- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

At what age do you think children should start going to preschool? My son is going on 3, and he is home with me right now. I plan to send him to preschool next fall. Almost everyone I know with children the same age began sending their youngsters to preschool this past September.

My friends seem to think my son is missing out on essential developmental opportunities and experiences. I thought it was more important for him to be home with me because this time in his life will be over before we know it. Thoughts?

A: I’m all for children being at home with a parent until at least age 3. Furthermore, I remain unconvinced of the long-term value of preschool, especially as regards children of fairly well-educated parents who read on a daily basis.

Mothers who put their children in preschool before age 3 often are concerned that if they don’t do what all the other mothers are doing, their children will suffer developmental, intellectual, social and academic disadvantages. The research does not support that sort of apocalyptic thinking.

Everything else being equal, by the second or third grade (at the outset), children who attended preschool are indistinguishable from those who did not. The so-called “jump start” doesn’t seem to last more than a couple of years.

It looks as if the most valid reason for putting a child in a preschool program may be, “I need some time away from him, and I think he needs time away from me.”

Q: My husband and I are older parents of a 7-year-old. From the very beginning, our son slept with us because my husband couldn’t stand to listen to him cry. That has since evolved into what I think are serious boundary issues.

At this point, my husband puts our son to bed and ends up sleeping with him through the night, while I end up sleeping alone. I feel I am competing with a 7-year-old, and I’m beginning to resent it.

Where discipline is concerned, I have no problems, but I feel as if everything I do is being undone by a well-meaning dad. What can I do?

A: Unfortunately, your tale of parenting woe is more and more commonplace, as being best buddy to one’s child becomes the new ideal in American fathering. If your husband would listen, this is what I would say to him:

“Dad, you are certainly well-intentioned, but you have your priorities all out of whack. In the first place, notwithstanding that your son does not need a grown man as a best friend, parenting is leadership, not friendship.

“A young boy cannot look up to and respect a dad who has established no boundaries in the relationship, and more than just about anything, every young boy needs a man to look up to and respect.

“In the second place, in order for a family to work properly, the husband-wife relationship must trump the parent-child relationship. Clearly, a husband who sleeps with his son is more concerned about being a good dad than being a good husband.

“If they have not already, your good intentions are going to interfere with your son’s ability to form satisfying social relationships with people his own age. When the time comes, he may have significant difficulty emancipating himself. After all, you are doing everything but teaching him that he can stand on his own two feet.

“With your most excellent intentions, you are doing great harm to your marriage, your child and your family. I pray you are able to see the error of your ways, put your priorities in order and step up to the plate of parenthood like a guy who belongs there.”

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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