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MODERN PARENTING 4: Parenting and Coparenting

2016/1/5 — 11:05

【文:Water Tsui @Progressive Teachers' Alliance】

It is beyond doubt that responsible parents worldwide have one definite and crystal-clear mission – to try all efforts to create strong, safe, and healthy socialization environments for all children (Coparenting: a conceptual and clinical examination of family system, 2011). The mission is definite but it is bound to evoke anxiety for it is too demanding to be solely accomplished by the two parents in a nuclear family. Children’s welfare should not be protected and assured by parents alone, it should be accomplished by a collection of individuals who step up to take responsibility for the child’s care and upbringing. This is the possible resolution to the problem of anxious parents no matter you are steward-parents or owner-parents.

The idea of coparenting

Children of the 21st century are raised by parents in nuclear families. Though more and more fathers are willing to stay home for the caring duty, the tradition of fathers being the breadwinner and mothers shoulder most responsibilities of caring the child does not go through much change in the modern era. Parenting in these families is carried out mostly by the mother and assisted occasionally by the father. In cases of working parents, in-house maids are commonly employed to take the place of working mothers as full time caregivers. That is to say besides the parents, the full time in-house maid is counted as the individual responsible for the child’s welfare in the household. Children see each and every individual in the family as a member who loves and cares for them. The larger the collection of individuals a family contains, the better the child’s welfare is protected and assured. Therefore, every family should try its best to assemble a responsible group of people to help ensure the child’s healthy development. The support of this large group of people is simultaneously supporting the parents to shed some heavy load of parenting. This is the idea of coparenting and it explains why coparenting is as important as parenting.

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Function of a Family

Every family should have attentive caregivers to tend to the child’s basic needs of nutrition, care, shelter, and nurturance. Every family must keep children safe, protecting them from harm. Every family should aim to teach children to learn self-discipline (which is virtuous) and to abide by the rules of the family and culture that help children learn to trust, to develop care and compassion for others and to be industrious (Coparenting: a conceptual and clinical examination of family system, 2011). This is undeniably the vision and mission of every responsible parent. One can imagine how demanding the job of a parent can be if one has to undertake every function unaided. How can responsible parents not anxious when they whole-heartedly want to put the child’s interest before theirs?

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Drawback of parenting

Anxious parents carry the lion’s share of burden and responsibility in taking up the demanding role of caring for their priceless children. However, their hard work may not pay due to the following factors:

Parental quality

The relationship of child and parent should be strong and supportive which is invaluable in helping the parent to become more sensitive and attuned to the child’s needs. Ideally, both parents should have the characteristics of steward-parents as we discussed before (refer to “How do you define ideal parents?”). On top of that, being sensitive, supportive and warm is highly important. However, in the case of only one parent possesses the above qualities, there is a danger of the child being attached to that parent and is likely to develop insecure relationship with the other parent who is not. The rivalry of the child’s affection emerges and would in return harm the relationship of the couple.

Marital quality

Harmonious parental relationship is vital to the child’s positive development. Each exchange of the couple, each action and interaction is implicitly or explicitly influencing the child. Disagreeing couples in nuclear families face a tougher challenge in creating an environment that favours the child’s nurturance. The emotional management of the child is particularly jeopardized if there is no other family member in the house to buffer the shock once the couple is in heated dispute.

Why coparenting?

Modern parents are the core members of the nuclear family. The ultimate decision-making authority for the child places on the single one or two parents who make all decisions of consequence about the child’s living situation, health care, school options, and legal matters. The downside lies in the possibilities of the domineering parent not acting in the child’s best interests owing to emotional, physical or financial constraints. If the group of people that could ensure the child’s healthy development can be extended beyond household members, the tension can be eased and the relationship of all parties (child-and-parent, husband-and-wife, parents and non-household family members) can be enhanced. It is of utter importance to closely consider who are really involved in the child’s life: the family caregivers, the central attachment (basically the full time caregiver in the child’s infant stage) and the socialization figures (every member in the family). If members of the three parties overlap, the bonding of the child is considered weak and is undesirable. The basic family unit should include everyone involved in the ongoing nurturance and support of a child, regardless of actual household membership. This includes extended family members belong to the basic family unit though not living in the same house. Thus, a protective family structure is formed for the child. This is the ultimate goal of “coparents” and “coparenting”. Coparents are all parental and family figures who contribute to the child’s well-being and become involved in the child’s support and nurturance.

Children are capable of forming different attachment relationships during infancy and early childhood. The number can be indefinite. Bonding is ideally created through family structure. Each attachment serves as the child’s socio-emotional development and thus creates the child’s family bonds. One cannot underestimate the function of emotional bonds of the child. They form the best shield against emotional disruption, deviant behaviour and familial societal risks such as drug abuse, early pregnancy, gang membership and victimization. The forming and securing of family bonds is the main function of coparenting.

Build up a strong coparenting system

There is no definite or ideal number of coparents in the system. In the three-generational families, grandmothers are typically fully functioning coparents and grandfathers often offer sustainable assistance. Kin, and extended family members like maternal or paternal aunts and uncles are all desirable members in the system once they carry out care-giving functions. An uncle who drops by regularly for family get-togethers has no role to play in the system. However, the in-house maid who is a non-kin caregiver somehow becomes the child’s central attachment figure is definitely one of the coparents in the system and should not be left out. Modern parents should build up a strong coparent system containing all these essential team members because the positive coparenting alliance would support not just the child, but also the parents and each parent-child relationship. Involve this large group of individuals as much as possible in daily care and attendance of the child, share your views and ask them for advice in matters relating to all aspects of the child’s growth including health, emotions, school performance, leisure activities, discipline and even interpersonal relationships. Make them the coparents of your child so as to create secure bonds between them and your child.

Key to success

There are unpredictable challenges and influences battering the family unit, coparents should communicate regularly, air and resolve conflicting views to provide consistent and coordinated messages to the child. The most destructive power to the system is coparents’ competition for the child’s loyalty and establishment of a coalition with the child to exclude other coparents. To resolve, there should be mutual understanding, communication and coordination among coparents about the child to maintain a protective family structure. Only a family unit with strong bonds between coparents and the child can ensure a strong, safe, and healthy socialization environments for the growth of the child. The strong bonds created help the parents to ease anxiety and to enforce a psychologically healthy environment for all members of the family unit.

Conclusion

Modern parents in Hong Kong are born in the era of peace and prosperity that enables them to be ideal parents of their own definition. However, the 21st century information and technology bombardment that provides expertise and professional advice in a flick of a finger simultaneously creates immense anxiety. The vulnerable child notion advocated by professionals urges parents to follow the endless list of parenting manuals. The impossibility and inability to faithfully follow give rise to self-doubt and guilt. Worries of anxious parents bring anxiety to children as well, and further harm the harmonious relationship of the family, weakening the obvious vulnerable family bonds of a nuclear family. Modern parents need to create a strong protective family structure for the child and themselves by creating a large group of individuals who can be responsible for the child’s welfare. They are the coparents (which may outnumber the actual household members) of the child. The bond between each coparent and the child provides the best possible protection and assurance for the child’s development. They also provide assistance and relief to parents. Coparenting is the resource that parents get from the families of their own and is always readily accessible. The key to success is the determination to build up a strong coparenting system and the perseverance to keep it functioning well.


References
Irvine, William B. “Doing Right By Children: reflections on the nature of childhood and the obligations of parenthood”
St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House 2001.

James P. McHale, Kristin M. Lindahl “Coparenting: a conceptual & clinical examination of family systems/edited by”
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2011. 1st ed.

Stearns, Peter N. “Anxious Parents: a history of modern childrearing in America”
New York: New York University Press, 2003.

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