Getting more fathers involved in raising kids can change society
May 5 is Children's Day. Masaru Ibuka, the late founder of Sony Corp. known for putting his heart into educational activities, once said of parenthood, "Nothing is more noble and wonderful than the work of raising children."
We were reminded of this sentiment by a prizewinning essay titled "Oyaji no kyaraben" (Dad's bento inspired by popular characters) in this year's annual Children's Future Award essay contest, which is sponsored by The Yomiuri Shimbun and other organizations.
The essay was written by Ryutaro Nakamura, a 38-year-old company employee of Saitama Prefecture. He made bento for his daughter, who had just started kindergarten, while his pregnant wife was laid low by a bad case of morning sickness.
Nakamura's daughter was very shy around strangers. He hoped she would be able to make new friends at kindergarten if he made bento in which the side dishes were decorated to resemble popular anime character Ampanman and animals.
The daughter, presumably in a gesture to her father, always ate all her lunch, and told him it was "delicious."
However, the father later learned the bento contained too much food for the small girl. Sometimes, with tears in her eyes, she would shovel her lunch into her mouth, even after the other kids had finished eating.
Nakamura's essay ends by saying, "Making bento was truly a precious time I shared with my daughter."
When receiving the prize, Nakamura expressed his delight, saying, "I feel thankful to my children for teaching me many things, and I'll keep growing together with them."
By affectionately raising children, parents also can grow. Some data indicate the more time a husband spends caring for a child, the higher the probability the couple will have a second child. It is important for Japan to produce more fathers dubbed "ikumen" (men actively involved in child rearing) like Nakamura.
Abe for longer care leave
A growing number of local governments are arranging courses on daily household chores for fathers, such as cooking and ironing lessons. Nonprofit organizations have been hosting more gatherings at which fathers can talk with each other about the joys and difficulties of rearing children.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for the business world to voluntarily extend child care leave, which under current law can be taken for a maximum of 1-1/2 years, up until a child becomes 3 years old, both for male and female employees.
Some companies allow male workers to take paid child care leave for about two weeks. We think every company should make further efforts to encourage male employees to get more involved in child rearing.
Beef up community ties
The ties between parents of small children and communities that look warmly after child-rearing couples are also important.
There have been cases in which parents playing with their kids at a park have been told by neighbors they are "noisy." So what are they supposed to do?
A Children's Future Foundation survey found 34 percent of mothers felt "alone and isolated from society" while raising children.
Japan should set up more places where parents and kids can casually get together. Parents can chat and let their kids play at local facilities that support child rearing, such as community centers and children's centers. We hope people whose children have left the nest will help run these facilities.
Having communities lending a hand and providing more support to mothers with children will greatly help people going through parenthood.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 5, 2013)