Raising Children of Peace
Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones
Chapter 3 Past, Present, and Future
Parenting in a Changing World
We often look back to the "good old days" as the model for a traditional family lifestyle, and remember with nostalgia stories from our own childhood. Visions of mothers at home baking apple pie, grandparents visiting from nearby, uncles and aunts and cousins, and rural settings where children could feel free and safe, float across our minds.
For many of us, looking back to the values of the traditional family in those years has little meaning or connection to our present two career, urban family. In this article, I want to take a creative look at the needs of the often smaller family in our modern, highly technological, career-oriented world.
No matter what the environment, or what our time period, the needs of children are the same. They have needs for love, security, nurturing, training, relationship and a sense of belonging. Certainly, the two-parent family with the availability of an extended family is still ideal, but not always possible. Therefore, we must create a model of parenting that fits our present circumstances.
Pride in Parenthood
First, I believe we need to re-establish the nobility of parenting-motherhood and fatherhood. Before mothers worked outside the home, it was the mother who became the glue to fill in the gaps and tie the family into a whole unit. For example, if Junior was ill, Mom was at home to care for him; if Dad couldn't find his important papers, Mom searched the house and took them to the office. She ran the errands, was the taxi service, supplied the household, and was there when a parent was needed. This role, although often sacrificial, had its own rewards in experiencing the pride and joys of motherhood.
In our two career families, there oftentimes is no such adhesive, although we cannot deny the need for it. Parenting is a noble art. It takes thought, planning, time, and the right attitude to be a good parent in today's world. The effort made will realize no monetary returns, but the rewards of happy children and families are more than we often want to recognize. After all, what do we do with the money we earn? Some of it goes to buy the pleasure which comes free with a happy family. Let's look creatively at some of the problems that parents face and some suggestions for solving them.
Lack of Time
Working parents have an eight-hour-plus chunk of time already accounted for, cutting deeply into parenting opportunities. Much as we might like to extend it, we have only twenty-four hours in a day. This requires efficiency not only in the workplace, but also in the home.
I believe that every family will do well to put time and thought into organizing the family chores so that parents and children can work and play together. Busy parents have less time to play or relax, creating a harried, frantic home atmosphere. First of all, more time can be freed up to play together when the whole family shares the work load. This works best if children are included from a very young age, learning how to care for a home, cook, etc. as they work side by side with their parents. Working together can be joyful; our attitudes toward it may need to be changed.
Secondly, children need to be busy, or entertained. How many of us sigh with frustration while we're trying to get the kitchen floor mopped with a four-year-old tugging at us and begging to be taken to the park? How about including the little fellow in the mopping job? Give him a wet sponge and let him work on the spots. He'll challenge them as if they were armies to be conquered single-handedly by his little self. The same is true of the older child-there is a need for constructive activity. Even a small job outside the home may take the pressure off parents to fill the "constructively occupied" need.
Some Suggestions from Personal Experience
When my four children were young, I often kept them occupied with jobs which made them feel close to me. Cleaning day found them with their own little plastic buckets and sponges and a bit of soapy water. The job: go around the house and wipe off any spots you see-anywhere. This kept them occupied while I, too, was cleaning. Contests are fun. My grown children still laugh about the time I made a "strong man contest" for my eight-year-old son and his friends who were looking for something to do. I gave each a plastic bag and sent them outside to pull weeds in the yard with a prize for the "strongest man; the one who filled the bag first. They were busily and joyfully looking for the largest weeds in order to fill up first when suddenly one of them said, "This is no contest -- Mrs. Spurgin is getting us to pull the weeds!" So ended the weed-pulling, but we all still laugh about it!
We also had a period of time when all the children had a list of "jump starts." I figured they had a lot of pent-up energy to express when they arrived home from school. It is good to capture it before they settle into the "couch potato" mode in front of the TV Every morning I made a list of five-minute "jump start jobs" and posted them on the refrigerator. Upon returning from school, each child immediately did one job and checked it off. This took place before I returned from work. The jobs included things such as:
empty all the trash cans in the house
tear up a head of lettuce in a bowl for salad
put away a load of laundry
gather all the dirty clothes and put them in the laundry
vacuum the living room floor
clean a bathtub
water all the plants in the house
I also found that children are overwhelmed by general directions such as "put your toys away" or "clean your room" So I approached their jobs with specific directions. I called them bite-size jobs. For example: a direction like "everyone pick up 100 Legos" would get them all going, and thousands of Legos would be picked up as they kept counting. Even the baby learned to count this way. Cleaning the room gets done better when you instruct, "pick up all the dirty clothes"; "now, make the bed," etc. Not only is the job less overwhelming, but the parent is involved and the child feels cared for.
Sometimes I gave each child a grocery bag and asked them to pick up everything that wasn't in its right place and put it in the bag. I sat at the kitchen table and sorted out the dumped bags, telling them where to put things that I'd sorted. Thus, pins, paper clips, pennies, buttons, socks, papers, pencils and pens, were cleared out and put away in short order. How much more difficult for them to put each item away separately.
Mowing the lawn may seem overwhelming until you say, "You mow for ten minutes while I trim the hedges." The point of these stories is that with busy, working parents, the whole family found joy in working together, work became play, and by sharing the work there was more time for other play.
There are times when each of us enjoys our own particular activity, but it's wonderful to find something everyone enjoys. For example, I found that doing exercises was fun for all the children while I worked at getting rid of my "tummy:" We also found that shared playtimes, trips and vacations with other families were some of our greatest fun times. This puts less pressure on the small family unit to enjoy each other's activity. There was the time we spent a week at the beach with two other families with children the same age. Sometimes a family went fishing for a day together, other times it was the men and boys who fished, while the girls sat around and talked. Going camping as families is another such activity. One Dad may take a nap while another takes the kids hiking. The tired dad may be ready to play a game with kids in the light of a campfire later that evening.
Today's families have become smaller; children no longer have many brothers and sisters or even cousins with whom to play. It is hard for parents to always fill the need for companionship, but it's good to "be around" By several families sharing trips and vacations, there is great variety in fun-sharing. Parents spend time together while the children play. Or, there are enough people to make a board game fun. This is especially true when a family has only one or two children or is a single parent with children.
Familymates with the Same Values
When children are young, the parents' values are easily passed on, but as the children grow older, values of peers make the greater impact. My husband and I found that the relationships made with other families (in our case it was church families) became the relationships which influenced our children most as teenagers. It is worth cultivating extended-family relationships when they are young, for they will often take such friendships into their youth.
When our children were teenagers, we moved to another state. We knew it would be hard for them to find friends who shared our values. We knew a Japanese family who was moving back to Japan, and whose teenage children wanted to complete high school in America, so we offered to have their teenage girls live with us and go to school with our children. These built-in friends made the move much easier for everyone and our families still share a deep companionship. When there were four teenagers in the house there was less need for the kind of "entertainment" which can lead them into trouble. Finding "family-mates" isn't always easy. One might even try a notice or ad seeking to find d like-minded family to share time with as an alternative to the extended family.
I believe that our communities, employers, and corporations will begin to pay more attention to need for a family-friendly workplace if we, as parents, make creative proposals for the provision of family-friendly workplaces. Take, for instance, child care. For a working mother, finding the right child care situation is paramount. Some corporate parks and large corporations provide child care facilities for their employees. Let's push for more of this. I long to see the day when the family can work and be cared for in close proximity.
Several years ago I worked as a psychological consultant in a nursing home. Absenteeism among employees was an enormous and expensive problem. Mothers of small children worked different shifts, including night shifts. I kept thinking that it would solve several problems if we included a flexible hours child care facility in our large nursing homes. An additional benefit would be that the residents of the nursing home could watch the children at play. Both parents and children could feel a sense of comfort in such proximity and could enjoy the convenience of flexible child care with no extra transportation. Hospitals and any other employers who hire round-the-clock help might consider this.
Shorter Days, Shorter Weeks, and Shared Jobs
Jobs are jobs. Employers are employers. And work is work. A bit of creativity, however, could bring about a much improved situation for families with small children. If employers made shorter work days available to both mothers and fathers, precious extra family time would be available. A four-day week option would allow time for a parent to catch up on the extra needs of the family.
Other options to create or seek may be nine-day fortnights, or "week-on, week-off' arrangements. Some places of employment have created weekend only jobs.
Some husbands and wives have shared jobs, or two employees share a job with the agreement to cover the responsibilities between them. There is a wide variety of part-time arrangements or individualized contracts to be considered. What may seem impossible may, in fact, be not only possible, but desirable to employers. Working by contract, for example, allows the employee flexibility while the employer may prefer not having to provide a benefit package. Penelope Leach, current spokeswoman for good child care, addresses many of these considerations in her book, Children First: What Our Society Must Do-and is Not Doing for Our Children Today. I We might be able to be much more creative with our employers. It's worth a try.
Working at Home
According to a report from Link Resources Corporation, a New York City-based research and consulting firm, the total number of full- and part-time home-based businesses recently hit 24.3 million; this is an increase of 2.1 million people from the preceding year. With the advent of computers, fax machines, and even the Internet, our homes can easily be converted to little work centers. Creative planning can change our work patterns, allowing us to join the ranks of those who work by contract from their homes. For a child, there's nothing more comforting than a parent at home. Modern technology is making it easier to conceive of working there. The trend involving the family working from the home rather than seeking both money and pleasure outside the home is often referred to as "cocooning:" This growing trend is often attractive to both employers and employees and avoids costs such as transportation, child care, and a more expensive wardrobe, as well as tax breaks when having an office in the home. According to Penelope Leach, "around six million American telecommuters currently use computer modems, fax machines, and cellular phones installed for them by firms. 2
Conclusion: Seeking Creative Solutions
In conclusion, I believe parents need to take a look at the lifestyle trends of our times and think creatively about making new opportunities for parenting within them. The alternative is to turn a great deal of the parenting relationship over to educational and other social institutions, which might provide the training and entertaining, but not the security and belonging. Socializing institutions may turn out well-educated, well-trained children, but seldom do they turn out well-loved ones.
Ultimately, every child must know that somebody loves him or her enough to make the sacrifices necessary to parent that child. Parenting is a wonderful God-given opportunity to give and receive love. Carelessness or lack of attention to parenting in our younger years may deny us its rich rewards in later years.
The setting and the pace may be different from those "good old days"-but the exchange of love is the same and every day is an opportunity to watch it grow.
1. Penelope Leach, Children First: W1vat Our Society Must do-and is Not Doing for Our Children Today. Alfred A. Knopf New York, 1994.
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