Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What Is Missing? Dads 

This article by Katie Powalski of the Orlando Sentinel, published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (PP) talks about a survey by Babytalk Magazine. In summary, Katie's article states that "Babytalk Mag. found many married women feel it might sometimes be easier to go the mommy route, alone." Key reasons for their conclusions included: The idea of not fighting with a partner over the best way to raise a child; not having the chore of keeping up a healthy marriage (69%); not dealing with in-laws (30%). According to Ms Powalski, single moms agree, with two-thirds of unmarried moms feeling it would be harder to be a parent if there were a man in the house.

I tracked other information related to the survey. Powalski's article was a bit selective in what it emphasize. Ignored in the PP/Sentinel article is the following statement from the survey: " a whopping 81% of unmarried moms also agreed that "marriage is a sacred institution" and that "a child needs two parents." And 64% admitted that they "wish they were married." Other key points were omitted, including the fact that a number of the people interviewed were in long-term, live-in relationships with the father of their child. The filter process was at work.

My husband and I just saw the movie, Up., a delightful story about a curmudgeon who takes a fantastic adventure with a young boy whose father is missing. Without spoiling the plot, it is quite apparent that the boy wants a man in his life.

I have done it all: Career, postponed first marriage, had a son, divorced, remarried 11 years after the divorce. During my "single parent" stage (of 12 years or so), I did everything I could to provide my son with male models (our family was out of state, his dad moved to the east coast, but our son did visit him): Doctors, Boy Scouts, Big Brother, karate, male teachers. Kids, boys in particular, need men in their lives because they do NOT need to emulate females. I was very fortunate, my son's step-dad provided that visible male role model that he (and all kids) needed. My second husband was there for most of my son's high school years, college, and now, career.

My conclusion on the PP/Sentinel article is that it focused far too much on the mom - it's the kids who need to be the focus. Survey after survey find that kids simply do better with dad in the house.

KING ADDS: Mrs. S and I saw Up between my trips, and loved it. If you are a father of a son with whom you have a less-than-full relationship, watch this movie and get your resolve Up.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Just get 'em to 50 

I was reading Bryan Caplan distinguishing his views on parenting from Steve Levitt's, and not finding myself really lining up on one side of the other. I'm not entirely sure it's necessary that my kids like me when they grow up, but I care about how they turn out, and I wouldn't mind it if they were willing to provide some support in my final days on the planet (if I turn out to die in a way that one could foretell by a few weeks or more.)

I have two children. Most readers know about Littlest, but Oldest (from my first marriage) is not often mentioned because he is older by a decade and does not live at home. We do not talk every day like some parents do with their twenty-somethings. He walks to work from his apartment here in town, and I see him some days and we wave. We both like to text. But get together? Maybe once a month. He's pretty independent and I want to respect that. A measure of my success or failure as a parent is not in my view how many times a month I see him.

In the comments to Caplan's post someone mentioned an article from last year by Orson Scott Card that says two very important things: "good is good enough", and take the long view:
What is the measure of happiness? I suppose everyone has their own idea, but species-wide, the prevailing notion might run something like this:

When your kids reach the age of 50:

1. They're married to somebody they like and trust.

2. They're supporting themselves.

3. Their own kids are growing up decently.

4. Everybody in the family is speaking to each other.

5. They're all good people -- contributing to society and living by the rules.

That's an achievable standard, isn't it? It doesn't look so hard.

Of course, your kids can make horrible choices that put the kibosh on some of these things. But if you teach them what's expected of a good person, and show it in your own life, you can't force them not to make bad choices. That happens, and it's sad, and all you can do then is help them work through the consequences of those choices and try to salvage happiness at the end of the road.

In fact, raising kids who are hardworking, self-supporting, reliable, kindly people who get along with each other is hard enough that I think any parents who achieve it have a right to be perfectly content with the job they did.

Why, then, do so many parents set impossible standards for themselves and their children, guaranteeing that they -- and their children -- will fail, and making everybody miserable in the process?
There are times where Mrs. S worries Littlest will be harmed in some way, that we cannot assure her safety. We worry about the choices our kids make, and perhaps that's wise if it turns out they are lousy risk-assessors. We would like to be sure they can MAKE IT TO 50! That seems worth worrying about, though understanding there are some risks you can't reduce to zero. But what your kids do for a living, whether they are the best they can be, may not be as important as just getting them to be self-sustaining people in families that care for each other when they hit the age you are. When someone says to me about my child "She's a good kid" or "He's a very nice young man" I sometimes hear a 'but' as in "but he could be ..." To which I would like to say, "yeah, so could we all. Your point is...?"

So this the first Christmas season in which I am over 50, and I'd like to congratulate my parents on going five-for-five with me (assuming I'm capable of judging #3 and #5). If I'm lucky, I'll live long enough to see if I did as well.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I just don't need you any more 

Someone comes to the obvious: if marriage is viewed as an institution for joint provision of household services and childrenfreedom and prosperity and technological change reduce the demand for marriage.

This even includes a good point that might go less noticed:
Finally, economic growth raises people's aspirations - it encourages the belief that you can have more, "because you're worth it." This in turn creates dissatisfaction, with the result that a wife with a mediocre spouse is less likely to stand by her man*.
I'd put this a different way: If economic freedom has led to increased inequality, it also means that the potential return to search for a new spouse has increased (you can compete to make contracts with more affluent partners than before.) Since the return to search is greater, marriage is likely to be delayed.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The quality of pillow talk 

I'm glad my wife is not Sheila of London. She writes to Tim Harford that she's flirting like mad with another man because she is 'rather bored' with her husband. His answer is brilliant:

When I heard of your dilemma I thought immediately of an old paper from the Journal of Political Economy, �A Theory of Extramarital Affairs� by Ray C. Fair, an economist at Yale.

...[H]is approach to the problem could equally have applied if you had written to say that you were 38 years old, rather bored with your husband and were thinking of taking up badminton. One senses that something is missing. I think the omission is uncertainty. You do not know how much fun an affair will be. Nor do you know whether your husband is likely to become more or less tedious over time. A cost-benefit analysis is going to be tricky, but we can say for sure that your potential affair represents a valuable option. As with all options it may be best to refrain from exercising it until the option is �deep in the money� - that is, until you are so thoroughly fed up with your husband that you think nothing can save the marriage.

Until then, why not enjoy the saucy talk? It may be a lot more fun than the affair itself.

The Fair model is pretty well-known, and a couple of recent re-tests have turned some of the results into questions. Fair found, for instance, that infidelity increased over time in the marriage, but recent results do not support that. Harford's surmise, that "you know whether your husband is likely to become more or less tedious over time" is supported by that. But age does matter, at least in this paper up to a point: The probability of a man cheating on his marriage peaks at age 55, but for women the peak is 40. Most importantly, education matters but in a very economic way. If your spouse is much less educated than you are, you're more likely to be unfaithful to the marriage. "[T]he costs of infidelity increases as the quality of the spouse increases." But of course.

Here's the wiki on option time value.

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