Q. "I'm all for using car seats for my children -- ages 7 months and 3 years. I know I must drive my friends and neighbors crazy about car safety. I even have been known to give a neighbor a car seat for her 16-month-old and insist that she use it, rather than let him stand on the front seat.
"My husband backs me all the way and thinks I should lobby for bills to require car seats for children under 4.
"But here's my problem. My husband thinks nothing of putting our 3-year-old son on his motorcycle. He uses my helmet and feels that he is a good driver. Please help me with some information to stop this. I'm just sick. I have tried being firm. I have begged and cried. Nothing works."
A. It's surprising that your husband thinks he drives a motorcycle better than a car -- and he must, since he agrees to be so careful in the car.
It's true that your son is probably safe enough on a motorcycle. Only 4,000 people were killed on them in 1979 -- the last reportable year -- but still, mile for mile, that's six times the rate of those killed in automobiles. sSurely some of those cyclists must have been good drivers.
It would seem like it would be hard for even the best driver to control a cycle if his 3-year-old passenger saw a dog run across the road, shrieked and leaned to one side. Or that the "best driver" could have perfect control when the puddle of water filled a pothole or it started to drizzle and the patches of oil on the road turned slick.
And it would take an extraordinary driver to avoid the automobile that turned in front of his cycle, since not all automobile drivers are so great -- or so sober. According to the National Safety Council, 73 percent of all automobile drivers who have wrecks have been drinking and 11-13 percent of the drivers who crash have been using some other drug.
While the odds are definitely in your child's favor, they're surely not as good as they would be if he were in a car or a plane or on foot. It's rather like leaving a gun around every day with all the chambers emply, only loading one of them once a year. Probably nothing would happen.
You know how dangerous it is. In his heart, your husband must know too.
That's why you need to examine the message behind these rides.
When a couple has a running argument that involves a third person or a specific situation, you're probably looking at a struggle for power. Maybe your husband thinks he's not running enough of the show.
After telling a child what to do for a few years, most women start being generous with advice for everybody. A neighbor can avoid it, but a husband is likely to fight back.
That's why it would be wise to analyze what you may be doing and slow down if necessary. Perhaps you've been too empathic about carseat restraints. Use them, but don't make a case out of it. Instead, try to help your husband figure out why he needs to have a showdown with you.
In the best of all worlds, two people should be able to talk about anything openly to each other, without threat, but this isn't the best of all worlds, so you may need some help. There's an excellent new book that's applicable to any relationship: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (rawson, Wade; $11.95).
You might even profit by a few sessions with a family therapist. And in the meantime, ask your neighbor to keep your helmet.
Q. "I read with interest your letter to the Northern Virginia couple who are having their first child and have no experience with children. Frankly, I don't think a list of reading material is the advice that couple needs.
"I am the mother of three boys, ages 6, 4 and 21 months and have gotten this far with common sense, patience and a lot of love and support from my husband.
"One way to ensure a feeling of 'our baby' between two expectant parents is to attend natural childbirth classes. The knowledge you get there about pregnancy and labor is invaluable, whether you have a natural birth or not.
"Our shared experience not only left us ecstatic, but very close to each other and the baby."
A. These are good points. The prepared childbirth classes given by Parent and Child, Parent Care and other groups, have begun to give the miracle of childbirth back to parents.
Most first-time parents, however, need more than classes to learn how to trust their own instincts, particularly when they may disagree with the doctor about medications or breastfeeding. A patient can't challenge a doctor or nurse effectively, or even know the questions to ask, unless she has done a lot of research first.
And as for expecting the husband to be supportive -- fine. But many good men are simply embarrassed by the pregnancy process and feel too out of place to consider lessons at all.
And so: The Father Book (Acropolis; $8.95) which is the definitive word on pregnancy, childbirth and the father's big place in the picture.
The book is written by a Washington team of childbirth experts: Rae Grad; Deborah Bash; Ruth Guyer; Zoila Acevedo; Mary Anne Trause and Diane Reukauf. And the reason it's so good: It gives all the advice you give, and all the adive you've read here -- and much, much more.