進步教師同盟網誌│MODERN PARENTING 3: Can you escape the feeling of guilt?
Modern parents should be very familiar with the following scenario: a day before the start of family vacation, you were told to stay in office for a very important mission and that your children had to go without the care of you; during a family outing you found your kids bored by your carefully planned activities and stayed idling; you bought a new formula that promoted brain function for your toddler but he had hard discharge in the following weeks…. What is the most striking emotion that attacked you and saddens you most? Guilt.
First and foremost, guilt is the consequence of the vulnerable children notion. Since children are vulnerable, 21st century parents have the commitment to be responsible to their children in aspects like health, emotions, school performance, leisure activities, discipline and even interpersonal relationships. This implies that parents have to make every choice for their children and any choice made should be flawless, for children are too vulnerable to bear the consequences. This responsibility is too harsh for any parent. To raise a simple example: a child’s undesirable school performance may mean parents have chosen the wrong school, or the wrong class, or even the wrong teacher… Parents put the unnecessary blame on themselves. Because children are vulnerable and fragile, the faults are not theirs, but the parents’. Because children are vulnerable and fragile, they are not the ones to put things right, but the parents. Parents are haunted by the feeling of guilt if they themselves cannot put things right. They would turn to parental compensation as a means to end the hard feeling. In most cases, children are spoilt by unnecessary parental compensation. It is a pity to see how modern childhood and parenthood are distorted by the feeling of guilt. Children are not encouraged to be sturdy but to stay vulnerable, parental roles are not guiding and supporting but attending.
The redefinition of modern childhood and parenthood takes an overpowering influence in modern child-and-parent relationship. The guilt impact and parental compensation do not bring harmony to the family. It just intensifies the pain of modern parents. The tension is frequently experienced in the following aspects: marital leisure of parents, discipline, boredom and leisure needs of children.
21st century parents are born from baby boomers of the last century. Unlike their parents who were born in an age of deficiency, modern parents experienced peace and prosperity since birth. Quality time and personal leisure rank very high in their priority list. This helps to explain the reluctance of modern couples to comply with Chinese tradition of having numerous children for their own marital leisure. What generates guilt in parents is the fact that they have deprived their own children’s right to have fraternal love. And more often, they feel guilty while choosing to spend a short trip together out of town without children around, which means putting marital leisure before the interests of their children. Children would consider such a decision as a sign of selfishness and total negligence of their well being. Children’s complaint plus the idea of weak devotion to them can cause painful guilt to modern parents.
Discipline takes a new implementation in the 21st century parenting. Parents are taught by experts not to induce any negative emotions of anger, jealousy, fear, and in particular guilt to children whenever discipline is enforced. Guilt is condemned because it can paralyze thought and so prevent proper self-control. Parents should help children avoid guilt by enabling them to ventilate. Parents should reason with their children, explain to them the boundaries of good behaviour and give them positive incentives for proper behaviour. The new style of parenting is friendliness, to treat children as friends.
The new duty of guilt avoidance is ironically the main cause of guilt for modern parents. Many parents experienced guilt while being disciplined by parents of their own. The temporary deprivations of love, money or free choice of leisure was widely acceptable in their childhood and even adolescence. They were trained to recognize guilty feeling for forgiveness. Now in the new duty of guilt avoidance, modern parents need to take extra effort in checking their emotions (anger, impatience and humiliation) before dealing with disciplinary issues. Furthermore, listening to children ventilate and then reasoning in response is no easy task for any parents, not to mention parents in Hong Kong who wish so much to have a good time with their children since that is so scarce. Parents are left feeling guiltier about their own fault of incompetence in balancing both.
Boredom and leisure needs
Like no other time in history, keeping children interested and entertained are important parental duties in modern times. Children claiming boredom is now a justifiable complaint. It is the responsibility of parents to avoid or pull children out of boredom. The bored child is something to worry about, and the fault is the parents’. Experts are advocating parent-organized play for children, which should incorporate healthy exercise, creativity, motor skills, and interaction with others. Parents now answer more and more to children’s leisure needs. It creates huge burden to parents wishing to measure up to new standard. Thus gives rise to commercial play and exploration programs offered to well-off families for festival and birthday events, summer vocations and holiday pastime. Financial burden of parents of poverty is expected to be unbearable if they are faced with the same request made by their children. How could they not feel guilty for not able to meet the demand that seems to be “reasonable” from their priceless child? Parents of wealth or poverty alike, burdens of children’s leisure needs generate feelings of guilt. Most of the time even if the price is paid but children still claim to be bored and ask for more fun and pleasure. Children cannot tell pleasure from happiness, which is much long lasting, and cannot be paid for. Happiness has to be gained through toil and devotion liking winning of games or competition after toilsome and tedious training. It is never an instinctive sensation. The painful truth is, even parents cannot tell the difference and think that money can buy happiness.
In fact, boredom is part of modern life. One can easily get lost amid the wide ocean of entertainment and recreation and still feel bored. Time spent in solitary can be constructive and advantages to temperament development. Children should be taught to respond to boredom in a constructive manner. Parents can enable each child to discover himself while time is spent on his own, to find out his particular ability through which to gain self-confidence. Children should be taught to treasure solitary as much as team play. Only parents of self-confidence could accomplish the duty. Those who are not or are blind to children’s need would feel highly anxious about the whole situation.
Anxiety affects parental experiences individually. The divergence in the level of worry might be huge, but none can escape from it. Parental worries are attached to the new idea of vulnerable and priceless child, and intensified by the advice of experts. The overestimated frailty of children urges parents to protect children from any potential danger. Anxiety causes harmful impact on parents and also causes harmful impact on children. A recent survey on how ‘parenting style (in HK) affects kids’ anxiety levels’ revealed that about 16% of the children had anxiety levels above the normal cut-off, and slightly higher than the percentage reported in studies in other countries (The survey was reported by Education Post (January 20 2014), the online healthcare news).
Anxiety, a negative emotion though, can be positive. The effort of modern parents to share more in children’s leisure brings parental satisfaction that is highly rewarding. The rising concern about children’s school progress urges parents to commit to schooling and children’s achievement brings great pride to parents. Modern fathers take a much active role in child rearing than any time before and the pleasure is real and the reward can be great.
Anxiety can be a two-edge sword. It can be a constructive source of power for betterment and advancement; it can also be a destructive force of depression and physical collapse. Modern parents should be ready to seek help and advice if the destructive force shows signs of generation in the process of parenting. They should not be surprised to discover that they are resourceful to resolve the problem. The last article of the series is on the helping hand that can be given to modern parents, help from the family of one’s own.
（Author：Water Tsui @Progressive Teachers Alliance）（photo source：simplicityparenting.com）