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Home Alone America
May 25, 2005
by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D.

What is it about the chattering classes anyhow ? Why can the policy wonks and public intellectuals not see the point of Mary Eberstadt's important new book, Home Alone America? Many reviewers seem determined to miss the deep truth of this book: It would be better for both children and adults if more American parents were with their kids more of the time.

Raising a child is first and foremost about building a relationship with the child. The most important aspect of parenting is relational. The family is all about relationships, not about the transfer of resources. Children need a relationship with their parents far more than they need any specific resources from them. The social significance of parenting goes far beyond Big People Transferring Resources to Little People.

To make this point, Mary Eberstadt looks at Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. Literally. In her chapter about the sexual behavior of teenagers, she makes the case that the teen sexual activity is correlated with being Home Alone, unsupervised by adults. (Well, doh!) She dissects the cheerleading over the declines in teen pregnancy and abortion. She shows that these declines, welcome though they are, do not indicate that all is well on the teenager sex scene.

For instance, many kids are having oral sex instead of vaginal intercourse. Now, it is certainly true that no one has ever gotten pregnant from oral sex. However, many people do get sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) from oral sex. Condoms are not much help in preventing the spread of viruses that are transmitted orally.

Rock and roll lyrics reveal the lost souls of teens abandoned by their parents. Making disapproval noises the vile lyrics of rap music is almost a sport in some adult circles. But Eberstadt cautions us against simply dismissing what she calls "the primal scream of teenage music." The notorious rappers such as Eminem, Snoop Doggy Dog and Jay-Z, save their most obnoxious lyrics for the fathers who abandoned them and the mothers who neglected them. Coincidence? Mary Eberstadt thinks not.

The chapter on drugs is not about illegal drug use, in which kids medicate themselves. Eberstadt instead looks at the use of legal drugs, in which adults medicate children to make them more manageable. Whether it is ritalin to control Attention Deficit Disorder, or anti-depressants to make kids feel better, Eberstadt feels sure that the increase in prescription of these drugs can be connected with the fact that more and more kids are left to fend for themselves for more and more hours each day.

The "Zoloft killer" could be a poster child for Home Alone America. You remember Christopher Pittman of course. At the age of twelve, he shot his sleeping grandparents, and set fire to their house. During his recent trial, his attorneys tried to argue that he was under the influence of Zoloft, and was therefore not responsible for the killings and the arson.

But while the media chose to focus on the medication angle, the real story was left unmentioned. Why is a 12 year old on anti-depressant medication in the first place? And why was he living with his grandparents? He was abandoned by his mother in infancy. He was passed from one family member to another. His father, described as a "stern disciplinarian." The boy had run away from home, threatened suicide and was placed in a psychiatric center in Florida for six days before moving in with his grandparents. He ultimately shot his grandparents because he was angry that they disciplined him, for trying to choke another child on the school bus. This was a troubled child, medication or no medication. Is it a coincidence that he was abandoned by his mother?

I don't mean to give the impression that Home Alone America is a doom and gloom book. It is, above all, a generous book. The point of these dire stories is not that every child in day care will end up as a serial killer. Rather, the point is that this is the wrong question. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to set the standards of care higher than simply avoiding dire outcomes.

So forget the clueless chattering classes and go buy this book. If your family has one or more parent committed to spending the majority of their time in the home for the benefit of the kids, you need this book. It will affirm the importance of what you are doing. If you are sometimes lonely because you are the only stay at home mom in the neighborhood, so your kids have no one to play with after school, Home Alone America will tell you you are doing the right thing. If you are on the edge of wondering whether it really is worth the effort to keep your high-powered job going, whether the extra income (after taxes and working expenses) is really worth the stress involved in a two-earner household, this book will encourage you.

If your adult children are struggling with these questions, buy this book for them. If your heart has been breaking while you watch your grandchildren flounder while your adult children try to figure out all this stuff for themselves, give them this book. If you know someone who is expecting a baby and wondering what to do, give them this book. If you are a teacher, or counselor or therapist, and you are wondering why you are seeing so many disturbed, angry and unhappy children, get this book. If anyone ever asks your advice about any of these questions, and you aren't sure what to say, read this book, and give it away.

Home Alone America could be book that tips the scales finally in favor of more generosity toward children and family. Don't miss out on being part of that trend.

This article originally published in the National Catholic Register, and is reprinted with permission of Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, author of 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage which you can find on-line at www.jointhemarriagerevolution.com

"Avoid feeling sorry for yourself at all costs. Self-pity is deadly because it drains the joy out of your life." Tip #14, from 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage

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