Monthly Archives: May 2008

Why Aren’t We Saving for “Rainy Days” Anymore?

Back in the day, people believed it was morally correct and pragmatically smart to save for a rainy day.  These days, folks prefer to spend what they have to “enjoy the moment.”  It turns out that most Americans say they’re not saving as much as they should, but apparently, they’re not very worried about it.  Talk about living in dreamland!

It is sad to receive a call to my daily radio program from a hard-working young couple with children who are frustrated with their parents who spend, spend, and spend some more and don’t worry at all about retirement or medical issues they might face as they age.  These young families are frantic, concerned about their obligation to parents who are doing nothing to provide for themselves.  And then there are the young men who are making babies, “shacking up,” and/or marrying young women they are in no financial position to support.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the notion of personal responsibility, and have substituted a sense of entitlement – i.e., that our families or our tax-paying communities should be paying our way.

According to federal economic data and a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Social  and Demographic Trends Project, 3 out of 4 Americans admit they aren’t saving enough.  While you constantly hear people complaining about their finances, these feelings don’t seem to motivate action:  Americans now save, on average, less than 1% of their incomes, and the saving rate has been in almost continuous decline for more than twenty years!

This lack of fiscal planning is equally evident for men and women.  From the lowest income level to the highest, the admission of not saving enough ranges from 78% to 71%, indicating that level of wealth is irrelevant to notions of saving.

Interestingly, the group most involved in saving is….senior citizens!  Only a narrow majority (54%) of those ages 65 and older say they aren’t saving enough. 

Necessity is the mother of frugality.

Why Day Care Kids Don’t Play Outside

More than half of American children between the ages of 3 and 6 are in child care centers or preschools, so the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center recently released the results of a study of children’s physical activity in day care settings. (NY Times, 5/6/08)

The researchers surveyed staff members at 34 area child care centers to find out more about how kids spend their time while they’re in day care, including the reasons why they may or may not spend time outside. They presented the findings recently at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The findings may surprise you.

Children are kept inside by day care workers if they show up in flip-flops rather than sneakers, or if they don’t have a coat on a chilly day.  If only one child doesn’t have the right clothes for outdoor play, the whole group may be kept indoors.  Occasionally, parents will deliberately drop off a child without a coat, because they don’t want the child going outside that day.

Mulch is often used to landscape playgrounds and outdoor spaces at child care centers.  The researchers found that kids eat the mulch, get it caught in their shoes or use it as weapons, so day care staff indicated that outdoor play can sometimes be troublesome.

Also the feelings of teachers and parents influence whether or not children play outside.  Children learn important motor and social skills by learning to kick a ball or negotiating with another child for a turn on the swing, but teachers said they felt pressure from some parents who were more concerned with children spending time on academic skills.

In addition, some day care workers said it was just too much trouble and took too much time to bundle up the kids during cold weather, while other workers said they just didn’t like going outside.

What more can be said about institutionalized day orphanages?

Quote of the Week

Armed Forces Day is tomorrow, May 17th.

It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.
                Dwight D. Eisenhower
                President of the United States

Fit, Not Fat

A study by Harvard-affiliated researchers published in the Archives of Internal Medicine challenges the notion that you can be fat and fit.  They found that being active can lower, but not eliminate heart risks faced by women who are fat or obese.

This new study involved nearly 39,000 women, average age of 54, who filled out a questionnaire at the beginning of the study detailing their height, weight and amount of weekly physical activity in the past year, including walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming.  They were then tracked for approximately 11 years.

Women were considered “active” if they followed government-recommended guidelines, and got at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.  Women who got less exercise than that were considered “inactive.” Weight was evaluated by body mass index (BMI):  a BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, and 30 or higher is considered obese.

Compared with normal-weight active women, the risk for developing heart disease was 54% higher in overweight active women, and 87% higher in obese active women.  By contrast, the risk for developing heart disease was 88% higher in overweight inactive women and 2 1/2 times greater in obese inactive women.

About two in five American women at age 50 will eventually develop heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems according to the Associated Press report (4/29/08).  Excess weight can raise those odds in numerous ways, such as increasing blood pressure and increasing the risks for diabetes, as well as increasing “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.  Exercise counteracts all three.

If there’s one place in the world where there is no excuse for being inactive, it’s southern California.  Between the glorious weather, the hiking trails in the mountains, marked bicycle lanes and more, it’s almost impossible to excuse or explain being out of shape.

How About Putting a “Sin Tax” on Fast Food?

We already have taxes levied on cigarettes, purportedly to pay for education to stop smoking.  So, what’s so wrong with a tax on fast food to subsidize education about “eating less and moving more,” considering that two-thirds of the American population is fat or obese?

Lawmakers in New Jersey are considering such a tax, and planning to use the revenue from it to fund struggling hospitals.  Obviously, the old hat argument comes out that condemns such a tax as specifically aiming at the poor. When you want to budget money for eating, why not consider eating at home and brown-bagging it for lunch?  Everyone knows that this is a cheaper and more nutritious alternative.

As one taxpayer pointed out, “It costs $12.86 for fries and this little chicken wrap….” This taxpayer was complaining about adding a tax.  Yipes.  This taxpayer should have been complaining about how much money he’s wasting on such a menu.  He did also comment that “if they raise it [i.e., the price with a tax], I’ll stop buying it.”    Brilliant!  If it’s unhealthy, he’ll eat it.  If it has a “sin tax,” he’ll stop.  I think that’s a good enough reason for the tax.

More on Parental Irresponsibility

Sue Shellenbarger writes a column for The Wall Street Journal that generally sends me up any available wall. The column is entitled “Home & Family,” and I keep up with it if only to counter its content.

She recently answered a reader’s question (4/30/08) that had to do with a divorced father wanting to take his 10 year old son to his native Australia for 10 days, but his ex-wife is fighting the plan. The father contends that life lessons of such a vacation trump school. He’s going to court for the right to take him, and asks Shellenbarger what she thinks.

First of all, there are laws which prohibit one parent from taking a child out of the country without the express permission of the other. The reason is obvious: child-stealing. Secondly, having divorced parents at war with each other over a child hurts the child as he or she feels divided loyalties and tremendous anxiety. Thirdly, taking a child out of school for a protracted trip teaches the child that education is less of a priority than personal desires for fun. This father could arrange a summer trip when no school is missed. My guess is that this is a major power play.

Shellenbarger not only doesn’t deal with any of these issues, but she focuses on the whim of the child: if he would be comfortable with the trip; if he would see it as an adventure….in other words, just considering what the kid wants. What?? Of course the kid wants to be out of school and hanging out with dingos and kangaroos!

“The ideal route would be for you and your ex-wife to set aside your personal feelings and focus on what he truly wants,” contributes a New Jersey Marriage and Family Therapist. “[It] depends on your son’s openness to the experience. Try to give him a free and honest choice, unfettered by feelings of loyalty to either of you or fear of letting you down.”

Is she kidding? How can a ten year old do that? And why put the burden on the child? Aren’t the parents supposed to want and do what is best for the child? This is more of the “if it feels good it is good” school of thought – an experiment whose failure doesn’t seem to curtail its perpetuation.

Mother/Child Bonding on the Rise

Here’s some good news for the day after Mother’s Day.  One delightful index of the movement away from the “feminist mother” mentality of “other-than-mother” care is the percentage of new moms who are breastfeeding.  While it is possible that some women squeeze out breast milk into a bottle for the hired help to administer to their baby, the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate that 77% of new mothers breastfeed their infants, which is the highest rate in the United States in at least 20 years!

The percentage of black infants who were breast-fed rose most dramatically – to 65%.  Only 36% were ever breast-fed in 1993-1994, the study found.  For whites, the figure rose to 79% from 62%.  For Hispanics, it increased to 80%, from 67%.
The rates of breast feeding were lowest among women who were unmarried, poor, rural, younger than 20, and had a high school education or less.

Experts emphasize that breast milk is better than formula at protecting babies against disease and childhood obesity.

Mommy Is Love

In the feminista days of my youth (college in the 1960′s) I took up the sword of the feminist movement’s message that marriage and mothering were yokes of oppression.  Fortunately, I recovered from that ailment in time to become a wife and mother.  Since my “rehab,” I’ve been a fervent supporter of adoption over abortion and mothering over institutionalized day-orphanages.  I’m grateful to be able to say that I’ve been able to influence over 30 years’ worth of listeners to my radio program. 

To celebrate this Mother’s Day I have decided to share of some their letters and lives:
TaShanique: I began listening to your radio program before I got pregnant, and when I discovered that I was expecting, it was clear what I had to do.  My husband gave me the go-ahead to quit my stressful job in March of 2007, even though my son wasn’t due until late July.  I was prepared to be a stay-at-home mommy.  One thing I wasn’t prepared for was all the backlash that I received.  I  heard that I was being arrogant in assuming that I could teach my child everything by sheltering him from the world; I would be spoiling my child by not exposing him to other people.  Also, after church one day, I yawned and someone said to me ‘Why are you yawning?  You don’t have a job so you shouldn’t be tired!’  I thought it was a joke, until I saw he wasn’t laughing.

This may have not bothered most people, but I was suffering from postpartum depression and had a hard time with such negativity from others.  I also hadn’t been receiving my regular ‘dose’ of Dr Laura, so I started to second- guess myself as to whether or not I had made the right choice.

 However, it seems like everything changed in one day.  I got stuck in traffic and turned to your broadcast and listened to you encourage mothers to ‘go do the right thing.’  When I got home, my husband greeted me with a big hug and kiss, and told me that I was doing a great job and that he’s proud to have me as his wife and the mother of his son.  I was doing the right thing; I was being my son’s mother and my husband’s wife.

 That same evening, a person who had been the most critical toward me called me and was very upset. The pediatrician who cares for her daughter begged her to remove her daughter from day-care because she is constantly ill and underweight.  She was upset at the pediatrician, and asked me what she should do.  I told her to go do the right thing, which she took to mean that it was time to criticize me once again for making the choice to stay at home.  I told her that I had to go make dinner for my family and hung up.  What she had to say didn’t bother me.

 My husband and I are planning on having another baby next year.  This time I will be well prepared.  I am currently creating a list that contains the reasons why I stay at home.  That will ensure that even through postpartum depression that I won’t forget that I did the right thing.”

 Karen: I have been wanting to write to you since my first daughter was born 4 years ago to proclaim ‘I am my Kid’s Mom!’ and to tell you that I could not have done that without your encouragement.

 My parents did not teach me that the most important job in the world was being a parent.  My father did not respect my mother’s role as wife and mother, and my mother obviously resented being his wife.  While she did tell us that being a mother was her greatest joy, I am not sure that she ever would have stood on a mountaintop to proclaim, ‘I am My Kid’s Mom!’

 Since that time, my parents divorced.  My mother died a month before my wedding, and my greatest sadness is that I cannot share with her my complete joy and happiness in being a parent.  My father, having had some dramatic life changes, has completely supported me and continually tells me how proud he is that I am choosing to be a stay-at-home mom, and to be ‘My Kid’s Mom.’  By the way, he listens to you as well and I made him a t-shirt with a picture of him holding my daughter at 6 hours of age – the t-shirt says, ‘I am my grand-daughter’s grandpa!’

I am now 42 years old.  I did not meet the man of my dreams until I was 36, so we had to work quickly to start our family.  When I met the love of my life, I knew that he was the man that I wanted to be the father of my children.  I was so right.  He and my daughter are glued to each other every waking moment; she is happy to sit in his lap and watch C-SPAN!  Every day that I see them together, I fall in love with him more and more.  My favorite pastime is listening to them over the baby monitor as they read and giggle together!!  He is definitely his kid’s dad.

I remember as a teenager saying that I never wanted to get married or have a family – I did not want to give up my independence.  If I did, I wanted to be able to afford a full-time nanny.  What a crock of crap!  The day my daughter was born I changed my voice mail.  Instead of the business response, it now says, ‘You have reached the proud mama of K.R.A.  Sorry we can’t take your call, but we are busy at the park, at the playgroup, at the pool, at music class, etc.’

 I was so worried about my professional identity before she was born.  Took me less than two minutes to toss my professional identity out of the window because ‘I am my Kid’s Mom!’

 While this is a great story, where do you fit in, Dr. Laura?  I never, ever would have wanted to be my kid’s mom without your encouragement as well as some modeling from some of my friends.  So, thank you for your wisdom and nagging.

Excelsa: I am a stay-at-home mom to my 1 year 7 month old daughter.  Each day I teach her several words and she repeats them after me.  I started with the simple words and progressed to more difficult ones.  I went through all the body parts, then animals, then constellations and other miscellaneous words.  Well, just when I was beginning to wrap things up, I said to my daughter, ‘Honey, can you say love?’  She smiled her cute little smile and said, ‘Mom.’

 Oh, my heart just melted.  My husband was listening, and he just picked up our daughter and gave her the biggest kiss and said, ‘Yes, honey, Mommy is love.’

Just thought I’d let you know that this is such a defining moment for me as a mother, and that I know I am doing a great job raising my daughter.

Final Thought: A caller to my radio program described being a surrogate mother for her brother and sister-in-law.  Preliminary tests suggested that the baby has Down Syndrome.  The brother and sister-in-law want her to abort; she wanted my opinion.  I suggested that she get them in contact with parent groups of Down Syndrome children for support and information; and if that did not change their minds, to either keep the baby herself (she was married) or get them to sign away their rights and offer the child for adoption.  I received scores of letters from married women willing to adopt this child. 

Happy Mother’s Day.