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Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2005 / 14 Tishrei 5766

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

Another good reason to pitch in with the kids | OK, fellas, here's another reason to pitch in around the house and particularly with the kids: Studies on 10 different primate species, including humans, show that the "spouse" primarily responsible for taking care of offspring lives longer.

This is true regardless of gender. So, the study from researchers at the California Institute of Technology says, the "Titi monkey males of South America, for example, which take care of the baby after the mother has given birth, outlive their mates by 20 percent ..."

Lead researcher John Allman said that if there is a difference in role, "the sex doing the bulk of the care is likely to survive longer."

Interestingly, in the gorilla population, the life-span advantage of females over males is not so significant. Why? "Male gorillas play with their offspring and take on certain other nurturing duties."

The researchers hypothesize that one reason for all this is that raising a primate takes such intense time, attention and energy that, over time, "the sex not caring for the infants will not be as crucial for the survival of the species."

That seems like a bit of a Darwinian stretch. Besides, hunting and gathering to feed that baby — so Mom can (more typically) nurture it seems like a darn important job to me, whether it's in the jungles of South America — or Manhattan.

What really strikes me from this study (it's actually a few years old — but I just came across it) is how much sense it makes that being connected to and personally responsible for other living things causes us to live longer. The sheer act of giving, of being tied to something other than ourselves, so that our world is not "all about me" — while incredibly hard at times — is good for us!

And, in fact, the researchers also found that "there's evidence that greater longevity can also coincide with the taking care of an elderly parent or even a pet," though presumably the gain is not as great as with those totally dependent little ones.

I see the findings from this study cutting two ways for our culture.

On the one hand, I see dads, for instance, ever more involved in directly taking care of their kids — and that's apparently good for dad and child (just ask the gorillas).

But in other aspects, it just seems that more and more folks are willing to ask: "But what's in it for me?"

And so, for instance, I think even when it comes to caring for kids, too many parents idolize their children — almost, it seems, wanting something FROM them in the form of their accomplishments and achievements. Or they are spending so much time pursuing the golden ring of achievement themselves so they can give their kids stuff (and be liked in return) that they don't give their kids what they really need: Time. And an effort to reach their child's heart — not just an effort to get the child to Harvard.

Consider that today we have a culture more than ready to regularly do what was once unthinkable: justify the end of a marriage by saying, "Well, you know, I mean if her needs weren't being met at the moment, it was OK to move on. ..."

But what about her responsibility to seek to meet her spouse's and family's needs, even if hers weren't being "met" at the moment?

It should be no surprise at all that record numbers of so-called "twixters" — those who are ages 22 to 28 or so — are living at home with their parents — typically on the parents' dime while the "kids" buy themselves whatever luxury goods they want. Time magazine ran a major story recently on twixters, and over and over again these young people told the publication that they didn't want responsibilities to others at the moment.

Will they ever?

And is a culture that allows these young adults to remain so disconnected from their communities and responsibilities to others a healthy one?

It would appear that — at least, according to this study — the answer is no.

Other primates can't choose to do what is right. What's makes us human is precisely that we can. Yes, we still have wonderfully long and ever-growing life spans today, even in a culture that, it seems, is ever more "me oriented."

I just fear that in our culture we are moving toward longer life — with a decreasing quality of life.

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"It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It"  

"Hart urges parents to focus...on instilling industry, frugality, sincerity and humility. She encourages parents to reclaim the word "no." Contrary to advice you may have received, you needn't give your child choices, or offer alternatives, or explain to little Suzie why she can't eat eight cookies right before bed-you're the parent, and sometimes you can just say no."

  —   Kirkus Reports

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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