Should parenting be this hard?

I have been browsing at the stores through a number of parenting titles lately, Alissa Quart’s Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child; Cathy Seal’s Pressured Parents, Stressed Out Kids; and Catherine Newman’s Raising the Unhurried Child by Catherine Newman and my all-time favorite, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (the girl’s version would be Dr. Sylvia Rimm’s See Jane Win).

Alissa Quart in “Hothouse Kids” book tells us that if we push kids too hard from an early age, that could have long-term effects in adult life, from debilitating perfectionism to performance anxiety and lifelong feelings of failure. Quart says the overarching goal is to find a golden mean between normalizing kids and hothousing them.

As I read those words “normalizing kids”, I thought to myself, never as now has parenting been so psycho-analysed … we now talk of the goal of parenting as “normalizing kids”. When I first got married and became a mother soon after, I never initially gave much thought to the job of parenting … parenting in my simple mind was to me as uncomplicated and synonymous with wholesome apple pie (or miso soup) issues and ardors of parenthood were associated with the task of changing nappies and cooking for baby. Anyway, was’nt being a mother supposed to give me that nice fuzzy warm feeling, you know that comes when you see ads on TV with a mother rocking a child to sleep to a lullaby. I certainly didn’t think then that my goal as a new mother would be to “normalize” my kid.

The warm fuzzy feeling of motherhood can disappear quite quickly in Japan, once our kids are out of their diapers, as we struggle with the big deal of day-to-day kindergarten, making bento lunchboxes and later school PTA involvement. For we are cautioned by the general public and mass media that we might be raising overly consumeristic kids, that we are too lax with our kids … they are too loud, too ill-mannered or they have anger management issues (the kireru kids). We are told by government surveys that we should be more involved in school, and with kids’ homework, that we are letting our kids’ academics slide, that we should rein in the videogames and the keitai (handphones). We are told that we should establish “skinship” (now a Japanese word) bond with our kids so that we don’t end up with hikikomori kids, a phenomenon where kids withdraw socially seeking extreme isolation and confinement. Other experts tell us we ease up on kids and stop the excessive cramming of our kids at juku, and to remember the importance of play and to get in touch with nature and to opt out of the juken senso or exam wars. We are blamed for giving our kids a “toxic childhood” and for bringing up kids who are apathetic and insensitive and who lack any work ethics (a reference to the Neets and Freeter generation) and that we are thus responsible for the decline of this once-great nation.

We are told to check our behavior, lest… horror of horrors, we are actually one of the infamous “Monster Parents“. We shall have to hansei or reflect on not-so-wholesome questions of whether we are the “Monster Parents” who have been forgetting to pay lunch fees or who have been harassing teachers at school or misbehaving at school meetings. Worse, we are told the community is now on the look out for child abusers, a once unheard of crime in Japan.

Self-help books tell us we should not raise our kids to be overly competitive. We are warned against overscheduling our kids’ days, against attachment parenting, helicopter parenting
and the hothousing of kids. We are told we should aim to raise “emotionally intelligent” kids as well as right-brained kids with high IQs … the list of benchmarks for parenting not only goes on and on … but gets higher and higher.

Did you recognize all of those big words bandied around by experts, educational authorities and the media? If you didn’t, don’t worry. By now, someone is surely writing a dictionary or glossary of parenting terms and concepts.

And it is the official view now … parents need parenting manuals (if not a phD). The Yamanashi Prefecture’s Board of Education is issuing a booklet designed to school wayward parents and to make them reflect on their misconduct. The booklet outlines a parent’s responsibilities social obligations, incorporating examples of unreasonable demands made by parents to schools. Examples include a parent yelling at a primary school teacher who visited one of his students’ homes to collect unpaid lunch fees and a middle school student’s parents demands that the board replace their children’s class teacher because they did not like him.

Parents are basically under the spotlight these days. Because most family units in Japan only consist of either two parents and child(ren) or single parent and child — parenting has become an almost solitary task and burden imposed on the lone parent at home with kids, what with the absentee Japanese salaryman working long hours in the office together, divorced single moms and common phenomenon of tanshinfunin, when husbands are assigned to different cities for work. It is not surprising then that less of half of the persons polled said Japan offered a sympathetic environment to parents raising children (Source: Poll: Japan not an easy place to raise children Apr 29, 2006 The Yomiuri Shimbun)

On another level, the issue of parents under fire is proving divisive. It is dividing the nation into those who are seen as having the right to sit and judge (the experts, authorities and the elders who are supposed to have already succeeded in their parenting jobs well) vs. those responsible for bringing up the future citizens, and by implication, the guardians of the future of the nation. It is a divide also between those who have gone before and done it all (and who represent traditional ways of parenting) vs. those who are parenting now (under modern societal conditions being pulled in diverse directions). As that divide widens, commentators who sit and judge parents by their standards tend to forget that parenting used to be done WITH the support and in the context of the community, but that parenting is most often a lone and lonely task today.

One lone voice in a letter to the Editor of the Daily Yomiuri has described so well the CRACK in society through which both kids and hapless parents are falling and the views are worth quoting here:

“The headline boldly proclaimed “the link” made to “bad parenting.” The article went on to mention other factors: children’s lack of empathy, parents who are unaware of children’s sufferings, incapable teachers, and schools that evade responsibility among the list of “culprits.”
Nowhere was the community’s role mentioned. The fact is that children are nurtured within an interactive matrix of the home, the school, and society itself. When communities abdicate their connection to child-rearing and leave socialization processes to the forces of consumerism, the best efforts of homes and schools are often diluted. As children grow, they not only need consistent and caring parenting, capable and caring teachers, but also a network of caring and concerned adults in their community who offer long-term friendship, guidance and encouragement to assist youth to find positive roles in the community. Juku, manga, TV and computer games are not adequate community builders.
Many children know no adults other than their parents and their teacher(s). Schools have been given extremely high academic goals. But parent education is not in the curriculum. Who in the community is taking on the task of nurturing and supporting parents? Do neigbors greet the children cheerfully, engage them in conversation and keep a caring eye on them as they go to and from school? Are there volunteers who activate youth to participate in community efforts? Where do children find their connection to role models who encourage and enable them to become positive forces in their community?
Without balanced socialization processes and consistent moral support from the community, the best educated kids may become “useless weeds or ravening wolves.” — MARILYN HIGGINS YAMAGUCHI

Source: Socialization, community support needed for kids (LETTER TO THE EDITOR, DAILY YOMIURI)

I sit on the “parents under scrutiny” side of the fence. I am a long-term resident of Japan who is bringing up two kids sometimes with my Japanese salaryman husband by my side, sometimes alone (when his assignment takes him away from the family). No one was on hand at the birth of my kids, with one of set of parents in a foreign country, and another set on the island Hokkaido (which for my purposes is as good as a foreign land) … not that I expected any help. I have no siblings and so have no benefit of passed on experiences of birth stories nor of bringing up the niece/nephew-baby or not did I get to bounce any babies on my lap. Where I come from, children are fussed over by the community in public and parents will irritatingly give their advice and show concern ..but at least you get that.

Here, the average Japanese mature adult tries not to be a busybody and so tends to respect your privacy to the extent of refraining from offering to your face intrusive comments. As such, parents like myself have but self-help books on parenting to turn to.

When my second child was newly born, I moved house to a new prefecture and neighborhood. With my husband away for that year, I had to cope with unpacked cartons of belongings stacked to the ceiling, a preschool kid to see off to the new kindergarten and a to find my way around a new neighborhood. I never had babysitter help nor in-law support. I never had a day off. With the very bad level of Japanese that I owned back then, my little ones and I coped somehow but the early childhood period was certainly the lowest and loneliest point in all my years of parenting. I have two degrees from university and career track record, but I can tell you nothing in university or the jobmarket prepares you for the arduousness of parenting — or parenting alone, that is. The one lone member of the Japanese community — the one Japanese friend that I made that year and who reached out to me, was the difference between “make or break”. We are lifelong friends now and my gratitude to her will be eternal. Things couldn’t be more different today. But there are so very many mothers (and stay-at-home fathers too — I’ve met a few) who face or have faced some of my difficulties…and maybe they aren’t as lucky. They are isolated at home or have no friends to count on.

We naturally empathize with the weak and defenceless, so the public focuses on the plight of the child. Still it won’t hurt commentators on the other side of the fence, to understand that if it’s hard for kids to be wholesome kids today, it can be hard too for parents to parent naturally or with joy. Maternal (or paternal) instinct isn’t enough to bring up baby alone. Pointing out the dysfunctions of parents with labels like helicopter- and attachment parenting doesn’t help either. What is needed is more childcare options and support, more friendly faces, spaces and places. Deep-seated change in the gakureki shakai that leaves no room or time (after the pursuit of academic credentials) for a healthy wholesome family lifestyle or socialization. Most of all, the human touch.

In Grey’s Anatomy previous episode, the female lead character says to the anorexic teenager, “You don’t know this yet, but life isn’t supposed to be this hard.”

After hearing all of society’s benchmarks, do you think parenting should be this hard?

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe


Schools grapple with ‘monster’ parents
“More teachers are becoming aggravated by the attitude of parents who visit schools to sit in on classes,” Yoshihiko Morotomi, a professor at Meiji University, confides to Nikkan Gendai (Sept 26).

In this specific case, Morotomi was referring to an occurrence at a primary school in Tokyo’s downtown area, where an “open room” system has been adopted to enable parents or guardians to monitor their child’s class in session from a “spectator’s gallery” in the corridor.

“Before, some parents would shoot videos or take pictures with their cell phone cameras,” he says. “But now they walk into the classroom to take pictures, which they’re not supposed to do.”

And that’s just the beginning. According to a school administrator, parents often disrupt classes by audibly conversing with each other.

When an exasperated teacher named Kinoshita at a school in Kanagawa Prefecture requested the mother of a student to put a halt to her noisy chitchat, the woman responded with a petulance that would do credit to a primary schooler, whining, “Sensei, why did you single me out? Haven’t the other mothers here been talking as well?”

“Mrs Ito,” Kinoshita replied. “Our class is in session. This is not the sort of place where people should be holding conversations.”

The woman offered no further objection and the teacher thought the matter was closed, but that night, a blog entry for the school’s unofficial home page carried a visceral attack on “The teacher who bans parents for no reason.”

Without identifying Kinoshita by name, the angry screed went on to criticize her as a “dictator” who demanded that “her word was the law” in the classroom.

The contents were also emailed to everyone on the list of students’ parents, leaving no question as to the identity of the target. While Mrs Ito was assumed to be behind the nasty post, the anonymity afforded by the Internet concealed her identity.

Aghast at the viciousness of the personal attack, Kinoshita reportedly developed psychological problems.

Morotomi tells Nikkan Gendai that situations like the above, where a visiting parent is incensed by being requested to be quiet and then turns on the teacher viciously, have become increasingly frequent occurrences.

And it seems when parents aren’t blabbing with one another, they’re yakking on their cell phones. Perhaps along with the children, concludes the article, parents are also in need of some strict discipline. — Japan Today Oct 1 2007


Parents had failed to pay 589.52 million yen of tuition fees at prefectural public high schools across the nation as of the end of March 2007, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey… The prefectures suffering the greatest nonpayment were Osaka with 251.77 million yen, Hokkaido with 95.15 million yen and Kanagawa with 41.23 million yen… A Nagano Prefectural Board of Education member said, “A parent told me, ‘I paid fees for an extracurricular activity, so I can’t pay the tuition fees.'” — Source: 600 mil. yen of high school fees unpaid Yomiuri Shimbun


Said Mr Tamotsu Sengoku director of the non-profit Japan Youth Research Institute: “The 1980s was when Japan reached a pinnacle… But the diligence and spirit of Japanese children started to decline at around the same time”.

“Now our children do not want close friendships as they do not want to be hurt. They are reluctant to help their friends if it means having to sacrifice themselves.”

The deep social malaise that appears to have stricken Japan may be difficult to shake off.

“The government does not yet feel a sense of crisis,” Mr Sengoku said.

— Source:


Japanese fret over growing callousness, poor work ethic Straits Times Aug 10, 2006


Japanese teenagers apathetic about future Sat March 4, 2006

Alarm bells ring as study cites bleak job prospects for negative attitudes by KWAN WENG KIN

Official estimates put the number of NEETs [– young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training] at about 640,000 and say it shows no sign of falling.
Another related statistic that has fuelled concern in Japan is the number of freeters” — young people in low-paying part-time jobs — which is currently put at two million to four million.
They include many college graduates who cannot land permanent jobs.
Japanes students may be discouraged from studying hard in school because of the prospects of an uncertain future and unwittingly end up as “freeters” themselves upon graduation.
According to Professor Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist at Tokyo Gakugei University, a decline in the desire by the young to work could compound the problems of Japanese society, which is already suffering from a low birth rates and rapid ageing.
Japanese parents are also to blame for their children’s lack of passion for studying.
In the JYRI study, more Japanese students than in the other three countries indicated that their parents did not have high expectations for them.


Said Masahiko Sakata, a counselor specializing in family problems in Tachikawa, “Over the last two years or so, doting parents have become increasingly more noticeable,” Sakata noted. “People who are isolated or have trouble forming personal relationships in their communities tend to smother their children with attention. But children need to eventually grow out of their dependence on their parents. The kind of smothering love that hinders their independence is nearly as bad as abuse.” Source: —The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 29(IHT/Asahi: October 30,2007) Smothering Parenting almost as bad as abuse




Japanese high-school students are less motivated in class and less ambitious about the future than their peers in the United States, China and South Korea, a Japanese survey found.

Japanese students’ top concern is being liked by others, while US and Chinese students hope to excel in their studies and South Koreans most value being able to fulfill the tasks asked of them.

The survey was conducted from October through December, covering some 7,285 high-school students in the four countries.

Fewer than 41 percent of Japanese students said they cared about excelling in class, compared with an overwhelming 83 percent of American teens, 80 percent of Chinese and 67 percent of South Koreans.

Only 23 percent of those Japanese students surveyed said they were keenly interested in their grades at school, compared with 37 percent in the United States, 47 percent in South Korea and 50 percent in China.

Japanese students were also the most concerned with fashion, with 40 percent interested in shopping compared with 37 percent in South Korea, 20 percent in the United States and only 11 percent in China

“The survey paints an image of Japanese high school students being pleasure-seeking, average-seeking and little motivated,” the Asahi Shimbun wrote.

The survey, released Wednesday by the Japan Youth Research Institute, also found that Chinese and South Korean teens were more interested in Japan than Japanese youth were in the other two countries.Source: AFP article, Japanese high-school students are less motivated in class and less ambitious about the future than their peers in the United States, China and South Korea, a Japanese survey found.


In an effort to make them reflect on their misconduct, such as refusing to pay school lunch fees, the Yamanashi Prefectural Board of Education plans to issue a booklet designed to school wayward parents.
Titled ” Education Program for Parents,” the booklet aims at raising parents’ awareness of social obligations, incorporating examples of unreasonable demands made by parents to schools.
An official of the Education, Science and Technology Ministry’s home education support room said he has never heard of a board of education compiling a booklet designed to guide parents.
The education program was originally meant to provide young parents with basic information on child-rearing, such as how to put diapers on a baby and setting appropriate bedtimes for children.
However, the plan was changed after parents’ failure to pay school lunch fees became a much-discussed problem nation-wide.
In March last year, a public middle school in Fuefuki in the prefecture obtained written agreement from a child’s guardian that the family would not complain even if school lunch was not provided as long as no payment was made.
After discussing the incident, the board decided to incorporate not only child-rearing tips, but also parents’ repsonsibilities in the booklet.
The booklet will introduce some examples of unreasonable demands by parents, according to board officials.
For instance, when a primary school teacher visited one of his students’ homes to collect unpaid lunch fees, the parent yelled at the teacher, saying hthere must be many others who did not pay the fee.
In another case, a middle school student’s parents demanded the board replace their children’s class teacher becaause they did not like him. They also insisted that their child go to another school if the replacement was not possible.
The booklet will also advise parents to deepen their understanding of teachers through a role-play, in which parents play either the role of a selfish guardian or that of a teacher who has to deal with the guardian’s demand.

— Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun Yamanashi board of education hopes to school wayward parents




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