A Success At Work, A Failure At Home

A few weeks ago, a Washington Post Book World review prompted me to buy a thought-provoking attempt by a writer named John Dickerson to understand his mother's determination to combine work and motherhood in the 1960s and '70s.

On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star tackles working motherhood from the view of the child -- in this case, a smart boy warped by his mother's desire to have a fantastic career and children. This doesn't seem greedy now, but in the 1960s, this dual ambition stood out.

And what a career she had. A girl from a small midwestern town with big dreams, Nancy Dickerson graduated from college in 1948, when many American colleges and graduate schools didn't accept women. Television journalism was almost entirely dominated by men, but that didn't stop Dickerson from moving to Washington and forcing her way into the old boys club as a radio and television reporter and producer for CBS, NBC and PBS. CBS made Dickerson their first female correspondent, and she went on to produce Face the Nation, The Leading Question and Inside Washington. She covered Watergate, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and other key political events from 1960 to the early 1980s.

John Dickerson, the youngest of Nancy Dickerson's three stepdaughters and two sons, does a good job of showing life from a lonely kid's perspective, written by a man who still seems to nurse a few grudges against Mom. Dickerson notes that despite her demanding career she took him to the doctor and attended all school functions, but that this attention just made him feel more "broken." He does point out the joys of the carefree, adventurous childhood his mother's absence made possible, and he's careful to praise her accomplishments and provide a few examples of maternal devotion. But you get the feeling that he has to look hard to find them.

Surprisingly, Dickerson absolves his dad -- a businessman who neglected his three young daughters after his first wife's death to pursue international business deals and the coquettish Miss Nancy -- for his parental failures and devotion to his career. Dickerson also fails to credit his mother for being a role model for his own career success, which includes being a White House correspondent for Time magazine and his current position as chief political correspondent for Slate.

By the book's end, Dickerson understands his mother far more fully. In the final chapters he recognizes how she struggled to combine kids and career when few other women were attempting this highwire act. Some of his understanding comes from his own experience as a father of two young children (ever wonder what kind of book your kids might write?). The most poignant part of the book is the lesson for all parents that an adult child's understanding of his parents later in life doesn't always heal the scars inflicted on the child within. And that maybe -- unfairly, illogically, and perhaps undeniably -- a mother's failure as a parent can leave the deepest cuts.

When confronted with my criticisms of unresolved internal conflicts, harsh treatment of his mother vs. his father, and the sexism his mother faced both at home and at work, Dickerson reacted with admirable candor: "Well, the fact that, 40 years later, men and women are now both wrestling with these issues and getting it all wrong is great progress."

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  November 29, 2006; 7:24 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
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I read exerpts of the book and was also struck by the lack of criticism of his father for the very thing he seemed to criticize his mother for. I thought that some of his criticism wasn't necessarily directed at his mother's career (most was), but also that his mother seemed cold.

But then again, the issues of the rich and famous don't necessarily inform the discussion of "balance" really. It's hard to feel sorry for this guy and he does seem to be a "success" as a person so his parents must have done something right.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 7:37 AM

From reading your review, it sounds like Dickerson's problem with his mother stemmed not so much from her having a career, but fron her not being fuzzy-wuzzy and involved in every aspect of her children's lives. What's to say things would have been any different if she'd been a stay at home mom? In fact, things could have been way, way worse, with an added layer of maternal resentment at her thwarted ambitions added in.

And not to sound cold, but nothing described in your review sounds like a terrible crime. It's not as if Dickerson were emotionally abusive; it just sounds like she wasn't the June Cleaver her son was hoping for.

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 8:13 AM

"John Dickerson, the youngest of Nancy Dickerson's three stepdaughters and two sons, does a good job of showing life from a lonely kid's perspective, written by a man who still seems to nurse a few grudges against Mom. Dickerson notes that despite her demanding career she took him to the doctor and attended all school functions, but that this attention just made him feel more "broken.""

This is so ridiculous. It sounds to me like if John felt "broken," it was his own problem, not his mother's. I was struck by the fact that he was a youngest child--perhaps his loneliness was the result of being the baby of the family, always left behind while sisters and brothers went off to exciting things. Or perhaps he had a bottomless need for maternal love that no mother, regardless of how June Cleaver she was, could meet. Children are all different; they bring different issues to a family. And while parents do their very best--and it sounds like Nancy did well by John, what with the school functions and doctors--ultimately, as a child grows up, it's his or her own responsibility to become a whole person and heal the scars.

Posted by: Oh please | November 29, 2006 8:15 AM

To be honest, it seems like blaming your parents is an American past time. Is this a recent trend or has it always existed? At some point, you need to move on from your childhood. Unless you were abused, I think you should pull up your socks and learn to deal with the past. Take the good things from your childhood and repeat them, actively don't do the bad things, and ignore a lot of the stuff in between. Why do Americans spend so much time worrying about what didn't happen and just start focusing on what they can do today?

Posted by: foamgnome | November 29, 2006 8:21 AM

I agree with all of the above. The following statement is just ridiculous:

"Dickerson notes that despite her demanding career she took him to the doctor and attended all school functions, but that this attention just made him feel more "broken""

So despite doing what moms are supposed to do, he feels "broken". Oh geez, get a life.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 8:28 AM

I agree with foamgnome above - way too much of the "abuse excuse" going on. There are many more people who have been abandoned and abused who have made it than there are those who whine about it and use it as an excuse for bad behavior or unfulfilled lives. I am not saying there aren't scars, issues but get some help dealing with them and move on.

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | November 29, 2006 8:32 AM

No matter what his mother did, it likely wouldn't have been enough. Instead of glorifying his writings, or worse, using it to self-flagellate, we should ignore it and go forward. We do what we can with what are given. It isn't his mother's fault...it is his own.

This kind of pap is maddening.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 8:33 AM

FWIW -- I read the Washington Post review of the article ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/17/AR2006101701393.html ) and it seemed to have a more nuanced analysis of the book (I haven't personally read the book). I would recommend checking it out before villianizing John too much.


Posted by: A Dad | November 29, 2006 8:36 AM

I agree that people should take responsibility for their own emotions, but that doesn't negate the fact that the earliest years are the most formative in child development. Children have an innate desire for good parents. That's not being greedy or needy, it's the way we are.

Posted by: Single Gal | November 29, 2006 8:37 AM

From the review: "The childhood dramas, however, are the driving force of this book, whether intentional or not. Dickerson cautions that he's not trying to weigh in on working mothers; he provides enough examples to suggest that, job or no job, his mother may not have had the DNA to be a nurturing parent. When her stepdaughter asked if she could have a silver dish that had belonged to her dead mother, Nancy hid it. To her older son, Michael, who was struggling with acne, she'd often say, "Your face looks awful."

And remember the context. This happened when it was the norm for moms to be home. being 'different' has always been a problem for kids, whether the difference may be perceived as good or not.

Please read the review and not just what Leslie wrote before commenting.

Posted by: anonfornow | November 29, 2006 8:38 AM

Got one word for this guy: whatever.

No one has a perfect childhood. Everyone has issues with their parents, all of whom are trying to reconcile being a parent with being a person (and sometimes that person is a flawed person).

Yes, adult understanding doesn't remove the scars of childhood. But it should make you less likely to show those scars off as scars of valor (or to try and take money off them!)

I am SO tired of these books - I call it "My, didn't I turn out to be a better person than my parent" genre. Life is what happens when you make plans, and sometimes you don't make the right choices at the right times. I would be interested to know from anyone who read the book whether or not Mr. Dickerson looked more closely at how his mother impacted his own career choice. Because doesn't it strike anyone else as odd that he hated his mother so much but went into her profession?

Posted by: Chasmosaur | November 29, 2006 8:38 AM

foamgnome,
I see this guy as an example of "blame-anyone-but-myself." I don't know whether this is an americanism or not. I know Australia is that way too. I believe it is a sign of social immaturity. Look at your average toddler..

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 8:40 AM

Regarding the broken comment, reading some of the book reviews yields a little more clarity:

According to John, his mother seemed disinterested in the every day mundane schedules of her children. It was only when a problem occurred, much like the car getting a flat, that she appeared to pay attention and become involved. This is the context for the 'broken' reference -- John's difficulty was that his primary involvement with his mother was for specific episodes in which she believed he needed to be 'fixed'.

Not to agree or disagree with his point, just to note that it is a bit more nuanced.

Posted by: A Dad | November 29, 2006 8:42 AM

Yesterday, someone mentioned having a blog regarding WOHM vs SAHM from the child's perspective.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 8:42 AM

When my mom returned to full-time work when I was in elementary school, I too felt like she was neglecting me- which is perfectly natural for a little kid who thinks, as little kids do, that she is the center of the universe. I got over it. Looking back, I remember all the things I did to try to make her feel guilty about "leaving" me- and feel glad that my mom was wise enough not to indulge me.

Posted by: randommom | November 29, 2006 8:45 AM

Single Gal,
Unfortunately, each child's definition/perception of 'good parents' is different (well maybe all small children want Santa/Mrs. Claus as their parents so they can get presents every day or something). Not all children want June Cleaver. I had June Cleaver for a mother and it wasn't a good match for me. The kicker is noone knows what each child's definition/perception will be until they are adults. Parents are in a bind...the only way out of the catch-22 situation is just do the best job they can at the time. No parent can do better than their own definition of 'best.'

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 8:46 AM

I did read Leslie's review before commenting, and I just didn't see anything resembling abuse or neglect. So his mom wasn't exactly a model of maternal compassion. Neither of the examples Leslie gives are compelling evidence of abuse.

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 8:49 AM

Here's the quote from the review on the "broken" comment. Definitely a lot more nuanced, I can see his point.

--"But there's a difference between working to solve a child's problems and connecting with that child," explains Dickerson. "She did all the right things from the outside but none of it brought us closer together on the inside." Instead, he writes, all the extra doctor and teacher visits made him feel "broken." What was missing were the kinds of moments Dickerson says he has with his own children, when a parent conveys through his availability that what's important to the child is important to him. "Mom's schedule never had a window large enough for such natural moments. It didn't have that window because she didn't schedule them," he writes. "She didn't know about the rest of her children's lives because it was like a dog's whistle to her. She couldn't hear it. If we weren't on her list or it wasn't the approved together-time between when she came home and when the servants took us for our baths, she wasn't hungering to connect with our world."--

Posted by: StudentMom2Be | November 29, 2006 8:53 AM

Dotted,

Sure, each parent and each child may have variations on what a precise ideal of "good parents" are. But, I think it would be wrong to assume we don't all have some huge generalizations in common. Time, attention, number of cookies baked, money and amount of "stuff" may vary - but everyone (I think it's safe to say) wants parents who help instill self worth.

Like "A Dad" pointed out, a child who only receives attention from his mom when he's doing something wrong or in crisis is going to have a warped sense of self for a while.

There are personality traits that are inherant, but much is still shaped by parenting and environment.

Posted by: Single Gal | November 29, 2006 9:01 AM

There does seem to be a lot of the "abuse excuse" mentioned above; however, it also seems natural that adult children become more critical of their parents once they have children of their own. It's far easier to recognize aspects of one's childhood that were less than ideal when one is trying to orchestrate the best environment for one's own child or children. My dad pushed us hard when it came to sports - not necessarily a bad thing but not one that I repeat with my kids. My husband looks back at his childhood and is shocked that he was left to get himself up, dressed, fed and to kindergarten by himself. He is also affected still by the fact that his older brother was left in charge at a young age and physcially abused him for years with his parents not intervening and still unable to acknowledge that there was anything wrong. It seems natural that Mr. Dickerson question his childhood experiences now that he has children. I do wonder what effect his criticism of his working mother has on his wife and his expectations of her.

Posted by: Stacey | November 29, 2006 9:16 AM

Yesterday, someone mentioned having a blog regarding WOHM vs SAHM from the child's perspective

Yes, ask a five year old if they want their mom and they will say yes. BUT

Ask them when they are 25 and they will say thanks for working mom.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 9:18 AM

This reminds me of a thought that my husband and I go back and forth on from time to time.....

Which parent has more of an impact on a child?

Ie, if you are raised only by one, what problems have developed because of the absence of the other?

Or if your relationship was poor with one or the other-how has this affected you and do you think it is more detrimental being a rift with your father or mother??

Posted by: Lou | November 29, 2006 9:20 AM

A wise woman at a party once said to me "our parents give us our life's work". She was explaining that no matter what we do as parents, we're going to miss something in the menu of all-things-needed-for-a-perfect-upbringing. And this is absolutely natural.

For example: If we're introverted, we probably aren't the best role models for the lesson called 'how to make friends with ease'. If we're extroverts, we may be imperfect at modeling 'how to gain peace from within'. But the flip side of each of these IS our gift to our children - extroverts model getting out there in the world and introverts model the value of quiet solitude. Most of us aren't both.

So for every missing wish in John's childhood (e.g., a mom who was devoted to him more), there is a flip-side gift (e.g., perhaps a mom who showed him that she - and therefore he - was worth pursuing her dreams?). It is okay for us to leave a lot of lessons to our children to learn on their own - this is how they make them theirs for real. We do our best, and our children hopefully grow to appreciate our strengths.

That said, it is hard for me to remember this when I'm critical of my parenting on a given day. Maybe writing it out today will help me do so.

Posted by: equal | November 29, 2006 9:24 AM

I'm 40 and the youngest of 4 children and all 4 of us are glad our mother stayed home. We had our best conversations right after we got off the bus...sitting on the kitchen counter while she cooked dinner. Not all 25 year olds wished their mother had worked. Stop making such broad generalizations.

Posted by: just another mom | November 29, 2006 9:28 AM


How the heck can parents instil a sense of self-worth? This is way too close to haveing the child believe s/he is the center of the universe. Nah, I don't believe in generalizations...or that instilling self-worth is one of them.

And in this case, this guys mother was giving him attention...after all, she went and supported his extracurriculars.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 9:29 AM

I'm sure I read an excerpt from this book sometime this year. I'm thinking it was The Washingtonian. I remember thinking that his life sounded a bit like those Victorian novels where "mummy" breezes into the nursery to kiss the children before rushing off to her social event or charity ball or whatever. And I remember thinking that it sounded like lots of his issues had more to do with being raised with great wealth -- than they necessarily did with whether or not his mom worked.

What I picked up on overall was his sense that his mother LOVED her work, LIVED for it, found interviewing famous politicians and researching issues FASCINATING -- and being a mom, less so. I'm sure that's a sentiment that some of us today can also identify with. He clearly resented coming in second to her great passion, which was work. (That's an altogether different sentiment than 'you missed my soccer game because you had a business trip' -- if you see my point.)

What I do find strange though is his complaint that "she wasn't involved enough his my world, she didn't hunger to know it." It's my understanding that at the time he was growing up, even stay-at-home moms weren't "involved in their children's worlds" in the sense of knowing all the words to the Teletubbies song or how many points each Pokemon card is worth. They just weren't enmeshed with their kids in that way -- I thought that was a 2000's phenomenon, and a not altogether healthy one at that.

I remember having this conversation with my husband awhile ago about how for some women it's like they're in love with their work and having an affair with their families -- whereas for others, it's the opposite. That's what I've always meant by balance -- where you put your psychic energy as well as your resources. does that make sense?

Posted by: Armchair Mom | November 29, 2006 9:32 AM

"She did all the right things from the outside but none of it brought us closer together on the inside.

"Mom's schedule never had a window large enough for such natural moments."


These quotes struck me because the first one describes my mother perfectly. But she was a SAHM, so there were plenty of "windows" of time for us to connect, but it never happened. She was there all the time but we were never "close".

So I personally wouldn't say that John's mother's career was to blame. He may *think* so, but it probably would have been the same if she had not worked at all. As in my case.

Also, although I hate to read things like a mom making fun of her son's acne, I also know that if strangers judged every little thing I ever did or said to my daughter, I might not come off so great either. Even though I love her more than life itself and try with all my heart to be a good mom, I am not perfect. None of us are.

Posted by: a mom now | November 29, 2006 9:35 AM

"Well, the fact that, 40 years later, men and women are now both wrestling with these issues and getting it all wrong is great progress."

In short, career-obsessed people make lousy parents regardless of their sex.

Also in the news, grass is green.

Posted by: Rufus | November 29, 2006 9:35 AM

very thought-provoking post...

What you wrote did make sense...especially the 'coming in second' feeling.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 9:36 AM

" Stop making such broad generalizations"

You should do the same thing not eveyone wants a happy homemaker for a mother.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 9:37 AM

Everything I am today I owe to my mother.

Posted by: Childless by Choice | November 29, 2006 9:37 AM

I wonder if part of the story is the social expectations of the era -- do we know if his mother actually wanted to be a mother, or did so because that is what was expected, or because she didn't have access to birth control, etc.? It seems like until recently, most women simply presumed that they would have kids, without analyzing it like we tend to do nowadays. In many cases they didn't have access to birth control in the first place, but even if they did, having kids was just What Was Done.

I also don't think this is a WOHM/SAHM thing. I think we all know of WOH parents who don't really focus on their kids (my dad was kinda like that, where even when he was home, he was watching golf, reading the paper, playing golf, working in the shop -- the kids were kind of just there, unless we acted up and he had to pay attention to us). But I think there are also SAH parents who are the same way -- remember the whole martini/valium mom thing in the 50s? I can't imagine that "mother's little helper" really helps you focus on your kid. Fact is, if you want to connect with your kids, you will find a way, whether you WOH or not. And if you don't want to, you will find a way to escape, whether you SAH or not.

And society has changed, too. Seems like for a long time, society didn't expect you to focus on your kids; if you were poor, they worked on the farm or in a factory; if you were rich, they were sent off with a governess or to boarding school; if you were in-between, you sent them off to entertain themselves. Kids were to be seen and not heard and all that. I remember as a kid in the 70s going to visit my parents' friends and seeing their babies sitting in playpens for hours at a time, while the grownups talked and we ran around by ourselves -- it was just kind of what people did. Heck, even June Cleaver, uber-mom, wasn't down on the floor playing Candyland with Wally and the Beav -- she was off doing her adult job of cooking food and maintaining the house, giving the kids a pat on the head and a smile before sending them off to entertain themselves.

I don't want to imply that everyone used to be cold or disconnected from their kids -- my grandmother was very child-oriented and was very good at really focusing on and connecting with kids. The point is just that the author's mom just doesn't seem that out of step with society's expectations for parents at the time. But those expectations have changed drastically since the 60s and 70s -- heck, today, June Cleaver might be criticized for not spending more time with her kids (what? no flashcards??)! Why? I suspect because a lot of baby boomers resented the way in which they were raised, and determined to listen to their kids more, pay more attention to their kids, build that one-on-one connection they didn't have. Kind of like the author.

Posted by: Laura | November 29, 2006 9:39 AM

" Stop making such broad generalizations"

You should do the same thing not eveyone wants a happy homemaker for a mother.

I commented on my situation and no one elses.

Posted by: just another mom | November 29, 2006 9:41 AM

Everything I am today I owe to what I did with, and in spite of, my innate talents.

Parents/teachers/grandparents fertilize your soil. Unfortunately, noone knows what kind of tree you are, with corresponding fertilization needs, until you are grown up. Therefore, it is your innate characteristics determining what you do with your fertilizer.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 9:43 AM

There's a difference between self worth and feeling like you're the center of the universe. I didn't think it had to be explained. Do you feel like you know who you are? If so, does that mean you think you're the center of the universe?

Self worth is knowing you're loved and understanding your talents, your strengths and feeling useful contributing to the world. It's not about the world spinning around you, it's understanding your place in the spinning.

Posted by: Single Gal | November 29, 2006 9:44 AM

Foamgnome - "pull up your socks" and get on with it - I love that!!!! Put a smile on my noncaffineted face this morning. Now THAT is an accomplishment!. :-)

Posted by: The original just a thought | November 29, 2006 9:49 AM

I read the review of the book with great interest (but still have not read the book) as his mother sounds a lot like mine. My mother was not as successful, or rich but she was, and still is, at 68 very driven in her career. I too am the youngest and was left to fend for myself a lot growing up, but I loved it. I liked having the house to myself and being in charge of myself. It made me very independent and responsible. The funny thing is that now that I am a parent, I have developed resentment towards my mother for all the things that looking back, I feel she should have done, even though I don't remember being upset about those at the time. Part of this resentment stems from the fact that she still puts her work ahead of being a mother and grandmother and this infuriates me (and my sisters). And I admit, my father gets off scott free in this resentment, although he shouldn't. I have vowed to myself that as a working mother I will be more involved in my children's lives than my mother was. I have already scaled back my career to do so, something my mother does not understand or agree with. She cannot fathom why I am not more ambitious.

Adulthood/parenthood leads us all to reevaluate our own upbringings and see the flaws. I guess we can only hope that our children turn out for the best and don't become journalists!

Posted by: CC | November 29, 2006 9:49 AM

You take your life in your own hands when you criticize any mom or women on this blog. Beware!

Posted by: pATRICK | November 29, 2006 9:53 AM

Me too, Chasmasaur. It is life. It is not perfect, but I think because some of us get so much so easily we think human relationships should work easily as well ( I am talking about stuff, info, that kind of thing--there is just so much AVAILABLE). I used to resent my father for not being nicer to my mom, my mom for not telling my dad to stuff it, my dad for being a moron about money and a few other things, my mom for keeping sex a big secret, and so on. I am sure Jesus could have told Mary a thing or two. My take--we are standing on their shoulders. They didn't have the tools we do. Now if you have a kid with a problem, there might be a diagnosis. ADHD, learning disability, whatever. We also have a much better vocabulary for expressing our emotions and actions. Turn on the t.v., watch Dr. Phil, Oprah, somebody. (You might hate them, but I have actually learned a few really good things from Phil, the main one being 'you have to create a haven for your kids at home".) Pick up a book. Check out a website. You can learn a lot in a very short time.

At 25, many people are just learning how to be adults. Wait until you are 40, then decide if your parents did it right! Are you still alive? Then they did. My mom HAD to go back to work full time when I was ten. The only job she could get was from 3p.m. to 11. She hated that she wasn't home for me when I came home from school, and I didn't much care for it either, but it was what we had. But she wasn't an extra curricular kind of mom, either. She never came to my softball games, played any kind of game with me, etc. She was a housewife. Watching her get ready for work, study at home in order to get a promotion and manage money (she wrote everything out on a tablet of paper--no quicken then!) gave me an example to follow. I also took on more responsibility which I loved. I really liked making dinner (nothing fancy, trust me) and taking care of things like it was my domain.

I work part-time and still love running my little domain, cooking dinner, being the go-guy for homework, problems, whatever. I don't think you need to spend ten hours a day with your kids to have a good relationship. I see my kids every day after school, but there are days I don't, and they save every little thing up to tell me at bedtime!

Posted by: useyourturnsignal | November 29, 2006 9:57 AM

It sounds like John and his Mom didn't have a close emotional relationship.

Maybe he was jealous of the time she spent working or the emotional zeal she threw into her work. Plenty of non-working Moms throw themselves into a zillion other things and aren't available to their kids. I don't see what that has to do with whether she worked or not.

I'm not going to say that working mothers' don't have a monopoly on bad parenting because I'm not convinced Nancy Dickerson was a bad parent. The son appears to have become a functional adult -- what more does he want?

Posted by: RoseG | November 29, 2006 10:02 AM

I think the reason this book gets so much attention is because it approaches the issue of both parents working from the child or former child's perspective. We as a society are continuously encouraged to have sympathy for the working parent, more often than not the working mother. We are supposed to feel sorry for parents who work outside the home as they go about their "harried" and "busy" lives. Our response, as a whole, is supposed to be one of providing assisstance in the form of child care or subsidized preschool to make the working parents lives easier. I am not interested in this, but rather am pulled more by the desire to help these children whose parents cannot or are not willing to spend more time with them. Many dual-career couples do not financially need to have both parents in the workforce, and books like this one, which I can personally relate to having been myself a latchkey child and teenager, show why it is better to try to have one parent available to raise the children, instead of outsourcing the raising of their children.

Posted by: Jennifer W. | November 29, 2006 10:05 AM

"Mom's schedule never had a window large enough for such natural moments."

Yeah, well, this schedule problem is not the exclusive province of working moms or dads. My SAHM's cleaning, cooking, and church service attendance schedule never had a window large enough for any natural moments with any of her four children either, except on those once-per-year family vacations.

The majority of us appreciate that being in the same residence with one or both parents, at the same moment, doesn't necessarily mean those parents are engaged with their kids or their kid's lives. Shared space, without more, doesn't make you a good parent. I'd much rather have had TV dinners (remember them?) and some of my mom's attention than have her spend 45 minutes cooking after school every day. One-on-one time, interest and attention, not whether a parent is employed outside the home, determines whether his or her kids are more likely to look up to him or her later on.

As an aside, a household involving "servants" is hardly representative of the households in which most working parents reside, and the complaints of kids raised with such extraordinary wealth don't represent the complaints of ordinary kids, if any, in two-income households.


Posted by: NC lawyer | November 29, 2006 10:06 AM

"Well, the fact that, 40 years later, men and women are now both wrestling with these issues and getting it all wrong is great progress."

In short, career-obsessed people make lousy parents regardless of their sex.

Also in the news, grass is green."

It doesn't have to be a career. Obsession with anything can make for a lousy parent. My girlfriend's partner was obsessed with video games. He would play for several hours after work and on his days off. She couldn't even trust him to watch the kids so she could take a few hours off because he would become so engrossed he wouldn't feed them, change diapers, take them outside. If they intruded on his video world he would get angry. I wonder how many parents are actually career obsessed. I haven't met a single one who wouldn't walk away if they one the lottery (albeit a big one). They say they would do what they love--teach yoga, open a coffee shop, become a teacher, etc. Most of us are working because we have to. I genuinely enjoy my job, but if I were to get a major windfall, I would throw a party, say goodbye and good luck to my co-workers and be out of here! What would you do if you won 50 million? Would you still trudge into work everyday?

Posted by: useyourturnsignal | November 29, 2006 10:10 AM

You can't have it both ways, it won't work. Never has, never will. The child/ parent, both parents, there is not a shread of evidence that women do a better job of raising children than men relationship needs time and until that fact is realized the family structure will be screwed up with the children paying the price.

Posted by: mcewen | November 29, 2006 10:20 AM

His mother gave him an invaluable gift. That gift is how not to raise his child. He is now free to raise his children however he wants and correct whatever mistakes (perceived, real or unreal) he feels his mom made.

Posted by: pATRICK | November 29, 2006 10:29 AM

I haven't read the book or any review other than Leslie's. But, it seems to me that most of us probably can say that our mothers and/or fathers didn't do the best for us all of the time. That's because we're all distinct individuals and even the best intentioned parent can't satisfy all of a child's needs. We're talking personalities, here.

My mother is a wonderful person but she and I never really connected. She and my sister connected and to this day are sympatico in a way my mother and I never will be. On the other hand, I was really close to her mother (my grandmother). My mother once commented that she and her mother never really connected.

I think that's okay; we just absorbed the reality and carried on with our lives. Which, outside of writing about a broken life, Dickerson seems to be doing. He's got children of his own and he's doing the best that he can.

Now I have four children, and I know that I did better by some than others while my husband and I were raising them (they're all college age +). I know that one daughter and I love each other but don't connect; that I have an intellectual connection with one son - he's the one who reads for reading's sake; that one son and I share a certain zest for exploring; and that one daughter and I share what I'll call a spirituality.

I love and respect each of my children, have from the day they were born, but I'm sure that, if you ask them, they'll be able to point out where I failed them. I know, for example, that one of my sons was always happiest when I was at home when he got home from school. Of course, I worked and that didn't happen very often. The other three children didn't seem to care one way or the other.

So, ultimately, it comes down to personalities and, as someone said earlier, the gift our parents give us. They give us the gift of being able to deal with people and personalities, with all their strenghts, weaknesses and flaws.

Posted by: Pam | November 29, 2006 10:31 AM

"Many dual-career couples do not financially need to have both parents in the workforce, and books like this one, which I can personally relate to having been myself a latchkey child and teenager, show why it is better to try to have one parent available to raise the children, instead of outsourcing the raising of their children."

Geez, more of this judgement "outsourcing" of childcare garbage. That's your opinion. And a very limited one at that.

I was brought up by a stay at home mother. She was not a warm, involved mother. So she was "there" when we got home from school. She spent time reading while we entertained ourselves. She "really really" wanted children but didn't really really connect with us. I was ashamed that despite being smart that she didn't go to college or have a career and instead got married out of high school. She has been critical of my choices and in a moment of forgetting herself has admitted jealousy. Do I think I had a bad mother? No, she did the best that she could and she was a product of her times. I felt that I was given all the material things I needed and that both my parents cared. I don't expect perfection.

I have a career and great kids. I have had nannies too, but neither I nor my kids would call that "outsourcing". Both my husband and I are way more involved in our kid's lives than my parents were. My kids are well adjusted and happy. Neither would ask me to stay at home and my oldest has told me that he likes to brag about what I do. In fact, both of my kids want to do what I do when they grow up.

So cut the judgemental attitude and open your mind to other possibilities.

Posted by: morning mom | November 29, 2006 10:33 AM

pATRICK- As for criticizing mothers - Not necessarily. So far everyone agrees that there are good and bad mothers and everything in between. Whether or not this author is justified in complaining about his is another question.

Posted by: cmac | November 29, 2006 10:40 AM

"Everything I am today I owe to my mother."

That is a choice. There are many people who have less than perfect, some actually horrific, childhoods, and somehow, they grow up to be pefectly fine, well-adjusted human beings. There are others who grow up with warm, loving parents and who still end up being unhappy, miserable human beings. You cannot spend your adult life blaming your parents for your unhappiness. At some point, your childhood is over, and then it becomes your responsibility to take charge of your life and find some happiness. That is called growing up. People who insist on blaming their parents for their problems are denying themselves the opportunity to take control of their situation and heal it. If your childhood was lousy, it may have been your parents' fault, but if your adulthood also sucks, you need to look at yourself and make some changes. Blaming your parents is not going to fix anything by the time you are an adult.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 10:40 AM

"To be honest, it seems like blaming your parents is an American past time. Is this a recent trend or has it always existed? At some point, you need to move on from your childhood. Unless you were abused, I think you should pull up your socks and learn to deal with the past."

Foamgnome,

Granted, Dickerson's book is a very public way to work out childhood issues. Nevertheless, for many adults who struggle with problems of self-esteem and self-concept, childhood is where the answers are to be found.

If a person doesn't like things about himself, a careful examination of his early life can help him to understand why he is the way he is...and maybe help him to change. A good therapist will help him discover what hurts from his childhood and why -- and will also help him to decide how to deal with it.

The "pull up your socks and learn to deal with the past" attitude isn't helpful, because the very people who need to explore their pasts can't "learn" to do it in a vacuum.

Adults who are more resilient (like you, perhaps?) are often not sensitive to the emotional struggles of others. We're all made differently, and some of us need help more than others.

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 10:45 AM

Outsourcing?

Please. I hope the people who say this "if you work, you're 'outsourcing' the raising of your children" garbage also:

-Home school their kids instead of 'outsourcing' their education to the state
-Teach all their kids music lessons and coach all their sports skills instead of 'outsourcing'
-Administer all medical care instead of 'outsourcing' this critical function to a paid professional

You get the idea.

And why is it only a problem that the MOTHER works? If the father works, is he 'outsourcing' also? Sounds like the "right" thing to do is for neither parent to work.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 10:46 AM

Seems there are two different ways of looking back at childhood. One, blame parents for everything that has gone wrong or will go wrong with your adult life. Two, recognize that your parents did the best they could and you do/will do the best you can with your children. But, each family makes their own choices and does their best to make it work. I'd guess even John Dickerson's mom never set out to make him miserable. She did the best she could for her family *and* herself. Perhaps this is the issue - blame a woman for not sacrificing everything for her family. Hindsight being what it is, it's easy to second guess her choices just as some of this blog's participants second guess and judge everyone else's choices. Dickerson's mom tried to find balance - just as all of us are trying to do - and her children can criticize her or choose to look for things she did right. Perhaps his children will write books criticizing him for hovering or for some other perceived failure.

Posted by: Stacey | November 29, 2006 10:48 AM

On outsourcing: To (no name)

So, if you think it's somebody's else's job to educate, coach, teach, raise and care for your kids, what exactly do you think the parents are responsible for?

Posted by: Single Gal | November 29, 2006 10:55 AM

YES to everyone making the point against the stereotypes: a SAHM can be a failure and a working mom can be a warm and wonderful mother. I agree that Nancy Dickerson sounds like the type who would have wreaked even more havoc if she'd stayed home. She was just one of those remarkably career-driven people. She HAD to work, despite incredible obstacles. I have a lot of respect for what she accomplished. And I have a lot of sympathy for John in terms of what she failed to give him as a mom.

Posted by: Leslie | November 29, 2006 10:55 AM

"Well, the fact that, 40 years later, men and women are now both wrestling with these issues and getting it all wrong is great progress."

"all wrong"? What does that mean? Maybe the people in his milieu are getting it all wrong, but all my firends and family seem to be really doing a great job at focusing on making time to really be with the kids. If you total up the time really spent on undivided, one-on-one, parent to child time that has actually increased over what it was back in the day when dads didn't spend much time at all with their kids. Families having fewer kids are part of the reason, but all the extra conveniences of modern life also add up. And people do things more often as a family rather than as couples and hiring a babysitter.

Anyway, my litle boy has always preferred such time with his dad over his mommy! Just this morning he suddenly announced "I love daddy so much!" I, unwisely, asked how he felt about mommy "I don't like you." Hopefully that was just his way of saying "I love you so much I feel comfortable enough telling you that I don't like you so that I can find out what your reaction will be."

Any advice on how to handle his announcement? Ignore it? Cry? I said "I love you anyway" and then he left the room because daddy was downstairs and he wanted to great him with a big hug and kiss.

Posted by: dc mom | November 29, 2006 10:55 AM

I think the criticisms of the author are a bit harsh. Why is it difficult to have compassion for someone who has indeed gone on to have a good life but admits that he wishes things had been different in his childhood? It's not like he's out robbing banks and blaming it on his mother. He just wishes she could have shown her love more clearly to him.

And for all those people who say that we need to remember our parents "did their best" -- do you really forgive yourselves your own bad parenting moments so easily? Really, I have a hard time thinking that after I yell, etc. at my son or husband that oh well, I "did my best".

Not all parents did (or are doing) their best! It always annoys me when people say that. Some parents could really use a kick in the pants or a reminder that their child should be more important (working or not, I mean more important in terms of time and emotional connection). What might be more apt to say about a regrettable childhood is "It was what it was; you are right to have feelings of anger and sadness, but don't let it stop your life or your compassion for your parents."

Posted by: Rebecca | November 29, 2006 10:56 AM

"Seems there are two different ways of looking back at childhood. One, blame parents for everything that has gone wrong or will go wrong with your adult life. Two, recognize that your parents did the best they could and you do/will do the best you can with your children."

Stacey, I think this is a really good point. Understanding the impact that others may have had on your emotional development is not the same as blaming them; in fact, what I have seen in watching my own mother go through therapy and deal with some issues with her mother is a lot of understanding and forgiveness that has allowed my mother to move forward, let go of her hurts, and develop better ways of reaction and coping with certain situations. I can only speak as an observer, but to me it's been pretty amazing to watch.

PS - Stacey, how was skiing over Thanksgiving?

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 10:56 AM

Should be "greet" not "great" although I'm sure such treatment does indeed make daddy feel "great"!

Posted by: dc mom | November 29, 2006 10:57 AM

It's interesting to me that the first thing that came to my mind as I read this article was a contrast to the recent piece in the Post on a single mom serving in Iraq ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/23/AR2006112301236.html ) and the fact that today there are over 16,000 single mothers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conflicting duties for them seem so much more real -- and unlike Dickerson to be endured without the advantage of housekeepers and nannies.

I love my children. My wife knows I love my children. My job often takes me away from them -- but when it does and I call from the road and talk to them on the phone, I believe I hear in their voices that *they* know I love them. I suppose in the end only time will tell.


Posted by: A Dad | November 29, 2006 10:57 AM

CC:

I thought your comment was really interesting. My mother was a real career person and always seemed a little too focussed on it (my dad left, and she had no choice) but like you, I loved it at the time of growing up, but then did resent it when my kids were little. Now she is 80 and she still works full time (she started her own business in retirement), and I love it again! I have so many friends who are now having trouble with their parents (because they are having medical problems or demand a lot of attention, etc.). My mom is very independent and busy and interested in things and keeps herself healthy. And is now more attentive to my kids - my sense is that she just is not a super "little kid" person - but she is great when you're an adult. So, your feelings may change.

Posted by: To CC | November 29, 2006 10:58 AM

I'm a big proponent of personal responsibility, but it is true that people handle things differently, even in trying to take responsibility for thier lives. While some may see on their own that problems in their childhood lead to problems they currently have and are strong enough to do what they need to do to overcome these challenges, many people need more of a support system, whether it be friends, a therapist, their spouse or whatever. I think what truly frees us of the problems from our past is forgiveness and responsibility. You forgive your parents (or whoever) for the ways you feel they wronged you, not for them necessarily but to allow yourself to let go of it (if you can't let go of these things will only fester), and then you take the responsibility upon yourself to make your life be what you want and to not pass on those same mistakes. For Mr. Dickenson, maybe this book is just his way of accepting his childhood and moving past it.

Posted by: my2cents | November 29, 2006 11:00 AM

On outsourcing: To (no name)

So, if you think it's somebody's else's job to educate, coach, teach, raise and care for your kids, what exactly do you think the parents are responsible for?

Well, to work to make the money to pay for all that, of course!

Posted by: duh | November 29, 2006 11:01 AM

Am I a sucker for thinking that most of the time (not all, obviously), but mostly parents are doing the best they think they can?
I disagree with a lot of parenting choices other people make, but even then, I realize that they are doing what they think is right (please don't bother to raise an example of: some people hit their kids and they think it's right - is that ok, too? I'm not talking about violence in any manner - emotional, physical, etc.).

Posted by: The original just a thought | November 29, 2006 11:02 AM

Single Gal,
My point was that parents, very often, take your advice to instill self-worth, and end up creating center-of-the-universe children.
And your question re: parental responsibility has too many interpretations to reply.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 11:04 AM

"When my mom returned to full-time work when I was in elementary school, I too felt like she was neglecting me- which is perfectly natural for a little kid who thinks, as little kids do, that she is the center of the universe."

I think it's a mistake to equate our "natural" childhood responses with those of children born to narcissistic celebrities. The grandiosity of these people can push their kids right off the page. The kids' "stuff" is never as important as the celebrity parent's "stuff."

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 11:05 AM

My mother was a SAHM and brought up three children. When I had my own daughter about 4 yrs ago, the emotions uppermost were wonder and gratitude towards here. I sometimes wish she could have done somethings differently, but hey, that's my opinion, not the reflection on her mothering capabilities. I firmly believe she did her best and I also firmly believe I am doing best for my daughter. Like the earlier poster said nobody can do better than their best.

Posted by: AnotherRockvilleMom | November 29, 2006 11:10 AM

I'm so annoyed that he absolves his father but lambastes his mother...for doing exactly the same thing. Why aren't men expected to do the same amount of parenting as the mother? It's one thing if the mother is a SAHM. It's quite another if they both work full-time. People should try to be fair and equal. Having a father in your life is just as important as having a mother. And paycheck does not equal father, by the way.

I'm also annoyed by the fact that he felt "broken" despite his mother's consistent attendance at his functions, doctor's appointments, etc. He should consider himself lucky that his mother even bothered to show up. There are many, many kids who would love to take ballet, martial arts, or join a sports team but whose parents either can't afford it, or refuse to allow their children to participate because they'd have to miss "The Amazing Race" in order to drive the kid to practice.

Posted by: Mona | November 29, 2006 11:11 AM

"So, if you think it's somebody's else's job to educate, coach, teach, raise and care for your kids, what exactly do you think the parents are responsible for?"

It's my job to be the parent. It's my daughter's dance teacher's job to teach her dance. My daughter enjoys it, but I don't know how to dance, so I hired someone to teach her. Oooh, how awful am I?!

I am not very good at math either, so I am happy to pay school teachers (via taxes) to teach her math and other subjects. Bad mommy!

My younger one loves her preschool, where she gets to paint, sing songs, and play with a bunch of other kids every day. Of course, if I were a GOOD mother, I'd make her stay home and play with me all day instead of her little friends. No fingerpainting except with mommy!

But would you believe, in spite of how much I have outsourced the raising of my children, these kids keep calling me "mommy" and when I say I love you they reply I love you too? I'm amazed they even know who I am, what with spending so many hours a day in preschool and school, away from me. It's a miracle, I tell you! A miracle!

But I'm sure you're own children are luckier, given that you spend 24 hours a day with them, 7 days a week. I'll bet those are some happy, well-adjusted kids there. Good for you.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 11:12 AM

I take issue with the title today. I don't believe the mom was a failure. The title itself feeds neuroses (plural of neurosis) and doesn't help us move forward.

I also don't see this guy writing as some cathartic effort. I see it as a way to make money.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 11:12 AM

to anon at 11:12

I'm laughing....!!! You have a good sense of humour.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 11:14 AM

I think some kids connect with some parents better than others, and vice versa. It's a personality thing. I'd love to know what Dickerson's siblings think!

Posted by: experienced mom | November 29, 2006 11:14 AM

"Am I a sucker for thinking that most of the time (not all, obviously), but mostly parents are doing the best they think they can?"

I don't think so. I think most of us are. That doesn't necessarily absolve us from responsibility when we really muck something up, or mean that we shouldn't be continually trying to improve things that we know we don't do well, but I do think it calls for a little compassion for ourselves, our parents, and other parents.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 11:15 AM

In response to the "outsourcing" comment: why is it always presumed that being home full-time with a parent is best for the kids? I know it's not for my daughter. Not from the "a happy mother makes a happy family" perspective (tho I believe that, too). But my daughter is an extreme extrovert who loves an audience, loves structure and order and discipline, loves gymnastics and dance and art and music -- she needs to be with other kids like I need air. I am very introverted, struggle with structure and order (ok, rebel against it -- had an overly organized and efficient mom), am completely incompetent in anything that requires artistic talent.

If my daughter stayed home, and if I were to try to provide the best environment for her to learn and thrive, I would have to somehow change my entire personality and become this organized, efficient, disciplined person, who joined lots of groups and went lots of places to give my daughter the interaction and experiences she needs (don't know how I'd learn to teach dance or gymnastics, but I gather some "outsourcing" is still socially acceptable). As much as I love her, I don't know how I could fundamentally change my personality like that. So for her, daycare/preschool is fantastic, because they already know how to do structure and rules, they have people who have actually studied early childhood education, she learns dance and gymnastics and Spanish from people who actually know how to do those things, she gets to do crafts and projects with people who actually like those kinds of things and know what things are appropriate for her age and development level, etc. etc. etc. To me, that was a no-brainer.

I'm NOT saying this is the same for all kids -- my son is very different, so maybe he will be one of those kids who would be happier at home with me. What I AM saying is that it's pretty presumptuous for anyone to conclude that one particular type of situation will work best for every family. Every person in this world has a different set of strengths and weaknesses and personality quirks. As a parent, your job is to figure out your child's, and then provide the best environment to meet your child's psychological needs. And sometimes, someone else may be better at some things than I am. I know that no one in the world will ever love my kids as much as I do. But I also know that she doesn't need to be with me 24/7 to be secure in that love.

Posted by: Laura | November 29, 2006 11:16 AM

I think the author of this book will be in for a big surprise someday, when his own children decide he did the parenting thing "wrong" too. I hope one of them writes a book, too, so he can see how it feels to be on the receiving end.

It is not fair of him to berate his mother in public for not being a perfect person. Nobody is perfect. If he needs therapy to get over it, he should have kept it private.

No matter what you do, your kids will never think you did everything right. That's normal. The author should shut up, get over it, and be a little more humble about his own personal limitations as a parent.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 11:19 AM

'I'm so annoyed that he absolves his father but lambastes his mother...for doing exactly the same thing'

I didn't actually read the book. Since the book is about his mother, I am curious...did he actually absolve his father or just not lambast him? Maybe the issues with his father weren't addressed because the book was about his mother?

Posted by: anonfornow | November 29, 2006 11:19 AM

Due to the high cost of living and falling wages, most people have to work -- whether they want to or not. Many moms (and dads) do not have the luxury of staying home. Why begrudge them a job they enjoy?

Posted by: lawgirl | November 29, 2006 11:22 AM

Megan - skiing was wonderful. My daughter will be 5 on Friday and it was a blast to watch her master the mountain. She's getting hard to keep up with, and it's a joy to see her face light up when she does something well and hear her singing her way down the slopes. Lots more snow happening now, yes?

Sorry for the aside, but it does relate to today's discussion somewhat. We do make an effort to spend time (a lot of time) with our children because we both work. They have asked for a family trip (skiing again) in lieu of gifts for the holidays. As a parent, I love the idea of spending extra time with them this way. We know we're not perfect and yes, we do the best we can. We watch our children rather anxiously to evaluate that they are happy and well-adjusted. It seems so now - they do well in school, are kind and caring, and well behaved. They seem happy. We have fun as a family. Will they still have issues and find fault with what we do? Absolutely! But, we are also raising children who think and evaluate things and I kind of hope they will look back at their childhood and make choices with their own children to do some things the same and others differently. I hope their big complaint is that we didn't have more time to spend together - it's my biggest complaint too. To answer a previous post that inquired about the effect of winning the lottery - I'd cut back dramatically but I doubt I'd quit my job. I would love to spend more time with my family but I'd go nuts during the day when they are all at school. But the liberty to take all school vacations off too - now we're talking.

Posted by: Stacey | November 29, 2006 11:22 AM

dc mom --

Yes, I have advice from personal experience.

When I was seven, a similar thing happened to me. Unwisely, I made a silly comment about wishing my mother's friend was my mom. Not because I didn't love my mom (I truly did) but because, at that particular moment, the other lady was more fun to be around.

The comment got back to my mom, and she had a meltdown. Sobbed, took to her bed, wouldn't talk to me, etc. My entire world collapsed for a brief period of time, because I thought that I'd done something so unforgiveable that I'd lost my mother's love forever.

I'm nearly 50 now, and it's only been in the past year that I've related this incident in therapy and come to understand that it was a huge part of the attachment problems I've struggled with all my life.

My mom should have treated my stupid comment with the attention it deserved -- none. Instead, by making it a huge, dramatic scene, she ensured that I'd always carry it with me, a permanent catalyst for guilt and self-loathing.

So, in answer to your question, I would recommend doing exactly what you did. You did the best thing possible when you said, "Love you anyway" and let him leave the room. Your insight about his feeling comfortable enough in your affection to test you is right on target. If my mom had understood this, I might have spent less time hating myself over the past 43 years.

You sound like a wonderful mother; your son is very lucky.

Posted by: name withheld | November 29, 2006 11:25 AM

"Not all parents did (or are doing) their best! It always annoys me when people say that. Some parents could really use a kick in the pants or a reminder that their child should be more important (working or not, I mean more important in terms of time and emotional connection). What might be more apt to say about a regrettable childhood is "It was what it was; you are right to have feelings of anger and sadness, but don't let it stop your life or your compassion for your parents."

Posted by: Rebecca | November 29, 2006 10:56 AM

No kidding! I really WISH all parents were doing their best. It is amazing to me the verbal and emotional abuse I see dished out to kids by their parents, IN PUBLIC! The grocery store is a big one and the mall, too. One parent I know said to me and several other parents that his young (11) son was a huge disappointment as well as other equally hideous things. I see stressed out parents yelling at their kids, dragging them by the arm, etc. I have relatives of my own, I am sorry to say, that have physically abused their children. We all have our moments. I am certainly not perfect and find myself apologizing for undeserved harshness at times.

As far as outsourcing, I was a huge advocate of homeschooling until I tried it (luckily when my child was not yet in kindergarten). I read tons on the subject, took CLASSES for pete's sake, and that kid was no more interested in my teaching her how to read than she was in eating lima beans. It wasn't pretty. On the other hand, she was inclined to learn from other people--just not me. I guess I was just too familiar to her. I opted to outsource and bond with her in other ways. We scrapbook together, for example, while she and her dad golf together.

Posted by: uyts | November 29, 2006 11:29 AM

To "the original just a thought":

It may be the case that most parents did or are doing the best that they can. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that someone "did their best" is meaningless. For some parents, if their efforts are really the best that they could offer, then they really,really shouldn't have become parents. And I don't think it's wrong to judge a parent harshly for being a bad parent, despite their claims that they "did their best."

FWIW, my mother was a bad parent (both physically and emotionally abusive). She should never have had children. And yet she often bemoans the fact that we're not close now, and her excuse when I tell her why is "Well, I did the best that I could." Sorry, that excuse cuts no ice when part of "doing your best" is, for example, telling your five-year-old that mommy and daddy are getting a divorce, and that she has to choose right now who she wants to live with (my parents never did get divorced, but my mom played that particular game on a regular basis).

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 11:32 AM

More on the perspective from a child of the WOHM vs. SAHM:

My mom never worked outside the home when I was growing up, and still doesn't. All my friends' moms who didn't already work full time went back to college or worked part time by the time their kids were teenagers. I think my mom was just afraid to go back after being out of the working world for 20 years.

Once I entered the working world, I found that I could not find common ground talking to my mother about my job. That's when I turned to my dad.

Posted by: cyndi | November 29, 2006 11:38 AM

To DC Mom: He didn't mean it. Remember, children don't have the skills to always communicate exactly what they mean, so don't take it literally.

I know it hurts though. Both my husband and I have been on the receiving end of a cold shoulder from the rugrats at different times. I don't make a big deal of it in front of them, but oh how it hurts to be rejected, even if 10 minutes later they love you again. We draw the line at any disrepectful comments toward mom or dad, but you're not required to say you like or love us.

Posted by: upstate | November 29, 2006 11:40 AM

Do people read entire comments on this blog or just pick phrases? To Rebecca, uyts and NewSAHM, I said at the end of my comment that I specifically was NOT REFERRING TO PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL ABUSE. If you are verbally abusing your child in public - that's emotional abuse and I wasn't including that in "trying their best." And NewSAHM, I'm so sorry you had to deal with a mother who shouldn't have had kids - but telling your kids they're going to have to pick which parent to live with because their folks are getting divorced would also qualify as emotional abuse, which would not fall under my previously specified "parents doing their best."
To review: "I disagree with a lot of parenting choices other people make, but even then, I realize that they are doing what they think is right (please don't bother to raise an example of: some people hit their kids and they think it's right - is that ok, too? I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT VIOLENCE IN ANY MANNER - EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL, ETC.)
For crying out loud, this guy's mom showed up to his activities! My grandparents (and my grandma was SAHM), never went to my dad's activities.

Posted by: The original just a thought | November 29, 2006 11:41 AM

My question is why does this guy have to write a book slamming his mother to the world? She's not alive to defend herself. It is so selfish on his part. Ok, he didn't have an ideal childhood. Most of us can look back and find things to complain about. So, do that complaining with friends, spouses, therapists, etc. What purpose does he serve to attack her in a book? He could have written a book on the notion of working moms in general, or of working moms in the 1960's vs. today. It seems like he wants a quick buck and will cash in on his famous mother.

Posted by: ELC | November 29, 2006 11:42 AM

To Name Withheld - your mom sounded a lot like mine who would blow things way out of proportion. It is one reason why I don't always handle crises situations very well - the role model I had was not the best.

But for a short time when my dd was very little I joined a local "Mom's Club". It turned out to be very cliquish and if you weren't a SAHM you were barely acknowledged. One thing I noticed is that they couldn't wait to get away from their kids for "Mom's Night Out", etc. and I on the other hand since I worked full-time wanted to do things with my child. But the glee with which they would plan those outings (no I'm not exagerating) always amazed me.

Posted by: librarianmom | November 29, 2006 11:43 AM

Well, it's always the mother's fault isn't it? I remember reading some of Christopher Kennedy Lawford's autobiography that came across my desk a year or so ago and he blamed his substance abuse problem on the fact that his mother never breasfed him. Granted, growing up in the dysfunctional Kennedy household must have been difficult, but I hardly think lack of breastfeeding was to blame.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 11:46 AM

I did read your entire comment. My point was simply that there are people who honestly believe that they are doing their best while actually screwing up badly, and that their belief shouldn't mean they get cut a lot of slack. The screw-ups need not rise to the level of abuse to inflict real harm, and I don't think all kids should necessarily dismiss those mistake just because mom or dad was doing their best.

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 11:49 AM

My question is why does this guy have to write a book slamming his mother to the world?


Because he's looking for pity from a wider audience than just his spouse, friends, and therapist. Wants the whole world to feel sorry for him.

I agree it's despicable to tear apart a person who isn't alive to defend herself. He could have at least written it as fiction, changing names and identifying details. It still would have been therapeutic. I guess he wanted to use her name to get the most money possible out of his sob story.

Posted by: disgusted | November 29, 2006 11:50 AM

Thank you so much for your advice and support! It is really something to think about.

I also realized that I should model for him the way I would like him to react if someone said that to him. Kids can be so mean and I constantly hear "You're not my friend!" on the playground. I'd love if he'd return "Well, you are still my friend" and just let it drop. Not as mellifluous as "sticks and stones . . ." but probably more effective!

Posted by: to name withheld | November 29, 2006 11:52 AM

When I was 8 years old, I was the fattest kid in my elementary school. Everybody made fun of me. . When I entered the 3rd grade, I began to lose weight., about 50 pounds in 3 months. I became so weak, I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without resting.

The worst part though, was that I was constantly thirsty. Parched! And to make matters worse, my teacher only let us get up for a drink and go to the bathroom twice a day. that's when I learned to drink directly from the bathroom sink instead of using the water fountain, because the water fountain took too long and all the kids behind me would start up with the complaining and teasing.

Then I started wetting my bed. My parents made it a rule not to let me drink at night. So I would wait for hours in my bed until everybody fell asleep and then I would sneak into the bathroom for a drink. then I got caught and was spanked with a leather gbelt in the middle of the night for breaking the rule.

then I began urinating blood. I was afraid to tell anybody for fear that I would have to suffer more physical abuse for having something else wrong with me.

Sensing that there was something seriously wrong though, I did let my mother know about the bright red urine and she called the doctor and took me to the hospital. I was immediately diagnosed with juvinile diabetes. I was told I would never be able to eat anything with sugar again and have to take shots everyday. I wanted to die.

I have a difficult time understanding how my parents could possibly let me get so sick, especially after having 4 kids of my own. What the hell were they thinking??? to this day, I don't think I've forgiven them for what they did to me as a child.

so when you get home from work this evening, greet your family with delight, ask them how they are doing, and give them a big hug.

And if I ever catch one of you denying a simple drink of water to a child, I'll freak, and when Father of 4 freaks, it makes for a very, very disturbing sceen.

Posted by: Father of 4 | November 29, 2006 11:55 AM

NewSAHM -"I don't think ALL [emphasis added] kids should necessarily dismiss those mistake just because mom or dad was doing their best."
What I wrote: "Am I a sucker for thinking that MOST [emphasis added] of the time (NOT ALL [emphasis added], obviously), but MOSTLY parents are doing the best they think they can?
When did "all kids" become equivalent to "most," "NOT all," and "mostly?"

Posted by: The original just a thought | November 29, 2006 11:56 AM

NewSAHM,

As I see it, it is not about cutting bad parents slack. If you can accept and forgive it, it'll be an immense relief to the constant resentment you may feel for the parents. It is about you feeling whole, not condoning them.

Posted by: AnotherRockvilleMom | November 29, 2006 12:01 PM

'As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.' Abuse and neglect during the first formative years will, indeed leave scars for the rest of your life. Even rich people can be abused and neglected. You can't just 'pull up your socks and get on with life.' Check out 'Reactive Attachment Disorder' where mothers fail to bond with their children so the kids attach to inappropriate people or things. A lot of adopted and foster children have this, as well as kids raised by non-English-speaking housekeepers/nannies/au pairs/babysitters (they're all the same thing). Also, what about those guys who claim they were abused by perverted Catholic priests? All those legal claims would be thrown out if everybody could just 'pull up their socks.' It isn't that easy.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 12:02 PM

FO4,
I feel for you. I want to ask, however, how your parents could possibly have known your particular symptoms without/before you telling them? You were in upper elementary school. They weren't in the bathroom with you anymore. The only things they saw were bedwetting and weight loss. Bedwetting, back in the 60s when I was a kid, was believed to done intentionally...thus, the corporal punishment. The weight loss may have been seen with relief that you weren't going to be teased anymore. Finally, they may have just not wanted to believe anything could be wrong with their son.

I'm not absolving them, just wondering how/what they could have done things differently. What is the essential clue telling me they were 'bad?'

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 12:03 PM

Ok, ok. I shouldn't have used the word "all." I'm sorry. :-)

And, for the record, I do think most parents are doing the best that they can for their kids. I even think that most parents I know are doing an acceptible to great job raising their children (at least, as far as I can tell from the outside) However, I stand by my opinion that good intentions can be meaningless in the face of some of the mistakes parents make.

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 12:05 PM

To pittypat: I did not mean to be insensitive. But there is a difference between abusive childhoods and every day unhappiness about your child rearing. I think everyone can say there were things that were not ideal about their pasts. But more self reliant people, learn to deal with it by the age of 30. It is also entirely different to discuss issues in your childhood with a therapist, family, friends etc versus writing a book that does nothing but slam your parent. A parent who was visible to the outside world. If I wrote a book slamming my parents, no one would care because my parents are not famous. As far as slamming someone who is dead. In some cases I think that is OK. Like Joan Crawfords daughter wrote a book. But she was actually abused. And I think a bunch of adults that knew them agreed that she was abused. I think it was kind of good that she wrote that book. I mean, it would be very hard to take hearing only the Hollywood version of your mother when in reality she was a nightmare. But that is different then this book. This guy did not claim abuse. What he seems to be saying is that my mother was cold and basically disinterested in child rearing. That was probably true. But what is the point of writing a book about it? She is dead and can't even apoplogize for it now. The time to talk about it was when she was alive.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 29, 2006 12:05 PM

Leslie, have you considered a "book club" feature for the blog? Based on the comments from those who have read other reviews about Dickerson's complaints being more nuanced, I think this discussion would benefit if more people who had read the book could join in.

From the excerpt I read, I got the impression that Dickerson didn't credit his mother with his success because he didn't see her as a role model in a lot of respects. For instance, he seemed to very strongly disapprove of how closely she cultivated friendships with the subject of her stories: perhaps not surprising, if he saw her pursuit of those contacts as more time taken from him.

Posted by: fs | November 29, 2006 12:06 PM

There but for the Grace of God go I.

I am not a Christian, but this is a phrase that resonates often in my mind, and it seems like something we could all stand to remember when criticizing others' parenting. I too have been appalled at some of the things I have seen other parents do, and I would never excuse their behavior; there is no excuse for abuse of any kind. But I also know that when I am stressed and exhausted I have had moments where I have come too close to yelling something horrible or otherwise exploding. And I also know that the stressors that I face are nothing compared to those that other people face - as so many posters are quick to harp on on this blog, my life is way easier than those with fewer resources and advantages.

My point isn't that what abusive or even just plain rotten parents do to their children is ok; my point is that it is worthwhile to remember that we are all susceptible to such human failings and that trying to understand why it happens and where it comes from is not only compassionate to another, but also helps us guide our own choices and behavior in a better way.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 12:06 PM

Ok, agreed :-) not a problem - you're right - my aunt is a loony and has abused my cousin for years and it drives me nuts when my dad says "she's doing the best she can." On the flip side, I truly believe my own folks have done the best they could, although their choices drive me crazy sometimes. :-) At least you seem thoughtful - I don't think you're kids will be writing something like this about you.

Posted by: The original just a thought | November 29, 2006 12:08 PM

To the anonymous 12:02 poster - why does the language a care taker speaks matter? Now if the parent forbids the caretaker to talk to the child maybe, but otherwise does it matter if the expressions of affection are in English, Spanish, Swahli or something else? Especially during the early formative years when they are learning to speak - they just learn to talk in more than one language (normally considered a good thing)

Posted by: Divorced mom of 1 | November 29, 2006 12:08 PM

Fo4,
Your story is tragic. I am so sorry. But then again, you turned out fine, perhaps better than fine, despite your childhood and clueless parents. Good for you for being a loving father and husband. Good for you for overcoming so many obstacles. And most of all, good for you for keeping your humor and sunny disposition. I do wonder if I would be able to forgive my parents in your situation. People sometimes unwittingly make awful mistakes.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 12:10 PM

I'm a 36 year old SAHM of two with a degree in International Relations. My mother had a master's degree and chose to stay home. I think she was a wonderful mother. She was available and supportive without catering to us. She cultivated independence yet attended our activites. She also made a life for herself that enriched her and the community. My mother volunteered for my school but also for our church and other community groups. My mother is now 70 years old and I have a hard time reaching her because of her various, mostly volunteer, activites.

I think she was a wonderful example of how to be a very present parent and keep a sense of self and idenity AND how to be a productive human being without generating a paycheck.

I think the societal contributions of SAHMs are often overlooked. When my children are in school full time, I don't know what I'll do but I know that following my mother's example I will do something of value that will be a positive example to my children.

Finally, just because someone works does not automatically mean they are more informed or interesting than a SAHM. A person who talks about their work all the time is no more interesting than someone who talks about the kids all the time.

Either type of mom can be a positive example. Its about how you choose to live your life.

Posted by: SAHMs work too | November 29, 2006 12:10 PM

Ah, Megan, always the voice of reason. :-)

Posted by: Laura | November 29, 2006 12:11 PM

Wow, Father of 4, I am so sorry that you suffered that way, and so impressed that you have gone on to be a wonderful father to 4 children.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 12:11 PM

My mom was at home all the time, and connected with us even though she spent most of her time doing housework. In a grownup way, not a friend way: i.e. we would talk about school, she would "pick me up" (homework drill) for my memorization tasks for the day, and (most importantly) always dropped what she was doing to explain the meaning of a word while I was reading. But I think she really missed having a career, and we could tell. I don't know that her having a career would have made us unhappy. She would have connected regardless, I think. In a way, I felt it was bad for us for her to be unhappy because it made us wary of marriage. It was probably better for us academically, though, to have her education and expertise at our constant beck and call. But was it necessary?

Posted by: m | November 29, 2006 12:16 PM

Father of 4

If you were beaten in the middle of the night with a leather belt, why in heaven's name did you move back in with your mother when you were married?

Posted by: DZ | November 29, 2006 12:21 PM

FS - Like the virtual book club idea. I could announce the book six weeks in advance and then on the appointed day we could all comment.

Any suggestions for books?

Posted by: Leslie | November 29, 2006 12:27 PM

Fo4,
I was 20 when I developed JD - I lost 20 pounds very quickly and my friends all said how great I looked (I am female and was not overweight before), I was tired and thirsty all the time and I figured it was just allergies or a cold, I was getting up all night to pee, but that seemed natural since I was drinking so much water. Even when I started to loose my vision I just thought I needed new glasses (thank God that optomotrist knew better and probably saved my life, and my vision returned with good BG control). Please don't blame your parents for not recognizing the symptoms, I don't blame myself or anyone else.

Posted by: AnotherDiabetic | November 29, 2006 12:28 PM

I am glad this topic has come up on the blog, but I'd like to hear from more people who have read the book. You get a fuller appreciation of the arc of the relationship John had with his Mom, and how he was able to reconnect with her in a wonderful, compassionate and loving way.

I read this book after reading the Post book review, which to be honest I found to be a bit harsh. It's more nuanced and bittersweet that a "Mommy Dearest" rant.

Posted by: Karen | November 29, 2006 12:29 PM

Foamgnome & Pittypat -- The problem is that you can't judge what someone else feels is abusive. Sometimes mental cruelty is far more destructive (and insidious) than physical abuse. Hard to judge from the outside, hard to measure and quantify objectively.

So my question is: can't you just leave it up to the individual to discern what felt like abuse to them? This is part of being responsible for your self.

Posted by: Leslie | November 29, 2006 12:31 PM

>Abuse and neglect during the first formative years will, indeed leave scars for the rest of your life. Even rich people can be abused and neglected. You can't just 'pull up your socks and get on with life.'

But was the author of this book really abused? His mother attended all his special events, saw to all his material and physical needs, but she wasn't particularly warm. That's "abuse"? My goodness. Guess I was abused, too. In fact, I'd bet a majority of the population could claim to be abused based on this definition.

>as well as kids raised by non-English-speaking housekeepers/nannies/au pairs/babysitters (they're all the same thing).

Care to back up this assertion with any data? Usually adults say outrageous things like this it's because they're uneasy that they can't understand the babysitter's other language (and there's a little racism there, too, I imagine). I speak very little Spanish, but my son has learned it easily from his sitter and I am not threatened by that. They have their songs and jokes in Spanish, and that's fine with me. (She speaks English, too, but we felt it would be an advantage for him he learn a second language.) He's appropriately attached to me and to his wonderful babysitter, thank you very much.

>Also, what about those guys who claim they were abused by perverted Catholic priests? All those legal claims would be thrown out if everybody could just 'pull up their socks.'

There is a huge difference between being sexually abused and simply having a parent who's not particularly warm and loving. By equating the two, you are trivializing the suffering of people who have genuinely been abused.

Posted by: eye rolling | November 29, 2006 12:32 PM

To Leslie: Of course we can leave it up to them. But we also have the right to think it wasn't abuse. Everyone is different. But if my daughter writes a tell all book about not getting the designer jeans that she wanted because she felt neglected, discarded, or abused, we would all laugh. Just as in this case, I would not laugh. But I would it hard to classify his depiction of his mother as abusive. In short, of course he is welcome to write a book. But be prepared to have your critics.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 29, 2006 12:38 PM

to Leslie at 12:32
Your comments are okay, but what about faulty memories, disagreements with parents, misunderstandings? This is not abuse.

by what you wrote, a kid who blames him parents for not getting him whatever he wants, could define that as abuse later on in life. He is not subject to mental cruelty...

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 12:38 PM

ooops...foamgnome beat me to the submit key!

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 12:39 PM

Also, what about those guys who claim they were abused by perverted Catholic priests? All those legal claims would be thrown out if everybody could just 'pull up their socks.'

Again, please read the whole post. I said Unless you were abused, .... It is entirely ridiculous to compare sexual, physical, or mental abuse with my mother was not a very loving and warm person.

Posted by: foasmgnome | November 29, 2006 12:39 PM

Dotted;

When your kid doesn't want to go to the zoo because he says he's too tired, and its 10 o'clock in the morning... maybe there's something wrong.

If your kids fight with one another as to Not sit next to you... maybe there's something wrong.

If your kids scram out of your sight when you walk through the door after work... maybe there's something wrong.

When your kid never smiles anymore and starts crying for no apparent reason... maybe there's something wrong.

When your kid's clothes look like they are falling off him, maybe that pair of pants just stretched out an extra 5 sizes, but unless you've given him a hug in the last several months, maybe you wouldn't have noticed that he's lost a third of his weight since then.

When your kid comes home and the first thing he does is drink a half gallon of water everyday, maybe, just maybe, just possibly, the potassium in the celery he ate at lunch is making him a little more thirsty than usual...

DZ, children have an amazing capacity for forgiveness. For my own, I have no problem offering them an apology after I screw something up.

Posted by: Father of 4 | November 29, 2006 12:54 PM

To fo4: I am really sorry for what happened to you. I think most people would have classified that situation as neglectful and maybe even abusive. But I don't think that is what Dotted is talking about.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 29, 2006 12:58 PM

"But more self reliant people, learn to deal with it by the age of 30."

Foamgnome,

I'm wondering where you got this statistic. Is 30 the official age of self-knowledge?

I don't disagree with everything you say here, but I think that you're probably pretty young and certainly a little inexperienced to make such claims.

Nobody's life follows a strict timeline. Human development is much more complex than that. Some people are still trying to work things out when they're over 70! Some, sadly, never do.

I think the important thing is to applaud anyone who decides to try to figure out the source(s) of their problems. It's hard work, and it's never too late to start.

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 12:59 PM

Father of 4

Foregiveness is one thing, thrusting your family into a dysfunctional situation is another.

Posted by: DZ | November 29, 2006 12:59 PM

It seems to me that the mother was more neglectful and/or mentally absent than abusive.

Abuse is a term that means many things to many people. I believe that light spanking on the child's bottom is reasonable discipline, while others believe that any physical discipline at all is abuse.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 1:00 PM

If you were to have a book club, a really excellent choice might be "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. It's a book about the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, an amazing doctor who has built hospitals in Haiti, won a MacArthur Grant, and recently got funding from the Gates Foundation for his work on combatting infectious disease in the Third World.

The reason I'm mentioning the book is because many of the reviews of this book have focussed on that whole question of balance. On the one hand, Farmer is regarded as a "saint" who accomplishes monumental tasks on a daily basis to improve the lives of the world's children. On the other hand, he lives in Haiti while his wife and child live in Europe, and he only sees them a couple of times a year. People regard him as arrogant and abrasive and opinionated. It's just a fascinating book, because it essentially asks this question about whether you can be driven and brilliant and focussed and simultaneously have what most of us would call a 'good life'.

And for those of you who wanted to know if a MAN would be faulted for ignoring his family while he worked on important projects, this provides yet another take on the subject, since the subject of the book is a father, not a mother. And yes, people do fault him.

Posted by: Armchair Mom | November 29, 2006 1:02 PM

Pittypat: 30 is just a number. No there is no age of self awareness. BTW, I am not all that young or inexperienced. I happen to be 36 and have had some pretty interesting experiences in my "young" life. I am not saying that we should not applaud someone for trying to come to terms with their past. But is that what the author is really doing? Or is he just slamming on his mother? who knows? Why do we really care?

Posted by: foamgnome | November 29, 2006 1:05 PM

I'm really enjoying reading all the thoughtful comments today. I find it hard to comment on the book, as I prefer to reserve judgment until I've read it (though this blog has sparked my interest and I might pick it up sooner than I would have otherwise). I agree with the consensus that this seems to address more of a personality and innate nurturing instinct (or lack thereof) issue than a working vs. not issue. I have nothing to contribute so far that hasn't been said, but I did want to comment on the "why is dad absolved" question. I don't think dads HAVE been absolved at all - I think that dads being faulted pretty severely for the last two or so generations has created the generation of men we have now who are, on the whole, far more concerned with issues of balance. The fact that this particular writer chose not to discuss his dad doesn't say much to me - clearly, his mother was the famous one and it makes sense that the story would focus on her.

Posted by: TakomaMom | November 29, 2006 1:16 PM

I was actually just responding to Rebecca, not your post. FWIW. I completely understand about people not reading posts all the way through or with thoroughness. I was once declared a horrible racist because some posters failed to read clearly one of mine. It was actually funny because it was so untrue.

Posted by: uyts | November 29, 2006 1:17 PM

"But then again, you turned out fine, perhaps better than fine, despite your childhood and clueless parents."

I believe it was intended as a compliment to state that Fo4 "turned out fine". We shouldn't assume he's turned out fine unless HE says he's turned out fine. In any event, I suspect he spent a great deal of time in his teens and 20s and up 'til now getting past this baggage. In F04's case, his parents gave him one heckuva matched 4-piece set he's had to address and overcome. He's entitled to be angry that his parents either didn't notice or didn't think it was worth checking in with their pediatrician or family doctor when he lost 50 pounds in 3 months. That entitlement doesn't mean he should sit around being miserable and he's said nothing to indicate that he's wasted time playing the blame-game.

There's a limit to the "they did the best they knew how to do" excuse. There is poor parenting judgment that stops short of abuse which should not be excused. Often it starts with parents who are so self-involved and self-centered, there's no room to consider what's best either for the family unit or any child in the family. I'd say Fo4's story fits the bill. It's not okay to be the sort of parent that permits your kids to win any argument with their friends about whose family is the most dysfunctional. Those of us from dysfunctional families would prefer to spend our teens and 20s in blissful, carefree growing up - you know, the way those of you from functional families get to do. Personal responsibility is a two-way street. I am responsible as a parent for the manner in which I parent, and that responsibility means it's not enough to say I repeated the mistakes of previous generations because I didn't know any better. I also am responsible as a child for the manner in which I react to having been dealt lemons, and making lemonade is a more constructive use of my time than being miserable, or writing a book about it.

Posted by: NC lawyer | November 29, 2006 1:23 PM

Fo4:
Foamgnome is correct...your list isn't what I was talking about. I truly feel for you. However, almost everything in your list could have an alternative interpretation (e.g., my kids would say they were tired to clue me in to they weren't interested...sortof similar to the 'aaaaah moooooom'). Maybe they just weren't huggy parents. You know kids fight over things all the time. Your memory of why may not be the final word. I'm just asking what they could have done differently given your age, their personalities, and your personality..and the context of time/decade. Sadly, it seems to me you were, maybe, tragically, active in hiding things. You yourself aren't to blame. I'm just urging compassion all around.

It may not be abuse to not recognize an illness that wasn't well known or well understood 40 years ago.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 1:23 PM

Apologies uyts, guess I'm guilty of my own accusation! Maybe I should start trying to work subliminal messaging into my posts and see if anything sticks. :-)

Posted by: The original just a thought | November 29, 2006 1:28 PM

of us from dysfunctional families would prefer to spend our teens and 20s in blissful, carefree growing up - you know, the way those of you from functional families get to do.

Please tell me this was tongue-in-cheek and you are not really assuming that everyone else had blissful, carefree teens & 20s...

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 1:50 PM

When I said F04 turned out fine, I did not mean to diminish his suffering or the obstacles that he has had to overcome. What a mean is that as an adult, he has managed to overcome his childhood and now has the family he wants. He loves his wife and kids. He has friends. He is a responsible, self-sustaining citizen. He is funny. No doubt that he still has memories and anger about what happened to him. He is human. But he does not use his childhood as an reason to be miserable, as many other people do. I find that laudable.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 1:50 PM

to anon at 1:50: it was, with one caveat. IMHO, it's dismissive to assume that because someone pulls there socks up and overcomes parental crap that the harm wasn't/isn't real.

Posted by: NC lawyer | November 29, 2006 1:53 PM

with you on that NC lawyer - didn't mean to question that, just sometimes its hard to tell TIC over the net

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 1:55 PM

The whole idea of 'they do the best they can' is truly ludicrous. My sister thinks she does the best she can - she was having a problem with her oldest, and I said: why don't you talk with the dr. about it? and she replied: well, what's *he* going to do?
And I believe I said: well, this is your first child, and he's a doctor who has seen thousands of patients, maybe he knows a little more than you and I do. No, she'd rather just complain about it and hold herself up as a martyr with how wonderful she is doing dealing with him.
By the way, she is a SAHM and doing no favor to her kids by staying at home with them. Of course, she should never have married or had kids with her abusive husband (who, she says, has ADMITTED to having 'issues' but doesn't really feel like doing anything about it - why should he when she pretty much tells him every day how he's fine, by staying with him and allowing him to be abusive to the kids).
I see so much of my mom in my sister - a terribly abusive husband, having not one, not two, but THREE children, when she knew there was a problem, then staying with him for thirty years. I know that it was the norm in the 70s to 'stay together for the kids' but really, at some point, you have to think maybe that's not the best. So they stayed together, mom was miserable, probably wanted to go to college and get a job, but was way too terrified to do that.

My other sister, a WOHM, also has many many issues. Fortunately, she married a wonderful man, but she is most definitely wearing him down the way she treats him (and she's not so nice to the kids). It's tough to watch.

It's really unfair, because I did figure a lot of this out, my sisters want to deny that anything bad ever happened, and mom's not here to talk to (not that she talked much about anything when she was around). My mom didn't work outside the home, but was never around when I got home from school - ever. She had her own life and her own stuff to do, so it wouldn't have been much different if she *did* have a job.

My grandfather died when my mom and her sister were young - and back then, the govt would come to your house to tell you about the wonderful benefits they could supply. My grandmother would have no part of it - she was NOT going on welfare. She went to work, sometimes 6 days a week - and took care of my mom and her sister, with help from her sisters and her mom. Was she supposed to stay at home with my mom and my aunt? I think she made the best decision - showing her kids that she could get up and get a job (actually, she always worked) and not pity herself because her husband died.

Posted by: atlmom | November 29, 2006 1:56 PM

Why on earth would someone with JD go on to have four children, and risk passing down the same horrible diseas that they have is way beyond me!

Posted by: incredulous | November 29, 2006 2:01 PM

"My grandfather died when my mom and her sister were young "

Could these have been Social Security survivrors' benefits?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 2:02 PM

"I didn't actually read the book. Since the book is about his mother, I am curious...did he actually absolve his father or just not lambast him? Maybe the issues with his father weren't addressed because the book was about his mother?"

Good point. I haven't read the book and could probably be told to shut the heck up until I have. But blaming mothers is common practice, especially among mothers themselves. It's rampant on this blog and elsewhere, "shouldn't I be at home more?" "Shouldn't I set a good example for my kids and work like their dad?" Mothers are hard enough on themselves, and it's cruel to pile it on even more. Unless his dad was warm, attentive, and kind in ways his mother was not, I'd like to see a book trashing the dad as much as he trashes his mom. Or better yet, no book trashing anyone and gratitude for good parents who raised him with love and kindness, who kept him safe and secure, in warm clothes with good food in his body. Oh, wait, there's no book deal in that. Never mind.

Posted by: Mona | November 29, 2006 2:04 PM

First, to Father of 4:

My mom went through lots of crap with the aunt and uncle who raised her and her brother and sister (their parents died). My mom still hasn't gotten over it, and she's in her mid-70s. But she did bring her four kids around that aunt and uncle. At times, we lived with them. They didn't treat us kids that way. But I know that a parent's repeat acts of neglect and cruelty can impact generations, because it creates emotional scars and baggage. I trust you had the good judgment to know that your kids wouldn't suffer as you did, so moving back in with your mom under your watchful eyes isn't a problem. But I hope you're taking care of yourself too.

Now for the topic:

Basically, Dickerson feels his mother's attempts at being involved in his life were just not enough. He may have felt second fiddle to his mother's career. While on one hand, I know it's hurtful to feel like you didn't get all that you needed, on the other hand, one needs to heal that hurt. Many mothers, mine included, had no choice but to work. When my siblings were little (and up until when I was a toddler), my mom mostly stayed home. Then she needed extra money in the house (my dad was away in the military), then my parents divorced. It was hard for me, because I felt the lonliness. My siblings were out on their own, and my mom didn't really make many school functions. It was always work, work, work. I learned recently that she was involved in my siblings' schools and lives outside of school. But being a single mom made that difficult by the time I started school. Tough break? Perhaps. But if I want to live a full, happy life, I have to let most if not all of that go. And I try to drop or minimize the childhood baggage, because holding on it only hurts me.

I think the problem with kids who did not get everything they needed from their mothers is often not only physical unavailability, but emotional unavailability of parents. I also think there were lower expectations of fathers at one time -- mothers had to be physically and emotionally available and nurturing. These days, it seems that both parents are expected to be there and to provide nurturing. At least, that's the expectation.

It could very well be that today's parents are so child-centered because they remember an unfulfilled need from both parents when they were youngsters. It could also be that today's parents are more neurotic too, but hey...

Now, I'm off to go fight the school system for my son again. He's ADHD, recently diagnosed with mild autism and needs a private placement. Wish me luck!

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | November 29, 2006 2:06 PM

"Why on earth would someone with JD go on to have four children, and risk passing down the same horrible diseas that they have is way beyond me!"

to incredulous: commenting on whether another parent on the board, who has disclosed personal information for the benefit of strangers, has made what you consider to be the most responsible reproductive decision truly is beyond the pale. The blog permits us all to say things we'd never say in person, but surely the temptation has to be resisted in some instances.

Posted by: NC lawyer | November 29, 2006 2:10 PM

I was ready to agree wholeheartedly with foamgnome, and I still do to a large degree, but the passages in the WP book review at least offer some room for wondering. I think it's fair to say that there are some people, men and women, who just aren't cut out to be good parents. As some have noted above, they are often those too obsessed with one part of their lives (they never strive to be 'On Balance')

Here are a few examples from the WP review:

"'By the time I was thirteen, I wasn't confused anymore. I was angry. I hated her: I thought she was a phony and a liar. Everyone still thought she was a big deal, but I thought she distinguished herself at home by being petty, rigid and clumsy,' he writes"

"After his parents divorced and John moved in with his father, his mother wrote a letter claiming that she had needed to work for financial reasons when her children were young. She loved him and his brother, she wrote, "more than anyone in the world." Dickerson scoffs at her reasoning. "She had to make money to be sure, but she worked because she loved to. That's why it was natural for her to write that she loved us more than 'anyone' in the world, but not 'anything.' She would have worked just as hard at her job had she been wading in bullion." "

Good points have been raised about how well he judges the father as well in this picture. Fair enough. Also remeber the times, where an fully active father would have been fairly unusual. The fact that he went to live with the father after divorce (something that would have been considered very unusual as well for the time period) does say something about how he feels for the situation, huh?

"His mother's career with the networks was over, her usefulness diminished seriously by her closeness to those in power. But she was still on television and working assiduously to jump-start her fading career, in part by giving fabulous parties. One of her last great ones was for Ronald Reagan, three days before his first inauguration. Her children regularly worked the front door at those parties, greeting the famous guests. "We felt like we were being used," writes Dickerson. "Nancy could have a fantastic career and pleasant children too! Other people took care of us, so we became plug-and-play kids, ready to be displayed at the appropriate moments.""

This lady doesn't seem quite like Mother of the Year material...

Even so, it does seem a bit cheesy to write a tell all book about your own mother, and after her death--when she has no rebuttal. Trying to recoup money for all the therapy he's undergone, perhaps? :~)

Posted by: Texas Dad of 2 | November 29, 2006 2:10 PM

To: incredulous

The link between genetics and Type I diabetes is not well understood. There does seem to be some increased risk of children developing it if their father has it, and a less increased risk if its the mother, but no increased risk if the mother is over 25 when she gives birth. Its just not clear what the odds really are. I'm still amazed that with such terrible BG control to make you go blind, he's even able to have children. ED is almost universal among men with out of control BGs.

And I still can't believe he blames his parents for not knowing. I work with someone whose daughter was just diagnosed with JD (with no family history) and he feels guilty that they didn't catch it sooner, and he knew what he was looking for because he works with me! I told him there's just no way to have done any better and having that kind of guilt or anger over a disease that's no one's fault is such a shame.

Posted by: AnotherDiabetic | November 29, 2006 2:10 PM

to 2:02

Possibly, but she was told if she worked, she would not get the benefits - so she worked - partially because she would make more money working. And she did not want to feel like she was taking from someone without working for the money.

Certainly different than what most people think these days.

Posted by: atlmom | November 29, 2006 2:12 PM

"Why on earth would someone with JD go on to have four children, and risk passing down the same horrible diseas that they have is way beyond me!"

Maybe because he wanted to have kids?

Seriously, it's JD -- yes, it sucks, but it's not a death sentence. I had serious asthma that almost killed me as a kid and required years of allergy shots; have pretty crappy vision, too. Should I not have had kids since my genes aren't perfect? FO4 is also blind -- should that disqualify him? What about the mentally handicapped -- should we revert to forced sterilization? Where do you draw the line? And more importantly, WHO has the right to draw that line?

The only people qualified to judge whether a couple should have children is the couple themselves. ESPECIALLY when you are talking about a potentially inheritable disease -- who can better judge the difficulties than someone who has experienced them first-hand?

Posted by: Laura | November 29, 2006 2:17 PM

To TexasDAdof 2: I don't think anyone would claim she was a good mother. She seemed very narcissitic and cold. But that is different then true abuse. Also, I think a child's recollection of the past, may have been really different then the reality. Like the look awful comment. I just don't know if it really went down that way. We all say things and do things that we regret. I think we would all be embarrassed if our kids wrote a tell all book.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 29, 2006 2:17 PM

My two cents. I've always worked my kids entire lives (now ages 19 and 16), but take pride that a parent or family member with the exception of my oldest son's first two years of life were their primary caregiver at any given time. My husband wanted me to have a third child and I said I would only do so if I could stay home without a huge financial impact (hint hint - he could get a better paying job). He opted not to get a job that would allow that; we did not have a third kid.. Fast forward to now we are divorced (issues over raising kids a big part of breakdown).. and low and behold he has married a woman 10 years younger and they are expecting their first child.

Here I thought I was doing the right thing for my family by not introducing children I didn't think I could properly take care of. Here I was my kids advocate to have their father take more interest in their lives. Here I fell victim (yes, "victim") to divorce aka, family breakdown... and now my ex just waltzes right over to new woman (before divorce final) and is starting a whole new family. And yes, my note I'm writing sounds bitter but read between the lines really.

I TRIED to be a responsible parent and not take on more than I could handle.... And I feel it backfired on me. Fortunately, I did have a job that I can support myself and my two kids post-divorce without a major lifestyle change.. but yet, my ex gets to start over with a whole new family when we couldn't even get our act together on the "first" one. It amazes me.... As someone told me the other night though.. your boys probably consider your ex the "fun" parent and household, but at least when they are with you they are "home".

Parenting is tough. We all make mistakes. We all have external influences that make our parenting conditions not perfect. We conflict with our spouses and ex spouses on how to raise children (like mine allows our underage kids to drink). We all need to step back and look at our parents and try to imagine why they acted the way they did towards us. I know I didn't like the way my parents raised me as a kid, but after having a couple of my own kids - they get my utmost respect!

Posted by: cyntia | November 29, 2006 2:22 PM

To NC Lawyer~

I'm fairly sure I would ask that question in person, too. Because with this disease (among others) becoming more and more of an epidemic, wouldn't you agree that people need to consider it a parental obligation to--at the very least--do more research before having children--particularly when a parent already has it, thus forming a history? Perhaps F04 has, but as AnotherDiabetic posted, the genetic link is murky, which would tell me that it could go either way for the kids.

So then I guess my question is, with F04 knowing of his condition before becoming a parent, does that give his kids the right to hold him responsible, should they develop the disease as well?

Posted by: incredulous | November 29, 2006 2:25 PM

CNN International is reporting that Greg is leaving the Wiggles. Anyone else devastated?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 2:27 PM

to cyntia:

It sounds like part of the problem was communication. At least as big as anything else - if he really, truly wanted more kids, perhaps he could have indicated that to you. You sound as if he mentioned it one day and that was that - but I doubt that's what happened. As usual, the truth is always somewhere in between.
I joke with my husband that we should have more kids (we have two). He is dead set against it (we are both one of three and the middle child most definitely, in each case, is a classic middle child, so he doesn't want to go down that road. And each of us is exhausted).
I'd have another if my husband was into it, but I'm truly on the fence about it and he's dead set against it, so we're not doing it. but we have discussed it a bunch.
If it were truly important to me to have another (and I definitely love the kids - and I think we could handle another one, but we'd have to make tons of changes to our lives) I would definitely convey that to DH. But it's a joke a this point between us (whenever they are screaming, that's when DH says: hey, let's have another. Not when they're sweet and cooing and lovable).
But we talk about it. Sounds like your ex maybe didn't convey his true feelings? But I doubt the divorce was all about that, in any event.

Posted by: atlmom | November 29, 2006 2:29 PM

to incredulous -- seriously, what Laura said in her post at 2:17.

I'm having difficulty imagining one of Fo4's preferring not to exist than to cope with JD, but since I'm not burdened with this challenge, I leave that to the experts. Generally, the things kids hold parents responsible for relate to failures of parenting, not for sizing up the research differently than some other couple.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone on the board who wishes his/her parents hadn't reproduced and given him life because the odds of him/her inheriting one or more diseases were . . let's say . . . greater than 50/50.

Posted by: NC lawyer | November 29, 2006 2:31 PM

To incredulous: Ah, the troll eugenicists have arrived for their daily feeding.

I suspect that with all the things Fo4 has had to deal with in his life, he's also developed a pretty thick skin.

Posted by: Curious | November 29, 2006 2:32 PM

"Maybe because he wanted to have kids?"

Perhaps. However, I would hold a parent more responsible for potentially passing down a known genetic disorder than those that have no clue. Of course, it would behoove us all to know as much as we can healthwise about our family histories.

Consider it from the healthcare perspective though. Is it really in our best interest to keep insurance and healthcare costs as they are, to support those who decide to knowingly pass down a genetic disorder or disease?

Maybe it is just me, but I don't believe I'd be thrilled knowing that I may very well end up like Mom or Dad and their disease. Would anyone else find that scarring and cause for resentment, too?

Posted by: incredulous | November 29, 2006 2:32 PM

My mother didn't work when I was a kid. However, she moved out of the house when I was 16 - leaving me as the oldest kid with a younger brother and sister and an alcoholic father (functional as he may have been). I was suddenly the main house keeper, shopper and cook for 4 other people. To this day she doesn't realize how difficult it was for me. To be honest I have never really discussed it with her as I kind of feel "what's the point? It was in the past". I am sure it would only make her sad, lonely life more pathetic and make me feel terrible for hurting her. My sister and brother and I have gone out of our way over the last 35 years to make sure she is taken care of (to include buying her a much needed car and computer) out of duty but, honestly, there isn't alot of real love there. We do what we have to do to make her comfortable and so that we have no regrets that she was in need.

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | November 29, 2006 2:35 PM

"Because with this disease (among others) becoming more and more of an epidemic..."

Type II Diabetes is considered epidemic--very tightly linked to the obesity epidemic--not Type I.

"So then I guess my question is, with F04 knowing of his condition before becoming a parent, does that give his kids the right to hold him responsible, should they develop the disease as well?"

Maybe...but by the same token, had he chosen to not have children, does it give them the right to hold him responsible for their not existing? Before you say how asinine that comment is, think about it: I doubt his children would wish themselves dead, Type I Diabetes or no.

Posted by: Mona | November 29, 2006 2:35 PM

Curious~

I think I raised a valid point. I'm genuinely curious, since F04 resents his own parents for not knowing...and yet, he knew before he became a parent of four himself.

I invite F04 to answer, because I am curious what led to his decision for four kids, given his condition. If he has posted his reasoning or research on the matter. Has he prepared them with the knowledge and appropriate tools that they are at risk for developing the disease too?

Posted by: incredulous | November 29, 2006 2:39 PM

To incredulous: I think you ask a very valid question, and one I am struggling with myself. Since I am a woman over 25, the stats say there is no increased risk, but the truth is they don't really know. What if I have kids and they do develop JD, I think I would feel terribly guilty. Its not a death sentence, but believe me, it breaks parent's hearts to see their kids taking daily injections and having to prick their own fingers to draw blood several times a day, every day, for the rest of their lives.

But what gives me hope, is that a cure is coming closer all the time. I fully expect to be 'injection-free' within 20 years, and if I can maintain good control until then, I can probably aviod any serious complications.

My family has no history of Type 1 diabetes, yet I developed it. I could have developed MS or childhood cancer, or many other worse diseases. If my parents asked me 'would I rather not have been born to them as parents' because of this, I would have said no. Their being such amazing parents more than makes up for any discomfort caused by my diabetes. Overall, I wouldn't trade them for anything, not even a cure.

Posted by: AnotherDiabetic | November 29, 2006 2:45 PM

Incredulous: You may think your comments are valid, but they suggest a heavy sentiment of eugenics -- perhaps you're not even aware of it.

Question: Do you have any genetic shortcomings? I do -- too many to list here.

Posted by: Curious | November 29, 2006 2:47 PM

Hi. I'm John Dickerson.

I think it's worth adding a few points here into the discussion. First, I associate myself with those who have posted who have read the whole book and find it a nuanced portrait of my extraordinary mother. After having spent so much time trying to get it right, I am heartened by those who have taken the time to read the book in full and take it seriously and I am additionally encouraged that no one who has read the book in full echoes the criticisms contained on this page.

The whole point of the book is that the mother I knew as a child was different than the one I discovered in my search through her papers and her life after she died. The childhood period of this book is about fifty pages. It's a 350 page book most of which is a discussion of my mother's career doing an extraordinary thing--breaking in to the all-male, highly sexist (is that redundant?) world of television news--the extraordinary moments of history she witnessed, the society in which she thrived, her serious challenges at home and how she coped so well with all of that. As I say in the book, I am amazed that she kept the family together for as long as she did and in awe of her professional talent (much of which I never saw because I was not yet born or too young).

I tried to look at all of her in this book as honestly as I could and this is the conclusion I came to at the end of the book: "The full life of Nancy Dickerson can withstand the scrutiny. To look at her frailty, tenderness, vanity, generosity, love, pride and humility all in proper proportion still yields a very impressive woman, and a more genuine one."

Lesley says I fail to credit my mother for being a role model for my own career success. I don't think that's right. As I say in the acknowledgements I consider the entire book "one big acknowledgement to Mom" and I explicitly mention that the strength I draw from her example while I try to do my job now.

I hope you will read the book to draw your own conclusions, but if you don't, I would ask this favor. Please don't think that Nancy Dickerson, who tried so hard all of her life to get it right, and tried hardest of all with me, produced the awful no good lout described on this page. That would be incredibly unfair to her.

Posted by: John Dickerson | November 29, 2006 2:49 PM

"Type II Diabetes is considered epidemic--very tightly linked to the obesity epidemic--not Type I."

So that makes it less severe and excusable? In regards to the healthcare costs?

I don't know if they'd wish they never existed, however, I believe there is a strong link between chronic and terminal illnesses that lead to depression. Perhaps even to the extreme of suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Posted by: incredulous | November 29, 2006 2:49 PM

"I'm genuinely curious, since F04 resents his own parents for not knowing...and yet, he knew before he became a parent of four himself."

You don't really know what FO4 resents. The way I interpreted his story was that he resented his parents not paying close enough attention to realize that something was wrong.

I am incredulous that you are even questioning the fact that he has his own children. He seems to be living his life well, in spite of his medical conditions. No one wants their children to have a horrible life, but having certain medical conditions does not automatically mean that the person's life will be horrible.

Anyone can have an accident, develop a disease, or be injured in such a way to change their life drastically. Think of Christopher Reeve who seemed to be the picture of health and vitality prior to the horseback accident. Also, I do remember that we had a president who was wheelchair-bound due to polio. Should none of us have children because they might someday have a 'horrible' condition?

Posted by: to incredulous | November 29, 2006 2:55 PM

to incredulous:

Certainly, Fo4 can speak for himself, but you are mischaracterizing his comments if you say that he "resents his own parents for not knowing." It appeared quite clear to me, at least, that his resentment is based upon his parents ignoring his visible symptoms and disciplining him for dealing with those symptoms. It's not that they should have said, "Egad man, our son has diabetes." They should, however, have said, "Samantha, something might be wrong with our son! Let's consult Dr. Bombay! Have you noticed he lost 25% of his body weight since Easter?"

Posted by: NC lawyer | November 29, 2006 2:59 PM

"I think I raised a valid point. I'm genuinely curious."

In that case, it would have been much easier to swallow had you said, "Is this type of diabetes considered hereditary, and if so, did that play into your decision to have children, Fo4?"

What you actually wrote was accusing and rude, and I don't think Father of 4 has any obligation to answer to something like that.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 2:59 PM

AnotherDiabetic~

Thank you for that comment. I would surmise that not everyone who receives a known genetic disorder or disease to accept it easily.

Curious~

Yes, in fact both I and my spouse have strong histories in several diseases. We've accepted this, and are looking into becoming foster parents and possibly at some point, adopting.

Posted by: incredulous | November 29, 2006 2:59 PM

Actually, incredulous, I think FO4 blames his parents for ignoring some really obvious signs that something was seriously wrong with their child -- not for their failure to recognize those symptoms as JD.

Do his kids have the right to resent him, if they develop the disease? Well, since the only other alternative would mean that they wouldn't exist, I think not.

Now if he hid his disease from them, ignored their symptoms like his own parents did, let them go unprepared into the world, watched them get sick without offering help, then yeah, they'd have every right to be angry. But that's a completely separate issue from your initial comment that he shouldn't have had kids at all. And I think it's pretty far-fetched to assume that that's how FO4 would act, given all of his posts that show how much he loves his kids.

Posted by: Laura | November 29, 2006 3:00 PM

I have actually struggled with this for years. It took no time at all for DH and I to get pregnant both times (more info than you need?). But really, there are probably millions of adoptable children in this world, and we have the ability to raise (at least) two children, why did we have our own rather than adopting one of the ones being raised by 'the state'? (which could be the US or another country).
We ultimately have to figure all this out for ourselves, and I *say* that if we had had problems conceiving, I would never go through any other means to have gotten pregnant (really, I don't think I would - if only to not spend the energy it would take over a long period of time, from what I've heard in speaking with those who have gotten pregnant with intervention) - but I don't know, as, since I mentioned, it took us no time at all.
But each of us has to figure out for ourselves what we are going to do - and no matter what, each of us usually thinks that what we do is best.
I think it is pretty rude to second guess someone else's decisions in the way that is being done. Life isn't perfect, but plenty of people have children they don't even take care of - why would anyone question someone who has spent time and energy to be a good parent?

Posted by: atlmom | November 29, 2006 3:04 PM

To to incredulous:

Anyone can have an accident, develop a disease, or be injured in such a way to change their life drastically. Think of Christopher Reeve who seemed to be the picture of health and vitality prior to the horseback accident. Also, I do remember that we had a president who was wheelchair-bound due to polio. Should none of us have children because they might someday have a 'horrible' condition?

Nope, and I don't believe I suggested that much. But that's apples and oranges, really. Christopher Reeve couldn't pass that on, but F04 can. I'm basically just curious if he researched the issue at all or just left it up to fate.

Posted by: incredulous | November 29, 2006 3:05 PM

I think it is hard to draw the line when you know you have a medical condition and choosing to reproduce. Only fo4 and his wife can make that choice. I do understand not choosing to reproduce when you know you have a genetic problem. But that is really a tough emotional choice for the individual. I never realized JD was that bad that someone would not want to have children because of it. I thought people who had diabetes sometimes refrain from child bearing because it would be detrimental to their own health (mother) not because they might pass the disease on. Every parent of a sick child, deals with grief and guilt. Even if there was nothing they could do to prevent it.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 29, 2006 3:06 PM

So far as I am aware, women have been primarily responsible for child rearing, even across cultures. Did it ever occur to anybody here that this, perhaps, is not some malevolent form of oppression by men but a cultural and sociological expression of our biology?

We ascribe the possibility of certain certain complex behaviors and drives to a biological predisposition -- say, homosexuality, disease or intelligence. We is it that we don't seem to want to accept that children -- and all of us, by extension of that idea -- have a deep-seated, subconscious need for our mommies?

Posted by: It's Not All Nurture | November 29, 2006 3:07 PM

Mr. Dickerson,

Thanks for your comment. The picture you paint of your book is certainly different than the one painted by Leslie in her review and blog post. Guess we should check out the source material for ourselves.

If I may ask a few personal questions (which, of course, you don't have to answer), do you feel that your mom "failed" you, as Leslie implies? Do you think you'd have connected more with her if she hadn't had such an important career? Would you have wanted her to be a SAHM?

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 3:13 PM

Incredulous, just to let you know, I moved back into my mother's house for a few reasons. My mother was divorced an living with her parents and my grandfather passed away. So my mother was left to take care of my aging grandmother all by herself. I also already had 1 daughter and wanted to build a bigger family at the same time I put my wife through nursing school. So we put the family back together for a few years and accomplished our goals. It wouldn't have been possible without the family power to make it work. And it did!

As for making babies, the thought of raising health care cost for the future generations didn't even cross my mind.

the reason I had 4 of them, and I might not be done yet, because I recognize in myself, not only do I have the desire to be loved by others, but I have a great ability to love others as well.

As far as turning out OK, I'm not sure. I am kind of a whack job, but my 15 year old daughter still demands hugs, my annoying son practises his cello along with my guitar accompument, my favorite daughter likes doing my laundry, and baby boy jumps up and down and runs around the house when I walk through the door after work. It's the celebration routine, before we play "baby beatup", his favorite game.

And one last thing, Incredulous, I doubt seriously that you can ever explain to me or my kids that this world would be a better place without them. I just don't think you can do it.

Posted by: Father of 4 | November 29, 2006 3:13 PM

to John Dickerson - thanks for responding and giving a bigger picture than Leslie did.

Posted by: anonfornow | November 29, 2006 3:14 PM

to It's not all nurture:

That is quite ridiculous. I never really had any deep seated subconscious need for either of my parents. I was quite independent at a young age - where my dad was fighting his (still undiagnosed) depression/personality disorder (i.e., he spent my teen years on the couch in our den watching TV and not speaking to anyone) and my mom was off doing her own thing (having an affair, playing bridge). I never really could count on either of them much, so I became quite independent, something my DH respected about me, but something which i to some extent had to 'unlearn' in order to allow someone into my life.

I am truly incredulous when my four YO and my 18 Month Old come into our bedroom and hang out, and how my 4 YO wants to have his stories read to him on our bed. They find our room comforting. The older one will climb into bed on the weekends, or come into our room in the AM to wake us up. I would NEVER in a million years, ever have entered my parent's bedroom, and certainly never found it comforting.
Being with my family is fun - something I never thought about my familiy growing up. It was never fun - that would not be a word I would use. But, the four of us actually have fun together, and it is one of the greatest things ever. I'm so grateful for that.

Posted by: atlmom | November 29, 2006 3:15 PM

Father of 4

Your reasons for moving back sound bogus; did your wife know what your mother did to you?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 3:19 PM

To dotted: did you really expect Fo4 to feel comfortable explaining more of his symptoms to his parents after being beaten with a belt for drinking during the night? And not being allowed to drink when thirsty? After all the symptoms that he was cleary exhibiting, you did not have to be an MD to figure out that something was wrong. I don't expect non medical people to be able to recognize the signs of JD but this kid was literaly wearing a sign that said: take me to the pediatrician! This reminds me of friens of ours, very strict disciplinarians with their kids who repeatedly used corporal punishment with their 18-24 months old for his failure to obey. When he was 2 and still barely saying any words, I suggested that maybe there was a problem but they basically dismissed it all as willfull disobedience, etc. Finally when things did not improve by the time the child was almost 3, they took him for evaluation and he was diagnosed with severe autism. This should be a lesson to all of us parents: when you see odd behavior, new physical signs etc, first rule out organic/medical reasons before assuming your child is "just being bad".
Fo4: as a diabetes educator, I really feel for you. I wonder how you ever managed to maintain a relationship with your parents as an adult.

Posted by: FCmom | November 29, 2006 3:19 PM

To newSAHM:

>>do you feel that your mom "failed" you, as Leslie implies?

Yes and no. It's a tricky question (which is in part why I wrote the book). She failed as we all fail as parents. Trying like the devil and still getting it wrong in some cases.

>>Do you think you'd have connected more with her if she hadn't had such an important career?

No, I go into this in the book both in discussing how she's wired and the lessons I draw about how I'm wired as I make my own choices about work and family.

>>Would you have wanted her to be a SAHM?

Good gracious no, as I write in the book. I would not want her, or my wife, or my daughter or my son to be something they didn't want to be. Nor would I want a SAHM to feel pressured to go work if that wasn't where she found her life's purpose. For the rest of us who are trying to work that balance out in the messy middle--good luck to us.

Posted by: John Dickerson | November 29, 2006 3:20 PM

re: 2:27

I wasn't too shocked Greg (yellow) was leaving the Wiggles. I was shocked at how much they have aged since the first time I saw them in Sydney 1996.

Which brings to mind what should Big Bird really look like at 45?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 3:20 PM

THanks for your response, Mr. Dickerson.

Nothing's as complicated as the relationship between parents and their adult children, huh?

Anyway, that's for sharing your insights. I'm going to have to check out your book. It sounds really interesting.

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 3:24 PM

To drag this back on track.....

So Leslie, any rebuttal to John's comments? Sounds like you may have mischaracterized the book. Badly.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 3:26 PM

In passing, I find it annoying and amusing that Mr. Dickerson's book is apparently mostly about his mother the professional, but that the review and Leslie's blog mention her accomplishments merely as a frame for her a discussion of Dickerson's mothering style.

I wonder, would they have done the same thing if the book was written by, say, Dan Rather's daughter?

Posted by: NewSAHM | November 29, 2006 3:28 PM

FCMom:
I believe you are applying the standards of 2006 to 1966 in your first two sentences. Why wouldn't the teachers have noticed? Why wouldn't the parents of friends noticed? The point is, in the 1960s, parents didn't run to a pediatrician...heck it was a GP then! It was way too easy to just believe he was just going through a growth spurt, or maybe finally losing baby fat, or whatever. My own parents were told to ignore my personal disability and not tell anyone because, if anyone knew, I would be taken out of my neighborhood school. That is just the way things were then. Ignorance was/is bliss.

Posted by: dotted | November 29, 2006 3:29 PM

To all you folks who judge Fo4 for moving back home - put a sock in it. He had his reasons. Who on earth do you think you are to judge him for his choices? You know a few things about his life, and all of a sudden, you think you know enough about the complications and nuances of his family life to make better choices in the same circumstances than he did. He did what he did, and amazingly, it worked for him.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 3:31 PM

Over many years of working out my various homes around the world, I have seen and come to know neighborhood children from many cultures. When one parent remains at home to raise the children those children are far less likely to get into serious trouble, no matter how good or bad the neighborhood environment is. Children growing up without a parent around most of the time get into trouble that often continues for the rest of their lives. This is common sense, not graduate school sociology. Households where both parents work full-time sacrifice the well-being of their children for money. In Third World nations like Haiti, I have seen 5 year-olds caring for infants for days on end. In India, the poorest mothers still manage to share the care of the village children. In Europe the society subsidizes stay-at-home mothers. It seems strange that America allows stay-at-home mothers to face poverty while the raise the next generation.

Posted by: thw2001 | November 29, 2006 3:32 PM

altmom - did you consider that your independence and lack of need for your "mommy" was more due to your environment than your biology? Maybe you would have felt that need if you knew it would be answered, but from what you described you learned very early that it would not and, using our biological survival skills (which are emotional and physical), BECAME independent (your words) as opposed to being born that way? Which would also explain why your children don't take after you in terms of early indpendence, because their need for mommy is being fulfilled so they are not forced into independence. hmmm... just something to think about.

Posted by: nature v. nurture | November 29, 2006 3:32 PM

Thanks John for coming and offering us some firsthand inputs. You truly had some unique parents for the time period.

If you don't mind, were there strong reasons why you lived with your Dad after your parents divorce? Having not had a chance to read the book, I thought it interesting choice for the time period. How old where you and your siblings when this happened?

Also, some of us folks have wondered about your relationship with your father overall, since it wasn't mentioned much by Leslie or the WP review. How would you describe it? After writing this book, would you make the same decision now about who to live with if you had it to do over again?

As you can see, you book offered a lively discussion for today...along with unsolicited free psychoanalysis. :~)

Well, you get what you pay pay for...

Posted by: Texas Dad of 2 | November 29, 2006 3:35 PM

so thw2001, just to be clear, your conclusion that, "Households where both parents work full-time sacrifice the well-being of their children for money" is based entirely on having seen and come to know neighborhood children?
bwaHAHAHAHAHA! Come back and fill us with your wisdom when you have even one of your own.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 3:37 PM

Except for the people with diabetes posting here, most of the posters, especially incredulous, have no idea what they are talking about re:JD. It accounts for only 5% of all diabetes cases, it is not an epidemic (though type 2 diabetes is), the genetic link is not well understood. Genetics is not destiny unless there is an actual gene we carry that tells us we will have the disease, such as with Huntington's and our children have a 50% chance of getting (in which case I don't think people should have children not only because of the high risk of developing the disease but also not being around long enough to take care of them). I take care of people with diabetes. Yes, they have a lot to deal with, but I have never heard any say they would rather be dead or not have been born.

Posted by: FC mom | November 29, 2006 3:41 PM

Probably shouldn't have a virtual book club after all......

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 3:42 PM

Yeah, Emily, you tell 'em! Father of 4 has obviously been faced with some very difficult choices and who are all of you to second-guess based on such limited information. Jeepers.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 3:43 PM

To answer foamgnome's comment - as long as they are managing their disease well, women with Type 1 diabetes can have healthy pregnancies. My own doctor has been very supportative and says when I am ready there is no reason for me not to try to have children. Its generally considered a 'high risk' pregnancy because you need more help maintaining a healthy body, not necessarily because there's an increased risk to the mother or baby.

As I said, the genetic link is fuzzy at best. For myself, I had to decide if the potential downside (a very low risk of developing JD) outweighted the potential benefits - the child inheriting my incredible brilliance (another genetically fuzzy area) my husband's amazing green eyes, my father's natural musical talent. And I decided that benefits were greater than the risks - that the positives of my genes were higher than the negatives.

Some may feel this line of reasoning is a eugenically slippery slope, but how can you not think about the risks to your child before giving birth? Fo4 is a little too naive for me.

Also, to incredulous, I have considered the impacts on medical costs. I am one of those people that benefits greatly from the system, and I know it. I'm not against a reevaluation of the system, but I don't think it should be a major factor in the decision to have children. Like I said, you have to weigh costs against benefits. I'd like to think my contributions to society are worth more than my medical costs, but I'll agree that this isn't easily measurable and that for other diseases it may be even more difficult.

Posted by: AnotherDiabetic | November 29, 2006 3:43 PM

Mr. Dickerson - thank you for offering your side. It's always nice to get more information, and I can certainly relate to understanding a parent more after they are gone. I often wonder if my child will know the "me" before I was mom - and it sounds like you tried to do just that. Best of luck with your new publication.

Posted by: The original just a thought | November 29, 2006 3:44 PM

Leslie-
Did you actually read the book?

Posted by: just anothe mom | November 29, 2006 3:46 PM

"But he does not use his childhood as an reason to be miserable, as many other people do."

Emily,

I think you've switched cause and effect here.

Anyone who appears to want to be miserable is suffering from some kind of mental imbalance. Nobody wants to be miserable.

If someone is miserable -- and it has to do with their childhood -- then by all means they should get some help to work it through. But that's not easy for a lot of people to do. It's a hard step to take, particularly for people who grew up in families suspicious of the very notion of mental illness or psychiatric help.

Those folks who appear to you to wallow in their misery are more likely people with childhood issues who haven't been able to get up the nerve or the motivation to seek help.

Have a little compassion for those who don't know how to get started.

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 3:48 PM

I did a little poking around at online biographies for Ms. Dickerson. I realized that she had five children - three stepdaughters and two sons with Mr. Dickerson (and later three additional stepchildren with her second husband, though I don't know how old they were when they joined the family).

How many moms of her day, let alone mothers of five (eight?) children, went to every one of their kids activities - high faultin career or no? Sounds like an amazing mother to me!

Posted by: SuperMom | November 29, 2006 3:50 PM

to nature vs. nurture:

Whatever, does it matter? I don't have that need - it was indicated that everyone has the need for their mommy. I'm saying, that's not true. Some kids bond better with dad. Some days my kids bond better wtih me, and some days with dad. Some kids don't bond well with either parent.
And, for the record, I couldn't say anything about my kid's independence - they are four and under two. I suppose that at 2 my mom was still dressing me.
My four year old is pretty independent, actually, we are trying to nurture that as much as possible. But I do always want to have him know that there is a nurturing place for him to go to - that is called home. I never really had that.

Posted by: atlmom | November 29, 2006 3:50 PM

I for one plotted and planned from the time I was about 8 years old to leave home. As soon as I had a marketable skill and a secure job with the Government, I left home at 19 and never went back. I've been on my own ever since. I see my mother twice a year if she's lucky, only for a day visit, never overnight. My older sister got married just to get out of the house and away from Mommy Dearest. Just being able to produce children does not mean you are capable of raising them. We even live in different states from my mother so obviously she wasn't doing everything right. I've seen better mothers in the animal kingdom than in my own home when I was growing up, or merely surviving would be a better way to put it.

I think we should all reserve judgment of John Dickerson until after we've read his book. Leslie has a way of putting negative spins on things. Or perhaps she's just jealous of Nancy Dickerson's success. I remember Nancy reporting in front of the Capitol building in her trademark turtleneck sweaters.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 3:50 PM

To Texas Dad of 2:

If you don't mind, were there strong reasons why you lived with your Dad after your parents divorce?
I write about this in the book but at the time I thought he hung the moon though the decision to move out was also influenced by my deteriorating relationship with Mom. I was 14. My siblings were older and had all gone to college. My brother, who was still in college, lived with Dad when he came home too.
Also, some of us folks have wondered about your relationship with your father overall, since it wasn't mentioned much by Leslie or the WP review. How would you describe it?
I have a wonderful relationship with Dad.
After writing this book, would you make the same decision now about who to live with if you had it to do over again?
Probably not. I understand a lot more of what Mom was going through and what I was too.

Posted by: John Dickerson | November 29, 2006 3:51 PM

"The blog permits us all to say things we'd never say in person, but surely the temptation has to be resisted in some instances."

Hear, hear, NC lawyer!

The "incredulous" comment went beyond everything offensive I've seen on this blog.

I imagine that Fo4 has encountered this particular bigotry before, but I'm sure it scrapes just as raw each time it happens.

"Incredulous" might ask Fo4's kids what they think. Would they be happier if their dad hadn't reproduced? Somehow, I don't think so.

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 3:55 PM

"Even so, it does seem a bit cheesy to write a tell all book about your own mother, and after her death--when she has no rebuttal."

Oh, for crying out loud.

Celebrities have biographies written about them all the time. Usually posthumous.

Much better to have someone who actually knew you do the honors (even if the product isn't all that complimentary) than some Kitty Kelley type of writer who literally does it for the money.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 3:59 PM

Thank god genetic testing wasn't available when I was born, or I wouldn't be here. Some cold-hearted creep might have decided that my existence would have negatively impacted health care costs and never given me a chance.

I am not 100% physically perfect, Incredulous, but my life is just as important and worthwhile as yours!

Posted by: to incredulous | November 29, 2006 3:59 PM

Pittypat,
Perhaps you're right, and maybe I should try to muster a little more sympathy for all the people in the world who have not been able to get beyond their childhood sufferings. Perhaps it is a form of mental illness. I do think in some instances, people have very legitimate grievances against their parents. I think in others, they use their imperfect childhoods as excuses for bad behaviour. I have a hard time mustering sympathy for that, but that is one of my failings, I guess.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 4:00 PM

Just want to second or third the thanks to John Dickerson for commenting and answering so many questions - the book sounds very intriguing based on the additional information! I'm looking forward to reading it.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 4:00 PM

"No one wants to be miserable."

Pittypat, guess you haven't met my Aunt, the professional martyr. :-)

Posted by: Laura | November 29, 2006 4:04 PM

"I TRIED to be a responsible parent and not take on more than I could handle.... And I feel it backfired on me."

Cyntia,

I don't think it backfired on you at all. You made the right decisions for the right reasons. Had you gone along with your husband's wish for a 3rd child, you'd very likely be the divorced mom of three kids instead of two.

I'm glad you stuck to your guns, and i'm betting that your kids will have a lot of respect for you as they get older.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:06 PM

Thanks Megan,

I would have been here sooner but I didn't know it was running today.

Posted by: John Dickerson | November 29, 2006 4:07 PM

"No one wants to be miserable."

Pittypat, guess you haven't met my Aunt, the professional martyr. :-)

Posted by: Laura | November 29, 2006 04:04 PM

Hee hee! Or my uncle, who can find injury and insult in the most innocent words! ;P

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:11 PM

"Consider it from the healthcare perspective though. Is it really in our best interest to keep insurance and healthcare costs as they are, to support those who decide to knowingly pass down a genetic disorder or disease?"

Insurance and healthcare costs are impacted much more severely by Type 2 diabetes (the "epidemic" someone spoke of) than by the comparatively rare JD.

It would behoove us to take away our kids' remotes and computer games and get them outside running around. It would behoove us to eliminate the junk food from their diets. These are the actions that will quell the rising rate of Type 2 diabetes.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:12 PM

I don't think 'incredulous' was saying all people who are not absolutely perfect should never reproduce. He/she's just suggesting that genetic risks should be A factor, not necessarily THE deciding factor, in determining whether to have children. Much like finances, or living situation, it may or may not be ideal but shouldn't you at least think about it first? Many people delay having children to pay off debt or move to a better location before having children. Is that unreasonable? Adoption or foster parenting is a wonderful choice for those who consider their genetic risks unacceptable to them. In fact, adoption and foster parenting is a wonderful choice for everybody.

As far as insurance costs, consider that it would be less expensive for soceity if people on welfare could afford children without needing public assistance. Does that mean that those children don't deserve help? Of course not. Society helps those children, just like medical insurance helps people with cope illnesses. But neither situation is ideal. If we could lessen dependence on public welfare, wouldn't that be better? If we could lower insurance costs wouldn't that be better? Why isn't it OK to consider you and your children's impact on society in general?

What we do lose when we take this line of thought to extremes is the wonderful diversity of humankind. In the case of JD, many children grow up with increased maturity, empathy, and purpose. There are wonderful things that come out of terrible situations. Like I said, I think these positives usually outweigh the negative costs, like increased health care. But its not fair to attack 'incredulous' for asking the question. We should all think more about our impact on our community and the world in general.

Posted by: AnotherDiabetic | November 29, 2006 4:15 PM

altmom, it was just a thought that I was wondering if you had considered before. I wasn't necessarily agreeing with the original post about the need for mommy. You obviously learned a lot from your childhood and I think that is important for everyone so as to at least try to limit the mistakes of our parents... all we can do is our best, right?

Anyway, regarding blogs allowing people to say things they wouldn't say in person, my personal opinion on this is that our society is so riddled with political correctness that we are afraid to speak our minds for fear of offending someone so now blogging has become the backlash. Maybe some people go to far, but freedom of speech means sometimes people are going to get offended. In this society we are supposed to be tolerant of all types of people, religions, viewpoints, etc., not necessarily accepting of them. The reason for this is so that the good ideas don't get stifled with the bad ones. Just because someone says something we disagree with now, doesn't mean it won't be a common value later. Just look at civil rights. Saying that separate but equal was actually quite unequal really pis*ed off a lot of people, but today we all recognize how important civil rights are. So next time you get offended, talk back don't shush them, and remember why we have free speech and learn to tolerate the idiocy we so often hear as the small price we pay for freedom. [picture emoticon of US flag waving here for full effect :) ]

Posted by: nature v. nurture | November 29, 2006 4:16 PM

"Saying that separate but equal was actually quite unequal really pis*ed off a lot of people, but today we all recognize how important civil rights are."

Today we ALL recognize how important civil rights are......?

If so, there wouldn't be any civil rights problems anymore..

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:22 PM

To Nature v. Nurture: What about adoptive paretnts being screened a little better before they go off 'saving the world one kid at a time.' I come from a large dysfunctional family (lots of aunts,uncles, cousins). Depression runs deep on my father's side and several of my generation are on anti-depressants. One cousin adopted two boys from another State, therefore the depression gene wasn't passed on. Lo and behold one adopted son committed suicide after an argument with the adopted mother. So -- I believe nature is 50% of the mix, nurture is the other 50% of the mix.

I also recall a famous case several years ago of "Baby M" where a woman had a slight chance of passing on a genetic condition to her children so a surrogate mother (who I believe was more than a little bit nuts) was paid to carry the fetus. After Baby M arrived, there was a long, ugly legal battle over who was the actual mother. Unfortunately the court decided for the adults and not for the child's welfare. Things get really, really ugly when children are involved.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:27 PM

Mr. Dickerson,

I really appreciated hearing from you, as Leslie's characterization of your book bothered me from the beginning.

It just didn't seem plausible that a successful journalist with real creds would write a "Mommy, Dearest" kind of "tell-all." If nothing else, I would have expected some analysis of your mother's life based on your own understanding of the industry, both then and now. Beyond that, it seemed absurd that you would write in such black-and-white terms about family -- a subject that usually involves more grays than anything else.

Your thoughtful and generous response (given Leslie's completely unfair portrayal) has persuaded me that I want to read your book. And I'll probably also buy a copy for my dad, as he was a HUGE fan of your mom's. :>)

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 4:28 PM

"So next time you get offended, talk back don't shush them, and remember why we have free speech and learn to tolerate the idiocy we so often hear as the small price we pay for freedom."

I don't think our government protections for freedom of speech have anything to do with speech that people find socially offensive. Of course we know that our government will not put us in jail for saying offensive things. That's one thing. But that does not mean that as a society, we should tolerate any offensive comments in the interest of freedom of speech. We have every right, as a society to disagree, shush, or even shun people who insist on giving voice to ideas that we find offensive. They are free to say what they want, but then they are also free to take the consequences that their society meets out. Freedom does not come without consequences.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 4:29 PM

But its not fair to attack 'incredulous' for asking the question.

its fair when s/he is rude, condescending and inconsiderate in the way s.he tlks - there was nothing considerate or polite in the posts and thats why people respond the way they do

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:32 PM

Pittypat,

Thanks! I may fail as a writer in this book but I did try quite hard to get at each of the questions you raise and portray them as honestly as I could in all of their tricky, complicated and not black-and-white way.

The web site: www.onhertrail.com has some stuff you and your Dad might like as well as a discussion area for some of these issues and a place other readers have given their reviews.

Posted by: John Dickerson | November 29, 2006 4:34 PM

Fine, anonymous, MOST people, which is what counts in country where majority rules in making laws. No system/country/ government is perfect but that doesn't mean that this country hasn't made massive changes in laws and regulations since the civil rights movement to ensure that people are treated equally under the law. You can't control what everyone thinks, says, does, that's called freedom, but you sure can require them to follow the law. And thank you for such an insightful comment, but I think might point was still made.

Posted by: nature v. nuture | November 29, 2006 4:35 PM

Who else thinks the spin introduced in the intro article wasted most of the day?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:36 PM

"The point is, in the 1960s, parents didn't run to a pediatrician...heck it was a GP then! It was way too easy to just believe he was just going through a growth spurt, or maybe finally losing baby fat, or whatever."

That's ridiculous.

I was born in 1957 and grew up in the 60s. I had a pediatrician. The son of close friends of my parents developed JD when he was around 10. His parents noticed all the individual symptoms and got him the hell to the pediatrician. (Yeah, he had one of those too.)

Anyone who has seen a sick, untreated JD child would never confuse him with a healthy kid who's just lost some baby fat. Get real.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 4:43 PM

I just wanted to say that I am sorry this happened to you. BUT--when the baby is born and your two children are just a couple of years older, maybe you could send the s.o.b. a postcard from Italy, Greece, etc. Living well is the best revenge.

Posted by: to cyntia | November 29, 2006 4:47 PM

"But that does not mean that as a society, we should tolerate any offensive comments in the interest of freedom of speech."

Who gets to decide what is offensive? And how do you plan to not "tolerate" offensive speech? Gagging the person personnaly, because you already said no one is going to put them in jail. Good luck with your cohesive society that shares common values on what is okay and what is not okay. I don't think I live there.

Posted by: nature v. nurture | November 29, 2006 4:48 PM

"Who gets to decide what is offensive? And how do you plan to not "tolerate" offensive speech? Gagging the person personnaly, because you already said no one is going to put them in jail. Good luck with your cohesive society that shares common values on what is okay and what is not okay. I don't think I live there."

I'm not sure how this whole thread got started, but I think what Emily was saying is that freedom of speech does not mean that we as individual should not respond when someone says something that is offensive. For example, when someone makes a racial joke in front of me I tell them I think that is unacceptable. Same with homophobia etc. There will always be outliers on these types of issues, but yes, I think there is a generally shared common values on a lot of these issue. They are fluid and change over time, but responding to what people say is one way that happens. Your original post seemed to imply that we should all accept everything anybody says as equally valid, which is not what the First Amendment is about.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 4:53 PM

"I think in others, they use their imperfect childhoods as excuses for bad behaviour."

Emily,

Now here I agree with you completely.

People can be hurting, unhappy, and miserable, but that doesn't excuse acting out toward other people.

I do believe that adults have to take responsibility for their actions. Maybe this is what you were getting at.

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 4:53 PM

I decide what is offensive to me. If anyone else agrees with me, fine. If not, I can live with that also. And one way of not tolerating offensive speech is by speaking out against it, and shunning those who engage in it. I think Mel Gibson and the Kramer guy from Seinfeld fully understand what that means.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 4:53 PM

Yup, Thanks, that's what I was trying to say.

Posted by: Pittypat | November 29, 2006 4:55 PM

"No one wants to be miserable."

"Pittypat, guess you haven't met my Aunt, the professional martyr. :-)"

Ah, Laura, this just bears out my theory. People who like being miserable aren't really miserable at all; they enjoy the idea and the drama of being miserable and find entertainment in pretending to be miserable.

Your aunt is probably happiest when she's in deepest martyrdon -- dontcha think? :>)

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 4:57 PM

Your are right that many people who are miserable are probably enjoying it. Maybe it's all they have. But what about everyone else who has to put up with it? (I have an aunt just like Laura's.)

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 4:59 PM

Oops, the 4:55 post was my reply to Pittypat. Did not mean to usurp her name.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 5:01 PM

"Who else thinks the spin introduced in the intro article wasted most of the day?"

Absolutely.

Leslie should have said, "Go read this WP book review, and then post your thoughts."

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 5:01 PM

"Who else thinks the spin introduced in the intro article wasted most of the day?"

*raises hand*

And I think it's really interesting that Laslie hasn't come back to respond. She was unfair in her portrayal of the book, and that wasted what could have been an interesting discussion.

Also, John....did Leslie tell you she was writing this entry? It sounded from your last response like you knew it was coming, but not when. If so....shame on you, Leslie. The LEAST you could have done was tell him when you were writing the piece so he could respond. Then again, being unfair is something I've come to expect from you.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 5:05 PM

"Yup, Thanks, that's what I was trying to say.

Posted by: Pittypat | November 29, 2006 04:55 PM"

For the record, this was not my post.

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 5:05 PM

Did anyone even read my original post? I said what one should do is TALK BACK! And I also said there is a huge difference between tolerance and acceptance, acceptance means you ACCEPT every opinion as valid, tolerance means you TOLERATE hearing it, as in don't hit them or something, which is all we are required to do in this country not accept it.... My point, which is now obviously lost, is that people are always going to get offended, which is a price you pay with free speech, but free speech also means you get to talk back, which is much more effective than just saying shut up. But I digress, this is off topic anyway. Sorry about that.

Posted by: nature v. nuture | November 29, 2006 5:07 PM

"But its not fair to attack 'incredulous' for asking the question."

to anon at 4:32, Funny you should use the word, "attack". If you take the time to identify the initial post from incredulous, it was a personal attack on Father of 4's decision to have four children. While we can all toughen up for debates over parenting choices, SAH vs. WOH, etc., the nature of this particular attack crossed a fundamental line for several of us. The same question could have been addressed in a respectfully inquiring manner and the reaction would have been entirely different.

Posted by: NC lawyer | November 29, 2006 5:08 PM

"Your are right that many people who are miserable are probably enjoying it. Maybe it's all they have. But what about everyone else who has to put up with it? (I have an aunt just like Laura's.)"

Yeah, it's pretty hard to stomach that stuff on a regular basis. I guess the important thing is to try and avoid giving in to the guilt feelings these manipulative people are always trying to conjure.

Posted by: pittypat | November 29, 2006 5:09 PM

Nature v. Nurture, thanks for the clarification, it sounds like we all pretty much agree. I went back and reread your original post and I see now how you meant it, it was just confusing at the time - saying not to shush someone and to tolerate them could easily sound like not respond, even though you also said talk back, so sorry about misinterpreting!

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 5:20 PM

From NC Lawyer: "to anon at 4:32, Funny you should use the word, "attack". The same question could have been addressed in a respectfully inquiring manner and the reaction would have been entirely different."

First, that was me - sorry, I thought I signed my name.

Maybe people did respond more to the tone of 'incredulous's' statements, but they also disagreed with the point she was making. So let me ask it in a nicer way and see if anyone responds differently. And I think this is valid since we're discussing parental neglegence.

Should people who have KNOWN genetic risks *consider* (not base thier whole decision on) how their potential offspring would feel about inherting the disease? It is fiar to consider how an offspring with the disease will impact others outside the family, such as reliance on health insurance or medicaid, government social services, and the public education system? Is it reasonable to encourage people with KNOWN genetic risks not to have biological children?

Posted by: AnotherDiabetic | November 29, 2006 5:22 PM

My mother is one of those people who enjoy being miserable. She has had every imaginable disease (self-diagnosed of course) and reads the internet and tries to tell her doctor what meds she needs. Then, when she does get the meds she looks up the possible side effects and has all of them. I call her Chicken Little in my mind. The last couple of months I have finally been able to not let it get to me. When my sister gets wound up about it I listen but don't allow her to rile me up. It has been wonderfully freeing. I still talk to my mother via phone or internet every day but just don't let her upset me anymore.

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | November 29, 2006 5:24 PM

About Mr. DIckerson's book: the thing I find interesting is how your view of your parents changes over time. When I was growing up, I thought of my mom as loving, but anxious and maybe too protective. Only after I was grown did I start to find out about her as an adult woman who lived a whole passionate life before she became our mother. Secrets about her life kept being revealed after her death; at least they'd been secrets to me. The woman I'd thought of as having basically come into existence only as our mother and our father's wife turned out to have made a whole series of impulsive romantic choices that had nothing to do with us. I was surprised, but I loved her too much to be shocked. I felt that I knew her at last, understood her better, respected her devotion to us even more, and came to truly admire the love she and my father shared. We only know our parents as parents when we're kids, but when we're adults--if we're lucky--we have the chance to discover them as the human men and women they really are. I've not read the book yet (although now I want to), but it sounds like this process of discovery is what Mr. Dickerson was trying to get down on paper.

Posted by: mamie | November 29, 2006 5:25 PM

AnotherDiabetic,

I do think it is reasonable to expect people with known genetic risks to consider that when deciding whether to have children - it is hard for me to imagine they would not. However, that is a far cry from saying uniformly that the result of that consideration should always be to not have children, particularly where, as in this case, the link is murky at best and there seems to be as much chance of the child not inhereting the disease as inheriting it, and where the disease is not terminal, is manageable, and has decent prospects of a cure. And I would hesistate to say that we should discourage such people from having children - many systems of faith believe that all life is inherently valuable, and I respect that.

And for the record, this was "incredulous'" first post:
"Why on earth would someone with JD go on to have four children, and risk passing down the same horrible diseas that they have is way beyond me!"

It was a judgemental attack which in no way resembled a legitimate question, and showed no respect for the possibility that Father of 4 considered the questions you raised and decided that his children's lives would be inherently valuable and full of love and joy regardless of whether they inhereted his disease.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 5:38 PM

Is it reasonable to encourage people with KNOWN genetic risks not to have biological children?

This is a fair societal question, and a hard one. One context that is deeply personal to me is the question of whether older women should have biological children, since these children are at a higher risk for being born with genetic abnormalities. Of course there are ways to screen for these, but not everyone does so, and not everyone believes that it is right to screen for abnormalities and then terminate pregnancies that have them. These are such tough issues.

Posted by: Emily | November 29, 2006 5:49 PM

AnotherDiabetic, I just reread my response and I didn't mean to be so harsh towards you. These are legitimate and difficult questions to ask, I think my point is that I do think it's fair to expect people to consider all the things you raised, but we also have to be prepared to accept their decisions. I think the tendency is to assume when we disagree with someone's choice that their level of consideration was inadequate, and that is unfair to them. There are so many different values that play into the decision that are entitled to respect and deference.

I also think that there are many dangerous steps between reproductive freedom and government intervention. Like everyone here, I'd hate to return the to days when we have Supreme Court Justices enforcing mandatory sterilization on the grounds that "three generations of imbeciles is enough." But there are more subtle steps in between which I find equally troubling. For example, some have questioned whether, given the ability to test in utero for certain disabilities and to then abort those fetuses, health insurers should be able to deny coverage for any child that is brought to term with that disability on the grounds that it is a preventable disease. This type of reasoning has profound consequences for the way we think about life, health, and for the lives of all disabled people.

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 5:56 PM

C'mon, people. Both of my parents have very bad vision and they reproduced. All of us have eyes that are worse than theirs (or did--we've all had LASIK). Before I got the surgery I was legally blind without correction... and could not be fully corrected. Glasses are so common that not everyone may realize how inconvenient--and sometimes life-threatening--truly bad eyesight can be.

So I got dangerously bad eyes out of the deal that are still sometimes an inconvenience to me. I also got a lot of smarts, good looks, and musical ability. I think I will forgive my parents for allowing me to exist.

Posted by: inheriting bad genes | November 29, 2006 6:15 PM

Hi everyone -- at least everyone who is still here...just back from daughter's doctor's appointment and son's -ball practice.

So glad John Dickerson joined the discussion.

Wish some folks could go a little easier on me..."shame on you" is always an awful thing to hear about yourself, especially when the context is commenting on book. How could one's opinions about a book possibly be shameful?

Would love to continue the discussion once others have had a chance to read the book!

Posted by: Leslie | November 29, 2006 6:16 PM

Leslie, perhaps this should be the first "book club" book - discussion could reconvene after people have had time to read it - though I have no idea how much time that should be ;)

Posted by: Megan | November 29, 2006 7:07 PM

I agree the tone here gets too harsh too quickly... but you will make all your college profs groan if you claim there is not possible to mischaracterize the contents of a book! I liked it / I didn't like it are matters of opinion but the heading "A Success At Work, A Failure At Home" does seem to misrepresent the view of the author.

Posted by: to Leslie | November 29, 2006 7:39 PM

'Is it reasonable to encourage people with KNOWN genetic risks not to have biological children?'

I would say no. It would be reasonable to EDUCATE people about the risks and what would be involved for the child who had medical issues, such as medication, special education, surgical interventions, pain and suffering, life expectancy, etc. But to encourage them not to have children would be wrong. The choice should be theirs.

I have a friend who chose not to have biological children because of her genetic condition which was painful and crippling. She also chose not to adopt because she didn't feel like should could take care of a child - most days she has enough trouble taking care of herself. I respect her decision completely - it was hers to make. And if she had chosen otherwise, I would have respected that as well.

Posted by: xyz | November 29, 2006 7:42 PM

John Dickerson's book was both nuanced and honest. I fear that Leslie's prefunctory review missed the idea that he considered his mother "good enough." And doing so, she did a great disservice to the book. However, this is still publicity, and I encourage everyone interested in a nuanced portrayal of parenthood and career to check out John's book.

But I also wanted to comment on the "good enough" aspect. As a parent, you can decide that you want to balance a career/hobby/relationship/etc. with the job of parenting, but you cannot force your child to conclude that you did a fantastic job of doing so.

Your children may well grow up to conclude that you didn't do it all well, and they may decide to make different choices. But if they're happy and healthy, with the analytical ability to see the flaws in your choices - you probably did a good enough job.

Posted by: Another Reader | November 29, 2006 7:43 PM

Someone in the beginning of this said something about not liking the fact that he was overly encouraged to play sports and that he would not make that mistake with his children. Perhaps that is what we can get out of looking at our parents as adults - seeing the mistakes they made and trying our best not to make the same ones.

Posted by: "Reverse" parenting | November 29, 2006 7:53 PM

Does this remind anyone a little of today's Onion?
http://www.theonion.com/content/node/55797

"At 25, many people are just learning how to be adults. Wait until you are 40, then decide if your parents did it right! Are you still alive? Then they did."

Technically speaking, not necessarily. There are plenty of horrifying ways to abuse a child yet allow him or her to reach age 40.

"The son appears to have become a functional adult -- what more does he want?"

...and he appears to have become a functional adult in part because of, not despite, his parents' efforts. I mean, his mom sure doesn't seem abusive!

"It doesn't have to be a career. Obsession with anything can make for a lousy parent."

Yeah - if you're really *that* much into something else (or even *that* much into a group of some other things), are you sure you want to raise a kid too?

"YES to everyone making the point against the stereotypes: a SAHM can be a failure and a working mom can be a warm and wonderful mother..."

Exactly!

"...I agree that Nancy Dickerson sounds like the type who would have wreaked even more havoc if she'd stayed home. She was just one of those remarkably career-driven people. She HAD to work"

Hey wait a minute! She would have worked whether she was in the office doing career work she liked or at home doing housekeeping work she didn't like. Don't most SAHers work too (hence the new term WOHM instead of just "working mom)?"

"...But would you believe, in spite of how much I have outsourced the raising of my children, these kids keep calling me "mommy" and when I say I love you they reply I love you too?"

Totally believable. :)

"For some parents, if their efforts are really the best that they could offer, then they really,really shouldn't have become parents."

That's true for plenty of non-parental efforts too.

"My question is why does this guy have to write a book slamming his mother to the world?"

Ever heard of how some writing instructors (completely forget tthat the science fiction genre exists and) tell their students "write what you know" ...?

"He could have at least written it as fiction, changing names and identifying details."

And set it on a space station! ;)

"I believe that light spanking on the child's bottom is reasonable discipline, while others believe that any physical discipline at all is abuse."

...and while yet others believe that light spanking on the arm is reasonable discipline but light spanking on the bottom is for consenting adults in the bedroom, and so on. The issue has way more than just 2 sides.

"Before you say how asinine that comment is, think about it: I doubt his children would wish themselves dead, Type I Diabetes or no."

There's a big difference between dying and not being born in the first place. If your daughter is 15 and could have given birth a few times by now but has never been pregnant, do you really think that she's just as bad as she would be if she had and killed a few babies and that she's worse than she would be if she was raising a few babies by now?

"I don't expect non medical people to be able to recognize the signs of JD but this kid was literaly wearing a sign that said: take me to the pediatrician!"

Exactly! Besides, taking your kid to the doctor when you see something's wrong but you don't know what's wrong is educational too - it teaches the kid to take care of himself or herself. When I was little my mom took me to the doctor every time I had a bad sore throat, just in case it was strep. When I left home and went to college, some kids kept avoiding doctors and going to class sick but I remembered my mom's advice and went to the doctor myself whenever I had a sore throat.

"When one parent remains at home to raise the children those children are far less likely to get into serious trouble, no matter how good or bad the neighborhood environment is."

Doesn't that depend on what your idea of serious trouble is?

"Anyone who appears to want to be miserable is suffering from some kind of mental imbalance. Nobody wants to be miserable."

Does anyone else here read Home on the Strange?
http://www.homeonthestrange.com/view.php?ID=135

Posted by: Maria | November 29, 2006 9:34 PM

Yeah, I say all the time, my goal is not for my children to like me (although that is what I'd like!) my goal is that I raise productive members of society that give back more to the world than they take.
You are obligated to your children, not the other way 'round. As when I say to my sister: hey, you don't look happy. And she becomes defensive and says: I just had a baby, of *course* I'm happy....that seems to me to be a lot of pressure on a little baby - that that child is on this earth to make her happy. Wow.

In any event, I hope that I am a productive member of society, and sure, I guess my parents had something to do with it, my mom not wanting to teach her daughters to take care of the house, just that we needed educations so we would have choices. That was her large goal (and to have us be polite, she had to live with us after all).

Posted by: atlmom | November 29, 2006 9:47 PM

>>did Leslie tell you she was writing this entry? It sounded from your last response like you knew it was coming, but not when.

Leslie told me she was writing about the book and two weeks ago we talked about it for an hour or so. She did not tell me when the piece was running. I came upon today's discussion when I thought: Gee I wonder if Leslie ever wrote about the book.

Posted by: John Dickerson | November 29, 2006 9:58 PM

"As when I say to my sister: hey, you don't look happy. And she becomes defensive and says: I just had a baby, of *course* I'm happy....that seems to me to be a lot of pressure on a little baby - that that child is on this earth to make her happy. Wow."

Are you sure she meant "of *course* I'm happy" as in something like "this baby better make me happy" instead of something like "I always wanted to have a baby so having achieved that should make me happy"?

Posted by: Maria | November 29, 2006 10:03 PM

Your opinions are not shameful. What some of us suspect is that you mischaracterized Dickerson's writing merely to create a stir on your blog. And that - the motivation, not the opinion - would be shameful.

It seems difficult to believe that someone as successful as you (a Wharton grad!) could truly have misunderstood the book as badly as you seem to have.

Posted by: re: shame on you | November 29, 2006 11:16 PM

I believe this is where the question of shame on you came in:

"shame on you, Leslie. The LEAST you could have done was tell him when you were writing the piece so he could respond."

Posted by: Another One | November 29, 2006 11:37 PM

to maria.

That was her third child. And either of those scenarios seem to me to be putting an awful lot of pressure on a little baby. My opinion is that, yes, she thinks that having a baby (getting married, having a big house, whatever) are all supposed to make her happy, but none of that is working. So she keeps thinking: there must be something wrong, all these things are not making me happy. When, in reality, she is not happy with herself, and external things will never make you happy if that's the case.

Maybe having an abusive husband who treats her like crap and treats her kids like crap is what makes her happy. Maybe I'm being judgemental. Who knows.

Posted by: atlmom | November 30, 2006 12:03 AM

It seems the discussion here has veered off in a strange direction. I read words like "abuse," "neglect," and "miserable" being used. It seems everyone is making assumptions. I would urge everyone to read this book--Mr. Dickerson alleges none of these things.

It is unfortunate that reviewers have chosen to zero in on this one aspect of his excellent book. The book is captivating because of the MANY threads examined therein: the power of persistence and ambition, her struggles with sexism, the inner workings of national politics, the infancy of television journalism, the challenges of parenting with such a demanding career, the fascinating lives of the privileged, the Washington social scene...

It would almost seem these reviewers spotted the words "Mommy Dearest" in Chapter 6, snapped the book shut, and said "I'm ready to write my review." It's a shame--they've missed out on one of the most interesting books they'll ever read.

Posted by: Xande | November 30, 2006 12:12 AM

xande:

We often go off topic. I don't think anyone *here* really said there was abuse - we were just talking about it peripherally. I don't agree with some people that because one grows up with monetary wealth they could not possibly have been abused. But I don't think we indicated that Mr. Dickerson's upbringing was abusive - just that his mom may not have been June Cleaver. But really, she's a character in a tv show, unfortunately, most people think it was real. And it never was.

Posted by: atlmom | November 30, 2006 12:18 AM

I'm writing in as John Dickerson's research associate for On Her Trail. I find Leslie Steiner's essay and the ensuing discussion absolutely fascinating. As someone hooked on the book from the proposal stage onwards, I felt intensely sympathetic to Nancy Dickerson -- precisely because John captures how a good woman tries, fails, and keeps on trying -- often without comprehending that her heroic efforts are often not those most urgently required by the situation and the child. I thought John did a good job of conveying his mother's gutsiness, tenacity, and loyalty even when he treated her badly. I marveled at all the ways she began supporting him in his work --- really awful parents undercut their kids, compete with them, diminish them vocationally. She was there for John "no matter what," though not neccesarily in the ways he most wanted or needed.

Having one brother whose adolescent rupture with his father became permanent, I can only rejoice that John and his mother developed a collegial relationship and warm friendship before she died. A quality that makes this book special is the level of empathy he can extract from the reader for both parent and child.


As for John's father: I discovered from my privileged place looking over John's shoulder, that he thought his father was a wonderful parent in certain ways his mother was not, that he felt protective of him, and that, as a good writer, he needed to stay focused on his mother and on his relationship to her. I would like to have known more about others in the family, but the book packs more power because he made this artistic choice.


I suppose we all bring our own emotional baggage into our reading, and this colors our sense of what is important about the narrative. Actually, John is right when he says most of the book is about his discovery of Nancy Dickerson's talent and contributions within the context of Washington political life during the 1950s and 1960s. Anyone who wants a visceral sense of Washington Press Corps life then and now will have a glorious time with this book. But the truth is, we are all ambivalent about family issues and the time we do or do not spend with our children --- so this seems to be what resonates most here and elsewhere. How often do we get the child's perspective?

As my favorite writing teacher, Grace Paley, used to say, the writer's job is to turn over a rock and show the world what is down there, underneath. This discussion is proof that John Dickerson has shown us what lies under a very heavy societal rock. In doing so, he has caused each of us as readers to confront the mote in our own eyes. Who could ask more of a writer than that?

Posted by: Elisabeth Higgins Null | November 30, 2006 12:21 AM

Wow --Elisabeth Higgin Hulls -- you turned in the most nuanced comment of the whole discussion. Turning over the rock is exactly what John Dickerson did, with candor that was sometimes admirably painful.

Candor is not always fair. It is not always objective. But this blog is about being honest.

In John's case, it was clear to me from the book that although he was honest, he was unfairly harsh to his mother, often from lack of knowledge of what it was like to be an American mother during the 1960s and 70s, particularly many of the details about his mother's treatment of him (such as complaining she had "starved" him in the womb by not gaining enough weight because of vanity, during a time when physicians, unfortunately, pestered pregnant women to gain a maximum of 15 pounds during pregnancy).

As Elizabeth points out, we all have mixed emotions about our family. It is impossible to be objective about those who had such a great influence on us. I respect John for trying, but believe the book would have been more nuanced if he had done more research about the outside influences on his mother and placed her decisions in context, instead of blaming her exclusively.

Lastly, although I would have liked to, I couldn't tell John in advance that the piece was running. Usually only my editor and I know what is running the next day and the decision is often made between 10 pm and 7 am day of.

Although I'm not an official book reviewer, standard practice for reviews doesn't include telling writers a piece will be running, for good reasons. John is probably not allowed to share his writing with his subjects prior to publication, either; although it might seem unfair, it's standard practice to avoid any undue influence on a piece of writing. I assumed John knew and would understand this.

Posted by: Leslie | November 30, 2006 6:40 AM

Clarification to my objection about posters who write "shame on you."

Nothing wrong with criticizing someone's view. But I think "shame" should be saved for truly reprehensible acts such as abusing a child, lying, cheating, raping someone, killing someone.

Posted by: Leslie | November 30, 2006 6:58 AM

John dickerson, thanks for writing to us. The initial protrayl of the book was misleading. We all thought you were writing Mommie Dearest II. Thanks for sharing with us. We did waste an awful lot of time discussing something that just was not the case. Case in point, we should probably read the book before discussing it.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 30, 2006 7:06 AM

It seems that Leslie's opinions always fall on the side of the working mom. I really think that she is trying to justify a lot to herself about her own career/family situation.

"In John's case, it was clear to me from the book that although he was honest, he was unfairly harsh to his mother, often from lack of knowledge of what it was like to be an American mother during the 1960s and 70s,"


John was writing from his perspective as the child, and Leslie always wants to see everything through her own perspective as the working mother.

While it is true that John's mother may have opened new territory for women/wives/mothers in the 60's - 70's, what she did also affected her son.

I know that working women are a fact of life, I am one myself. However, if you choose a career (or you have no choice because it is your life's passion) that involves intrusion into your personal life, then be aware that it will have an affect on your family. By intrusion I mean excessively long days causing you to miss dinner with your families, travel causing you to miss days with your families, etc. I work a straight 40 hours as does my husband. We don't make a lot of money and don't have a lot of prestige. We work to live, not live to work. If you are driven for more than that career-wise, it can work out just fine depending on other family dynamics (2 parents, extended family, reliable daycare, etc). But you can't predict that it will be OK for all children. Some like the independence required due to work schedules, and some miss their parents terribly. Do what is right for your own children.

Posted by: xyz | November 30, 2006 7:59 AM

Leslie,

Your excuse for not telling me the piece is running is so contorted it borders on disingenuousness. There is a difference between telling someone before a piece has run--when they can presumably still influence its outcome-- and telling them once it has been posted. If my participation was something you appreciated and which made this discussion better (which your post and email to me suggest) then surely it could have been enhanced by actually letting me know the piece had run.

>>Although I'm not an official book reviewer, standard practice for reviews doesn't include telling writers a piece will be running,

I knew the book review of On Her Trail was running in the Washington Post because five days before it ran, the Washington Post printed a list of upcoming reviews. Standard practice, in my case, included not only telling me, but telling all of mankind.

We are entitled to our own opinions, Mom used to say, but not our own facts.

As for your opinions, it's not fair to say that I didn't talk about what it was like to raise children in the 60s and 70s. I did, both in general, as I discussed women of her class in Washington at the time, and in specific, as I discussed her particular case both as she lived it and then as she wrote and talked about her family life in her 1976 autobiography and as she publicly assessed the careers of other working women who came after her.

To ask that I put Mom's actions in context is also odd. The entire book is about looking at my childhood views of her through the new context I gained from her papers and from looking at her career after she died. The context is the reason the book exists. Without the strive for context and without the search for who she really was and what shaped those things that I saw as a child, there would be no reason to write the book. No context, no book.

The line about Mom starving me was clearly a joke at the end of a paragraph about how she and her network producers worked to hide the fact that she was pregnant because they all thought viewers wouldn't want to know.

Posted by: John Dickerson | November 30, 2006 8:13 AM

I agree with the criticism that I am pro-working mom.

This is not the same as being anti-stay-at-home mom.

In my book Mommy Wars and on this blog, I've fought to make sure that SAHM voices and choices are highlighted (13 of the 26 contributors to Mommy Wars were stay-at-home moms at some point in their children's lives; and many of our Guest Blogs are SAHMs). Too few in the media, politics and business give SAHMs a true voice. It's one of the best benefits of the so-called Mommy Blog community. Finally -- SAHM's get a powerful, instantaneous voice.

I am not myself a SAHM, however I could be one in the future. And I am an advocate for SAHM views and opinions, even when I disagree with their decisions.

So there!

Posted by: Leslie | November 30, 2006 9:45 AM

Of course, the reasons behind divorce usually is complex and has many angles. However, I would bet a lot of money the pressures of raising a family weigh in on many a divorce.

The real reason I did want to post to this blog was I do feel like I am very successful at work, but failed horribly at home. How did this happen? I feel immense guilt and feelings of failure for being involved in a divorce and the breakdown of my family unit. I am such a huge advocate of family and I messed up. One of the things my ex told me is I worried too much about work. And here I thought my job (and income which was larger than his) was for the benefit of my family (he had the luxury of no OT) and that he would be my supporter. I thought that is how marriage worked. He was quite successful in finding another mate who apparently makes even more money than myself with more assets. Lucky him.

My family means more to me than anything. However, work did/does get into the way due to schedules, pressures, etc. How does one get away from that? I don't have the luxury as I have a mortgage and other bills to pay. It's all about compromise and balancing and empathy from all parties in the family. Now that my kids are working and having bills of their own to pay.. they are starting to mature enough to have some "AHA" moments in relationship to why sometimes I worked crazy schedules.. It's all about survival, eh?

Maybe we can be more successful at work because it isn't as "personal" as home... something to think about.

Posted by: cyntia | November 30, 2006 9:50 AM

Thank you John for exposing Leslie for what she really is!

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2006 9:52 AM

I think Leslie didn't read much of the book. She thinks she is clever, I think she is an arrogant, opinionated jerk. Honesty and integrity are more important than she realizes. I have no respect for Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2006 10:06 AM

"Wish some folks could go a little easier on me..."shame on you" is always an awful thing to hear about yourself, especially when the context is commenting on book. How could one's opinions about a book possibly be shameful?"

As the person who originally said said "Shame on you....", two comments:

One, it was directed at you not telling John when the item was running. Doing so is common courtesy, and you showed none. This prevented him from coming in earlier to correct the misconceptions YOU GAVE US and, IMO, caused several hours of wasted discussion. Therefore, shame on you.

Two, it was also directed at you YET AGAIN trying to make something inflammatory that really wasn't. You misrepresented what was in John's book, and did so to stir up discussion. I personally think that's shameful. Again, shame on you.

As for being easier on you...not when you deliberatly try to stir up tension. You've done it with statements against men, and you did it here. Yes, I realize this is a blog, and therefore, it's your opinions. However, I think we can have just as much discussion, and maybe BETTER discussion, if you presented things in a fairer light.

Posted by: AG | November 30, 2006 10:09 AM

"Lastly, although I would have liked to, I couldn't tell John in advance that the piece was running. Usually only my editor and I know what is running the next day and the decision is often made between 10 pm and 7 am day of. "

BS. Ever heard of email, Leslie? I've had relatives be in articles in the Post and they were notified by email the day before. You were wrong to not tell John. Admit it and apologize.

And as for this:

"Nothing wrong with criticizing someone's view. But I think "shame" should be saved for truly reprehensible acts such as abusing a child, lying, cheating, raping someone, killing someone."

Oh for God's sake. When I do something wrong and I know it, regardless of the degree, I'm ashamed of myself. You made a man look as if he hated his mother, and made it sound like John thought his mother was Mommie Dearest. You deliberately chose to not tell him about it before it ran, or even after it was posted so that he could not give his rebuttal earlier.

That was a conscious choice on your part, Leslie. And if you don't think that deliberately lying about someone is shameful, then I agree with another poster: I've lost all respect for you.

Posted by: AG | November 30, 2006 10:30 AM

I said, "It seems that Leslie's opinions always fall on the side of the working mom."

Leslie said:

'I agree with the criticism that I am pro-working mom.

This is not the same as being anti-stay-at-home mom.'

I did not mean to imply that the alternate to pro-working mom is anti-stay-at-home mom. I only meant that you seem to be looking for accommodations to be made for professional working women to make their lives easier rather than looking for changes that you can make to accommodate your family. And that anything a working mother does is OK and no one should have any criticism. There is quite a range of work opportunity between stay-at-home and over-the-top ambition.

Maybe a professional could scale back. Many here seem to have done it. Or not, and then maybe your children will wish you had been more available - or not. Just don't say that the child is too harsh on the mother. It works in reverse as well. My mother was SAHM because she thought is was best but we were so poor we were almost homeless. One child thought it was awful that she didn't go out and get a job for more financial security and the other child thought it was wonderful that mom sacrificed materially to be at home. Each child is entitled to their own viewpoint of their mother and neither should be judged as being "too harsh".

Posted by: xyz | November 30, 2006 10:35 AM

Of course I read every word of John's book. And I liked reading it -- it was fascinating and admirably raw and honest.

The same rules apply to everyone on this blog: we are entitled to our opinions.

I also believe we are all entitled to being treated with respect.

I think John was too hard on his mother, in exactly the way many people in our society hold women, and moms, to standards dads are not held to.

At least part of what I wrote was complimentary to John and the book. That the book is thought-provoking, that he did a good job showing life from his perspective, that he was candid. But I wouldn't have been honest myself if I'd held back on my criticisms.

Posted by: Leslie | November 30, 2006 10:35 AM

A day late and a dollar short, that's what I am....

Leslie:

"And I am an advocate for SAHM views and opinions, even when I disagree with their decisions."

Correct me if I'm wrong - but I thought that I read in your book that in the process of editing it, that you had come to understand why some women choose to be SAHMs. If you're still "disagreeing with their decisions", I find it hard to believe that you *really* understand. And by saying that you're an advocate for our views and opinions, but in the same sentence that you disagree with our decisions, it just comes off as patronizing lip service to me.

And also - I don't have your book here because I read it from our library ;o), so I can't prove this - but saying that 13 of the 26 contributors were or had been SAHMs at some point in their careers is a *bit* of an exaggeration. Most of the so-called SAHMs in your book were really writers working from home or women who had taken a *short* amount of time off from their high powered careers. They weren't at all representative of the *real* SAHMs - those of us who have truly chosen to put our (regular person) careers on complete hold for several years to concentrate on our children. It was also very geographically biased and virtually every woman represented was from the NY, DC, or metro areas of California. I enjoyed your book, but I didn't feel it gave me or the SAHMs I know a voice at all.

Posted by: momof4 | November 30, 2006 10:36 AM

Mom of 4 -- some of the SAHMs in Mommy Wars became well known as writers after the book came out, so I understand your argument. But for instance: Monica Buckley Price 100% gave up her work to care for her autistic son. Leslie Lehr and Inda Shaenen have been home with their kids for over 15 years a piece. Catherine Clifford and Lois Shea and Page Evans have been home for nearly 10 years. I could go on. Yes, some of them have written in their spare time, but nothing approaching a regular income.

I'm really sorry if you didn't find anyone to identify with. One book with 26 voices cannot appeal to everyone. But I hope at least you identified with their honesty. And mine. And I'm also truly sorry if you find me patronizing of SAHMs. That's not my intent, at all...

Posted by: Leslie | November 30, 2006 11:00 AM

AG-- Have you read the book? If not, please revisit your accusations once you have.

I wrote about my subjective opinions of what John described. My take is that he was very hard on his mother, unfairly so. I neither meant to harm him nor be inflammatory. He opened the door to criticism when he chose to write his book.

When I reread my entry, I don't see anything at all to be ashamed about.

Posted by: Leslie | November 30, 2006 2:28 PM

For men and women both, I'm convinced that it is more important, and ultimately more personally satisfying, to be a success at home than a success at work. Or, to put it another way, we should work to live, not live to work.

Posted by: Older Dad | November 30, 2006 2:41 PM

This is utterly (udderly? ha-ha, breast-feeding joke!) off-topic, but related to a comment made by "Father of 4" sometime yesterday.

Recently, I was in a Wal-Mart store, and noticed (when exiting the men's room) a little boy (probably about three or four years old) standing by the water fountain, looking around rather helplessly. When I asked him if he was OK, he said that he was thirsty, so I asked him if he wanted me to help him get a drink. (I'm male and mid-40's, and was alone.) He said, "Yes, please", and I lifted him up so he could reach and operate the fountain.

While I did this, I asked where his mommy or daddy was, and he replied that he wasn't sure, but she had said to for him stay right there. I wasn't particularly concerned about that, but also knew that I planned to keep an eye on him until I knew that he was back with the proper person.

Just as I was putting him back down on the floor, a woman came up in a rushing attack, screaming, "What are you doing? Put him down!" This, obviously, was the mother.

When I explained that he was thirsty and I'd helped him get a drink, she lectured me thusly: "You better not ever touch somebody's baby! Don't you know that I could have you arrested?"

When I (very quietly, and in language far more graphic than Leslie would appreciate) explained to her that she needed to calm down quickly, or the manager and police and I would all be having a discussion about her, she yanked her son by the arm and stormed off.

Anyway, don't let kids go thirsty around me either, that's all I'm saying!

Happy holidays!!

Posted by: Bob S. | November 30, 2006 2:57 PM

The answer to the question why doesn't he slam his dad (who wasn't involved in his childhood either) is IT WOULD NOT SELL BOOKS. "Mommy Dearest" was a best seller because it was about Joan Crawford, a famous movie star. Ditto for the trash written by Bette Davis' daughter. Ms. Dickerson was a trailblazer and received deserved recognition for that. A book about her will make her son a lot more money than a book about his father would.

Ironic that his whining about her is only profitable because of how hard working she was.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2006 3:16 PM

Does anyone who has actually read the book share Leslie's view?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2006 3:28 PM

Let's everyone who hasn't read the book READ IT and it will be our first On Balance book club discussion. But you have to read the book (the whole book) to comment.

Posted by: Leslie | November 30, 2006 4:35 PM

I've gotta go with "Posted by: | November 30, 2006 03:16 PM", here.

The author is just another thoughtful kid dealing with less-than-ideal circumstances, fairly successfully. The book was published (probably) largely on the basis of the fact that one of his parents (who happened, in his case, to be his mother) was fairly well-known.

Lots of books about crappy working fathers get published ("The Great Santini", "A Boy's Life", "In My Father's Arms", In My Father's House".... heck, throw "King Lear" into the pile as well! The list is endless. Didn't Candice Bergen have some reservations about ole Edgar's parental skills in "Knock on Wood"?), so I think that you'd have a hard time making the case that book publishers are involved in a vast conspiracy to malign working mothers.

I do think it's a little silly to say that John Dickerson is representative of some sort of misogynistic crybaby attitude, just because he thinks that she often payed more attention to her career than she did to him. It seems that she often did! And, yet, somehow, he still came to appreciate her, avoid a life of crime, and raise his own family.

Posted by: Bob S. | November 30, 2006 5:29 PM

I am extremely excited that On her Trail with be On Balance book club discussion. How do we find out when that will be? Though I had a hand helping with the book's research and probably have participated too much already in its discussion, I would love to follow what people who have read it have to say. The issues is raises are deeply important to me.

Posted by: Elisabeth Higgins Null | December 1, 2006 12:21 AM

Leslie -

My criticism is mostly with how you've conducted yourself, not with your opinion about the book. I may think you're wrong in your interpretation, but you are entitled to your opinion.

I don't need to read the book to be upset that you didn't tell John that you were running this piece. It would have taken 30 seconds of your time to write an email to John saying "By the way, my blog entry on your book is running today. Hope you can join in the discussion." I know that other Post writers do this, so why you didn't is a mystery.

You chose not to do so. I personally think that is wrong. I notice John didn't think much of your "explanation" for not contacting him either. I've also noticed you're choosing not to respond to him. To not allow someone the ability to defend himself from your negative interpretation is wrong. And yes, it's shameful to not allow that defense.

If you're not ashamed, fine. As I said, it simply makes me respect you less. Since I'm an anonymous face on a blog, I'm sure it doesn't matter.

Posted by: AG | December 1, 2006 10:15 AM

AG-- It actually does matter to me that you are so upset. If you'd like to continue this off-line, my email address is listed at the top of the Guest Blog entries. I'd love to hear from you.

I disagree that I should have let John know exactly when the review was running. When I interviewed him, I told him it would run "probably sometime in the next two weeks." I don't see why he should get treatment no one else receives. His own publication, Slate, doesn't let people know when they are being reviewed (Mommy Wars was reviewed on Slate and I found out randomly a few weeks later). I've been interviewed and my book has been reviewed by several newspapers and magazines, and it is uncommon for the writer to let the subject know.

I'm not sure what you are alluding to when you say I didn't allow him the ability to defend himself. I was glad he joined the discussion and I immediately emailed him to think him for doing so.

I think John is really defensive and sensitive to criticism about the book, which is totally understandable; it is hard, even when you are a journalist as he is, to be thick-skinned about your work when it is so very personal. But as I've said before, I meant him no harm. Being honest about my opinions is my guide here, and I stuck to that when writing about his book.

Posted by: Leslie | December 1, 2006 1:42 PM

Leslie,

As you know from the book, one of the many ways men tried to keep Mom in her place was to claim that she, like all women, was overly emotional when she presented a viewpoint that contradicted theirs. You can imagine then, my delight at having my modest attempt to provide an alternative view about my book characterized as "really defensive and sensitive." This is surely progress.

Posted by: John Dickerson | December 1, 2006 2:35 PM

Honestly, I think that Leslie is right about the fact that many blogs and online review forums don't let the subject know. This wasn't billed as a discussion with the author- many of the Post blogs are billed as "talk with the author" but this was not. Sure, she could have let him know, but to start attacking her for that is really to get off the topic. This was great publicity for his book- one that I hadn't even heard of before.

Posted by: VaMom2 | December 1, 2006 3:40 PM

That's true about this being great publicity for the book. Had it not been for Leslie's plug, I would have never heard of it. In this case, it seems that no good deed goes unpunished.

Posted by: Emily | December 1, 2006 4:59 PM

Perhaps no one notified Leslie of a review of her book on Slate, because there does not seem to be a review of her book on Slate. Should someone find one, please post link.

And, per AG's comments - I think the point is that if Leslie "was glad" for John Dickerson's input in the discussion, as Leslie proclaims in her post, it wouldn't have been that hard to let him know that the discussion was going on.

Can Dickerson be a part of the book club discussion, or is that too against "standard procedure"?

Posted by: Ann | December 1, 2006 5:18 PM

It would be great to have John as part of the book discussion, as well as his research assistant Elisabeth. I have to talk with Stacey about the logistics of adding a regular virtual book club to the blog. Once the details are figured out, we'll post them for everyone, including John & Elisabeth, who wants to participate.

Posted by: Leslie | December 1, 2006 5:50 PM

It's true that many kids miss their moms when moms are at work. And kids often don't miss their dads in the same way. There's no sense denying it.
One thing that has worked for me and others is to share our work a little with our kids. They understand what our jobs are about, and actually go with us sometimes (sort of a take-your-kids-to-work concept). I have a friend who's an environmental scientist, and through her work her young son has learned a lot about global warming.
It's too much to explain here, but it's an approach that's worth considering for some people -- let the work world and the family world overlap a little.

Posted by: anon mom | December 4, 2006 2:39 PM

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Dickerson's book, one thing remains certain:

Dickerson is the host of the best podcast ever -- Slate Political Gabfest. It comes out every Friday. It's up for the best political podcast of 2006. I never miss an episode.

Posted by: John | December 11, 2006 3:45 PM

The book is about Nancy Dickerson, not Mr. Dickerson (Wyatt) so that's why it focuses on her.

Posted by: Mommie Dearest | December 12, 2006 1:28 PM

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