Parents and children

Many developments have affected family life in recent decades, but its essential nature remains unchanged. The family is where children are introduced to and taught socializing behaviour, and where they learn to adapt to shared needs, recognizing that they are part of a community. The customs and social skills parents attempt to teach their children vary from culture to culture, although the overall patterns are similar. Two kinds of learning take place: competence or skills learning and acquiring the appropriate feelings about good and bad behaviour and morality. Skills begin with the basics: eating and drinking, talking and personal cleanliness. Children gradually move on to more complex accomplishments, depending on family circumstances and the interests and occupation of the parents.

Children first learn about desirable and undesirable conduct – and appropriate feelings about good and evil – through the obligations of one member of the family to another: respect for parents, helping with chores, older children assisting younger ones, and so on. This is a difficult area because children may find rules arbitrary or ‘unfair’, and much parent-child interaction focuses here as problems arise. Parents need to think carefully how best to reward and encourage learning; it may be wrong to offer ‘bribes’ for basic good behaviour that children should learn to follow without prompting.

To make the most of their capacity to grow, develop and learn, children must feel secure and free from anxiety. Parents need to provide both a straightforward regime of healthy living – a balanced diet, exercise, hygiene and health care – and a loving but firm environment. Good parent-child relationships are often built on a foundation of love and mutual respect between spouses, although there is no reason why an adult bringing up children alone without a partner cannot also achieve a loving rapport. Openness is important in family relationships as is a respect for the rights of individuals of whatever age. Children are especially sensitive to secrecy and hypocrisy. Parents need to recognize that every family is an evolving unit, not a rigid power hierarchy: children are growing individuals and the family structure must develop to accommodate them, otherwise the life will sooner or later go out of it.

Effects of marital breakdown

People generally marry because they have a good relationship and expect that marriage will make it even better, giving them more opportunity to love, help each other and have children. But if, after a while, emotional complications begin to occur – perhaps as a result of external pressures or a drastic change in the expectations and ideals of each partner -the partnership may begin to break down and separation and divorce may ensue. Divorce affects the children of a marriage in many ways and can threaten their socialization if they are very young. This, however, may just as well be attributed to the strife leading to the divorce as to the divorce itself. Research has shown that although divorce does not necessarily increase the danger of maladjustment for the children, maladjustment may be an indication of serious trouble in the family, of which divorce may be just one of the contributory elements.