Monday, November 26, 2012

The Guru of Sleep: Who's He 'Ferberizing' now?

Dr. Richard Ferber: now doing what he wants
As a young physician, Dr. Richard Ferber came up with an idea so compelling, so popular, so marriage-saving, that his name became a verb. His landmark book,  Solve Your Children's Sleep Problems, published in 1985 (and a second edition in 2006) taught frazzled parents a technique for getting their infants and toddlers to sleep through the night. Parents called the method, eventually tried by tens of thousands if not millions, "Ferberizing" their baby.
  What seems so natural -- to lull the baby to sleep in a rocking chair then tiptoe him into his crib, or to let her always fall asleep with a pacifier at bedtime and again in the middle of the night – can thwart a child’s ability to learn how to fall asleep alone.   Imagine the shock of waking up in the middle of the night with no rocking chair or no pacifier. It would be like falling asleep in your bed and waking up on the kitchen floor. 
Ferberizing taught parents how to give up what were often their own bad habits, so their children could learn good ones.

Two babies that Dick Ferber hasn’t Ferberized are his own twin grandchildren, 9 months old, though he now has the time to do it. Fourteen  months ago, he retired from his longtime post at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and relocated to Washington, D.C. to live with his new wife of 6 months and be near his youngest son and grandkids.

It’s hard for me to believe that more than 40 years ago “Ferbs” (as he was then called) and I ran in the same social circle at college. To my delight, he still recognized me when we met at a recent gathering of the New Jersey Sleep Society, where he spoke about the formative moments of his career in pediatric sleep medicine, most of which had to do with being a good listener.
As for his new phase of life, Dick seems to have moved into it with the joy one might feel after waking from a good night’s sleep. For some people, particularly those in medicine, their whole life is their career, he explained,  “and there just isn’t a life outside. They give up running the department, they still keep coming in and they get a smaller office further and further away and one day they just disappear.
“I had always promised myself that I would not do that, and I would leave when I was still healthy and able to do other things.”
One day, as he contemplated some of the administrative aggravations at work, it just came to him:  it was time to step down. The decision felt right. Just thinking of staying on made his chest tighten.
Now he is only as busy as he wants to be with lectures, writing, and some committee work.  He keeps a balance with a skill I have yet to master. 
 “I can say no. That’s the thing I like,” Dick said with a broad smile.  “I was asked to write a chapter, which actually sounded good, but I hate writing chapters, so I said no, I’m not gonna do it.” 
He loves the unscripted time. "It’s terrific getting up and doing what you want to do that day, and being with the kids."
But he’s staying very clear of one thing -- telling his son and daughter-in-law how to manage their children’s sleep issues.
”I absolutely, absolutely, for many reasons don’t want to be their pediatrician.”

For tips on sleep issues in kids:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Inside the search for "renewment," with Helen Dennis

 “What’s said in this room, stays in this room,” is the mantra of support groups.
But I’m going to give you a peek at some of the conversation that took place recently in my dining room as 20 women gathered to puzzle over where their lives are headed.
Some are still working, some not, but all are grappling with an issue that has been magnified by the size of their generation and the giant societal step these women took in the decades post Feminine Mystique.

Author and columnist Helen Dennis on Project Renewment
After all, they are part of the first tsunami of women who—rejecting the notion that marriage and children is “all there is”-- plunged into careers, left their babies in the care of others, tried to break glass ceilings – or did so.

Now, once again, they are asking themselves, “Is this all there is?”

The group that met at my house is hardly the first to come together to talk about issues of identity, fulfillment, guilt, and more as they begin exploring the next stage of life. The star guest at my house that night -- columnist, author and lecturer Helen Dennis – launched such a gathering in Los Angeles 13 years ago. That meeting has since sprouted into more than 25 similar groups in California and others around the country. Some men’s groups have started, too. Helen even registered a name for this movement --  “Project Renewment,” and wrote a book based on five years of conversations to help groups start.
“Our women weren’t very comfortable with the term ‘retirement,’” Helen told the women at my house.  “So we came up with the name 'Renewment.' It’s a cross between retirement and renewal.  ‘Retirement’  sounds like you’re retreating.  We felt renewment meant vitality, opportunity, creativity, a future. That it was a much more optimistic, uplifting kind of thing.”

So, why the need for a cadre of supportive women to help each other reach that goal?  Listen in – it’s not a smooth journey:

 I’m looking for the next stage and I don’t know what the next stage is. -- a former non-profit executive.

 “I find myself running round on the days that I’m home and running around on the days that I’m at work and there’s no down time.” – a college counselor, now on a reduced schedule.

 “I feel guilty saying no to anyone. I want to please them and be liked.”—a township commissioner.

 I’m still working. I’m looking for what I can do to balance my life and flourish, as Martin Seligman would say. – a child guidance counselor.

 “I’m really busy and yet I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished a whole lot and yet I don’t really care. But maybe I should get more organized.” –a retired school teacher.

As for myself, it’s been a year since I left my job. Here’s the dilemma that I shared:

“I quit working when it wasn’t fun anymore and I was determined to have fun.  Now I’m in pursuit of too much fun. My issue is that I’m jumping from this thing to that thing to the next thing that people ask me to do and I’m exhausted.  Time management is a huge issue.”
To which someone quipped, “She’s still working. Don’t let her kid you. But she’s not choosing, she’s taking assignments.”
Observed another: “You probably want to take advantage of every opportunity because you’re not sure how many are going to come your way and you don’t know how many choices you’ll have.  So you’d better not turn anything down.”
Someone else: Right. So you just jump into anything that comes along.”
Me:  “And it also makes me feel good if someone asks me to do something because I’m needed. I’m valued…I have an identity.”
Another:  “So choosing which of those things… that’s another transition.”

“Do you think the issue sometimes has to do with whether you’re making money? For women, that’s a biggie,” said a woman who oversees one of Philadelphia’s largest community organizations. “If you’re getting paid for something, somehow people put a value on it, especially men and society. And if you’re doing very important work and you’re not being paid for it, the attitude about it is different.”

Then came the observation that I most needed to hear but can’t yet act on:
I find people in this retirement process are not taking the time to be quiet. They’re so concerned about losing their identity that they’re not making the time to float or drift or be quiet because it’s almost more frightening to them than filling themselves up….”

As Helen Dennis reminded, “We’re the first and the largest generation of women  to define ourselves by our work. And as in so many other firsts for this generation, in retirement,  we have no role models So where do we look for how we do this? The times seem right for Project Renewment.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Burt Siegel, the former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Philadelphia, has reached the other side of his transition journey.
It has taken four years.
Actually, it was exactly four years ago today -- the Friday before Election Day -- that he left his job.
"The Council is a 5013C. I had to be non-partisan," he said. "I left before Election Day so I could campaign for Obama."
In that regard, he is like others who delight in being  politically unshackled when they leave their longtime jobs.
The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper and website, ran a headline about his departure, "Free at last. Free at last."
"I was free to come out of the closet and engage politically."
But really, he wasn't free. He still felt chained by decades of responsibility and the idea -- if not the need-- of a paycheck. First, he took on some paid part-time jobs -- with the Israeli Consul General and CeaseFire PA -- two groups that he'd had connections with during his tenure with the JCRC.
"You weren't supposed to go from income to no-income," he said about taking on paid work. "People said you'll find something to do. You'll get all kinds of offers."
He found that he couldn't help but say "yes."  If someone reached out to the Jewish community, he had to jump in and help. It's what he'd done at his job and he felt he had to continue doing it even though he had left.
He likes to tell a story that captures his pride in stepping up.  Philadelphia City Commissioner Marian Tasco, who is African American, was asked once why she had chosen to march in Washington, D.C. in support of Soviet Jews. Her response, Burt recalls, was "When Jews are asked to support civil rights, they don't ask 'Why?' They ask 'Where?' and 'When?" So that's what she did when she was asked for her support.
Looking back, Burt thinks his sense of responsibility was "overblown."
After his initial foray into paid work, he realized he didn't want the money. "I didn't want to be obligated," he explained. "I'm 69. At that age I've met a lot of my obligations."
"I weaned myself."
He now finds himself telling people seeking his help, "'I'd love to do it but I don't have the time.'
"I didn't do that at the JCRC."
He remains "very vested in reaching out to the Jewish community," speaking to groups, writing ads, raising money," (again for Obama). But he does it as a volunteer.
 "I don't feel as compelled to say yes all the time."
He's vice president of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network; he serves on a number of boards including Philadelphia Reads, and he's on a search committee for his co-op. In September, he was on National Public Radio talking about the upcoming election and his support, as a Jew, of Obama.
He cherishes "the freedom" to do what he wants.
"I don't want a job. I want to do it on my own."