Global Day of Parents: prioritising their mental wellbeing

This year’s theme is to appraise and endorse parents’ struggles and sacrifices towards their children

Dr Shelina Bhamani is Assistant Professor, Researcher and Lead for Parenting Education Programme, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, at The Aga Khan University Hospital

The Global Day of Parents is celebrated on June 1 every year to honour parents across the world. The day provides an opportunity to appreciate all parents for their selfless commitment, enduring love, warmth to children, and lifelong sacrifice towards nurturing this beautiful relationship. This year’s theme is to appraise and endorse parents’ struggles and sacrifices towards their children.

Effective parenting embraces the active and healthy involvement of both parents as partners equally responsible for holistic developmental milestones that are to promote cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional wellbeing (e.g. telling stories, singing songs, reading books, and playing with the child). Today’s children are tomorrow’s future and helping or investing in these young people reach their full potential will help decrease poverty, increase equity and harmony with our planet.

The parent, caregiver, and the environment overlap and play a significant role in achieving developmental dimensions of the child e.g., sensitivity to the cues — the caregivers’ ability to recognise and respond to a child’s signal, alleviation of distress — the caregivers’ ability to soothe the distressed child and the provision of growth fostering situations. The positive interaction, learning experiences, and opportunities provided by parents help enhance the cognition, social values and making children life ready to achieve optimum growth and success in all transitions of life. Parents are often called as first teachers of children and make an important impact in shaping one’s personality, inculcating social skills and attributes.

The nurturing care framework and care for child development was launched in 2018. This framework re-emphasises the importance of holistic supports for young children. Nurturing care comprises five inter-related and indivisible components that are good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and opportunities for early learning. Nurturing care ensures young children get the holistic support that is needed to build the strongest foundation for their lives.

The literature supports that what parents do is pivotal for their children’s development regardless of socio-economic background, children do better when their parents engaged in such activities as reading to them and conversing with them, helping in school lessons, and having children’s books at home. Above all, spending quality time with the children is foremost in building a strong bond, developing trust, love, and affection in the family. Parental engagement is important and must continue in all ages from infancy to childhood, childhood to adolescents, and then to adulthood. Eventually, it leads to positive outcomes and benefits like children with improved cognitive development, good grades, social-emotional development, improved mental health, and academic success.

Parenting is a lifetime responsibility, requiring willingness and emotional stability to be able to provide the care and support for a child to grow and thrive. Parents’ wellbeing is important. Parents need support to do their challenging job and be compassionate to themselves for persisting, especially when things do not seem to be going well. Every parent will find it challenging to connect and communicate with their child in the different stages of the child’s development and the many factors in the environment. It is important to focus on the parents’ wellbeing to provide education, support, and counseling.

Nurturing and healthy relationships between the parents is critically important for the wellbeing of the entire family. Parents must be able to communicate and manage conflict, giving each other time and space to manage emotions to be able to strengthen their family. Children of happy couples are seemingly more confident, calm, and develop holistically. Raising children requires teamwork. Equal involvement ad engagement of both parents is essential in managing the different emotions, stages, and situations in the life for the child and the parents.

Parenting is an important job requiring all faculties to respond to the child and family’s needs. Parents need to be physically strong and active, emotionally stable and resilient, and intellectually strong and clear-minded to solve problems and provide support to their growing child and family. Parents’ mental health and burnout are very real problems that can stem from many emotional and psychological issues, such as stress, feelings of incompetence, or denial making the relationship vulnerable to conflict and neglect. Much of the parents’ needs to care for their children stem from natural feelings, however, it requires a great deal of responsible action to learn, educate and act in the best interest of the self and the family.

Parenting is hard work, rather, it can be called one’s life’s work. Parenting education, support, and counseling become increasingly essential to help the community raise their aspirations, develop skills and tactics of effective parenting, and find support from professionals and other parents to discuss important matters and seek advice. Children’s wellbeing is impacted by parents’ wellbeing, hence it is important to promote best practices and support parents by encouraging them to share their worries and seek support from friends and family; aspiring for and living a healthy lifestyle, which includes a good diet, exercise, sleep, and adopting any activity for self-renewal such as reading and painting, hiking, or community service; encouraging parents to stay well informed and collect information from credible sources; and by encouraging parents to listen and communicate with their child through good times and bad. Lastly, schools, hospitals, and the state can play a very important role in promoting parental wellbeing.

A continuum of care model and cooperation among stakeholders will be essential to provide holistic support and services to the community of parents. Public and private sectors will have to collaborate and build sustainable programmes for the wellbeing of the parents and by extension the children, who are the future and asset of any progressive nation.

Schools can engage the parents most regularly and actively through Parent-Teacher Associations, orientations and counseling sessions, and many educational activities designed to foster family time and interaction, such as reading, project-work, and dinner table conversations.

Hospitals can provide parenting education and support through pregnancy and beyond with training, counseling, and community drives. Hospitals are also best placed to plan and execute parenting education programmes and enlist parents for classes during antenatal visitation and postpartum follow-ups. Community centers could offer ongoing parenting education programmes or support groups for parents to seek the necessary support and guidance.

Government policy must include the wellbeing of the basic unit of the society — the family, through several initiatives, such as paid maternity and paternity leaves, quality daycare facilities for working parents, equal pay and benefits to working parents, especially mothers, to look after the family’s financial stability and security. Moreover, government policy must also include health and nutrition programmes to ensure timely inoculations, health drives, screening services, reproductive and family planning services, and plans to support adolescents and parents through different challenges.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2021.

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