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      07.02.2005 18:30
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      Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes

      by

      Mary Eberstadt


      While living in America I was branded ‘controversial’ on more than one occasion thanks to my liberal views with regards to all the naughty-but-nice things in life: sex before marriage, chocolate before breakfast – that sort of stuff. Living in the UK I feel in actual fact that I’m more conservative than controversial in lots of ways, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying books whose dust jackets describe them as very much the latter.

      Home-Alone America gives you a glimpse of what’s inside just from its cover. On the front, a toddle is hanging desperately on to his departing mother’s ankle as suit clad and briefcase in hand, she sets off for work. The back is similar: the front cover child’s older brother is now doing the hanging on, and this time it’s too his father, a business man in an oddly psychedelic tie who is just itching to get out of the door. The message is clear: your children badly want you at home with them.

      The book is an in-depth look at the problems facing the youth of today, from obesity to depression and ADHD to irresponsible relations in bed or behind the bike sheds as the case may be. It is a highly researched manuscript that comes complete with hundreds of notes and dozens of pages of references at the back, but somehow still manages to read as one person’s thoughts on the subject, and not as an amalgamation of several years research from different academics. It quotes everything from the Simpsons to the New York Times in an attempt to utilise other people’s findings on the subjects being discussed, but these are all neatly linked with the author’s own feelings on the topics.

      Mary Eberstadt is married with 4 kids. She also works – as a fellow for Stanford, an editor for various publications and as a writer. At face value that would make her a very hypocritical person for writing a book which essentially blames all of the world’s (i.e. America’s) problems on the fact that parents are too busy earning money to be properly parenting as they should be. The author profile on the inside back cover is keen to tell us that she works from home, but still.

      The book poses lost of different questions which invariably have the same answer:

      Why are children fatter than ever before? Because their parents are out at work. Why do almost a quarter of all teenage boys take drugs of some sort? Because their parents are out at work. Why are children infected with herpes and chlamydia and HPV? Because their parents are out at work. Why do we have behavioural problems in schools? As a result of children being in day care from birth… because their parents are out at work.

      From that last paragraph you might think this book should be avoided by any working parent for fear of a guilt trip they won’t be able to shake off. I don’t think this would actually be the case though. Some parents work because they can’t stand to be around their children all day and think being employed outside the house makes them better parents during the time they do spend with the kids, and it’s these parents who I don’t think would be too upset by the book. In my mind they’d merely shrug it off as some sort of American waffle that doesn’t apply to their little dears. It’s the parents who have to work for financial reasons but who desperately want to be at home with their toddlers instead, I feel, who might be affected by the book, as in some ways it confirms their worst fears: they are harming their children by what they are doing, and harming them in more ways than one.

      I got the hardback version of the book soon after publication having read an interesting review of it in the books section of the paper, but it’s not exactly what I thought it was. It’s a lot harder going than I initially anticipated, partly because of the lengthy discussions on the topics, and partly because of the academic way it’s presented. I was expecting a Fast Food Nation or Nickel and Dimed type read, and instead got a text book suitable for some sort of course on the current problems with American life. Though it was an interesting read because it went beyond the usual subjects of fat children and fat parents which seem hot topics at the moment, it was lacking something in my mind. No real solutions were presented to the problems raised, and a lot of the statements made as a result of the research findings could have been suggested through simple common sense. It might interest me more if I were an American parent doing my best to bring my kids up ‘right’ but since I’m not, it doesn’t more than a mediocre rating from me.

      From Amazon:
      · Hardcover: 218 pages
      · Publisher: Sentinel (November 4, 2004)
      · ISBN: 1595230041
      · Price: £12.48


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