Wake up! Kids are growing up alone

sense of loss: Research shows the devastating impact on children who hardly get to see their parents. dhfile photo

The reasons for the increasing number of parents being employed are many and nobody is to be judged. People work because of economic need, higher life aspirations, mental health as well as reasons of self worth and all reasons are equally valid. The pace with which maternal employment has increased has been so rapid that many people fail to realise its prevalence and its impact. Furthermore, attempts to understand its effects often ignore the fact that this change is part of a whole complex of social changes.
Women bear the brunt of parenting

Even with these role switches becoming more common, the questions our culture asks women are still built on old assumptions. Will she work or stay at home? Does she work because she wants to or because she has to? Can she find a job that gives her enough flexibility now that she’s a mother? We don’t ask these questions of men. The burden of ‘balancing’ everything is still given primarily to women.

There is a bumper sticker that says: “Lord, please let me be the person my dog thinks I am.” Once women have children, their mantra becomes: “Lord, please help me be the person I want my children to be.”

The roots of this discomfort are not hard to understand. A series of studies by sociologist Joseph Pleck found that the more a mother is involved with the work role, the less time she feels she has for the mother role. But this does not apply to fathers, despite the fact that fathers reported working twice as many hours on average as mothers did. “These findings suggest that although care-giving and breadwinning behaviours may be competitively organised [internally] for mothers, they are not for fathers,” writes Pleck.
In other words, fathers tend to see breadwinning as part of parenting, while many mothers see working as a separate activity that takes time away from their children. These feelings are products of a sexual division of labour that is centuries old.
Impact on children
Research shows the devastating impact that working full-time has on children who hardly see their parents.
In some households parents leave early while the children are still asleep and by the time they get back, children may have returned from school and left for the next activity such as tuition or sports. By the time everyone returns home whether it is children or parents, it is usually dinner time. Or vice versa, parents who see their children off to school may return late just when they are winding up for the day. With around just an hour a day spent with their parents every day, this is only enough time to eat a quick breakfast together or have a bed-time story.

Parents who work full-time spend little time every day ‘caring’ for their children. The caregivers in India are usually aged grandparents or maids.

As mentioned earlier it is not required to analyse the reasons why both parents work as that would be intruding on personal, moral and ethical beliefs. However having such a situation on hand requires facing the implications, accepting the consequences and admitting to the positive and negative impact on the children. From a psychological perspective let us analyse what research has proven.

A study was carried out by researchers at Bristol University, the results showed that kids are affected when the traditional gender roles are reversed. “We should not simply assume that children will be unaffected by the dismantling of traditional gender roles but consider their needs, as well as those of their parents,” quoted lead author Elizabeth Washbrook, of Bristol University. The reasons why parents are the best caregivers include biological and cultural ones.

It states that mothers would be better for the task of raising the kids as there might be “harmful emotional effects” from the absence of a mother. These effects may be magnified if maternal absence is due to employment which increases stress. The study also shows that most modern moms are so busy juggling work and home that they hardly get two hours to themselves each week.
Added to this is the guilt of working parents that their kids are not getting enough outdoor time as they are afraid that to let them play outside without supervision or with the maid or the guilt that they are not spending enough time with them on their studies.
Support system and ground rules
While many people separate physical and mental health, research shows that physical and mental health may not be unconnected as is usually assumed, and that our brains and bodies may be closely connected.
A report by UCLA researchers Repetti, Taylor, and Seeman (2002) reveals that a child’s genetic predispositions interact with the environment, and in risky families, where the support system is inadequate by caregivers in early children, a child’s genetic risk may be exacerbated leading to the faster development of health problems, which may be more debilitating than they would be in a more supportive environment.
Many of the studies analysed provide evidence that teenagers who abuse drugs and engage in risky sex are more likely to have had hostile, unsatisfying and non-supportive relationships with their parents.

Some suggestions
Working parents who want to make the most of the time they get with their children should keep in mind the following:
• Be sincere and specific with your praise.
• Praise kids only for traits they have the power to change.
• Be careful about praising kids for achievements that come easily.
• Be careful about praising kids for doing what they already love to do.
• Encourage kids to focus on mastering skills—not on comparing themselves to others.
Discipline should be consistent and same at all times everyday, everywhere. Guilt about working hours should not spill into the moral, behavioural and social upbringing of the child.
When maintaining discipline the following should be kept in mind:
• Be consistent in discipline and how you punish your kids. Kids should learn to understand that there are predictable consequences for their actions.
• Set up a daily routine for your younger children and try and stick to it each day.
• Set limits that are appropriate for your child's age and developmental level. Remember that you are in charge and that you will have to say ‘no' to your child sometimes. Ignore temper tantrums.
• Don't argue with your child about the punishment. Ignore any protests.
• Avoid repeating commands. Give a command and if not followed, repeat it once with a warning of what the consequences for noncompliance will be. If not followed, then apply the consequences. No more than three repetitions.
• Understand the difference between rewards and bribes. A reward is something your child receives after he has done something, while a bribe is given or promised beforehand, to try and motivate your child to do what you want. Bribes should be avoided.

At the end of the day the most important aspect is that of trying to be a good role model.  However busy, overworked, stressed or negligent adults are, the best that can be done is to provide children with a safe environment in which they feel secure and loved, and to show them how to be stable balanced human beings.

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