles of a small but very vociferous group. The LGBT site of ThinkProgress had a fit on the story, saying I and the organization I work for are distorting the findings fueled by our blind opposition to “marriage equality” (a smooth euphemism for androgynizing marriage).

As ThinkProgress correctly points out, the Chicago study “did not, in fact, address same-sex parenting.” That is exactly right. Not everything is about same-sex families. But as Jennifer Roback Morse kindly and correctly points out at the Ruth Institute blog this week, “neither did Glenn Stanton [n]or the [Focus on the Family] editor. They just made the very sensible point” that the study speaks to children doing better educationally when raised by “intact families” (which the study defines on page 15 as those being raised by “two biological parents”).

You see, if you make a point that mothers and fathers matter for healthy child-development — something Focus on the Family and lots of others have been doing for quite some time — some assume that you must be speaking against them personally. It’s not always about them. But they assume that all family research would naturally include their new kinds of families. It doesn’t.

This is exactly the same kind of trickery that Sen. Al Franken pulled (and ThinkProgressive crowed about) with my friend and colleague Tom Minnery, when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July of last year. Mr. Minnery cited a major 2010 government study showing that children in “nuclear families” did better in a host of important well-being measures.

Senator Franken asked Minnery how the study defined “nuclear family”.

Minnery responded in a most reasonable and intelligent way, “I would think that the study, when it cites nuclear family, refers to a family headed by a husband and wife.”

Senator Franken responded,with chuckles from the gallery following, “It doesn’t.” And then read how the study defined the term: “a nuclear family consists of one or more children living with two parents who are married . . . and are each biological or adoptive parents of all the children in the family.”

So, would that include same-sex homes? The author of the government study, when asked by Politico after the Franken/Minnery ruckus, whether same-sex families were included in the study, interestingly explained same-sex couples “were not excluded” from the study” provided their family met the criteria. But in research, “not excluded” is quite different from “included and analyzed.” Do a word-search in the PDF of the study itself. See if it makes any conclusions or comments about same-sex, gay, lesbian, whatever families. You will only find that, on page 4, it defines “spouse” as “husband/wife”.

But the main point for Senator Franken, ThinkProgress and others who think “Franken eviscerated Minnery” must realize three facts.

One, no major government study to date has examined same-sex headed homes. None.

Two, since same-sex families are such a new and academically interesting development, it would be publishing malpractice (or just plain dumb) if your study included same-sex couples as part of the meaningful analysis, but the author did not tell the reader of the inclusion, which this study did not. Such a fact would add great value to the study.

Three, given the study sample was collected from 2001-2007 (which is explained in the title of the study), it would allow only married same-sex couples from Massachusetts (the only state allowing such marriages in those years) who had children in their home and in which both adults were either biological or adoptive parents. This was the stated criteria for inclusion in the study. But there are very few same-sex homes where both married parents are the adoptive parents. And confine that small number to only those in Massachusetts, and you could probably fit them in a mini van. As Greg Scott of the Alliance Defense Fund explains, that means Minnery was indeed correct about 99.9999 percent and Franken caught him on a snarky 0.00001 percent technicality that he turned into a laugh-line.

But that’s how some people operate. And for a topic as important as how different family forms either contribute to or distract from child well-being, we need a more serious national discussion than the political carping, name-calling, and cheap shots we are seeing far too much of today.

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Books, Movies, and Mythical Innocence of Children



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Some of the most contentious discussions with parents usually begin with one of these sentences:

“Well, I just don’t let my kids watch . . . ”

or

“My children aren’t allowed to read . . . ”

You name it, there are parents who have drawn the line just shy of it: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, the news, Lord of the Rings, even Spongebob.  (Okay, that last one was me.)

There’s a certain very commonly held viewpoint that children are blank, pure slates. Our job as parents is to maintain their innocence and keep them from the filth that the world throws at them.

Rev. Paul Joiner, a reformed southern pastor, has been writing about these issues lately, to get parents to think clearly about how to raise our children in the modern world. Here is his three part series:

Why Read Literature, Watch Movies, Listen to Music, or See Plays

Why We Should Be Reading and Watching the Stories of the World.

Are You Raising Cultural Gluttons or Cultural Anorexics?

In a related conversation, Rebecca Cusey discusses this very issue as it pertains to movies in this article called:

Recognizing the Danger Within, Not Without

Both of these individuals frame the issue not as one of innocence lost but as vulnerabilities exposed. Our kids, after all, aren’t innocent; they’re vulnerable. We all are, but in different ways. The wisdom in choosing movies lies in understanding those vulnerabilities, not in preserving mythical innocence.

Do you have your lines? I certainly do. But these articles encourage us to consider carefully the reasons why we’re drawing them.

iPad Meets Coke Dispenser



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Are you a parent who doesn’t want all the sugar and caffeine in regular soda and isn’t sure what beverage to order your kid when grabbing a fast bite?

Prepare to be impressed!

Introducing the most awesome fast-food development since McDonald’s started taking credit cards and Chick-Fil-A started using those enormous ketchup packets. Have you seen this?

Alert the Presses: Men and Women Are Different!



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In the comic strip Dustin, a couple driving a car passes a sign on the highway that reads, “Time to downtown: 26 minutes.” The woman, who’s in the passenger seat, says to the man, “So you’re saying a woman looks at that sign and thinks, ‘It’s nice to know I’ll be downtown in 26 minutes.’. . . But a man looks at it and thinks, ‘I can do it in 22.’”

This cartoon is apropos in light of a new study ofsex differences, published last week on the Public Library of Science website, which found that a mere 18 percent of men and women match in terms of personality profiles. The research, conducted by Marco Del Giudice of Italy and Tom Booth and Paul Irwing, both of Manchester, England, involved interviewing 10,000 Americans. The researchers concluded that men and women are vastly different creatures, feeling and behaving in markedly different ways. 

Such information is not the least bit shocking to those of us with common sense, or those of us who have both sons and daughters; but it’s “staggeringly different from the consensus view,” says Irwing. Indeed it is. That’s because it undermines the message feminists have been propagating for decades. 

The popular view is that men and women are so similar they’re practically interchangeable. It’s just that society socializes them to think and behave differently, say feminists. Mothers don’t really offer anything unique to babies or want to stay home with them more than fathers do, and men aren’t really more inclined to study math and science more than women. Little boys don’t really want to play with guns more than girls do, and girls don’t really want to play dress up more than boys do. It’s all a giant con game — and one we can undo with a little bit of effort.

Think I’m exaggerating? When Gloria Steinem was asked in an interview last year about her thoughts on the latest research on male and female brains, which shows an undeniable distinction between the sexes, Steinem’s response was, “Well, you know, every time there is a step forward, there’s a backlash. So now we’re seeing another backlash about brains, brain differences, gender differences centered in the brain. Even if they’re right, it doesn’t have to continue to be so. What makes human beings the species that has survived all this time is our adaptability.” When the interviewer pressed further and asked, “But aren’t there inherent differences we can’t ignore?” Steinem replied, “Society can certainly intervene at a cultural level to change that behavior.”

If you think Steinem is an anomaly, or someone whose time has come and gone, think again. There are plenty of young Steinems roaming around — in the media, in Hollywood, and on college campuses. And when they get wind of studies like these, watch out. Women’s studies professor Janet Shibley Hyde had this to say about this latest study: “[The global sex difference] is really uninterpretable. It doesn’t mean anything.”

The reason for Hyde’s denial, the reason for all feminist denial when it comes to research like this, is a deeply rooted fear of what it all means: that the feminist agenda is futile — and just plain silly. Feminism teaches that gender is not a fact of nature but a social or environmental construct created by old-fashioned stereotyped training. They consider it a given that women have been subordinated and discriminated against by an unjust male patriarchy and need government action by legislatures and courts to give women their rights. Consequently, they’re “afraid studies like ours will turn back the clock,” says Irwing.

They’re not shy about admitting their bias, either. Says Hyde, “This huge difference is not only scientifically false, it has unfortunate consequences for places like the workplace and education and romantic relationships.”

No, Ms. Hyde, findings like these have very fortunate consequences. Interpreted correctly, they allow people to accept, once and for all, that Americans have been sold a bill of goods by the feminist establishment.

Of course all women and all men are not the same (I, for example, would have looked at that highway sign and thought the same thing the man did), but that doesn’t change the fact that most men tend to function one way and most women tend to function another. The sexes may overlap on any number of occasions, but they will never be the same. 

Studies on sex differences are wonderful. They’re not designed to separate the sexes, Ms. Hyde. They’re designed to bring them together. They help men and women accept each other for who we are and not fight each other all the time. The battle of the sexes has been around long enough.

Don’t you think it’s time to give it a break?

– Suzanne Venker is co-author of the new book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know — and Men Can’t Say. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.

School Choice Can End the Battle over Sex Ed



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Many people’s first instinct when reading about the guidelines on sex education in public schools is to consider whether they agree with the specifics of the proposal: Do I think that all eighth-graders should be familiar with emergency contraception and that fifth-graders should be able to define sexual harassment?  Those are among the recommendations in a new report that was released by a consortium of health and education groups, which is receiving criticism from others who believe that abstinence should be a larger focus of all sex-education courses.

Yet course content really isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the main question. The real question is who gets to make the decision about what sex-ed curriculum a child is exposed to? 

The problem with our current system isn’t that sex-ed classes lean too far in one direction or another.  It’s that most parents have little control over such decisions because their child is assigned to a public school and has few options other than to enroll their child in that school. If parents had more control over such decisions — for example, if they had control of the $10,000 that is, on average, spent on each child in a public K–12 school and could use that money to pay tuition at any school they want — then they could select a program that reflects their values.  

Sex-ed-curriculum decisions are mostly seen through a culture-war lens — are we going to emphasize the importance of abstinence or condom-use to the next generation? — but it’s a war that could be largely defused if we all agreed to disagree and let parents make decisions about what’s right for their children.

— Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.     

A Fall in the Night



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He fell in the middle of the night. A hard crash that woke me up. At first I thought he fell out of bed. He has done that a couple of times onto the carpet. No ill effects. But this was a fall in the hall by the closets, either coming out or going into the bathroom. I didn’t even have to shout, “What happened?” It was obvious what had happened as he lay there face down, crumpled on the floor, bleeding from a cut above his eyebrow. 

He hadn’t passed out. “I guess I slipped,” he said. He was wearing his socks; he’s always wearing his socks because he is cold in bed. His socks are slippery. I got a towel to try to stop the trickle of blood  that was running down his face. The blood was already pooling internally around his eye. He would be getting a tremendous shiner. 

“Let me help you up,” I said. But I couldn’t get him up. He tried to help, to turn over and push against the floor with his hands. “I can’t,” he said. “I can’t.” He was so very tired from the radiation and the chemo and from not eating much and from getting up five or six times a night to go to the bathroom.

 I brought the walker to see if it would help. I brought the sturdy dining-room chair. I tried to pull, to tug, to boost him. No luck. He isn’t heavy. In fact, he’s lost a lot of weight, but I still couldn’t get him up. It was about one in the morning. What were we going to do? “You have got to get up,” I said as if insisting on it would make it happen. “I can’t, I can’t,” he said and rolled over on his back and closed his eyes. 

“I better call 911. Do you want me to call 911?” I thought he would say no. He didn’t reply. And so I went to the phone and dialed. We were in our house in a small town in Connecticut, and in a minute the trooper was on the phone. He asked a battery of questions and said he was just a couple of roads away. He told me to put on the lights outside, and he would call EMS.

And in just a few minutes, the house was full of people: the trooper, members of the EMS team, even the town’s first selectwoman. All cheerful and concerned, checking him over, getting him first to sit up for a while and then moving him to bed.

They checked his pulse, his blood pressure, asked if he wanted to go to the hospital. And he perked up with the attention, apologizing for the trouble he was causing, assuring them that no, he didn’t need to go to the hospital. He would be all right in the morning. And was he really going to have a black eye? He had never had one before.

We came back to the city the next day. I wondered how many more country weekends we would be spending. It was safer to be in the city, in our apartment, where the doormen and the handymen are always around to help, and it was a short taxi ride to the hospital where his doctors were. “I can’t believe I couldn’t get up,” he kept saying as I drove us home. “I don’t know why I couldn’t get up,” he said.” He was very shaken by his fall. So was I.   

— Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge, where this first appeared. 

Re: The Most Ridiculous Baby Toys



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Nancy,

As a parent who swore by the crib-tent . . .

 

. . . I would have bought this from that list for sure:

Do they make one for five-year-olds I wonder?

The Dark World of the Dragon Tattoo



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The novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has just hit the big screen in the Hollywood version. The American movie, like the Swedish version a few years ago, is very true to the book in the relentless darkness of the tale. I have no particular inside information as to what the author Stieg Larsson was trying to say. But the fact is, he has created a very grim world, full of violence against women and children: rape, torture, kidnapping, gruesome serial murders.

This malevolent world that Larson has created is not taking place in some benighted past, not in the Middle Ages, or even the Dreaded Fifties. This is our world, our time. Actually, the whole story takes place in that most enlightened country of the industrialized world, Sweden.

What went wrong? In the world of Lisbeth Salander, there are no functioning authority figures or structures. The fathers are abusive. The police are non-existent, at least in the first book. The legal system is corrupt. The wealthy do whatever they can get away with. This is the final end of the world without law. It is quite literally every man for himself.

Antinomians *of all parties and all denominations, take note. This sinister world without law is not a world of unlimited freedom: Lawlessness turns out to impose constraints of its own. Lisbeth Salander’s world shows what the law of the strongest looks like. As I said, I don’t know what Larsson intended to say. And I’m not claiming that the Swedish version of sexual liberation and the welfare state had to end this way. I only say that this world without any functioning authority structures is the world Larsson was drawn to create. He didn’t invent it completely out of whole cloth. He invented it out of the world he actually inhabits.

And the fact is, millions of people are drawn to these works. What is the attraction? I think that against all odds, we identify with Lisbeth. She is a mildly autistic, extremely smart, anti-social young woman, covered with piercings and tattoos. She is absolutely unique and pretty nearly alone. There is nothing typical about her.

I think many of us — liberal, conservative and moderate — experience ourselves as helpless and at the mercy of the System. Lisbeth is literally raped by the authority figures that should be keeping order in her life and protecting her from harm. We feel her pain, because in some sense, we feel we live in a hostile world that looks out only for itself — and not for us. We know Lisbeth shouldn’t be taking the law into her own hands. But we can’t help rooting for her when she does.

And this autistic savant is emotionally isolated. She is not literally and completely alone; she turns out to have more people on her side than she realizes. But I do think we identify with her isolation. Loneliness is the hallmark of our modern age. This is not how Scandinavian sexual openness or its American counterpart were supposed to end up.

*Antinomianism is derived from the Greek anti, which means “against” and nomos, which means law. As a general principle, antinomianism teaches that moral laws are relative in meaning and application instead of fixed or universal.

As a Christian theological teaching, antinomianism is used to refer to the idea that the Gospel frees a Christians from obedience to any law, scriptural, civil, or moral, and hence that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace rather than through obedience to any rules.

Watching the Debate with my Daughter



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Who would’ve thought that I’d just have to have a conversation with her about condoms?

In case you missed it, George Stephanopoulos asked Governor Romney if states should have the right to outlaw contraception. Governor Romney absolutely was befuddled, and finally said, “Contraception is working just fine!  Leave it alone.”

My husband and I laughed at the exchange, then my daughter turned around and looked at me blankly.

“Do you even know what that is?” I asked.

She sensed that she did not want to get into this conversation and excused herself. “I think I’ll just look it up in the Dictionary.”

She came back into the room with a little less innocence. Thank you, GOP debate!

The Most Ridiculous Baby Toys



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I’m always the mom who doesn’t have the basic necessities for kid care. Thankfully, I surround myself with responsible moms who can pull out Band-Aids, Kleenexes, or tire irons from their purses whenever the need arises.

That’s why this list got my attention: The Most Ridiculous Baby Toys. It includes “baby bangs,” toilet-hand protectors, and temperature test ducks. (My sister Mary Kate had a designer hospital gown when she delivered her cutie recently. Um, really, sis?)

When I wrote Red State of Mind (about some of my misadventures as a southerner living in Ithaca, Manhattan, and Philly), people didn’t believe some of the stories I accumulated from giving birth in Cayuga Medical Center and staying there for ten days while my baby healed from a difficult birth. But this product, the “placenta teddy bear,” is created by cutting, curing, and emulsifying the organ, before sewing it into the teddy bear with a kit. It was created by Alex Green for those who don’t necessarily want to eat their baby’s placenta, but want to pay their respects to the life-sustaining organ.

Though I don’t have access to data to back this up, I bet this product only sells well in Ithaca.

The Most ‘Red State’ and ‘Blue State’ Movies?



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Are you guys weary of the “red state/blue state” distinction? I even wrote a book about it back in 2006, and I sometimes get tired of it. However, it is an easy way to communicate the undeniable fact that there are pretty distinctive regions in America: geographic, political, cultural, and otherwise.

But what about movies? Is it possible to categorize movies according to the type of people who might enjoy them? This lists attempts to do just that. Do you agree with Rebecca’s choice for each category?  

Can Men and Women Be ‘Just Friends?’



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This short YouTube video (produced by independent filmmakers Jesse Budd and Patrick Romero) is about as effective at discussing the topic of male-female “friendships” as the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally:

My daughter Camille turned 13 over Christmas break, and I’m in the process of trying to raise her to understand dating, friendships, and guys in general.  Although she’s far from dating age (that’s about 35 now, right?), I think this video might be a fun discussion starter tonight. 

Plus, there’s no “I’ll have what she’s having” scene.

The Big-Government Barometer



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On Friday, the New York Times editorial “The School Lunch Barometer” complained that the federally run school-lunch program’s growing enrollment is evidence of the nation’s continued economic downturn. 

The economic downturn is driving more and more families into the ranks of the poor and the “near poor” who barely make it from paycheck to paycheck. This pattern is chillingly clear from the rising numbers of formerly middle-class children now qualifying for free or low-cost meals under the federally financed school lunch program. . . .

A recent analysis of federal data by The Times showed that the number of children receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million in the last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase. During that period, nearly a dozen states — including Nevada, Florida, Tennessee and New Jersey — experienced increases of 25 percent or more. In New York City, as of last month, a little more than 62 percent of the city’s children were eligible for free lunch — up from around 57 percent in 2007.

Indeed, it’s disturbing to consider that participation in the school-lunch program has increased a full 17 percent since 2006, but it is also important to understand just how kids are enrolled in this school-based welfare program in the first place. 

Kids are signed up in one of two ways: 1) parents take the steps to actually fill out and submit paperwork provided by the school so that their children can receive free or reduced-price meals; or, 2) a child is automatically enrolled using a process called “direct certification” whereby a school district obtains lists of families enrolled in other federal food-assistance programs (such as food stamps or TANF) and then automatically enrolls those children in the school meal program. 

In 2008, Congress kindly relieved parents of that bothersome paperwork by mandating direct certification of children whose families participate in the food-stamp program. This Congressional action sent a message to parents that they really aren’t expected to feed their kids and need not be involved in their children’s eating habits (which studies show really is the key to keeping kids healthy). Why take the extra step to get involved in your child’s nutrition if the government automatically enrolls kids in these feeding programs? After all, in most cases, kids are getting three meals a day at school. 

In 2010, parents were further marginalized when the direct-certification program expanded; allowing school districts to snoop into families’ Medicaid record. Now, in addition to food stamps and TANF, children reliant on Medicaid are now automatically enrolled in school feeding programs. 

There’s no doubt that families are suffering in this economy, and many families formerly able to survive without government assistance are now finding they need some extra help. But the increased participation in school feeding programs doesn’t just signal increased need; it is a sign of a bigger government — a government determined to take over the care and feeding of children by sidelining parents. 

The Iron Lady: Wonderfully, Conservatively Subversive



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Rebecca Cusey has a review of The Iron Lady, which opens tonight in New York and Los Angeles:

Conservatives have nothing to fear from the controversial and wonderfully subversive Margaret Thatcher biopic, “The Iron Lady.” Because the creators, whatever their personal political beliefs, had the artistic integrity to let Thatcher be Thatcher, the film becomes a rousing call to those who believe that “those who can do, must get up and DO.”

She also talks about the controversial framework of the film:

The controversy stems from the framework of the film, which depicts Thatcher as a befuddled elderly woman recalling the important events of her life between hallucinatory chats with her deceased husband (Jim Broadbent) and pestering of her living daughter (Olivia Colman). As a portrayal of the onset of dementia, it is brilliant, with Streep fearlessly emitting guttural sounds and half spoken words as emotions chase each other across her face. Confusion transforms into amusement; Annoyance, determination, exasperation all flit through her eyes and lips as fast as cloud shadows on a hillside on a summer’s day.

Conservatives have worried that this depiction of a powerful woman wrestling with age casts aspersions on her career and beliefs, as if succumbing to age invalidates what came before. I disagree. Instead, it adds pathos as the former most powerful woman in the world comes to require what can only be described as babysitters. It also does something more:  it strips away the details and shows the iron core of Margaret Thatcher.

Even in her confusion, she is all about principle.

Read the whole article here, which has a warning you might want to read before you take the kids.

A Response to Keith Ablow



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Celebrity therapist and “life coach” Dr. Keith Ablow just jumped on the “let’s get the government out of the marriage business” bandwagon. I have been writing against the “privatizing marriage” mantra, going all the way back to 2005. (See also here and here.) I do not wish to rehearse those arguments here. But Dr. Ablow’s contribution to this unfortunate genre is doubly regrettable. He is, first of all, deeply mistaken about the government’s role in discouraging people from marriage. As a psychiatrist, he has no particular expertise in policy analysis, and I am sorry to say, it shows. My second regret about his foray into policy analysis is that he forsakes the area of his greatest expertise, namely, helping people live happier lives. His proposal to “get the government out of the marriage business” substitutes an easy exit strategy for the genuine work of building up marriage and family relationships.

Dr. Ablow claims that government intrusion is the cause of marriage decline because marriage amounts to signing a “draconian contract with the state to manage the division of your estate in the event of a divorce.” Now he is certainly correct that under the current divorce regime, the family court micro-manages people’s private lives. But his argument is completely backwards. He has no explanation for why people are less inclined to marry now, and why government is more intrusive now than in say, 1960. I can answer that: no-fault divorce.

California instituted the first “no-fault” divorce in 1968, with other states quickly following suit. The state no longer recognized marriage as a lifelong union, dissolvable only for cause. Under no-fault, either party could get divorced for any reason or no reason. The current “marriage contract,” if you want to call it that, is less binding than a contract to purchase a home or to take delivery for a load of concrete. For sure, it is easier to end a marriage than for the L.A. Unified School District to fire a tenured teacher.

Most importantly, the legal change to the no-fault regime created unilateral divorce: The state now permits one party to break the marriage contract, regardless of the wishes of the other. This means that the divorce has to be enforced against the reluctant spouse. Somebody has to be separated from the joint assets of the marriage, most often, the family home and the children. The coercive machinery of the state is wheeled into place. The state begins the micromanaging of divorcing couples that Dr. Ablow rightly decries.

Dr Ablow is correct that people are not getting married because they are afraid of divorce, including the state’s involvement in their post-divorce lives. State governments undermine marriage by siding with the least committed spouse. Unilateral divorce was a policy change that just happened to increase the power of the state over people’s lives. No-fault, unilateral divorce is the policy that ought to be reversed. That is not “getting the government out of the marriage business.”

But Dr. Ablow’s ill-advised foray into policy analysis is not the least of the problems with his article. He comments, in an off-hand way, that in his clinical observations, “the vast majority of married people consider their unions a source of pain, not pleasure, and that too few of them are equipped with the psychological and behavioral tools to achieve true intimacy or maintain real passion.” Translation: People don’t have good enough relationship skills to get and stay married, so let’s give them an easier way out.

This statement is both illogical and appalling.

It is illogical because a therapist typically treats people who are having problems. Happily married people don’t usually go to a therapist. He really shouldn’t draw conclusions about the “vast majority of married people,” based on a sample of clients in his own practice.

But suppose his clients really and truly don’t have good relationship skills. His job as a life coach is precisely to give them those tools. It is appalling that he abandons that field, where he undoubtedly has something to contribute. Instead, he goes off on a tangent of abolishing marriage as a public institution. His policy proposal accommodates the present instability of marriage, when he should be leading the charge to combat it.

But, Dr. Ablow, isn’t it your clinical observation that people actually want to get married and stay married? Don’t people want intimacy and passion? And, don’t children want and deserve parents who remain committed to each other?

This is where our current debate over the definition of marriage has led us. A noted psychiatrist joins the parade of people celebrating a cockamamie scheme for destroying marriage as an object of public concern. In the process, he is diverted from the serious business of helping people develop their capacity for love and relationship.

What a loss.

The Going-To-The-Hospital Blues



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I have been spending a lot of time at a hospital lately. Too damn much time, one might say. And because I am not the patient, I’ve had time to observe all the things one can hate about hospitals besides having to go as a patient. Here is my list:

1. The lights. What is with those fluorescent bulbs that make everyone, including small children, look absolutely exhausted? Sick or not, under the dim but harsh lights everyone in a hospital everyone looks like they need to be in a hospital. Very depressing.

2. Nowadays I think doctors are really trying to work on their bedside manner and be more thoughtful and caring when dealing with patients. Nurses, by and large, are okay, too. But the check-you-in, tell-you-where-to-go staff, at least in some New York hospitals, seem to spend more time talking to each other than trying to be helpful. And when you dare to complain about their not being helpful, full-scale retaliation can kick in. Enough to make you sick. 

3. With all the blabber about electronic medical-record keeping, it seems no one has ever heard of reading a printout. Even though you hand over your medical insurance cards and fill out a form when you first go for treatment, and it is all entered into a computer, you need to do it again and again and again. Wonder how Steve Jobs reacted to this inability to effectively use technology. Now they explain this by saying they have to keep checking to make sure they are treating the right patient with the right protocol. But didn’t I read that over a hundred thousand people die in hospitals each year because of medical error? Wouldn’t it make sense that the fourth person asking you the same questions would at least read what you said before?

4. And then, of course, there is the waiting. You have an appointment at twelve o’clock, which means you really have an appointment at one o’clock or perhaps even later because they wanted you there early to fill out the information you have already given and assume it will take you more than half an hour. Or the doctor is running late. Or the staff is chit-chatting away and so the lab work is sent up later than it should be and everything slows down.

5. And, of course, the worst of all is you are in a hospital because you are sick or you are with someone who is sick and that is frightening and bewildering and makes you dependent on a whole batch of strangers. And so, under those fluorescent lights, you already feel you are in the shadows.

— Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge, where this first appeared.

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