Welcome to my blog, which speaks to parents, professionals who work with children, and policy makers. Through stories from my behavioral pediatrics practice (with details changed to protect privacy) I will show how contemporary research in child development can be applied to support parents in their efforts to facilitate their children’s healthy emotional development. I will address factors that converge to obstruct such support. These include limited access to quality mental health care, influences of a powerful health insurance industry and intensive marketing efforts by the pharmaceutical industry.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

President Obama, Parenting and Personal Responsibility

When President Obama was interviewed on 60 Minutes following the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, he compared the wait while the Navy SEALs were in the compound and he didn't know what was happening with the wait to hear if his sick young daughter had meningitis. What struck me about this was the ease with which he, in front of an audience of millions, equated in value his role as father with his role as leader of the free world.

I am currently making my way through David Remnick's brilliant book The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. Remnick quotes Obama, describing what Remnick refers to as Obama's "credo for his career:"
What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?...The right wing, the Christian right, has done a good job of building these organizations of accountability, much better than the left or progressive forces have. But it's always easier to organize around intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and false nostalgia. And they also have hijacked the higher moral ground with this language of family values and moral responsibility.

Now we have to take this same language-these same values that are encouraged within our families-of looking out for one another, of sharing,of sacrificing for each other-and apply them to a larger society. Let's talk about creating a society, not just individual families, based on these values. Right now we have a society that talks about the irresponsibility of teens getting pregnant, not the irresponsibility of a society that fails to educate them to aspire for more.
Obama's version of family values clearly includes both personal and social responsibility.

In the last chapter of my forthcoming book Keeping Your Child in Mind I address the changes that need to be made to our society in order to apply the explosion of knowledge about the importance of supporting early parent-child relationships to promote children's healthy development. There are many obstacles. These include lack of value we place on primary care and mental health care services, need from more emphasis on prevention, need for changes to our medical education system to attract more primary care clinicians, and a modification of the influence of the powerful health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The last chapter states:
If parents are to embrace this challenging yet highly rewarding task, they need to feel valued themselves. Just as a parent needs to hold a child in mind, we as a society need to hold parents in mind.
At times when the obstacles seem overwhelming, President Obama has been my inspiration. He forged ahead, despite what may at times have seemed overwhelming obstacles, because he believed he had something important to do. To again quote from Remnick's book:
Before embarking on the story of the political rise of Barack Obama, it may be useful to take time out for a mental exercise. Here it is:
Name your state senator.
No, not the two legislative titans who represent your state in Washington, D.C. The question is, who represents your district in your state capital?
Fine. Now that you have Googled the name and are trying to wrap your mind around the pronunciation and other such details, imagine that this undoubtedly decent, if generally anonymous, man or woman emerges in a very few years from Trenton or Harrisburg, Tallahassee or Lansing to become, as if in a reality television show, President of the United States.
I feel that I have an ally in President Obama. While of course I don't personally know him (though our birthdays are 2 months apart- me June 8th 1961 and him August 4th 1961-yes we will both be 50 soon-, and we got married and had kids within a few years of each other, both have University of Chicago ties, and lived just blocks apart in Hyde Park when he was a community organizer and I was in medical school!!) I know that he will understand what I am trying to do. I hope he reads my book.

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