I spent hours this weekend cleaning and organizing my office. There were huge piles of papers everywhere - a melange of clipped newspaper articles, academic studies, scientific papers, polls and surveys, pages of interviews with people ranging from your basic mom-with-son to marketing experts who focus on mothers. All stuff for the book, and all in a state of chaos.
My office is a thing of beauty now, and everything is in its proper place, with a nice neat file label on each folder. EXCEPT, that is, for the three folders vaguely labeled "Polls and Surveys." These remain a hodgepodge of conflicting data. You need the stat to prove your point, it's in there. Moms are spending more time with their kids than ever. Moms are spending less time with their kids than ever. Moms prefer daughters. Moms have fractious, painful relationships with their daughters. Communication between parents and children is at an all-time high. Parents and children are mired in their electronic worlds, increasingly isolated from family life.
You get the picture. Which is why I didn't jump for joy when I came across a National Academy Science study in yesterday's paper proclaiming that 50 is the age at which people start feeling better about themselves after years of feeling steadily worse. According to this research, folks are really happy with themselves at age 18, and then it's down hill from there until about 50,when the trend reverses again. By the time they are 85, the study says, people are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18. (Yes, Mom, I know you disagree with this!)
This would all be fine and dandy news for those of us who are supposedly on the road to better self-esteem. But no sooner had I read this than I moved onto another section of the paper to find: "For the second year in a row, middle-aged adults have registered the highest suicide rate in the country." What's going on here?
Ah well, time to make sense out of my own statistics.