Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mary Eberstadt's Home-Alone America

Tonight I saw an interview of Mary Eberstadt discussing her book Home-Alone America and I had to go and look it up. Basically, she has been researching the impact of parental absence in the home on kids, whether its through working moms, absent dads, uninvolved relatives, etc. Before I discuss why it resonated with me here's a quote from the author.

A summary question from the National Review Online:

NRO: If a parent can take away only one message from Home-Alone America, what would you like it to be?

Eberstadt: Any family already sacrificing to keep an adult at home with kids will be feel affirmed by the research in my book. But I think other mothers and fathers who do not or cannot make that same choice will find a different kind of reassurance in its pages, because so much of what the evidence really shows is something they already know from common sense.

Parents don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to buy the “right” toy to jump-start an infant’s “cognitive skills” or play Mozart to a dribbling three-year-old — and contrary to what many women have been told these last few years, they also don’t have to be a stellar model of career success for their children to admire.

No, as the evidence offered in Home-Alone America shows plainly, what benefits many kids most is something far more prosaic — just having parents plain show up, whether for purposes of simple supervision or for the intangible emotional safety net they seem to offer as no one else. Speaking as an imperfect parent and human myself, I find that message liberating, and I think other parents will also feel liberated to be in possession of new evidence tacitly underlining how much they matter.
Various Amazon sellers have it on sale for five dollars, which I'm speculating is because its been used as a text in classrooms, conveniently making it affordable for ME and other interested parents out there.
I'm really glad I saw this interview, and I'm really glad Eberstadt is out there promoting this kind of research. I read a lot of psychology and family studies articles and texts when doing my degree and it's very familiar to a lot of other contemporary work being done. The studies are out there and the results are that kids need parents in the home as much as humanly possible. Still, 'on the street' and in the media it doesn't really feel like this research is making an impact yet. I used to write a lot about how I resented the current attitude (at least in the northeast USA where I'm from) that it is unacceptable, outdated and looked down upon for a woman to stay in the home and raise children instead of going out to work. (This was well before Arin was even a twinkle in my eye, I might add, so my resentment was not entirely selfishly motivated.) Now at least, there is a trend more back towards thinking stay at home mom's are not just lazy, unskilled, useless members of society but actually contributing invaluably to their children's mental, emotional and physical well-being (and therefore strengthening society as a whole). Of course, my reading material and social circles have dramatically changed.
I always wanted to stay at home with Arin, and I have made a lot of sacrifices to be able to do that all this time. Financially it won't be viable for much longer and I am worried about how daycare will affect Arin, I hope that I did everything I could to give him the best start I was able to. At the same time I've felt so pushed and driven to go out and 'get a job' and 'make money' and 'be productive', and that I'm being selfish and lazy for 'just sitting at home all day long playing with a baby'. These aren't quotes anyone has said directly, at least not that I remember, but just general and repetitive inferences I've felt from a variety of sources. And personally I feel really bad that I don't have money to fix up the house, to buy nice clothes for Arin, to actually even GO places like a jungle gym or to visit friends who don't live close, nevermind how I feel about not being able to buy anything for myself or presents for holidays.

Anyway, the point of all that self-indulgent blather is that there aren't that many rewards for a stay-at-home mom... but this book's message is one of them. I'm doing the RIGHT THING. This sacrifice MATTERS. I don't care if someone is looking down their nose at me, thinking I'm wasting time. There is NO BETTER use of time than what I'm doing. There is NO JOB more important than the one I work. Thank you, Mary Eberstadt, for taking the time to explore this subject and bring me some reassurance, because the guilt for staying at home can be just as bad for the guilt of going off to work.


Momo said...

I didn't know you felt this way. I feel better about you staying home too. We can work something out , at least until he's 17 :)


Original Template by