Family Dynamics encompasses Work Life balance, how Birth order actually influences our treatment of kids, Sibling Rivalry, Favouritism, how best to raise sons and daughters and the problems the Sandwich Generation face.
Work Life Balance
Everyone wishes they could spend more time with their kids or on the things they find meaningful, but often work gets in the way. Sacrifices have to be made in order to provide for the family in the material sense.
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I have gone through the whole gamut of work permutations.
Working Full Time - I was working full time for a number of years. I really mean full time, 8am to 7pm at my 'day job' (running my family's transportation business) Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays. I also helped my husband, just starting out in his family practice by working as his medical assistant/nurse/cashier in his clinic from 7 to 9pm every week night and 9.30am to 12.30pm on Sundays. I was tired but I was young. If you can't work hard when you are young, whenever are you going to work hard? We only had short holidays once or twice a year, my hubby couldn't bear to leave his clinic. We come from a long line of workaholics!
I only stopped working in his clinic when I encountered a TB patient without realizing it during the period when I was trying to get pregnant with our first child. You know how hysterical you can be with your first child, I was scared of catching something in the clinic because I was convinced I wasn't going to take any medication while I was pregnant. My day job was still pretty stressful though. Try working for your Dad and you will know what I mean.
Working Part Time - I started to work part time in my family business to spend more time with my first child, Shen, 1 year after she was born. I missed her so much when I was working, I would actually rush home at 5pm and immediately pack her off to see something interesting in Singapore. There isn't a place in Singapore that she hasn't gone to (though she might not remember it on account of the fact that she was asleep at the time...). Everything you find in Kids Play in Singapore, I did it while lugging her around in a BabyBjorn baby carrier. My back was killing me but I just forced my body on.
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Stay at Home Mum (SAHM) - I stopped working to concentrate on my kids when I was pregnant with my third child. My children are the most important people to me and I wasn't going to short change them.
Work at Home Mum (WAHM) - Now I have embarked on another chapter in my life, I have always worked in my family business all my working life except for a summer stint in PriceWaterhouse way back when I was 20 years old (a lifetime ago).
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I have been very motivated by these case studies and so I am conducting a grand experiment to see how far I can go with MomsWisdom.net. Updates will be available periodically on the 'About Us' page. The lives that these case studies showcase are just the kind of lives most people aspire to, working on something you love, helping others and having enough time to spend with your family, all the while still earning an income.
There are many exceptions (my kids are also exceptions to this rule), but First-borns tend to be more intelligent than subsequent children. Mothers have more time to talk to and play with the first-born. Many people feel so guilty that they can't find enough time to spend with their subsequent children, but I have found that it is OK, things seem to work out fine and the second or third child doesn't really know what he has missed because he never experienced it.
My hubby told me of a casual survey done by his professor in his Medical school in Australia. They were asked by a show of hands, how many were first-born? More than half raised their hands. Second-born? More than a quarter raised their hands. Third-born? Less than a quarter raised their hands. Fourth-born? Hardly any. My husband pointed out that first-born children tend to be more motivated to study and are therefore more hard-working. They may not be more intelligent than their siblings (He himself is also first-born). He also pointed out that his 2 good medical friends, a Jew and a Greek were both second-born. Ah, but here is the catch: they were the second-born children, but the first son in the family. As such, I feel they would be treated as if they were the first-born child with the responsibilities that are attached to that position. You know the saying that children may live in the same house but be living in different worlds because of the treatment they received from their parents unknowingly.
I was afraid before I conceived my second child because I just couldn't imagine loving another child as much as I love my first child. Funny, but it really is true: Love is an ocean and there is lots more where it came from. Don't let such issues stop you from having a second child.
The other concern of parents is that they feel they must love their children equally and not have any favourite child. There is no fairness or equality in life. I don't love my children equally, but I love them differently. Each represented a vast change in my life. Sometimes you love your kids, but you don't really like what they do (I know it sounds awful to say that). Somebody loves even the most terrible people you know. We can't choose whom we love.
First-borns tend to be more responsible and carry the weight of parental expectations on their shoulders more heavily.
Second or middle children tend to be more independent and resourceful. They are mostly more optimistic and carefree too.
You know the cliche about youngest children, they tend to be spoilt.
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I find it imperative that girls should have positive role models in their lives. Chinese families tend to be pretty sexist. It is a product of their upbringing, I don't hold it against my parents that they favour my brothers more. They can't help it. Chinese believe that sons carry the family name while daughters once married, belong to their son-in-law's family. We even have a name to differentiate grandchildren from the paternal and maternal side of the family with maternal grandchildren being technically called 'outside/external' grandchildren.
Expectations also tend to be less for daughters than sons in some families. I have always taken a positive approach, whatever I find distasteful or lacking in my parents' child raising methods, I discount and make sure I don't follow. Although it is true that nobody would want to marry your son if he turned out to be a bum (Bum is a dirty word in my home, especially if my kids refuse to do their homework!), I feel that girls shouldn't be held to a lower standard.
Watch this Ted.com video of Dr Susan Lim, Singapore's foremost female transplant surgeon talking about transplanting cells, not organs. My elder daughter loves watching this because she finds it very motivational.
As you can tell, I love Ted.com and always try to get my kids to watch interesting videos I find there. If you want to interest your kids, try these Ted.com Marco Tempest, a high tech magician's videos (video 1, video 2, video 3, video 4), even my younger 5 year old daughter, Linn enjoys watching them. In fact, Linn also enjoys watching this video about how babies come about, let your young one watch this if you don't quite know how to explain the birds and the bees :o).
Sons in patriarchal societies carry much of the responsibilities that their parents put on them. Fathers tend to be more severe on them as sons will have to be 'tough' and take care of their own families in the future. Sons from such families can also conversely be spoilt in comparison to the daughters.
If you find yourself favouring your son over your daughter (or vice versa), refrain from such behaviour if possible. Your children may not address the issue verbally, but they can feel it. These concerns will bother them and lead to an imbalance in the family dynamics.
The funniest analogy that I ever heard explaining sibling rival is like a husband telling his wife, "Honey, I love you so much, I have brought back a new wife to keep you company. Since she is here, why don't you share all your clothes and jewelry with her? I am sure we are going to have so much fun together." Huh?
The family dynamics working in the family where the children are very competitive with each other can be very negative if not handled properly by the parents. I always make it a point to remind my elder daughter, who feels particularly threatened by my younger one that we are each of us competing, but not with others. What is most important is to compete with yourself. We have to constantly improve ourselves.
Comparing with others is pointless. No matter how rich you are, or how smart and intelligent you are etc, there will always be someone who is more so than you. Even the richest or smartest man around cannot remain so forever. I try to instill in my daughter that when you see someone better of than you, admire their good qualities and know that if you work hard enough, you can accomplish that too.
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Favouritism by parents of children make the rivalry between siblings much worse. This may be sub-consciously done by parents and isn't deliberate or voluntary, but it can have an adverse effect on the family dynamics.
There are many reasons for favouritism, such as a much-wanted child of a particular gender (either boy or girl), the more intelligent bright child, the child with the more pleasing and affectionate personality, the good looking child might receive more attention. Grandparents are also frequently guilty of marked favouritism. Most people would deny that they do it because the idea of it is repugnant.
Favouritism is shown in many little ways: The unfavoured child may be reprimanded or not allowed to do something that the favourite is allowed to do. The favourite may be given treats that the unfavoured one does not receive. When the favourite gets in trouble, his parents defend him. When the unfavoured one gets into trouble, both parents attack him.
Over time, the unfavoured child is resentful towards his parents and shows signs of general insecurity. He is jealous and dislikes his favoured sibling. In turn, the favoured child suffers by becoming spoilt and by having things his way all the time, lacks discipline.
If after reading this, you recognize certain behaviours that have been described, it is best that you arrest the problem by consciously monitoring your own treatment of your children. It is difficult, but for the emotional well-being of your children and their future relationship with each other, it is essential that you control your impulses to favour any of your children.
Strange thing is I find that the least favoured child in most families tend to be the most successful, maybe because they have a chip on their shoulder and have something to prove, or they are trying to gain the approval of their parents and so strive harder.
The family dynamics can also constantly change in a family. Some parents favour the most successful child. That being the case, a less favoured child in the past can climb to the top of the heap by being more successful than his siblings.
Highly Sensitive Children
I never realized that my eldest daughter was a highly sensitive child until I read this book - 'The Highly Sensitive Child : Helping our Children Thrive when the World Overwhelms them' by Elaine Aron. It is a very helpful book if you notice that your child is sensitive about everything and you don't know why they make such a fuss about everything. In fact, they actually FEEL more, clothes tags are more uncomfortable to them, pain is more acute etc.
There is a checklist at the beginning of the book. My elder daughter, Shen was positive for every one of the characteristics of a highly sensitive child, while my younger daughter, Linn had none of the traits. I guess Linn is a highly insensitive child. Haha...
Anyway the book lists the strategies to follow to better manage your highly sensitive child. Highly sensitive children are the ones who are more cautious, they will see if the environment is safe before they enter the scene, they are risk-averse. The so-called insensitive child or less sensitive child is more likely to plunge in without checking the scene or thinking about the consequences. There are pros and cons to both.
It is the book's contention that the world's economies are in this horrendous state because the world's governments are being run more by the latter than the more 'sensitive' people who weigh consequences more carefully. On the other hand, being too cautious can lead to your child missing out on a lot of things because they are just too slow.
Do you belong to the group of parents who not only have to take care of your children, but also care for your elderly parents or parents-in-law? It is tough to balance so many things in your life.
I have always found that getting married is already a very big change in your life. You have to get used to another person, plus all his quirky habits. If you also move in with your in-laws or invite them into your home, that is doubly difficult as you also have to adapt to your 'new' set of parents. If your own parents say a harsh word to you, it is like water off a duck's back (from years of practice...), but if your in-laws said something similar, it would be very hard to swallow and conflict would arise.
My parents-in-law live with us and I have to say that I found it terribly difficult to get used to the situation initially. There was some etiquette that I expected from them which was sadly missing. One Chinese New Year when I was pregnant with my 2nd child, I confronted my husband and told him we had to get divorced because I couldn't accept some of my in-laws' objectionable behaviour (that included my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law). I was distraught by the fact that I had placenta previa with my 2nd baby (that is a low lying placenta) and the placenta obstructing my baby might cause premature bleeding and necessitate a delivery by caesarean section. Can you believe I was tasked with looking after my nephew though I was still working and barely had enough rest? Looking after someone else's spoilt, quarrelsome, screaming child wasn't my idea of a restful weekend, especially when his own parents were living it up.
So ultimately, whatever is your situation, lay down your ground rules. Otherwise, others may take the opportunity to impose because you are just too nice to say "NO!".
I firmly believe that looking after your elderly parents teaches your own children very valuable qualities of responsibility and filial piety. My mother-in-law has over time, proved to be invaluable in helping in the home. I think that I would have had a much harder time with my 3rd child without her.
I hope that this brief guide has made you more aware of the family dynamics at play in your family. If the necessary actions are taken, you can have a more peaceful and enjoyable family life.
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