Studies find parents feel confident but also challenged

Sunday, January 30, 2005

NEW YORK -- Parents are confident that they can raise strong, healthy and successful children -- if they weren't burdened by challenges beyond their control.

Two studies, the first focusing mostly on white families in 2002 and a follow-up on black and Latino families at the end of 2004, found that parents generally feel they are doing a good job with their kids. They feel squeezed, however, by outside forces, such as job loss, limited child-care options and the cost of health care.

The studies were conducted by the YMCA of the USA, YMCA Canada and Search Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the healthy development of young people. These groups come together as the Abundant Assets Alliance, which aims to craft a community response to providing youth with the support they need to become caring and competent adults.

"Most of the major challenges are dynamics beyond the immediate family; these parents see fewer challenges in parenting that are related to their own families (such as sharing household chores or bickering among children)," according to the Building Strong Families 2004 Report.

"When we look more deeply, we see that the areas where they (parents) are most satisfied relate to what we might call 'private parenting' -- things they do one-on-one with their child. They are much less satisfied with what we might call 'public parenting' -- those parenting actions that involve connecting with the broader community," the report says.

No. 1 on parents' wish list -- spanning both surveys and spread across racial and economic lines -- is to have more time to spend with their children, says Barbara Taylor, senior consultant for program development at the YMCA of the USA.

Parents feel that if they were with their children they could better counter the negative influences that kids see on TV and even at school while teaching life skills, self esteem and other core values, she explains. But, despite their limited hours with their kids, 97 percent of the parents in the first study said they showed their children love and affection each day.

Time is biggest issue

Of course, finding extra hours in everyone's already busy lives isn't easy to do.

"The easiest response is to encourage employers to be family-friendly workplaces," Taylor says. "Many people are even carrying two jobs, so time is the biggest issue they face with their families. Economic stress is often the second issue. The issues are obviously related and the problems snowball."

And, she adds, if parents become unemployed, they spend their "free time" worrying about finances or looking for a job and they still can't focus on the kids.

If parents can't be there -- physically or emotionally -- for children, they would prefer their children be involved in interesting, stimulating after-school programs that enhance them in some way, Taylor says, citing the studies.

The YMCA couldn't agree more, she adds. "Communities need to develop, fund and offer these programs and then reach out to parents and let them know what's available to help take the burden off them."

But relying on community groups and, in some cases, entire communities to help raise children is part of the larger debate about whose responsibility it is to "parent."

"When you look at the study you see that parents tend to go it alone, so I'm not sure that parents see their communities as family friendly at this point," Taylor says.

The YMCA Youth and Family Services Department, a wing of California's YMCA of San Diego County is trying to help young people and parents see their strengths instead of deficiencies, said Laura Mustari.

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