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REMITTANCES, TRANSNATIONAL PARENTING, AND THE CHILDREN LEFT BEHIND: ECONOMIC AND PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS Ernesto Castañeda, Ph.D. University of Texas at El Paso Lesley Buck, LCSW “You have it all. Good clothes. Good tennis shoes,”. . . “I’d trade it all for my mother . . . You can never get the love of a mother from someone else” (Nazario 2006:xii). For this child, as for many others, family unity is more important than anything else even if it means living in poverty. One wonders if a child is capable of understanding the repercussions of a life spent in abject poverty, as children are inclined towards valuing emotional resources over economic ones. It becomes more difficult to justify being left behind in exchange for remittances given what is known about the profound impact the relationship with a primary caregiver has on one’s life course. As we show, the choice between emotional and economic wellbeing becomes an impossible one.1 Remittance-led migration brings about traumatic separations of husbands and wives, children and parents, creating transnational households. Besides the suffering entailed, this separation and its accompanying sense of uncertainty have important consequences for the future wellbeing of the members of the transnational family. Remittances are proof of sacrifices and a serious commitment to the migrants’ loved ones left behind (Tilly 2007). Yet, this paper addresses the following questions: what are the social and emotional costs incurred by separations between parents and children due to migration? To what degree are these costs compensated for by remittances and by care provided by others? In order to assess these questions it is worth asking whether parental absence has an observable effect on the children left behind. Few studies have considered the children left behind and the impact that this experience has once the family reunites (Artico 2003; Bryant 2005; Dreby 2006; 2007; 2010; Heymann 2006; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila 1997; Menjívar 2000; Parreñas 2005). Despite the negative consequences of family separation after migration some researchers may shy away from writing much on these issues out of concern for being perceived as criminalizing or judging migrant parents. This is understandable but minimizing the potential psychological consequences tells only a partial story, and thwarts the prospects for the creation of policies to help these families. C  2011 Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 85 The Latin Americanist, December 2011 With the recent tightening of border controls, sojourns often last longer than expected and children may go years without seeing their parents. Many times parents and children only know each other as voices on a telephone or through photographs. In her study of Mixtecs from Oaxaca working in Central New Jersey, Joanna Dreby (2006) looks closely at parenting trends inside transnational families. She reports an average length of mother-child separation of 3.4 years and an average length of fatherchild separation of 9.2 years for respondents in her sample (2006:28). Rhacel Salazar Parreñas (2005) computed the time spent by parents with their children by dividing the length of stay abroad by the length of visits, reporting that in her sample in the Philippines, migrant mothers spent an average of 23.9 weeks with their children over the course of an average of 11.42 years, while migrant fathers spent 74 weeks with their children over 13.79 years (2005:32). Paradoxically, many women with children in the developing world migrate alone in large numbers to work as caretakers in developed areas. Given this reality, Jody Heymann (2006) wonders who is raising the children of the developing world? Migration scholars , development practitioners, and policy makers should consider this question. The Catholic Church historically condemned emigration on moral grounds since it produced family separation (Fitzgerald 2009). Nonetheless , this paper should not be taken as a moral condemnation of parents who emigrate and send remittances to their children. As interviews with migrant parents show, they often see this as the ultimate sacrifice and evidence of parental love. However, unintended consequences arise from these decisions. This paper takes the narratives, subjective perceptions, and psychological effects on the children left behind as the issues under study. From the point of view of a young...


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