July 17, 2012

When parents are away

LIKE many in my age group, during our time, my father was the breadwinner of the family, and my mother (like my grandmother, her mom) was at home taking care of us, the kids.

Despite having someone directly rearing us, patiently teaching us values and how to cope in the real world, my siblings and I still didn’t turn out a hundred percent “good kids,” as they say. My eldest brother M, for instance, had his frequent brushes with drugs and rehab, which Mama had to attend to, leaving the rest of us fending for ourselves, or like in my case, clinging to my lola’s skirts.

If it was difficult then to raise kids amid the excesses of the ’60s and the ’70s, I wonder how parents cope these days. Most families have both parents out of the house working, and the kids are usually left alone with the househelp or some glorified yaya.

With this in mind, I recently interviewed family and relationship expert Maribel Dionisio and educator Rowie Matti about issues plaguing families these days.

Rowie believes “it is not impossible to raise well-balanced and very good children even if both parents are working. The parents should make time to plan and agree on how to raise their children well. They have to set their priorities. They have to set rules and stick to it. They should make sure that there is a parent available to attend all-important milestones in the child’s life, like school events that require the parent’s presence. Any free time you have from work should be spent with them.”

Echoing this, Maribel says parents can schedule “one-on-one” dates with each of their kids on weekends, “at least once a week or twice a month to create connections and to get to know each child. On a P20- or P50-budget, Dad and Child No.1 will go out and have a date, that is talk and eat even for just 30 to 60 minutes. Mom will go have a date with Child No. 2. Then they exchange children. It is easier to get to know each child this way even if you are working parents.”

Of course, it helps to have some “good” househelp or nannies around (a challenge to find one these days, to be sure), but Rowie stresses, “Make sure that you get people who have the same values and beliefs as you. Their job description should be very clear. They should know their limits. They cannot take the place of the parents.”

Maribel also encourages the use of technology to help parents maintain their connection and bond with their kids. They can Skype, text or call their kids on the cell phone, or use Internet messenger tools to chat during the weekday. “But parents need to prioritize their children, especially if they are below 12 years old, since this is the formative stage when a child is most open to be shaped according to the values you want to instill. So parents should simplify their lifestyle to make time for bonding.”

Unfortunately, even with good parenting, there are cases when kids just end up, well, problematic. They fall in with the wrong crowd, and get into all sorts of trouble or vices. Worse, they become drug-dependent or alcoholic, and may need some intervention.

Maribel sees a problem child as someone longing for attention. To solve that, parents have to spend more one-on-one time with the child, especially if he is below 12 years old. If he is a teenager, “the parent may need the help of a psychologist or family counselor to find out the root of the problem. If the child is on drugs, then the child needs to be seen by a mental health professional, or a toxicologist or a psychiatrist for treatment.” She also advises the entire family “to go to a family counselor or psychologist to prevent the recurrence of the drug problem once it is treated.”

The earlier the parent intervenes once he or she notices the “negative behavior” in the child, the better for the family, says Rowie.

Aside from spending time to talk to the “problem child,” parents should “set some house rules. Expectations should be set. They should know the punishment if they are not able to follow.” But she says that parents should refrain from physical punishment.

“Parents should be fair and consistent. They should recognize the positive action [of the child]. Parents should give feedback constantly so that the child will know if what he is doing is right or wrong,” Rowie adds.

And, yes, if parents are unsuccessful in changing the “negative behavior” of their child, by all means, seek help from a child psychologist. These days, there is nothing wrong with seeking external help or counseling from a professional.

Maribel further explains that a child is brought to a psychiatrist “when medications are necessary for the child’s emotional or mental condition like depression or bipolar [disorder].” On the other hand, a child psychologist or family counselor is someone who can talk to the child about his behavioral problems. “So for drug addiction, a psychiatrist needs to see the child,” so he is able to prescribe the proper medication.

Rowie believes that while the kids are young, the greatest gift parents can give them is a “positive attitude toward life.” She quotes Dr. Jane Nelsen, a well-known marriage, family and child counselor as well as an exponent on the power of “Positive Discipline”, on “seven ways busy parents can help their children feel special:

Parents should make time to hug your child.

Hold a weekly family meeting. Make time to listen to everyone.

 Ask help from your children. They like to feel important.

Spend regularly scheduled, special time.

• Share sad and happy times as part of the bedtime routine.

Take a few seconds to write a note for your child’s lunch bag, pillow or mirror.

When you run a short errand in the car, ask one of your children to ride along.”

Rowie explains, it is inevitable that both parents have to work these days. “The good news is that more and more companies are giving emphasis on work-life balance; they are more flexible on work schedules that make it easier for both parents to work. Parents should also consider other options like working from home, having a flexible time schedule, or just getting a part-time job. Parents should not feel that both of them have to work without exploring other options available in today’s work place.”

More advice on raising kids from Maribel and Rowie, in my column, next Friday.

(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday, in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on July 6, 2012.)

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