Parental Blues

By Richard Morin
Sunday, January 1, 2006

Feeling depressed? You must be a parent. Or so claim two sociologists who found that parents are more likely to show symptoms of depression than adults of the same age who don't have children. What's more, it seems to get worse as your children grow up: Parents of children older than 18 are more gloomy than those with younger offspring, assert Ranae J. Evenson of Vanderbilt University and Robin W. Simon of Florida State University.

Evenson and Simon analyzed data from the National Survey of Families and Households' national sample of 13,000 adults, who were asked a dozen questions designed to measure emotional well-being.

Their conclusion: Kids can be depressing. "People with minor children at home, noncustodial children, adult children at home, and nonresidential stepchildren all report significantly more symptoms of depression than nonparents when controlling for [social and demographic] factors," Evenson and Simon reported in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. "In fact, there is no type of parent in this national sample that reports [fewer] symptoms of depression than nonparents."

The researchers did find that symptoms of depression varied among different types of parents. People with minor stepchildren residing with them, for example, seem to be the exception to the rule -- they are no more melancholy or depressed than childless men or women. Why would they be different? Evenson and Simon speculated that emotionally healthier adults or those with better coping mechanisms may decide to become stepparents, while adults who feel less up to the job may wisely decide to stay away.

Speaking of Depression . . .

Republicans seem to think it's Morning in America again as they look ahead to 2006, while Democrats couldn't be more blue about the coming year, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

On question after question, Democrats were consistently dour as they considered the direction of the world, the country and their own lives. (Geez, their New Year's Eve party must have been a downer.) But GOPers were positively giddy in anticipation of the next 12 months, so I expect Republicans are sleeping off the champagne and sleeping in this morning.

Call it the Optimism Gap -- though the poll results suggest it's more of a chasm than a gap.

Nearly eight in 10 Republicans say they're "mostly hopeful" as they look ahead to what's in store for the world in general -- nearly twice the proportion of Democrats with a similarly positive view. A majority of Democrats (56 percent) say they're mostly fearful about the fate of the world over the next year, compared with just 20 percent of Republicans.

Republicans are thrilled about their personal prospects in 2006, with 84 percent saying they're hopeful about what lies ahead. Not so Democrats; slightly less than half expect good things to happen to them this year.

It's no surprise that some of the largest gaps are political, what with the war in Iraq, the controversy over domestic spying and White House turmoil setting partisan hearts aflutter. More than eight in 10 Republicans (83 percent) but only three in 10 (29 percent) of all Democrats said they were optimistic about what will happen in Iraq during the next 12 months -- a whopping 54 percentage point optimism gap.

The telephone survey of 1,003 randomly selected adults was conducted from Dec. 15 to Dec. 18. Margin of sampling error for the overall results was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Football Fatwa (Cont.)

Real, fake or something in between?

Well, that's all part of the story behind the infamous "football fatwa" disclosed last summer by al-Watan, one of Saudi Arabia's leading newspapers.

As reported here two weeks ago, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in Washington translated the fatwa into English, as well as portions of al-Watan stories about it, and posted them on its Web site in October.

Now it turns out that four days after al-Watan published the text of the soccer fatwa, it ran another story saying that the fatwa was bogus. "It became clear that the fatwa al-Watan published is fake and untrue. However, it was spread among the young men along with other fatwas" that were genuine, the paper reported. The story did not say how it had determined that the fatwa was fake. (The Wiz asked a Post employee who reads Arabic to translate the al-Watan retraction.) MEMRI did not report the retraction on its Web site.

In case you missed it, the purported football fatwa banned good Muslims from playing soccer in shorts, celebrating after scoring goals or doing anything like their Western counterparts. Al-Watan reported that several young men had quit their soccer teams after reading the widely distributed fatwa to join the insurgents in Iraq -- a claim that was not retracted in its follow-up article.

Al-Watan also reported in its retraction that the name of the sheikh originally identified as the fatwa's author was a pseudonym and the true identity of the fatwa's author or authors could not be determined. (Exactly who may or may not issue a fatwa -- a religious edict -- is also a topic of debate.)

The second story went on to quote two religious authorities offering their view that soccer was forbidden and referred to other anti-soccer fatwas. But it also quoted two other authorities who said that it was perfectly permissible for Muslims to play soccer.

Okay, so I think I understand: Al-Watan says the fatwa was a fake. Shame on the paper for printing it without verifying its authenticity. And shame on MEMRI for not disclosing the retraction on its Web site.

Wait a minute, said Yigal Carmon, president of MEMRI. The institute's posting did not note the retraction "because it was not serious," he said.

"It is clear that after the fatwa was published, everyone tried to distance themselves from it," Carmon said. Other Muslim religious authorities quoted in the second story, he added, "relate to [the fatwa] as real and something that has to be condemned, something that demanded action. . . . This was a real fatwa, not something taken from nowhere."

morinr@washpost.com


© 2006 The Washington Post Company