A recent study of child rearing in Japan published by what is now the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reported that some 60 percent of fathers and 70 percent of mothers had doubts about the best way to raise their children. Some of the issues that concerned parents were their children's educational progress, general behavior, health, friends, mental and physical development (slowness in learning to speak, for instance), delinquency, truancy, and sexual conduct. Asked what would give them the greatest confidence in raising their children, most fathers indicated frequent contact with them and most mothers indicated the cooperation of other family members.
In an increasing number of households both parents work outside the home, drastically reducing the time they and their children spend together, with the result that parents and children grow apart. In this context, the government's study seems to raise anew the issue of the importance of family ties.
When we think about how to raise children, the first consideration should be the parents' daily behavior. Recently the number of mothers working outside the home has increased, but the mother is still central to a child's upbringing. It has been said that 70 percent to 80 percent of a child's character is formed at home. If this is true, a mother's absence has immeasurable impact on a child's development.
No doubt there are compelling reasons for a mother to work outside the home, but in deciding whether to do so her basic criterion should be, what is important in life? Unless she uses this criterion, she will have no educational aims for her children and will be unable to help plan her family's future. Is it more important to enjoy a high standard of living, or should a degree of financial security be sacrificed for the sake of the children's upbringing? With the growth of consumerism and the tendency to believe that money buys pleasure, it is time for parents to reflect and reconsider whether their choice will bring their family happiness.
The cornerstone of children's upbringing should be the mother's gratitude and respect for the father's social position and her moral support of him. Nowadays, children rarely see their fathers at work, as they did in earlier times. A mother should explain and help children understand what their father feels as he works hard for the sake of his family. She should not criticize him if he lolls about the house on his days off, resting from his labors. Instead she should make sure the children understand how hard he works and why he needs to rest.
The business world has been likened to a pack of wolves fighting over a rabbit. A mother's duty is to teach her children that earning a living is no easy thing and that their father patiently bears the hardship in order to support the family. The father, in turn, must pour his lifeblood into his work.
At the same time, the wife should stay home and do a good job raising the children and remain always sensitive to her husband's feelings. Cooperation between husband and wife, who thus demonstrate their unique abilities as men and women, ensures that their children will enjoy a wholesome upbringing.
In Japan it is said that a father should not raise his voice to his children more than three times in his life. Of course a father must take a firm stand on important things, but he should refrain from complaining about little things and should encourage his children when they do well. A mother must understand this and always remind the children that even if their father does not say anything, he is always concerned about them. To achieve this kind of perfect coordination, husband and wife should discuss family matters daily.
Raising children educates parents, in a lifelong educational process. Raising children is also a form of religious practice. Sometimes a mother must work outside the home for economic reasons. In this case, she must find ways to make the most of her time with the children. In any event, parents must have firm convictions on the way to lead their lives and be models for their children, behaving in such a way that they inspire their children and are a good influence on them.
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Children mirror their parents. Though it may not be obvious, children observe parents attentively and imitate their words and deeds. Parents are their children's closest and most influential teachers. Since parents' ways of thinking and behaving directly affect those of their children, parents can be the best or worst of teachers, depending on whether they have firm convictions on the way to live an upright life.
Anyone can marry and have children, but to be a good parent is not easy; it requires great effort, both physical and spiritual. To be the best of all possible teachers to their children, parents must always seek to control and improve themselves. In other words, they must be prepared to learn and grow with their children.
When a couple's first child is born, they are of course glad to be parents, but they will not yet have that special attachment to their child that develops only with time. That attachment and love will deepen over the years as they devote themselves to the challenging process of rearing their child. In a way, parents and children are born at the same time. Raising children inevitably raises parents: only through the process of raising a child does one truly become a parent.
The cooperation of husband and wife is essential in raising children. Today, when many fathers are white-collar workers who spend most of their waking hours in an office and commuting, the time they can spend with their families is severely limited. But it remains very important that husband and wife discuss their children's upbringing. For example, they should discuss the way to teach the children proper study habits, clearly decide what role each parent will play in teaching the children, and have a good understanding of each child's character, potential, and abilities. Further, the parents should make sure that they themselves have a good attitude toward learning. If they do, the children will naturally imitate them and learn to study.
I have heard that in South Korea sugar is rarely used in cooking. Instead, Korean cooks use honey as sweetening. This practice may help explain why Korean children have fewer cavities than Japanese children. Children love sweets and apparently need a certain amount of sugar in their diet, but too much sugar harms their teeth and, it is said, weakens their bones. Substituting honey for sugar to reduce their children's sugar intake for the sake of good health is an example of the kind of concern for their offspring parents should demonstrate in every aspect of life.
Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, taught that husband and wife must love and respect each other. Of course, some couples become upset from time to time and quarrel. They are apt to think that their children will not understand their quarreling and that therefore it will not harm them. But even if the children do not understand, they see and hear the quarreling and are very sensitive to the hostile atmosphere, which shocks them deeply, making them anxious, confused, and sometimes ill. Especially in front of their children, it is important that parents heed Shakyamuni's exhortation to love and respect each other, preserving the mutual respect that is the basis of love and harmony.
Social factors outside the home figure greatly in such problems as juvenile delinquency, violence in the schools, and juvenile suicides, but children's relationship with their parents is seen as the most important factor. In Japan children have traditionally been regarded as gifts of the gods and buddhas. Each child has his or her own individuality and human worth. Parents' actions must be based on a sound understanding of human nature, arising out of a reverence for all life, and they must do all they can to fulfill their roles of firm father and loving mother.
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We should strive to create the kind of home environment that enfolds family members in warmth and spiritual comfort. Constant tension in the home causes mental stress and weakens young people's will to grow and improve. Warmth and spiritual comfort do not, however, mean spoiling children or allowing them to do whatever they please. Sometimes it is essential to scold them severely and to point out the correct path.
The ability to understand children is essential in parents. They must constantly strive for the view that is not one-sided but all-embracing, that is farsighted and not blinded by immediate phenomena, and that grasps fundamentals rather than concentrates on superficial details. For instance, a parent who is obsessed with a child's disobedience may be blinded to the child's good traits. In such a case, the parent can become too emotional and criticize in ways so shocking and wounding that the child becomes despondent and then, in reaction, all the more stubborn and defiant.
Parents who are aware of their children's other traits will realize that disobedience is related to a growing sense of independence and will not lose sight of the children's good qualities, such as concern for brothers and sisters. These parents will be able to praise disobedient children for firmness of character. Such praise will give the children the satisfaction of having their good points recognized and will stimulate them to correct their failings.
No one is universally condemned. Similarly, since no one is perfect, no one is universally praised. It is only human to have both good and bad points. A home in which children hear nothing but reprimands for their shortcomings lacks spiritual comfort and therefore is unpleasant.
Consequently, parents and teachers must be able to distinguish between the faults that require immediate correction and those that should be overlooked until children can correct themselves. It is also important to have the wisdom to remain impartial and to deal with children in ways that recognize and develop their good points.
The home must be more than a place in which to relax and recover from fatigue. It must be a place in which we pay reverence to the gods and the Buddha, who are our spiritual mainstays, and strive for self-improvement by following their teachings. Such a home life will foster in the family members true spiritual well-being, a sense of fulfillment, and a reason for living. Creating a domestic environment filled with the spiritual comfort that allows young people to grow up wholesomely is the primary duty of adults, whose experience of life is greater.