Themes of Engagement

Current Engagement Practices

The Importance of an Education

One of the most important takeaways from this project is that most parents wanted their child to have a good future and be happy. This held true regardless of the level of engagement that occurred in the home, and a common theme was equating a successful future with receiving an education. During one of the interviews a mother stated:

“I want them educated. I showed them that life is not easy without education. I struggle right now and they see that… I’m always telling them, you have to get a career.”

This idea of being able to live comfortably once one receives a high paying job after obtaining a degree, whether it’s only from high school or not, is not unique to just this parent. In fact the majority of the parents mentioned the importance of an education at some point. One father from Jamaica mentioned, “I make them read a lot. I have to do this right now because I know I never got to go to school a lot, you know? I never got to go to school so I make them read now… I don’t want them to be in this situation when they get older.” Most of the parents made sure their children were well of the expectations they had for them in regards to their education. They want their children to have more opportunities and they believe that having an education leads the way to success.

Gendered Roles

Another interesting find is the expectations participants had of themselves due to their gender. A large portion of the parents we spoke to clarified what they believed to be their role based on whether they were the mother or father. This is seen as a mother from Peru stated, “It’s the mom who’s more involved, more nurturing, who makes the food, helps with chores and cleaning their rooms, and everything” (translated from Spanish). The idea of the mother being the nurturer and the father being the provider is also expressed by a father from Jamaica, “Their mom, she’s good. She puts a lot of time to work with them ‘cause I work a lot.” It seems that certain parents assign roles to ensure that their children are both getting everything that they need, and spending time with at least one parent. However, some parents see their role as only a provider. A father from the Congo said,”I work all day, get up early and throw heavy shit around and then these teachers here expect me to help. No way. I’m tired, I don’t have time, and it’s not my job.” While there is no definitive description of what a parent’s role should be, there is the continued belief that a parent is supposed to, at the very least, provide necessities for their children even if time is not spent with them. 


Language as an Obstacle

Understanding the challenges families face when it when it comes to parent engagement is vital in order to make a difference. A language barrier was one of the greatest obstacles in parent engagement. Although many parents made the effort to get involved, some expressed that their lack of English proficiency created some dissonance. One of the mothers stated:

“When they played football I used to enjoy going to the games and seeing them play. But on some level I felt like I couldn’t completely be there because I couldn’t speak the language. Sometimes that made it very difficult, not knowing the language”

(translated from Spanish). Despite the desire to be an active participant in their kids’ lives, it is often difficult because it’s not possible to communicate effectively when a parent does not understand the language well. Not only does this interfere with participation in school events, it also disengages the parent from the teacher and classroom, which does not allow them to understand what occurs in the classroom or properly address any issues that may arise.

Lack of Time

Another challenge to parent engagement is time. Many participants expressed their longing to get involved in their children’s lives, but stated how that was extremely difficult due to their work schedules. When asked what would have made involvement easier, a mother from Peru said, “It would have made it easier if I could just stay at home… I would have loved to completely dedicate myself to my kids at least until they finished high school.”(translated from Spanish).  The issue of just not having enough time during the week to really engage in their kids’ school life was a common concern for a lot parents, and many attempted to ameliorate that by taking their kids out for fun activities on days off.

The Struggle of Independence

Independence as a Gateway

Independence was another topic that often came up during the interviews. Interestingly enough, it was a barrier for some, yet a goal for many others. During one interview, the expectation of independence led to a lack of engagement between a daughter and her father. When asked about her relationship with her father she said:

“They’re doing their thing and I don’t know if it’s because of my age… they probably feel like they didn’t have to sit there and baby me.”

They did not spend much time together not because of lack of love or concern, but because it was assumed people of her age should be more independent. She had the freedom to make her own decisions and figure out for herself what she wanted to do in all facets of life.

Independence as a Barrier

This style of parenting was certainly not shared with a father from the Congo who stated, “Back home, being the man means [I] choose everything for my child and it doesn’t matter what she thinks, but here she apparently has rights… I mean that’s the good thing about America but I still have authority.” Here is a father very unlike the young lady’s parent. The father from the Congo was bothered by the fact that his children were too autonomous in the United States. This idea was shared in a separate interview a mother expresses her concern over teenager being too independent and that having a strain on their engagement: “She’s quiet… insulated. I can say isolated girl.” In this case, the daughter’s yearn for independence and privacy actually led the mother to think that it was a barrier instead of something positive like another parent believed. The struggle of independence in this project is particularly interesting because of the age group we are focused. Adolescence is the stage where people try to be more autonomous and figure out who they are, and although the freedom is important some type of dependence needs to occur not only for livelihood purposes but also for guidance.

Action Plan

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