By Okeke Chibueze
Parenting is quite a task especially for morally upright and uptight parents who have a lot at stake in regards to their names, social, religious, political and economic status and integrity. It is in a bid to ensure they uphold these already established standards for themselves that most parents deny their children the much needed opportunity to make decisions and certain necessary mistakes for themselves while they, the parents, guide them through such decisions that characterize growth and development of every human. The fear is, “ha ga echu anyi aha” (they will just embarrass us and give us a bad name). Thus, they set rules and regulations stipulated to ensure the image people already have of them is well-protected by their children in words and deeds.
As far as the children play by these rules, they are good children, good representatives of the parents and wonderful ambassadors of the family name and values. It is these rules that guide their character formation, attitude, interaction as well as value system. This applies as well to religious settings where the spirituality of a person is measured by how often he visits the place of worship, the good name he has amongst the people of same faith, the level of obedience to the rules and regulations set by these religious organizations and those who have the duty of communicating, executing and defending these rules and regulations. This is not only applicable to religions and religious organizations as it is not the only factor that binds a society together.
The same thing applies to people held together by same cultural and traditional bonds, same economic, political and marital ideologies, norms and beliefs. In order to save our children from making mistakes, we have unconsciously pushed them into greater mistakes than we were trying to help them avoid. It is one thing to be disciplined and highly moral as parents, it is another thing to be conservative and strict, not trying to learn much less adapt to the changing realities of the society in which we have found ourselves.
Parenting becomes more tasking when we try enforcing our personalities into our children because we have an image to protect or a name to preserve. At that, we gradually force them into living our lives all over again without any consideration for the purpose for which they were created. With time these children grow up to continually live the lives of their parents, preachers, mentors, etc. without the joy and fulfillment that comes with living theirs. As a result of this, normal mistakes from which they are meant to learn are denied them probably until they grow to become adults, leave the comfort of their parents and/or guardians, and then they begin to experience life and its realities, things begin to take on a different definition and perspective from that which they had always known.
Most of them get frustrated at this point and just remain within the confines they are used to. Others in their bid to break loose from the long-held restrictions, go extreme into various actions and take some rash decisions, most unfortunately, at an age when the mistakes that come with these decisions cannot be ignored. It thus becomes too embarrassing for the parents and guardians who blame everyone and everything else but themselves as they console themselves with, “…and I trained you well o”. While it is important to guide children through their growing age, it is necessary, at least for the sake of their future to leave certain things in their hands, teach them to start early to take responsibilities for their actions, decisions, inactions and reactions. However, before they can learn to take responsibilities for this, they must first have the freedom to choose what they want albeit with parental guidance, so that when the consequences are due, they would understand things better. It is expedient that from the moment a child begins to learn the difference between good and evil, his parents begin to consciously, patiently, and most importantly, with politeness, educate him on the consequences of certain actions instead of just giving him a list of dos and don’ts to abide by.
In order to save our children from making mistakes, we have unconsciously pushed them into greater mistakes than we were trying to help them avoid.
One major mistake parents have made in this generation and probably in those before ours is believing that because they are the parents, the children MUST obey them. While this is expected, it is not always the case. At the same time, while it is good, a child grows to a time when he needs to understand why he is to do certain things, believe certain things and act in certain ways. If this child is not made to understand these things, he may continue following those rules for the sake of being an obedient child while waiting for the day he will break loose from the chains of restrictions.
It is one thing to be disciplined and highly moral as parents, it is another thing to be conservative and strict, not trying to learn much less adapt to the changing realities of the society in which we have found ourselves.
For others, they begin to question things too early in life they are termed stubborn, heady or at worst, wayward. The bitter truth in all these is that most of our parents do not even know why they do some of the things they do, believe what they believe or act in certain ways; the necessary convictions are not there. They just do things because “etua ka ayi si eme ya” (This is how we do it). This is how our fathers did it; this is how our church does it; this is how it was handed over to us; or this is how we have been doing it, people have known us to be this or that, or to do things in certain ways, and so we struggle to maintain that status quo so as to hold on to that with which we have come to be known while the society gives us the greater chance to explore new opportunities and conquer new grounds. With this kind of attitude without proper conviction, the parents find it difficult to explain to the child WHY he must follow certain footsteps since they do not have the answers themselves.
Thus, you hear
“Do you remember I am your father? What makes you think you can be wiser than I”
“You must obey me because I am your mother! I carried you nine months in my womb; I fed you with these my breasts”
“You have grown wings to challenge constituted authorities okwaya?”
Or at worst we get threatening words of great punishment awaiting defaulters either in this life or in the one to come, all aimed at beating the child to the shape we want them to have without recourse to the purpose for which they are alive in the first place.
In some very rare cases when the situation has gone beyond what autocratic methods can handle, we see parents become humble and polite with words like:
“Nnam, you know I love you and I cannot deceive you. Just do it this way and make me happy bikozie”
Many other short quotes and rhetorical questions are used which have within them the subtle but common command “Just do it; no questions, no objections. Obey without complaining”. And I am left to wonder how many robots we will have bred in the next few generations who just do things because they are told to do them and then blame everyone else but themselves when the consequences of their actions begin to surface. From my few years and experiences, I have come to understand that there are a number of decisions which should be left to the child while the parents guide with every sense of politeness, patience and friendly gesture. Letting the children take these decisions from a tender age will greatly help to shape the future of a child and increase their chances of becoming great at adventure and influence when they grow. I will outline a few of them here while maintaining that other examples abound which may not be captured here. The need for these few examples is to help us understand the import of this message and appreciate it rightly. It will also help inform our decisions as to whether or not change the way we have handled our children before now.
There is an age meant for proper indoctrination and impartation of one’s religious beliefs into the child. Within this age, the basics of the faith of the parents are meant to be transferred into the child with appropriate education and conviction, thus setting the child off as regards decisions that concern religion. While there is no hard fast rule to this, it is important to note that once a child goes beyond this age, he is left confused and without direction in a world where every camp wants you to believe that it is the best and easiest way to the Supreme Being. At this age also, the parents find it very difficult to work up anything into the mind of the child without facing nagging questions which sometimes may upset a conservative mind. Thus, it is important that before a child attains that age where he begins to decide for himself, the parents have laid a good religious foundation for him on the basics of theirs so as to help him have a base before facing the others.
Religion is built on faith, belief and conviction, and except is it allowed to develop freely on these pillars, it will only be another faithful observation of rules and regulations with a hope to break loose of them at the right time. Thus, it is important that a child is allowed to freely make a choice about his religious life as he grows up. This will help ensure he experiences the joy that comes with the freedom to make his own choice, and as he continues in that which he has chosen, his mind is open at all times to further explorations. The fact that he was not forced into a particular belief system helps make him open to accommodating people of various religious beliefs and faiths, knowing that we cannot all be of the same conviction at a time. Consequently, this will help us build a society that is tolerant of one another’s religious beliefs, faiths and convictions, without anyone claiming superiority over the other.
Youths today grow up to become a huge mess financially because they did not start early enough to learn the basics of financial decisions. Most of us grew up with the confidence that whatever we needed was provided, so we never thought of the need to save or keep some money away in case things go awry for our parents or sponsors. Most of us grew up only knowing expectations and their fulfilment. We already know the menu of the house and the time for each meal. Thus, at the appointed time it is expected that food be ready, and mum and dad never disappointed. Sometimes parents even go as far as borrowing to ensure that the children’s expectations are met or fear of not disappointing or making them start comparing their standard of living with those of others around. While this helps preserve the pride and confidence of the parents, it stretches a lot of parents beyond their limits financially, psychologically, and much later physically. At a point, the parent becomes easily annoyed by every little mistake the child makes because to him, “he does not know what I go through to provide for him”. I am of the opinion that children should be let in on the financial strength of their parents, especially when it is not all rosy. This will help reduce their high expectations at those times, thus reduce the pressure on their parents. Also, it is necessary that from a very tender age a child understands what it means to work for each penny he gets from the parents or anyone else. This will help the child appreciate labour and its dignity and benefits from a very tender age.
Also, it will help the child in his financial decisions from a very tender age. A child who learns to work for money from a very tender age will also learn to spend wisely, save for future important needs and at the same time, start from a very tender age to think of how to make more money, and with the right advisers around him, would also start thinking of business and investments early enough. If the child is well-guided through series of financial decisions with their accompanying mistakes, he would have gained enough experience to set out early in life as regards making informed decisions and taking calculated risks before the pressure of making money and taking up responsibilities begin to set in.
Our society today is replete with dead visions, dreams and aspirations in the souls of their carriers who are living in regret that they could not live the dream of their lives. A lot of children, when asked what they wish to become in life, have so many things to outline as what they wish to become. Some on the other hand start at a very tender age to exhibit some characteristics that clearly defines their visions and mission in life such that if well harnessed, nature and divinity plays its role to give our society another long-awaited solution in one sector or the other. However, most of these visions and dreams are not harnessed because parents and guardians have not come to understand their roles as regards the academic and career decisions of their children. In most cases, the parents think it is their responsibility to choose a career and impose it on their children while the children just have to obey since, they (the parents) know what is good for their children. I have met a number who said, “When I’m done with this school, I will just go and hand over this certificate to myy parents, then start pursuing my passion.” And when you ask why they had to obtain the certificate first before pursuing their passion you get responses like, “It is what they want me to study, not what I want to study.”
Academic and career decisions are meant to be left to the child as he is growing with a supportive guidance from the parents or sponsors. This is way better than imposing parents’ passion on the children as it can also be a factor causing the high rate of unemployment in our society today. Many kids are pushed into careers that are only meant to make their parents proud and fulfill their dreams of being the proud father of a medical doctor, a lawyer or the proud mother of a newscaster anafu nwa ya na TV (whose child is seen on the TV). Some even go as far as pushing their children into religious clerical services just for the joy of answering mama ukochukwu or mama Reverend Father (the priest’s mother). Do you wonder why we have so many unfulfilled adults around us?
It is because a lot of them were distracted from their passion while growing up, and this has led them into things that they are not happy doing.
I am of the opinion that parents are meant to be guides for the children towards finding their paths in life, and are not I any way supposed to show them a path to follow especially when it has to do with academic or career pursuit. Just like marriage decisions, it is the child that lives with the consequences of a bad career decision, and so it is necessary to let the child take that decision himself. Another vital role the parents are meant to play in the choice of a child’s career is that of constant observation of the child from a very early stage to understand where he finds fun and relaxation. At his leisure what does he prefer to engage in? When no one is there to police him into being useful what does he enjoy doing? What sort of activities gets him all lively? These may be pointers to which career may bring him satisfaction in the future. When these observations are made, it is necessary to provide him an enabling environment to explore further into those things he loves doing. With this, he will be set towards the right direction early in life and his future career would be obvious to all around him in time to avoid any form of distractions or redirection. In cases where these early observations are not made, it is necessary to always engage the child in openhearted conversations aimed at finding out where his passion lies and helping him move towards the pursuit of same. This way, we will be grooming future generations of vibrant youths who are passionate about their dreams, aspirations and goals, and can continue holding on to them when the winds of challenge come against them.
This, like religious decisions are very delicate as most parents would frown at allowing their children make any decisions in this regard for fear of losing them to societal changes. However, it is important to note that every call for the child’s independence as regards decision-making does not mean the child should be left on his own. The aim is to make parents see their duties more from the perspective of supervision and guidance rather than from the perspective of lording it over their children. This will help relieve the stress and worry as regards the child’s growing stages. Relationship in this case has to do with his interaction and communication with his peers from various other backgrounds both from a close range and those which are distant. The emphasis should be on teaching the child from a very tender age the need to understand love and equity in his relationship with others. It is also important to make a child understand the importance of love, justice, fairness and equity in his relationship with people, at the same time respect should be a watchword too. This way, at the right time and age, he will be well-guided in living out the same basic virtues as he makes his life choices.
Another aspect of this is in regards to the kind of relationship which binds two hearts together in love. It will be deception to pretend that this does not come calling as the child grows up. Thus, it is important that from a very tender age the child is taught some tenets of this kind of relationship. The boy child should be taught to love and respect a girl beyond physical features while the girl child is taught to do same. Most importantly, he child should be taught to value friendship and co-existence beyond over possessiveness. This will help him learn to grow with an open heart and set his mind more on building his peers as he builds himself. This will also help him become less competitive as regards his relationship with people around him.
You will agree with me that there are a number of mistakes and errors that may be forgiven a child but not an adult. The fall of a child in a public place may not raise as much dust as that of an adult or a youth. However, when the child has been carried all his life till adulthood before he is allowed to learn to walk, his constant falls become imminent and this does not come without much embarrassment, disgrace and humiliation which may set him back from exploring his world. A friend once said, and of course I agree with her, “Strict parents train the best liars”. This goes a long way to explain why children of strict parents are always may have a different life amongst their peers than they would before their parents. The reason is not farfetched, they do not have the freedom to make mistakes before their parents as the punishment for such mistakes would be worse than what actually led them to it. It is important a child learns to make decisions early in life, make mistakes and learn from them so that as he grows, he is balanced in every aspect of his life without necessarily repeating mistakes he made and moved ahead from while growing up.