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Parents and Family

This article is a translation of "Chapter 12 - Monographs on Elementary School Children, Special Issue 2005" published by Benesse Educational Research Institute, Benesse Corporation.

People's lifestyles have diversified as seen in the tendency to marry late and the increasing number of non-married couples and married couples with no children. The total birth rate decreased to 1.57 in 1989 and 1.29 in 2003, and it is difficult to halt the trend toward the declining birthrate. Background factors are the increase in highly-educated professional women and concerns regarding child rearing in the future. In addition, the family and the role of parents have been influenced by the emergence of an affluent society, the disruption of community, changing values, the development of an information society and structural changes in society. In light of these factors, this chapter will discuss the changing image of the family including how to be a parent, parents' relationship with their children, and the parental role in child development.

<Past issues referred in this chapter>
"Fathers in Japan", vol.11-12, 1992
"Mothers in Japan", vol.13-1, 1993
"Family Life Today", vol.22-3, 2003
"Child rearing in the era of a declining birthrate", vol.15-1, 1995
"Have Mothers Changed", vol.17-1, 1997
"Relationship between Elementary School Students and their Parents from a Survey of Mothers", vol.21-1, 2001

1. Changes in Father/Mother Image

In the 1980's and 1990's, the image of fathers and mothers changed as seen in discussions that mentions a "friend-like dad" and the "new family." As a part of Monograph on Elementary School Children, national surveys entitled Fathers in Japan (vol.11-12) and Mothers in Japan (vol.13-1) were conducted in 1991 and 1992 respectively, to examine children's images of their father and mother.

1) Fathers Play Multiple Roles
First, the survey attempted to find out children's perceptions of their fathers by asking what made them proud of their father. Nearly 90% of children were relatively/very much proud of their fathers working hard, followed by a little less than 80% who were proud of their fathers being gentle and knowledgeable. More then 50% mentioned their fathers were good at sports, earned a lot of money, and worked in a leadership position (vol.11-12; Figure 33). Rather than seeing their fathers in terms of earning power, a leadership position, or large social role played outside the home, children viewed him as he was at home as hardworking, gentle, or knowledgeable about many things. Less than 20% perceived their fathers always/often thinking about work when they were at home. More than 70% answered that their fathers talked with the family, 60% mentioned their fathers took the family somewhere, and about 50% stated their fathers played with them and helped them study. The results point to a significantly home-oriented father (vol.11-12; Figure 17).

Figure 12-1 shows whether fathers can be a developmental role model for children. Fathers who are considered to be a good developmental role model for children are capable of taking care of the family and children. Children evaluate their fathers through the personal/family relationship and take this as a role model. Hence, the today's father turns out to be one who takes good care of children and devotes himself to the family. Children perceive this type of father as strong and reliable as well as gentle and cheerful (vol.11-12; table 7), characteristics that were once attributed to mothers. In other words, today's father fulfills both traditional mother functions as well as the traditional father's role, and in this sense, it can be said that fathers play multiple roles. This type of father has authority over the family, plays a leadership role, is reliable, and is highly regarded for his personal character and social functions (vol.11-12; Figure 39). Fathers today are said to be absent, but in actuality, even when absent, they are not totally invisible. Rather children see fathers as playing multiple roles and this image is sufficiently functioning as a role model with which children can identify.

2) Mothers Shifting from Devotion to Enjoyment
The survey which shows that today's fathers are seen to play multiple roles also focused on the roles of mothers. In this survey, 73.6% of the mothers were working. Among them, 42.5% started working after their child entered elementary school because at this stage, they could take a break from child rearing, and 39.1% have been working since their child was an infant. Amid women's increasing participation in society, these mothers try to balance work and family (vol.13-1; Figure 20, 22).

Table 12-2: The Degree of Mothers' Satisfaction with Child Rearing, Marital Relationship, and Their Own Lifestyles
(vol.21-1; Table 3-16 and 3-17)

Figures 12-2 and 12-3 indicate how children perceive their mothers' behavior. According to Figure 12-2, more than 80% of children think their mothers most likely/often: are considerate of their grandparents; serve dinner for everyone in the family; place importance on celebrating birthdays and family events; and worry about laundry when the weather is bad. These items represent the traditional image of the devoted mother. On the other hand, the items in Figure 12-3 assume a contemporary lifestyle for mothers. In response to these items, 80% of children answered their mothers have a lot of friends; 60% mentioned their mothers talk for a long time on the phone, and a little less than 50% stated their mothers put makeup on to look nice. The result indicates that mothers enjoy their own lives by interacting with many friends and looking fashionable.

The devoted-type mother appears to be responsive to the child's surroundings and feelings, while being active in social activities such as PTA meetings, leisurely chatting with friends over a cup of tea or lunch, and taking lessons for self-enrichment (vol.13-1; table 6). On the other hand, the mother who focuses on enjoyment is outgoing with a wide range of activities, while caring about her family by celebrating family birthdays or cooking traditional dishes (vol.13-1; Figure 52 and 53). Therefore, the contemporary mother turns out to be the mother who values and enjoys her own life as long as it does not disturb the balance in her life, while still retaining the characteristics of the traditional mother who is devoted to her family. Children evaluate such mothers highly and are proud of them (vol.13-1; Figure 48).

Mothers today are mostly the devoted type when their children are little, and as the children get older, mothers use some spare time and money to enrich themselves or participate in social activities. Mothers can be viewed as having a shifting lifestyle.

2. Parent-Child Relationship and Mother's Awareness

According to the national survey mentioned above, today's parents can be seen as made up of a father with multiple roles and a mother with roles that shift from devotion to enjoyment. This section will introduce the survey on mothers, and discuss the parent-child relationship as well as mothers' perception of child-rearing and the parent-child relation in the era of a declining birthrate.

1) Mothers and Care of Children
Table 12-1 shows the parent-child relationship focusing on how mothers take care of their children. More than 60% of mothers always wake up their children, prepare breakfast, see their children off to school, put their children's laundry away in the chest of drawers, and say good night to their children. If mothers who answer "often" are included, the percentages go up to more than 60% for almost all items listed in the Table. The results highlight a gentle mother figure who takes good care of her children.

We will now examine what mothers think is important. In their responses, 80% think it is important to listen to their children talk about their day. More than 70% pointed out the importance of saying good night to their children and seeing them off to school. Although mothers consider these three things very important and they always see their children off to school or say good night to their children every night, only 45.2% actually listen to their children talk about their day. Mothers seem to have difficulty making time to talk with their children despite their intentions.

Until when do mothers plan to take care of their children? Mothers are willing to take care of the daily needs of their children they finish junior high school, provide financial support until their children earn their own living, and make dinner until their children get married. Basically, mothers plan to take care of their children until they get married (vol.21-1; table 2-7).

2) Mothers' Lifestyles and Ways of Life
According to their responses, 90.8% of mothers very often/often cook homemade dishes, 67.4% go on a family trip once or twice a year, and 87.1% are concerned about trash separation and environmental issues. There are many mothers who balance their own lives and child rearing. (vol.21-1; table 3-9). Particularly, mothers of an only child seem to like washing, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of their husbands. At the same time, they like to go out, work actively, and are stylish. The results indicate these mothers tend to balance their lives inside and outside of the family, and this might be a style of child rearing in an era of a declining birthrate (vol.15-1; table 25). Meanwhile, 77.2% of parents do not very much/not at all wish to live with their children; and 62.7% do not want to rely on their children at all or very much even if they need nursing care. Parents take care of their children but do not want depend on them (vol.21-1; table 4-13 and 4-14).

Table 12-2 shows the degree of mothers' satisfaction with their lifestyles. 70-80% are very much/relatively satisfied with their children's personal development and the relationship with their husbands. Concerning the mother's own life, 70-80% are also satisfied with their relationships with friends, being a mother, and being a wife. However, only 3.7% feel confident in their way of life and even if the 25.3% who are relatively confident are added, less then 30% of mothers lack their self-confidence (vol.21-1; table 3-18). The degree of mothers' satisfaction relates to family finances and gender perspectives (vol.17-1; Figure 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, and 6-6). As a birthrate is declining, mothers have been freed from the traditional life that requires child rearing most of the time. However, mothers seem to be puzzled by not being fulfilled or not having confidence in their lifestyles, although they are satisfied with being a mother or a wife.

In the previous section, we discussed the image of today's father and mother through the eyes of children. Figure 12-4 shows how mothers perceive the father (husband) and their image of mothers (self-image). Generally, the results seem to emphasize that parents raise their children cooperatively. However, compared to the evaluation of mothers, the father is more highly regarded when it comes to working hard, being confident in earning power, and being interested in politics, economics, or social issues. Fathers were also highly evaluated in terms of their love for children, and enthusiasm for children's education. The results highlight a father who is active at work and at home and overlaps with the father who has multiple roles and is highly regarded by children.

3. Family as a Place to Belong

1) What Family is for Children
Apart from parents and siblings, the scope of the family is defined by whether or not a person shares the same home. Meanwhile, 30% of children consider pets and plants to be a part of their families and feel quasi-family bonds and affection when they take care of something (vol.22-3; Figure 2-1). Regarding the association with grandparents, only 30% of children wish to live with their grandparents. More than 40% of the children wish their grandparents lived next door or somewhere nearby (within the walking distance of 10-15 minutes), and 30% wished their grandparents lived farther away (of 20-30 minutes drive) (vol.22-3; summary at the end of the book).

Next, children were asked about their families. More than 90% answered they were very much/relatively happy to be born in their family. In addition, more than 60% think that everyone in the family is happy when other family members come home; the family cheers them up when they feel down; they can talk about anything to their family; all family members like to talk with one another; they have strong family bonds; and all family members like to do something together. Moreover, more then 70% mentioned their parents get along well. The result indicates that the family members are close to one another and like to be together (vol.22-3; Figure 2-5).

2) Family as a Place to Belong
The items in Figure 12-5 introduce children's negative feelings towards their families to examine the degree of comfort they feel at home. 36.6% of children think their parents understand their feelings not at all/not very much, and 24.7% very often/often envy their friends' families. In addition, 19.8% very often/often think that the family atmosphere becomes gloomy because their parents are in a bad mood, and 18.2% very often/often feel that they have to be patient all the time at home. Moreover, 18.0% very often/often feel like running away from home. The result indicates although many children feel comfortable with their families, some react very sensitively to their parents' feelings and emotions. In fact, 10% of children think their parents care about them not at all/not very much.

Children were asked about when they felt comfortable and at ease. 80% answered that that they felt comfortable at home when having meals and watching TV with the family; chatting with their parents; and doing something in their room (vol.22-3; Figure 4-6). If a family faces a crisis, 48.3% of children think they can definitely overcome it, and 44.3% think they can probably overcome it. In other words, 90% of children believe that their parents will help them overcome hardships. (vol. 22-3; Figure 4-9).

The increasing disintegration of the family disintegration and growing child abuse seem to indicate that there are obstacles in the way of the healthy development of children. However, the survey results indicate that the family is generally stable, and children love their families even though they sometimes have trouble. Home appears to be a comfortable place for children. Children find a sense of belonging in the family and grow up with a sense of security only when they perceive their parents like to work hard and support the family eagerly. This seems to be a universal truth regardless of generation. However, about 10% of children do not feel comfortable or at ease at home and are not satisfied. Some children think they are not loved by the family. It is worrisome that, for some children, home is not necessarily a place of comfort.