Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Universal Problem of Migrants and Non-Migrants

There is one problem that affects both migrants families and non-migrant families. From my perspective, it is more pronounced because I get a first-hand look at the effects of the problem. Given the ubiquity of the problem, I'm sure that many readers of RGV Life will identify, or at least understand.

The problem for most families, both migrant and non, is that of raising children. None of us get instructions. We rely on what we know, instinctively, and what our families taught us. You don't need a license or special training to have children. Most of all, there is little agreement across cultures and even families as to how children should be raised. The only universal concept is that children must be taught. You teach them knowledge, emotions, physical development, culture, and even some wisdom amongst so many other things. My point is that our youth depend on us, society and parents, to teach them. Teachers are, no doubt, a big influence of children. Parents, or the lack thereof, are the absolute greatest influence on children.

I am seeing first-hand results of this truth in my current job. For a quick update, I have travelled from the Rio Grande Valley to Wisconsin as a migrant to both find greener pastures and to re-experience life as a migrant. On this trip, I have had the opportunity to see the children of my fellow migrants. The result is that many of these children are growing up without parents during the working season. In the long-run, this undoubtedly results in the high dropout rate amongst migrant children. This, however, is not limited to migrants. You also see similar problems amongst children of professionals who are too busy with their careers to devote time to their greatest product. In the case of migrants, long work hours are a necessity for survival. In the case of professionals, it is not.

Migrant families will fall into one of two categories. There are those who work in factories and those who work out in the fields. The jobs don't pay much at their base pay, but make up for it with long hours or volume. Factory migrants earn good money, enough for their needs, by working long hours during the season. Field working migrants make good money, enough for their needs, by working really hard to produce greater volumes of crops. Either way, the work is very physically demanding. The workers don't enjoy a great deal of leisure time before needing to get some sleep. During the work season, parents have little time or inclination to devote to their children. During this time, the children grow up unsupervised and without direction. It's a tough decision to work less and barely scratch out a living or keep working hard to live a fairly comfortable life.

To reiterate, this is not restricted to migrants. Amongst high-income earners, the same is true. Often, the stakes are high insofar as what the parents must give up in income if they wish to spend more time with the children. The concept is to work hard and play hard. Spending the hard earned money on trips, name-brand products, and the latest trinkets to help relieve the guilt of not being there.

It is not my intent to condemn parents for being inattentive. In my own case, I am seeing the result of both my and my wife's long hours at the school. This is my first non-working weekend in weeks. There are already some issues with our son. To many, this may seem minor, but we expect more from our children. The other day, he kicked a toy at us in anger. He slapped one of his friends during a disagreement. Up to now, he has never done things like that. He has also never been so unsupervised. We are friends with his teachers who tell us about his bad behavior. Even they were shocked to see it. We don't blame the teachers; there are two of them versus 14 children 5 years old and younger. If you divide up a 12 hour day, minus 2 hours of naptime, into all 14, that yields a grand total of about 43 minutes of attention a day per teacher. Multiplied by two teachers, it's a whopping hour and 26 minutes of attention. This is actually an overestimate because there are always those children who need constant attention. Mine is self-managing for the most part, which means that he is getting a few meager minutes of attention from both teachers per 12 hour day. This means that a major influence on our son at this time is a bunch of other preschool kids. Children aren't known for making the best choices for themselves or their behavior without adult direction.

We'll be glad when the federal review is over so that we have weekends and afternoons to spend with our son. One of the benefits of being "overearners" is that we don't qualify for afterschool child care. This means that one of us will have three extra hours off each day to spend with the boy. When we go home, we will have somebody with the boy and the girl (our code names for our children). It will be us or family. Always somebody with time and understanding of the importance of our two greatest products.

I urge anybody who is giving it all to the company or career to rethink what you are willing to trade off. In today's world of tough competition, lawsuits, downsizing, and whatever other business-related catchphrase, nobody at work will remember who you are or what you did for the company. You may be a star this year or have a successful business that is making money hand over fist. As soon as things start to slow down, you'll be tossed aside and replaced by somebody just as good who will work for less money. You'll be forgotten. Your children, on the other hand, will always be there for you if you took the time to lay the foundation to be there for them. If you bail on them now, they'll never learn to value your relationship. They will learn that family is just a hobby on the side rather than your most important commitment. Your business partners can't have faith in you if you don't value something as basic as your own family.

We all have this problem. We have to weigh the choice between being home and being at work. For some, the choice is crystal clear. Either business is all that matters, or family is. For the rest of us, we have to find that middle ground. Migrants are going to suffer poverty no matter what. The choice for them is to what degree they want to suffer poverty, a little or a lot. For those of us who are able to earn better, it's a difference between a weekend in San Antonio or a weekend at home watching movies. If you are a high income earner, it's the difference between a weekend in Vegas or Disneyland versus having a family barbecue. It's the same concept.

For the love of your family and your community, spend some time at home with your people. Teach them the difference between right and wrong. Teach them to value each other. Just spend time with them. Many of the ills in our lives come from not being home.
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