Yours, mine and ours

Chil­dren’s needs re­main un­changed in the chang­ing fam­ily dy­nam­ics.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PARENTING -

AC­CORD­ING to the Na­tional Pop­u­la­tion and Fam­ily Devel­op­ment Board of Malaysia, the av­er­age house­hold size has de­creased and there is an alarm­ing in­crease in the num­ber of di­vorces. Whether the fam­ily has one or two par­ents, chil­dren will still need food, love, se­cu­rity and hous­ing.

In a re­cent con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by Asia Pa­cific Fo­rum on Fam­i­lies on divorce, re­mar­riage, step-fam­i­lies and blended fam­i­lies, I was re­minded of the chil­dren in my nurs­ery school that came from fam­i­lies that were dif­fer­ent from the norm.

One four-year-old girl who had been looked af­ter by her grand­mother re­cently moved in with her sin­gle mother. At this ten­der age, she had al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced two changes in her life: first, liv­ing with her grand­mother and then mov­ing in with her sin­gle mother.

When she first came to my school with her mother, she was about to be part of a larger fam­ily. Her mother was go­ing to marry a di­vorced man who has two chil­dren from his pre­vi­ous mar­riage. By age six, this lit­tle girl be­came a step-sis­ter as well as an older sib­ling to a pair of twins. This is a blended fam­ily with “yours, mine and ours”.

Fam­i­lies are im­por­tant to chil­dren. This is where they learn about re­la­tion­ships. They de­velop their char­ac­ters and val­ues from the adults with whom they live.

As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Mar­garita Fred­erico from the School of So­cial Work and So­cial Pol­icy in La Trobe Uni­ver­sity, Aus­tralia, has writ­ten a paper on What Is The Story For The Chil­dren? How Chil­dren And Young Peo­ple Fare In Dif­fer­ent Struc­tures. In the paper, Fred­erico con­firmed that chil­dren placed their fam­i­lies at the top of their so­cial net­work.

Chil­dren in blended fam­i­lies ex­pe­ri­ence more changes and un­cer­tainty in their lives than those who come from in­tact fam­i­lies (with both par­ents still mar­ried to one an­other). First, they un­dergo the chal­lenges of a parental divorce and then they have to ad­just to a new fam­ily struc­ture. Hav­ing to deal with new par­ents as well as stepsi­b­lings and half-sib­lings can be quite daunt­ing for young chil­dren.

Child psy­chi­a­trist Bruce D. Perry and clin­i­cal so­cial worker Nancy Boyd Webb dis­cov­ered that younger chil­dren’s op­ti­mal brain devel­op­ment needs more rep­e­ti­tion and pre­dictabil­ity. Some chil­dren in step-and blended fam­i­lies may ex­pe­ri­ence a high level of con­flict with their nat­u­ral par­ents and this ex­pe­ri­ence will im­pact them.

For chil­dren who grew up in step-and blended fam­i­lies and who went on to do well later in life, it was thanks to the par­ent­ing styles in their fam­i­lies. Pres­i­dent Obama, who as a child grew up in dif­fer­ent fam­ily struc­tures, once said that he would not have be­come the per­son he is, if he had re­mained cut off from half his roots ( Dreams From My Fa­ther, Text Pub­lish­ing, Mel­bourne, 2004).

Chil­dren in step-and blended fam­i­lies do best when parental is­sues do not af­fect the child’s re­la­tion­ships with loved ones – grand­par­ents, broth­ers, sis­ters, aunts, un­cles, fam­ily friends. Psy­chol­o­gist Meridith Ki­raly of Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne said that chil­dren should be al­lowed to stay in touch with all the fam­ily mem­bers whom they love.

Sadly, when fam­ily struc­tures break down, chil­dren are sep­a­rated from those who cared for them in their early years. Chil­dren need to de­velop their sense of iden­tity. Keep­ing in touch with grand­par­ents, par­ents, sib­lings, un­cles and aunts can greatly help them in their time of need.

Fred­erico’s paper also high­lighted the risk fac­tors that can af­fect the child’s life neg­a­tively. These in­clude stress of sep­a­ra­tion, dis­abil­ity and mental ill­ness, parental un­em­ploy­ment and poverty.

The pro­tec­tive fac­tors in­clude cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant adult in the child’s life who en­cour­ages their pos­i­tive devel­op­ment.

How the com­mu­nity views the chil­dren from blended or step-fam­i­lies makes a dif­fer­ence in their lives. Chil­dren can man­age their be­hav­iour and do bet­ter in school when they feel sup­ported and do not face prej­u­dice.

When I was man­ag­ing the nurs­ery school men­tioned ear­lier, I used to ad­vise my staff mem­bers to treat ev­ery child with re­spect and with­out prej­u­dice.

Dur­ing Fa­ther’s or Mother’s Day, we must ac­cept chil­dren’s re­quests to make presents for both their bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents as well as their step-par­ents. Some chil­dren who live with their grand­par­ents may also want to make them presents on those spe­cial oc­ca­sions.

Ac­cep­tance and a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to­wards chil­dren who come from step-, blended or sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies can help them feel good about them­selves. Chil­dren who have a high self-es­teem will be able to man­age the chal­lenges that come their way and take things in their stride.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.