Sheryl Sandberg's superb op-ed!

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

That was their father:
Have we ever read a better op-ed column than Sheryl Sandberg's transplendent essay in today's New York Times?

With co-author Adam Grant, Sandebrg has written a book about resilience. In hard copy, her column appears beneath these headlines:
How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss
I needed to find ways to help my children after their father's death
We think it's a stunning column.

Two years go, Sandberg's husband unexpectedly died. Their children were seven and ten.

In her column, Sandberg describes the things she did, after seeking advice from Grant and others, to help her children cope. We were struck by this all the way down:
SANDBERG (4/24/17): One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day—with the rules written by my kids in colored markers—still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.

Dave and I had a tradition at the dinner table with our kids in which each of us would share the best and worst moments of our day. Giving children undivided attention—something we all know is important but often fail to do—is another of the key steps toward building their resilience. My children and I have continued this tradition, and now we also share something that makes us feel grateful to remind ourselves that even after loss, there is still so much to appreciate in life.


Since my children were so young when they lost their father, I am afraid that their memories of him will fade, and this breaks my heart all over again. Adam and I also learned that talking about the past can build resilience. When children grow up with a strong understanding of their family’s history—where their grandparents grew up, what their parents’ childhoods were like—they have better coping skills and a stronger sense of mattering and belonging. Jamie Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, has found that expressing painful memories can be uncomfortable in the moment, but improves mental and even physical health over time.

To keep Dave’s memory alive, I asked dozens of his closest family members, friends and colleagues to capture their stories about him on video. I also taped my children sharing their own memories, so that as they grow up, they will know which are truly theirs. This past Thanksgiving my daughter was distraught, and when I got her to open up, she told me, “I’m forgetting Daddy because I haven’t seen him for so long.” We watched the video of her talking about him, and it gave her some comfort.

Talking openly about memories—not just positive ones, but difficult ones, too—can help kids make sense of their past and rise to future challenges.
Whenever we read an essay like this, we think of the millions of kids who don't get this kind of parenting. Sandberg reminds us of those kids too, early in her column.

Just yesterday, we were thinking about the way children (and adults) want to know the history of their family members, especially their parents. We were thinking about the emotional power of Big Fish, the Tim Burton film in which a young man tries to find his way through the persistent tall tales of his evasive father, who is dying.

Our own sainted mother was extremely reticent about discussing her personal history. On the rare occasion, she would let a random anecdote fly:

The time she skated so far up the Merrimack that she couldn't get home till long after dark. The time she was halfway down the ski jump and spotted her mother off to the right, glaring angrily at her.

The time she thought the ballplayer had stood her up on a date, until it turned out that he had just played in the longest game in major-league history! (We assumed this referred to the Red Sox.)

The time Casey Stengel told her he liked her because his wife was named Edna too! (We assumed this would have been in the 1950s, when Stengel was with the mighty Yanks, after our mother had married our father.)

How did our mother and father meet? We'd never heard the story until our older half-brother, now deceased, told us maybe fifteen years ago. The story he told us was very familiar to us and very believable. Almost surely, our mother would have been someone a gent would have noticed.

Children want to know about their family histories. About a year ago, we were lucky enough to be sitting at a dinner table when a relative of ours (by marriage) suddenly told everyone, including his then 9-year-old daughter, about the first time he saw her mother.

(It happened in the D.R. The 9-year-old's father was coaching the Dominican national track team, on loan from God in the form of Fidel. The 9-year-old's mother was in the D.R. working for UNICEF.)

His daughter, our great niece, is easily one of our all-time most favoritest people. We thought her eyes grew extremely wide as she listened, with great interest, to this sudden story about her mother and father in the years before she was here.

"That was your mother," Paul Simon said. In the case of Sandberg's column, that was their father. We don't know when we've encountered so much decency and so much wisdom on an op-ed page.

Two long stories short: A few years ago, we decided to fact-check our mother's story about that "longest game." Had there actually been an extremely long MLB game in Boston during the relevant years?

Sure enough! On June 27, 1939, the Boston Braves (then called the Boston Bees) and the Brooklyn Dodgers battled to a 23-inning tie at Braves Field. We'd always assumed that she meant the Red Sox. But if we might borrow from Don Corleone, it was the Braves all the time!

We checked to see who was on the Braves' roster. Manager of the 1939 Bees?

Who else? Casey Stengel!

(You can see him colorized here.)


  1. I posted a lengthy comment only to have it disappear. I will try to recreate it.

    I'm sure Sandberg is a good person who loves her kids, but she seems to be helping herself cope by making a project out of helping her kids. That may or may not benefit them.

    Pennebaker's work is controversial. For example, George Bonnano has studied repressive defensive copers -- people who go about their lives with no overt reference to being bereaved, no grief, no talking therapy, as if there had been little change in their lives. These people do not have a delayed reaction. They do not have deferred grief and they suffer less depression and less complications of grieving. They do fine. Yet they do none of the things Pennebaker and Sandberg suggest.

    People cope in their own ways. It is wrong to force anyone, adult or child, to cope in a particular way, as Sandberg and Somerby suggest doing. Children are not disadvantaged if their parents doesn't respond this way, copes differently. It is wrong to suggest they may be.

    Memories are enjoyable for their own sake. Watch out when you fact-check family stories. They are often not factually accurate and you may get unpleasant surprises, such as finding out someone you love has lied.

    1. I'm not so sure that "Somerby suggest[s] doing" grieving in any particular way. I believe he suggests more that effective communication, sharing intimate negative and positive emotions and feelings, sharing memories with your children, et cetera, is more likely to result in mentally healthy children.
      Speaking for myself, I am grateful to have learned more about my father and his parents from my father (typically close-mouthed about that while I was a child) in recent years.

    2. It is one thing to encourage open talk with children. They are suggesting talking as a means of coping with grief. My point was that there are studies suggesting this is not the way everyone grieves, so doing that with kids may or may not be helpful. Respecting a child's own coping may be better than instituting the program Sandberg describes, as a family project. What will a child feel who either cannot or does not want to participate? Will a mom whose kid doesn't want to go along with the rules feel like she is a failure? This kind of thing is a bad idea in real life, no matter how touching her description sounds.

    3. And you have to be in an alternate reality to think that a kid has the, what? "intuition"? to know how to self-soothe himself without a parent teaching him about life. Her kids were obviously distraught and lost in their grief! Kids need parenting because they're KIDS, they don't yet know how to live life!

      Furthermore, it doesn't matter how authoritative or amateur someone is; what matters is whether what they say is true. And the latest research in rapid psychotherapy for trauma, depression, anxiety, grief happens to show Bob and Ms Sandberg are absolutely aligned with the best consensus of how to treat suffering. You, "Anonymous", are way beyond your depth. See "Dunning-Kruger Effect".

    4. Parenting is not one-size-fits-all. Parenting books play on parental anxieties to make money. It is worse to trade off grief. Offensive.

      You never heard that term before it was applied to Trump.

  2. When you read something you agree with, I guess you don't worry as much about the qualifications of the authors.

    Sandberg's qualification is that she is a bereaved parent. Adam Grant's degree is in IO Psychology (Organizational/Industrial) and he teaches at Wharton Business school. What qualifies either of them to advise others about resilience? There are real psychologists studying resilience, doing the real work of conducting studies and finding out how emotions work. Grant is a parasite living off their efforts. Sandberg likes to be in the limelight even if it means trading on her personal loss.

  3. Wow. I'm surprised at the 2 comments before me. I just wanted to let Bob know (if he reads these comments) how much his post moved me. He's truly a good, thoughtful human being.

    1. Good thoughtful human beings shouldn't suspend their critical faculties when reading about children and grieving and memories. This is just as much science as physics and cosmology. Sandberg said things that were untrue and Somerby endorsed them with his big heart, because he thought they sounded good, and people who are grieving but don't want to talk about it will be hounded by well-meaning good-hearted relatives, because the NY Times doesn't care whether those writing an Op-Ed have appropriate qualifications or not.

      But, hey, if you're all moved, that's what matters.

    2. I don't know what you're so upset about regarding Somerby. I didn't read either Sandberg or Somerby to be making "scientific" claims, or arguing that only they knew the correct methods of coping or inspiring resiliency in children.

    3. Sandberg & Grant have written a book for parents about nurturing resilience in children. This is how pop psychology is spread. Somerby apparently cares more about pop philosophy than pop psychology.

    4. All psychology is pop psychology.

    5. Not mathematical psychology.

  4. I don't know if ad hominem hurts or helps, but it is certainly the order of the day here, and with more sadness than rancor, it is impossible to escape the fact Bob Somerby is an idiot.

  5. Just as I was reading this post, I took a break and emailed somebody the names of 456 of their ancestors that they did not seem to know about.

    It just happened that I got a DNA match to a 3rd cousin who seemed to have no information about one of my great great grandfathers.

  6. "Had there actually been an extremely long MLB game in Boston during the relevant years?"

    If you give yourself the latitude of any team, any year, any "extremely long" length, then of course there would have been. There was no doubt one in NY too. This is not exactly fact-checking but it is the way memories are often confirmed retrospectively.

    It makes me cry when I think we had a march for science this weekend!

    There is a nice park bench with Somerby's name on it where he can feed pigeons and talk with the other geezers about Casey Stengel and how wonderful their dear old Irish mothers were! The young are generally busier creating memories than reliving them.

    1. You must not be a baseball fan. In MLB's entire history there have only been eight games go 23 innings or longer. Only one of those other exceedingly long games were within 18 years of 1939, taking place in 1945. Plus mom recalled the manager of the team liked her name. I am with Mr Somerby on this, but I am just an easily deluded old man who is a sop for old timey stories.

    2. It's true the young are engaged in the urgent matter of living and changing the world and the old are the walking dead with nothing to offer, leeching off the rest of us.

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