Children are the most fragile individuals of every society, other than they being innocent and silent in their process of growing up, they are also sometimes referred to as ‘sponges’ because of their ability to easily absorb all activities and gestures being performed around them. And whatever they observe in their young lives from their families, is what would mold, get polished and develop, turning them into mature and responsible adults.
The book, “Children and the changing family: Between Transformation and negotiation,” thus talks about this very serious and unavoidable matter of the children and how the society and the behavior of their parents unnoticeably affect the family, leaving long term imprints onto them. This book was published in 2003, written by Dr An-Magritt Jensen and Professor Lorna McKee, both authors being actors of great sustenance and experience which is undoubtedly reflected in their work.
An-Magritt Jensen is a professor of sociology, and an expert at child psychology as her own research thesis was based upon, the value of children and demographic changes. She is famous for her works in childhood and family sociology, focusing mainly upon the poorer countries of the world. Presently she is involved in research of international studies on the children’s welfare. Whereas Professor Lorna McKee is a doctor in Philosophy from the York university and is teaching management at the University of Aberdeen.
His current research work is based upon healthcare management, and the impacts of change innovation and the sociology of work and family life. He is moreover working with the Delivery of Care Program which deals in developing programs and policies for health care and its provision to others. This book, as the two authors even agree to is based upon the assumptions, experiences and tests performed as to how children’s lives are affected and molded due to the changes which they experience around themselves.
The book divides these changes into three basic categories based upon the employment of the parents, the composition of the family and lastly the ideology which is framed by the family itself; where children are catered as those who are directly affected by these changes. The authors further while describing the subtitle of the book ‘between transformation and negotiation,’ cal it as their basic perspective and further state, “Our ambition is to discuss children’s changing families both at the macro level – the transformation – and at the micro level – the negotiation.
Children are termed as “social actors,” who perform according to the changes which occur around them. The families might be evolving due to social or economical reasons, and secondly due to the choices that the parents form under the pressure of these changes; and lastly how would these ‘social actors’ would perform in the new perspectives. If we consider the pros and corns of these demographic family changes at a societal level, we fin it more progressive and moving towards a developmental side, with the increased child survival rate and reduced family size are gains not only at a family level but also at a macro, global level.
However, these changes have a very different impact upon the position of the children, and whether or not these changes are beneficial depends further upon the family status of each individual. For example, a divorce might have a positive impact upon one or both of the parents, but it mostly the kid who seen to be left with lesser security and economic independence than he had before; thus the impacts which a case such as divorce leaves are also not self evident.
This book also then emphasizes the upon difference between the good which is brought at a global or universal level through this structural change whereas leaving a negativity at a more unilateral level, thus weighing out as to whom a greater importance should be given. Children of this modern age are seen to have a superior democratic freedom, gaining significance in giving a voice to their opinions, bringing down the conventional hierarchies which were being passed down from centuries.
On the other hand, there is very little empirical evidence available to support these changes from a child’s point of view; with very less being known as to what importance is catered to the opinions of these children, the points such as divorces which bring gains to the adults, might be leaving far graver impacts upon the lives of the little ones. The book also includes case studies which focus upon rich developed countries such as UK, USA, Sweden, and Norway, which elaborates the conditions of the children living in these lands where the demographic changes, (such as mothers catering more hours to work), are far more pronounced.
In such societies which are seemingly becoming more child centered, with kids becoming scarcer, with greater independence bestowed onto them, and they becoming a part of the parents emotional rather than economic side of life, but still the society cannot ignore to weigh the positive and negative aspects which these structural changes are bringing into the lives of the young.
Another important theme which the book focuses upon is that concerning time given by parents to the children, how they might differentiate between the time’s quality and quantity may remain varied; however their concept of tie being love and time being care still remains intact even with the changing structures making situations or the parents a lot more complicated. The concept of a child in today’s world being treated more as an individual rather than an infant who is in a state of developing his abilities and thought is also another very important perspective presented by the authors which is threaded through out the book.
The book also emphasizes on the notion of how the generation gap is progressively escalating with the children’s poverty rate moving along with it, as the statistics reveal that most of the children are living with their mothers rather than both the parents or the fathers; in UK alone the rate being of seven times more step fathers than step mothers (Mc Kee and Jensen, 2003 ). And as the female work force is earning less than the opposite gender, thus the families and the children are less privileged over all.
The authors bring forth a very important topic, which is the effect of parents’ divorce upon children; which does not only have economic depreciation marks on them but also an emotional lack from the parents, as mothers would tend to work more to keep up with the household chores and income, with the love being divided and also with the greater problem of the parents getting involved in finding new relations with the kids being neglected eventually.
Moreover, if their comes an involvement of a step parent, then the relationship building of the child and step parent is also of crucial importance, whether their interests and financial ideologies would match or not remains at stake with these new relationships. Whereas from a child’s perspective it is believed that if there is a communication between the divorcing parents and their children, then the probability of keeping up better lives and relations is more positive rather than those which were firmly and secretly established without the child’s say involved in it.
An entire chapter of the book, subtitled as, “Children’s experience of their parents’ divorce” is bestowed to the very same debate, presenting both sides of the coin. A new terminology which is worth mentioning here, brought by the writers of the book is that of ‘children’s agency,’ as the word itself indicates, it refers to the capacity of a child to react positively to different matters which concern him.
This agency helps researches find out a child’s viewpoint towards the various actions of the adults. A study concerning children’s reaction to parents’ divorce was carried out by ESRC as a part of ‘Children 5-16’ research program, with a random sample being taken from 315 reported divorce cases, with children from an age group between 8 to 14 years being studied under it.
Each child however expressed a varied opinion of catering divorce in their parents while most of them ranged to lie between periods of 15 months to settle down with the new family setups if they had participated in the previous activities; whereas those who remained cut off from any settlements failed to adjust and remained hostile for much longer periods which could even leave longer lasting effects upon their lives.
Furthermore, in the next chapter however the authors give a more detailed view of how these children cope up with the divorce once it has been in acted, which are explained through true stories taken directly from these children. No matter today they have a greater freedom of deciding their own residency, their visiting schedule and other kind of transformations involved during the change, but still the researches are only carried out from the point of view of the parents rather than that of children.
In a society which is becoming ever more individual based, every human is becoming more and more dependant upon his friends, relatives and family. Where divorce is a process of ‘individualization,’ children who before were considered and loved in one home, at once become individuals with economic and legal rights split not only between houses but also between love of their parents of which no quantitative analysis can ever be made.
The book also narrate many stories of these children reacted not only to their parents separation but also to the fact that the transition also caused them to loose their previous neighborhood as well as their friends; where mostly the parents didn’t make an effort to take them back for their previous integrations. Thus these children in many cases are seen to be left excluded for months from children activities and remained isolated unable to adjust to their new environment; whereas most of those living with their mothers don’t seem to miss their fathers as they suggest that even before the divorce they had hardly come to see of him.
The book also mentions that children would never regard their step father as their own, but seemed to get along with him as long as he was good to their mother, contributed towards the house and gave them enough freedom to lead their own individual lives. Where step fathers were still acceptable, step mothers are the hardest for the children to accept probably because of the important role that a mother plays in a child’s live; and in cases where step siblings were involved it was chaotic and taken by children more as a personal insult than an incursion in their personal lives.
However after the divorce, where the residential parent was mother children started to show more respect to her status and even at times started to look up for their visits to their fathers as vacations where they were being treated with greater importance and love than before. The book has another important chapter which focuses entirely upon stories of various children talking about their experience of their parents divorce and conversations of their fathers of the entire process.
Most of these children’s stories narrated two negativities of the divorce, firstly that they had to move houses and secondly that they now came to see less of their father. Fathers tend to hold a traditional attitude towards divorce, where kids of today see it more openly and more casually, accepting the fact that if two people cannot manage to be happy together they should find separate ways via divorce.
Thus for children, divorce is more of a problem solving technique rather than a creation of one, so only if their importance is catered to and their opinions respected, chaotic situations could be brought to ease much more easily. Divorce is a major transition, not only for the couple itself suffering through it but also for the children who willingly or unwillingly have to suffer through its consequences, it is an act religiously, morally and socially right but leaves high emotional consequences which cannot be avoided no matter how much one’s society evolves at being modernized.
And children, who today have become individual entities, the way they hold a greater say in our lives also need to be treated fairly and their opinions respected on significant basis; because small wrong turns in their fragile lives could live major impacts upon their personalities for the rest of their lives. Therefore, children’s lives are influenced by family changes; while a change in the lives of these children holds the ability to change the entire history of a society.