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Absentee Parenting essay

In modern American society, bearing and raising children is more than an entitlement, it is an option. From a historical perspective, throughout many cultures the belief systems have instilled a variety of different views on both the child as an individual and the child rearing process as a whole. The concept of childhood is a relatively modern invention. Historians suggest that the “traditional” concept of childhood, beginning at birth and extending to eighteen, did not become widely accepted until the twentieth century. The unique and diverse challenges that face people who make the choice to have children, is a prominent factor in the experiences of their children. We are all affected by our childhood. The experiences and memories we are left with play a large role in determining the adults we become. This has led me to search for an answer to something that has been bothering me quite a bit: Am I an absentee parent now that I have returned to school and work full time? I am also worried that this will have long-term effects on my young children, since psychological research has proven that children process the majority of their life skills before the age of three.

My children look at the world in their own special and surprising ways, as do all kids. Every child is a unique being with unique opinions and a unique point of view. Between the ages of three and five, children develop motor skills, social skills, their imaginations, the ability to follow directions, the skill to think visually, and the capacity to understand and express emotions. How children view the world and function within it is in direct relationship to these stages of development. The joy I have experienced when I have been given the opportunity to witness one of these milestones has been tremendous. Yet, the disappointment I felt at missing my daughter’s first potty experience in December 2002, because I was at work, cannot be expressed in words.

I believe that everything in our childhood from difficult experiences to fabulous adventures truly form our psyche. Studying the issue of parenting from a psychological viewpoint, I am taking into regard the 20th century controversy of nature vs. nurture. I believe that we can overcome most inherited difficulties given the proper familial support; therefore I believe nurture can overcome nature. Would Watson and Crick agree with me? What did they come to believe in their studies of the structure of DNA? While the next few years will undoubtedly see major progress in rooting out genetic factors that influence our likelihood of contracting common diseases, what about the role that genes play in shaping human behavior and personality? However, with the full genome sequence now accessible over the Internet, scientists hope to pin down many more genes that code for various aspects of human behavior.

In today’s American society we have come to value possessions as much as we do a strong family unit. This has led to the common reality of both partners working full-time jobs. Of course, from an economic standpoint, there are couples who must both work outside the home to afford basic necessities, and there are couples who each choose to work outside the home to perpetuate a certain upper-class lifestyle. These are all individual choices, based on individual preferences. In the United States about forty-four percent of single mothers with children under the age of three work outside the home. Ironically, the percentage of mothers in two-parent families with children under three who have entered the workforce is even higher at fifty-seven percent. Thus, there is a special stress even among parents fortunate enough to have employment: the stress of having too little time to spend with one’s child. The typical child spent about 30 hours per week with a parent in 1965; by the 1980s, this interaction time had declined to about 17 hours.

There are many different schools of opinion that state small children need their mother with them on a constant basis. How has this affected the recent generations of children? How has this affected the adults that they have become? How has this affected how those generations are raising their children? The answers that have revealed themselves differ greatly based on cultural diversity.
My German heritage has always lent itself to a matriarchal system, where everyone shows reverence to my Oma, and asks her advice on life issues. The women in the family have all worked outside the home, while being the omnipresent influence in the household. Basically, everyone does what Oma tells them they should do, and when she’s not available the next in line is a great-Aunt and then your own Mother. In my husband’s Hispanic family, however, a patriarchal system is adhered to. The men perform the lofty task of maintaining the financial responsibilities of the household almost entirely on their own. The women dedicate themselves to caring for the children, and some are very insistent that once you become a Mother that is your only focus. I have found that each system works very well, the adults of our generation from both families are all well-adjusted people with high self-esteem. Both families emphasize education, morality and filial piety. I have come to conclude that the nature of the family’s structure is not what is important; it is the positive interaction of the family with each other which determines the fate of the children.
After battling tumors and cysts, I was told I would never be able to give birth to children. This was something that I accepted. I wanted children, but I resolved myself to the fact that I would probably just be a career woman. Through advancements in medical technology I was given the opportunity to have laparoscopic laser surgery to remove scar tissue build-up from previous surgeries. This not only reduced the severe pain I was having, it also made conception a possibility. In December 1999 God decided the time was right, he gave my husband and I our first daughter, Audrey, and nineteen months later he blessed us with Annabella. The future of these two little girls is the focus my inquiry. On my thirtieth birthday I decided that, for my own personal fulfillment, I needed to complete my education. Finishing my degree has become my goal, but I am worried that I have selfishly taken quality time away from Audrey and Belle. I work fulltime, I am going to school fulltime and I am anxious to discover if I have become an absentee parent.

In this society of advanced medical techniques, many children have entered lives that would otherwise remain untouched by the joy they bring. Through my research I discovered that children conceived through Assisted Reproductive Technology, or ART, typically have parents who express greater warmth toward their children, are more emotionally involved with them, interact with them more, experience less stress related to parenting and report greater feelings of parental competence. This has been attributed to these children conceived due to ART being so desperately wanted for such a long time. As reported by Susan Golombok, PhD., of City University in London, a leading researcher in the field:
People who are willing to go through infertility treatments, which can be very expensive and can stretch over many years, are those who are really committed to becoming parents. Then when they do become parents, they’ve waited so long for their children that they’re just thrilled to have them.
This includes atypical parents such as surrogate mothers with single fathers raising the children, lesbian moms and older couples in second marriages as well as traditional couples struggling to form a family unit so that they may be fulfilled. The children fortunate enough to be born to any of these parents are rarely subject to the absence of their parents either physically or emotionally.
There are many types of absentee parents, there are many reasons for absentee parents, and there are many excuses for absentee parents. Alcoholics and drug dependants do not constitute the entire network of absentee parents. How many of our politicians, community leaders, and civic movers would rather attend a club meeting to discuss child violence rather than stay home and be with their kids? A child can be orphaned, neglected, or simply abandoned while still being loved very much by their parents. The children left behind, regardless of the situation, can often feel ignored and alone.

Geographic ramifications can play a huge role in the amount of children left behind. According to Dr. Pat Thompson, the climate, irrigations, crops and diseases of a region establish the type of civilization or culture which will arise there.

In the year 2001, there were a total of 34,294,000 orphans in Africa. Their parents’ deaths are due to AIDS, other disease, starvation, and war. Experts say by the year 2010, there will be 41,994,000 orphans living in Afric.

The demographics found in the villages of Africa are of very old people, and very young people. The parents have died, and the children are dying. One report suggests that by the year 2010 one in three children in Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and South Africa will have lost a parent to AIDS. And most of those born with AIDS will die before they are 5 years old. The family unit is non-existent, as we Americans know it. In Africa, it truly does take a village to raise a child.

The potential for social unrest, social instability is pretty significant. You have a very substantial proportion of your population that has been undereducated, malnourished, marginalized, is disaffected, not able to go to school.

More needs to be done to help families and communities support orphaned children. The total HIV-infected Indian population is estimated at just under 4 million. Although infection rates in India are a fraction of those in Africa, health officials worry that the disease can still have a grave effect on the nation’s future. When my own brother, Patrick, died just before Audrey’s first birthday, his body had become ravaged with the effects of the AIDS virus. We named her Audrey Patrice Garcia after him, and he had never smiled brighter than the day she was born. If the death of a single family member can have such devastating effects on one family, I shutter to imagine what is caused by the deaths of many family members in a small village which relies on strong people for mere existence and harvesting of crops and other valuable food sources.

World politics is also now playing a part in absentee parenting. America has deployed nearly 105,000 troops into Iraq, with the total number of American and Coalition members deployed due to Operation Iraqi Freedom ending at nearly 300,000. A soldier answering the call to Duty can bring about heart-wrenching consequences if that soldier is also a single parent. Will their children recognize the sacrifices they have made for duty and the future of our nation, or will they only remember that Mommy never saw their first dance recital and Daddy didn’t go to the Spelling Bee? There are also countless children orphaned due to the ravages of war. Their parents, regardless of whether they die defending their country or their beliefs, leave behind children who may never have the opportunity to make valuable contributions to society because they are forced to become older than their years. It has been widely reported that in certain Middle Eastern countries picking up a weapon themselves is all a child knows. History teaches us that this is a society which has always been embroiled in strife. The children are subsumed into this violent culture, a culture which was the origin of the first civilization in history. Perhaps it is this tenacity that helped them organize the people into the river valley civilization of Mesopotamia.

My quest has led me through several disciplines. Some of the statements I have uncovered on the subject of absentee parenting stem from intense scientific research, and some are simply ludicrous to me. For example, it has been noted by researchers that absentee parenting is linked to teen pregnancy and controlled substance abuse. In some parts of Bexar county the pregnancy rate for girls 15 to 17 years old was 106.7 per 1000, this is four times higher than the national average. Even more alarming are the pregnancy figures for girls aged 10 to 14; those are twice that of the national average at 1.7 per 1000. A ten year-old child should be concerned about Barbie and pop quizzes, not diapering and nurturing her newborn infant. There is hope for the future of Bexar County and the problems of the teen pregnancy rate. Through community initiatives such as Project Worth, teens are given the opportunity to focus on more positive choices. In school districts such as Northeast Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, parenting classes are offered in the classroom setting so that teen parents are given the opportunity to not fall into the traps of absentee parenting.
A survey, from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York, shows a correlation between teens at low risk of substance abuse and those who live in highly structured households. The research found that youths in “hands-off” households were twice as likely to abuse alcohol or drugs as the average teen, and that youths in this category who had absentee parents were four times as likely to engage in substance abuse as children in highly structured homes.

Through my inquiry I have also found that certain organizations, such as Exodus International, posit that homosexuality does not have a biological basis but is actually caused by absentee parenting. My investigation has required that I filter through the misinformation and propaganda to develop my own hypothesis. In my investigation to determine if having an absentee parent shapes the adults the children become, I uncovered some interesting research. Apparently, the major cognitive change alleged to occur during the adolescent years involves the emergence of “Formal Operations”. Formal Operations are said to be established between the ages of 11 and 15, and are reflected in an increased ability to reason hypothetically independent of concrete situations, and to describe one’s own reasoning processes. Through this research I can conclude that while at this young age my daughters do not understand why I am not spending as much time with them, but when they have become young adolescents they will understand and appreciate the sacrifices everyone in our family is making for their future. It is therefore my expectation that this will, indeed, affect the adults my daughters become, and shape their beliefs. They will understand how important education is to me, and should be to them, and they will be able to interpret how different their lives would be if I had a lower earning potential. After all, I was a teenage girl once, and at that time designer clothes were a very important status symbol. I am doubtful things will change in ten years!

I must use analytical skills to evaluate a survey I have conducted on absentee parenting. This survey has given me a huge amount of insight into the vast difference of public opinion. This survey divides the population polled into age group, income range, sex, and parents/non-parents. Examination of these survey results shows overwhelming support for a working mother returning to school. In fact, 95% of the respondents declared that a working mother has not abandoned her child to pursue her own goals. Another interesting response came in asking if the people surveyed would have been more fulfilled as adults if their parents would have spent more time with them as children. There was a very thin margin of difference in the responses: 45% responded “Yes”, 50% responded “No”, and 5% chose not to respond the question asked. This leads me to assume that either these people spent adequate quality time with their parents when they were children, or they feel that more quality time would not have made a significant difference in their overall contentment as adults. In general, the belief of the people who responded to my survey is that the overall benefits to the children outweigh the lost moments now. Out of all respondents to my survey, only one person hesitated in their answer when I posed the question, “Do you think that a working mother has abandoned her children to pursue her own goals.” This response was, “Yes & No. If a mother leaves to pursue her goals to better herself and her children’s life it is not abandonment as long as they are well taken care of. But, a mother that abandons her children to pursue her own goals to better herself only, is unspeakable.” When asked for an honest opinion about a working mother returning to school, this same respondent replied:
I believe that the biggest mistake a parent can make is having children first and then pursue their education. It should be education before children are brought into their life. People always say their kids just don’t know the difference, don’t under estimate a child’s way of feeling things. They know and feel when things are different or not right. What you teach your child in the early years will stay with them a lifetime. I believe that a child’s role model should be their parents. I would wait to further my education when the children are older and you will be setting an example for them when they see and are able to understand that you believe that education is important. That speaks louder than words.

I have not let this theory dissuade me from pursuing my education, however I do understand the reasons behind it, and I even embrace the honesty. The overwhelming support from every other respondent was very encouraging, and I have been grateful for this enlightening data. The most fascinating answers given were in reply to my inquiring about their favorite childhood memories. These were such beautiful, well thought-out answers and I was truly appreciative that I was allowed to somehow share in the cherished moments.

I have utilized statistical data to determine if economically disadvantaged segments of society are more prone to absentee parenting. What I have uncovered is that, through the implementation of government programs, parents are given incredible opportunities. They can now build self-assurance through working outside of the home and feel secure that their child is in a safe environment receiving developmental and educational advantages they might not otherwise be rewarded with. The advantages of social interaction and the Head Start program are invaluable, in comparison to a child sitting at home watching the television with their depressed parent subsisting on welfare. While some would argue that this time away from the child results in absentee parenting, the effects for the parent and child have proven to be extremely beneficial. The parents who partake in these programs find it possible to live more rewarding lives and become more educated themselves by contributing to the community.

Ultimately, my entire foray into the subject of absentee parenting has, directly and indirectly, focused on the sociological aspects. This is because the subject I have found myself consumed with is so integral to the structure of all societies. My investigation has led me to understand the importance of the child rearing process, as well as how it ultimately affects the future of the family unit and individual communities. It is natural that cultural beliefs affect the manner in which a child is raised. This does influence the way that child will conduct himself or herself as an adult, and the civilization that the culture they are a part of becomes. Each moment the child spends with the people in their life affects them; this leads me to conclude that the importance of quality family time is just as important as the quantity of time spent. However, I have also discovered another contributing factor, which I did not expect: The amount of time I have been spending away from my children is affecting me as well. I have been concerned about the effects of absentee parenting on Audrey and Annabella, when in actuality caring family members just clamoring to spend time with them surround these little girls.

They are much more fortunate than many children around the world.
Ultimately, I feel that I have been the one who is most affected by this decrease
in time spent with my children.

The reality is, in mid-January my girls would cry when I had to leave for work or school, not that I wanted them to, it truly made my heart ache when I would drive off knowing their tear-stained faces were still in the house. But, there’s something quite poignant when the day came that I kissed them goodbye and they just waved and said, “Bye, Mama.” It seems that in the short months since I have returned to school, my children have already become slightly less attached to the idea of me staying with them as often as possible. Another reality check, when my three year-old fell down and scraped her knee I tried to comfort her but she cried for Grandma, one of her primary caregivers now that my priorities have shifted. This made me grateful for the love she is receiving, but at the same time guilty and jealous.

My examination of the subject of absentee parenting has also led me to inspect the history of absentee parenting and repetitive patterns that could give clues about the effects of absentee parenting. I have had neither the training, nor the experience to make any assumptions. However, I do personally know an expert. My Grandmother was abandoned by her own Mother at the age of six. She was the oldest of three children, and was left to care for her brother and sister in a Michigan logging camp run by her Father. The State of Michigan simply would not allow children to be raised in this environment, and especially not by a man, in the 1930’s, so they were put into Foster Care.
When she was an adult, she became a Foster Mother of forty-three children, and eventually adopted one of the girls, my Aunt Phyllis. This served a dual purpose; she was able to effect a positive change in the lives of as many children as possible, and she gave her own daughters many fabulous opportunities to learn about caring for others. I can clearly see how the experiences she has had with absentee parents affected her in a statement she sent me on the subject.

Every child is a different personality. It makes no difference if they are your biological children or foster children; they all have special needs. It does not seem to make a great deal of difference if children are abandoned by their parents, removed from bad situations, or lost a parent by death, they are all a little frightened and feel abandoned. When they are put into another equally bad situation it can, and often does leave permanent personality damage.

My Grandmother continues on to say:

There are situations where children would not be abandoned if parents could get more support from the extended family. Our day care and foster care for children gets less attentions and inspections than a cow barn. Children are put in day care situations where they are left without attention for hours at a time. They are taken there hurriedly by parents who don’t bother to tell them they are going and when they will be back. The children are feeling abandoned.

I find this incredibly enlightening information, even when I detach myself from the fact that she is my Grandmother. When I evaluate and process the information as being from someone who has had many experiences with children, and even worked for the Texas Education Agency, I feel hopeful for the futures of my girls. Audrey and Belle are not in day care, we have elegantly choreographed every moment to ensure that a family member is with them at all times. In fact, our family is thrilled when it is their turn to be with the girls. Audrey and Belle make sure that they are always at the center of everything – there is no way my children would allow anyone to leave them without attention for hours!

My Grandmother’s life holds positive sociological inferences; it is the responsibility of society as a whole to care for the others within that society. This idea can be construed as an extension of the Confucian ethical system, but it dates back even further, to Biblical times. The Bible tells us, “Pure and undefiled religion is this, to care for orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27(O.S.B., n.d.). Even in ancient times bearing children was a lofty encumbrance, yet today we are graced with more knowledge and assistance from outside resources than has ever been available to parents before. The drawback is, with the exception of Child Find, the parent must initiate these services themselves and be willing to appropriately facilitate these resources if they are going to positively benefit the child. If the parent is unwilling to seek help, or unable to assess their situation and realize that their child is in need of services then the child is at the mercy of the system to identify his situation and offer services that might be available.

I have many more steps to take before I can draw conclusive evidence as to the emotional well being of my children. Do I fall into the category of absentee parent? Are they affected since we have so much help from our family? I also have many other decisions to make once I have drawn a conclusion. Should I go to school part-time? Should I wait until they are older and then return to finish my degree? Should I continue at this pace, so one day they will be proud of their Mama?
My questions originally stemmed from my own feelings of guilt about abandoning my children to further my education while they are still quite young. I can quite simply justify my reasons: The Future. However, I cannot justify the huge void I personally feel from the loss of their companionship. When I arrive home from night classes after 9:00 I feel so cheated out of saying prayers and kissing them goodnight before they go to sleep. When they wake up in the morning and I’ve already left for an early class, I yearn to partake in our silly ritual of “The Good Morning” song that we made up.

I began this journey of discovery to fulfill my own desires, to earn my bachelor’s degree and to make my family proud. What I have ultimately discovered is that I must concentrate on being proud of myself. When the time comes for me to review everything I have done in my life, what I will be the most proud of having accomplished is raising Audrey and Annabella. In my heart I do not believe that my girls have suffered the ill effects of absentee parenting. But, have I been an absentee parent? I still cannot answer that question, you may judge me on that yourself. I do know, that I was raised by a single mother who got her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Southwest Texas State University while teaching at Robert E. Lee High School. I’ve neglected disclosing this information until this point because I wanted you to make your own hypothesis about my inquiry before drawing you into the entire story. You see, throughout my childhood my mother was always striving to further her education and make me proud of her, and I truly am, but as a small child I yearned for her time and not her increased future earning potential. Therefore, I have decided that I must find a peace in the middle of what is best for our futures and what is best for our family. My husband and I fall into the category of the two-parent family working to make ends meet. It is not financially possible for me to quit my bookkeeping job at this point. After this semester I will take the summer off of school to produce puppet shows with my girls, paint our fingernails, and take swimming lessons. Because that is more important to me than graduating on the schedule I had originally established for myself. In the long semesters I will attend the university part-time, rather than trying to work six days a week, take twelve hours, get on the dean’s list and be super-mom. It may take me several years to finish up these last thirty hours, but through this inquiry I have come to realize what is truly important. I would hope that after burrowing through my research, you do too.

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