What they really want
A public consultation on the implementation of a 'joint parental responsibility model' looking at how both parents could be involved after a divorce was completed at the end of April. Much of the discussion focused on the enhancement of supportive services to parents to make the model a beneficial one instead of a harmful one to divorcing and post-divorce families, especially those with a history of family violence. But it was disappointing that children had no voice in the consultation process.
So, what do children really want from their parents, especially non-resident parents?
Children in families in which one parent is not living with them have expressed how disappointed they are that their non-resident parents, usually the fathers, do not know how to talk to them. The most common topic these parents try to discuss with their children is their schoolwork. Although responsible and regular provision of financial support is a considerate gesture and a sign that they care about their children's welfare, from the children's perspective, few children have ever told me that love can be conveyed through gifts. A teenage girl told me that her non-resident father bought her an iPhone for her birthday. She accepted it politely because she knew this was her father's way of showing that he loves her. However, she told me frankly that what she treasures more is her father's genuine interest and curiosity about her life and dreams.
Her 11-year-old brother enjoys doing sports with their father and asks him to buy him books, as he loves reading. He expects his dad to tell him more about his own life, including his daily experiences as well as significant life experiences. His wish echoes that of other adolescent boys in my previous research on post-divorce families.
A student of mine shared another story; I will call her Jane. After the bitter divorce of their parents, Jane and her brother lost contact with their father when he moved to the mainland. Their mother raised the two children as a single parent. While she appreciated the peace and stability that followed her parents' divorce, Jane was sad that her father had disappeared from her life. A few years later, they learned from relatives on the mainland that their father had become ill and died. Their mother went to the mainland with them to pay their respects at his grave. Among the items that he had left for them, Jane found a photograph of her father.
When the picture was taken, he was grasping photos of Jane and her younger brother closely to his chest with a rueful smile on his face. Jane was able to see for the first time that although he was not involved in her life, her father loved her. It had a very positive impact on her.
From Jane's story, we can see it's never too late for non-resident parents to show love for their children. What children treasure are their parents' genuine emotions, not material goods. It does take effort, but it's worth it.
Dr Lau Yuk-king is a consultant with the department of social work at the Chinese University