The evolving family

Published: Sunday | December 9, 2012 Comments 0

Stacey A. Palmer, Contributor

FIFTY YEARS of Jamaican Independence later and parenting, like so many other facets of our lives, has changed. Although an independent nation, we are still struggling to find our way in the parenting arena. Parenting used to be a "community affair". Today, because of the lack of discipline that grown-ups display, it is hardly ever considered prudent to allow parenting to be a community affair.

Darling (1999) in 'Pathways to Parenting', a United Children's Fund document, defines parenting as a "complex activity that includes many specific behaviours that work individually and together to influence child outcomes". Parenting does not operate in isolation, but relies heavily on several things outside of the ambit of the parent in order for it to be effective.

The make-up of the Jamaican family has changed since 1962. Inevitably, this has caused a transformation in the Jamaican parenting process. In 1978, Sinclair and Roberts recognised three patterns of the existing family: married; common-law; and visiting. While these patterns still exist, there are other patterns which have been introduced into the mix, including sibling and extended families. Sibling families are those in which older siblings are left with the task of raising younger ones. Extended families include grandparents and aunts or uncles living in the same household. These different family patterns affect how we parent - or don't parent. Ricketts and Anderson in Parenting in Jamaica (2000) acknowledged that the concept of family in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean is not easily definable.

The evolution of the family structure has resulted in parenting being more challenging now than it has ever been. In many instances, men and women who parent together do not reside under the same roof. Even when they do, they may not agree on parenting methods. The Jamaica Survey for Living Conditions 2002 revealed that 45.5 per cent of all Jamaican households are headed by females.Seventy-five per cent of those families did not have a male parent present. Undoubtedly, most of parenting responsibility lies heavily with the female. It follows then that if sole responsibility rests with the efforts of the female parent, then something has to suffer.

Female provider

Today, because the role of the female has been expanded to include providing for the financial needs of the family, she could find herself the sole financial provider as well as the sole source of emotional support.The role of both father and mother has been so clearly entrenched over the years, that even when men are part of the household, they hardly play a role in the discipline of the children because they subconsciously believe that it is not their place to do so.

'Pathways to Parenting' asserts that while men ought to be breadwinners and authority figures, the glaring "abnormality" in the Caribbean family structure is "male marginality'", which R.T. Smith (1973) says increased over time because of the increase of matrifocality. This male marginalisation theory, although plausible, serves as a cop-out.

On the other hand, there are some males who are making their contribution to the parenting process, thereby making parenting less stressful for their female counterparts. Professor Barry Chevannes, co-founder of Father's Incorporated, made strides in supporting and acknowledging that some fathers were, in fact, interested in their child's well-being and wanted the opportunity to make a positive impact on their upbringing. In so much as this is admirable, some men are hindered by their inability to fulfil their role as providers, which Chevannes et al (1993) report compromises and undermines the male's status as family head and disciplinarian.

The lack of proper parenting has significantly affected discipline among our children. In The Jamaican Family (1993), Leo-Rhynie pointed to the crisis in human relations seen in children's lack of respect for adults. It is counterproductive to sit and complain that our children lack discipline without first accepting that they are a mirror image of the society. In other words, what we put in is what we get out. According to Barry Chevannes in What You Sow Is What You Reap: Violence and the Construction of Male Identity in Jamaica (2002), human behaviour is the result of learning the meanings, values, and intentions of our actions, which, he says, we acquire from family.

Community parenting

A member of Parliament recently endorsed the issue of community parenting. But community parenting cannot be a thing that is haphazardly endorsed. Community parenting cannot be sanctioned if the members of the community share completely different ideals from those of individual families. This does not mean that we cannot look out for each other; however, to go as far as to instruct another on how to behave would call for trust and respect.

According to Leo-Rhynie, many of the problems stem from the fact that many individuals become parents carelessly. According to UNICEF (2000), most Jamaican children are born while their parents are in common-law or "visiting "relationships, but nearly half of these relationships have ended by the time the child is five or six years old.

There is also the issue of parents who are not biologically connected to the children who fall under their care. We are aware of how economic conditions have called for the migration of many mothers and fathers, who, in many cases have left their children in the care of extended family.

The quest for material gains has also had an impact on bringing up children. Many parents who have managed to escape poverty do not readily share with their children the struggles that they endured to improve the quality of their lives. According to Leo-Rhynie, these parents become ashamed of their humble origins and create a false world, detached from their Jamaican heritage, for their children. Problem children are not born; they are made by problem parents.

Parents today are more afraid than they were 50 years ago. The endangerment of our children is of grave concern, so rather than involve a neighbour in the parenting process, parents prefer to do it themselves, regardless of how they do it.

In order to build pillars of strength in the parenting arena, we must first recognise that we are failing our nation by failing our children. Vision 2030 cannot work if we do not invest in our children. Children grow up to become adults and go out into the world to become leaders, so parents have to be prepared to teach the values that would create acceptable outcomes.

In an effort to achieve positive parenting outcomes within the next 50 years, we should consider the following:

Planned parenthood: Being financially stable does not necessarily equate to being emotionally and mentally ready to have a child. Having children should be planned.

End the blame game: If the child is doing well, we all accept ownership of the child; if the child is doing badly, we engage in the blame game. Despite our differences, we should band together to work in the best interests of the child.

Parenting requires the participation of both parents: Men need to become part of the process, even if they are unable to contribute financially.

Start a culture of affirmation: Parents must let their children know that they are proud of them.

Spend quality time with the children: It is not about how much time is spent, but how the available time is used. Engage in simple things such as eating together - it doesn't even have to be at the table - at least one meal together per week.

Talk more with your children - not at them: Allow them to feel free to express themselves respectfully. Talk to them about their interests.

We must recognise that "the restoration and renewal of the family in Jamaican life is a responsibility we all must assume. Ensuring continuity in the face of change is the task of all the nation's citizens," Leo-Rhynie (1993).

Stacey A. Palmer is a masters student at the University of the West Indies, Mona and the host of a parenting blog.

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