Culture & Cosmos

Important New Book Explores Problems for Children When Parents are Absent

Today's rock and rap music provides a telling picture of the damage and destruction caused by divorce according to a controversial new book that examines the negative ramifications absent parents have on their children.

In "Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes," Mary Eberstadt takes on familiar topics - day care, divorce and an overabundance of childhood Ritalin - but in a new way. Rather than looking at the long-term effects of single mother homes and institutional childcare, Eberstadt explores what kind of "immediate emotional experience" these things cause for children.

In one chapter called "Ozzie and Harriet, Come Back!': The Primal Scream of Teenage Music," Eberstadt takes a deep look at some of the hottest musicians on MTV and Top-40 radio and discovers that many of today's most successful songs are anthems of despair and anger fueled by resentment at fathers who were not present in the singers' lives.

Controversial rapper Eminem is Eberstadt's prime example. Since his first album, Eminem has made the rage he feels towards his absent father a central theme of many of his songs. At other times Eminem sings at length about his drug addict mother and her cohabiting boyfriends. Eberstadt does not excuse Eminem for his lyrics in which he fantasizes about killing his ex-wife or insults his mother. But she notes that they are "not the expression of random misogyny but, rather, of primal rage over alleged maternal abdication and abuse."

What makes this significant to Eberstadt is not just that musicians are writing about the unhappiness that results from being raised in a broken home but that the message so clearly resonates with teenagers. After all, Eminem is the most commercially successful musical artist of the last several years. Eberstadt writes that members of Blink-182, a very popular punk rock band, have commented on the huge response to their song, "Stay Together for the Kids," which laments divorce. "We get e-mails about 'Stay Together,' kid after kid after kid saying, 'I know exactly what you're talking about! That song is about my life!' And you know what? That sucks. You look at statistics that 50 percent of parents get divorced, and you're going to get a pretty large group of kids who are p*****d off and who don't agree with what their parents have done."

Other bands who have climbed the charts with songs chronicling the pain of being a child of divorce include, Papa Roach, Everclear, Good Charlotte, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Doggy Dogg. Eberstadt notes that it was Vedder and Cobain who in the 1990s emerged as two of the best known musicians for people under 30, a phenomenon that even Vedder recognizes to be troubling. "Think about it, man. Any generation that would pick Kurt (Cobain) or me as its spokesman - that must be a pretty (expletive deleted) generation, don't you think?"

Eberstadt concludes the chapter, which is also featured as a stand-alone-essay at, by noting that today's popular music should serve as a wake-up call. "Meanwhile, a small number of emotionally damaged former children, embraced and adored by millions of teenagers like them, rage on in every commercial medium available about the multiple damages of the disappearance of loving, protective, attentive adults - and they reap a fortune for it. If this spectacle alone doesn't tell us something about the ongoing emotional costs of parent-child separation on today's outsize scale, it's hard to see what could."

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