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Dear Nighat Ara,
I am a mother of a thirteen-year-old daughter. I realise that this is a crucial stage for her, when she is undergoing all sorts of changes- physical and psychological- and I also realise that I should be with her to help her out in the process. Unfortunately, I am working full time in an NGO, and my workload even forces me to stay back at the office overtime. As a result, I am having a difficulty in balancing the two ends.

The real problem is, my inability to do so (which I shamefully admit) has instilled in me some kind of a guilt conscience. I try to make up to my daughter for the lost time by buying her expensive gifts and toys. I don't want to pamper her, but I am starting to feel that she is taking these gifts for granted. At this stage, I can't even say "no" to her, because I keep thinking that this is my entire fault in the first place.

Please help me out with this. I don't know how to handle the situation, but want to stop it before it gets out of hand.
Thanking you,
Guilty Mom

A: Preadolescent and adolescent children are supposed to be learning to explore the world on their own without holding their mom's hand. There is always excitement, thrill and adventure in exploring this new mysterious territory. At this age, they also try to strive for independence and push the boundary of their parents to establish their own. Friendship and other worldly matters (e.g. politics and grouping among friends, opposite sex etc.) seem to keep them preoccupied. They are likely to be swinging between a need for care and protection at one time to a desire for freedom from parental control at another. Instead of constant supervision, they need understanding, guidance and encouragement.

Parenthood is often a guilt trap- there is rarely a parent who never felt guilty for failing to meet the child's need. Normal guilt tells us to amend the things we did wrong, however debilitating or neurotic guilt keeps coming back even when there is nothing more that could be done in that regard. Parents are humans too. Sometimes over responsible people take on the guilt of other people's wrong doing and overburden themselves unnecessarily. Over performers try to be everything to everybody all the time ignoring normal human limitations and set themselves up for failure. In the continuum of wellness to illness in a family, no matter how hard one is trying some degree of dysfunction is almost inevitable.

Out of guilt if one is choosing to buy expensive gifts for unattended child, then s/he is actually facing a “no win” situation! Trying to buy love or loyalty with valuable gifts can backfire in the long run after it takes a repetitive pattern. The child starts believing love is a negotiable, bargainable “object”. These children are more at risk of becoming manipulative in nature and prone to develop an unhealthy emotional relationship with money.

The physical and emotional abandonment felt by the mere absence of the care giver (mother) might create a huge sense of emptiness inside the child, which can't be measured by any known scale. Children feel abandoned if they find out their parents have “no time” for them. They feel worthless as they are “not worth of their parents' time” (e.g. if you had loved me you would have spent more time with me! You love your job more than you love me!). As brain gets trained to accept object as a replacement of love, as a natural consequence money can become omnipotent in their lives. The painful emptiness inside can give rise to severe craving for money/objects (only coping mechanism). Reversely, they may develop strong repulsion towards money/objects, which may push them to bohemian lifestyle.

It is important that children are told honestly and directly what is going on, children are sometimes amazingly smart in comprehending complex life issues. Teenaged girls are supposed to understand what it means to be getting stuck at work and can be more accommodating than we would imagine them to be. Children tend to co-operate better when are approached in an honest respectful way. However, keeping in mind the best interest of the child, sometimes parents have to be sensitive, selective and diplomatic in sharing information with a child. Telling frankly the reason of working late (e.g. financial reason, promotion, fear of getting fired, slow worker, an opportunity to prove yourself etc.) is a relatively wise approach to include her in the loop. A quick phone call to assure her that she is always being loved and cared for is a damage control measure. Asking her directly how she feels about your working late can also clarify the situation. Say “No” to regular gifts and “Yes” to spending money on some joint activities like- dining at a restaurant, amusement park, party at home etc. at a mutually convenient time. Holidays and weekends can be used to fill up the gap. The priceless moments of shared joy tend to stay brighter in memory while everything else (expensive toys, gifts) tends to fade out.

A lot of stay-home moms spend plenty of time with their kids; they feed them, clean them and discipline them well but still remain emotionally distant or unavailable to their kids. Sometimes, too much parental presence could be smothering for a child as well. Bottom line is, optimum productive communication (quality time) has to be the target as opposed to excessive, unproductive or counterproductive communication.

Getting more organised in time management, delegating responsibilities, prioritising the tasks in hand and reaching out for appropriate help (e.g. colleagues and fathers, grandparents, friends at home etc.) are important factors in balancing the two ends. Find out the reason of your work overload. Some survey suggests that women are weak negotiators at workplace and tend to settle for less than they deserve! Learning to say “NO” to supervisors/employers may also be an issue here.

Unfortunately some women feel as if they have no right to have their own life once they become a parent or feel guilty for having some fun time on their own. In the process of taking care of everyone else, they forget to take care of themselves and finally fall flat on their faces. Working mums must challenge many of these fundamental beliefs handed down to her in her childhood. The traditional values that women tend to hold dear in order to be a good wife, good mother or a good woman as a whole, need to be revisited to accommodate her new role as a productive member of the society. As more and more women are joining the workforce, her role as a parent has to be redefined and readjusted. Modern fathers also have to step out of their conventional role and share the care taking role of working moms, their day-to-day involvement with children has to be adjusted and balanced with their wives. Families with both parents working have to run in a team spirit based on trust, co-operation and goodwill. Work condition has to be as conducive as possible for raising young children. Flexible working hours, family days (extra holiday), extra sick days (to take care of sick children) etc. are very logical demands of working mothers with young children.

Wise people used to say: “Give me a good mother, I'll give you a good nation”, now wiser people are saying: “It takes the whole village to raise a child”. As a guilty working mother, you can only do your best and wait for the nation's conscience to work in order to make your job easier for its own sake.

 
 

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