PARENTING: Time to Change the African Narrative

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Respect, as defined by the Word Web Dictionary, is the condition of being honored/respected/well-regarded.

And respect in the context of daily living is truly a fine way of expressing deep admiration for someone. Children are expected to respect their parents regardless of what they do to the child, wrong or right. As our first article on Afrikanmum.com, we want to look at the concept of respect and why it ought to be shown both ways between parents and their children.

In an interview with Asmau Ayub, a licensed counseling psychologist, she explained that her work is focused on child protection and adolescent development. 

“I am a mother who is keen on sharing experiences of good and effective parenting with young mothers,” Ayub explains.

Every child’s first point of socialization is their parents, prior to learning about the world that stretches beyond the home. Hence, the relationship between children and their parents should be based on trust, compassion, mutual respect and love. Such a healthy relationship goes a long way to support community growth.

‘Okay’ is how Mawudem Yawli Adzaklo describes his relationship with his own parents. He recounts an incident that occurred when he was in JHS 2 as the last time his parents beat him after he had run off to swim with others without parental supervision. 

“But my parents never beat me for the sake of it,” he adds. “And generally, as a grown man, they respect my opinion on issues.”

On the other hand, Tanko Osman’s parents would beat him even before they found out he was actually in the wrong — in which case he never got an apology, anyway. 

“The last time I was beaten was when I was in JHS, after which they resorted more to verbal discipline,” Osman recalls. 

“Over the years, though, we have grown to build a very solid relationship of mutual respect. For instance, my dad — who used to do the beating when I was younger, following reports of any real or perceived misbehavior by my mom — doesn’t enter my room now unless he knocks to be sure it’s okay to do so. He respects my boundaries.” 

When talking about instances of abuse between parents and their children, Ms. Ayub said she is informed of such occurrences on a daily basis. 

“I have had to intervene in parents’ relationships with their wards,” she says. “Throughout my line of work with young people, mostly adolescents and children, I have witnessed cases of parents/guardians themselves abusing their children. Other times, the parents/guardians may not be directly involved but do help shield the actual perpetrators — at the expense of their wards.”

Generally, people describe or report abuse only when there is a presence or evidence of physical pain. Contrary to this notion, using mean words on your child may have a more damaging effect on their behavior, self-esteem and confidence as they develop. Some children who face verbal abuse have, in turn, resorted to becoming verbally abusive with their peers in seeking an outlet for the unpleasant pent-up emotions.

It should be noted, though, that parents who are heavily stressed, abuse drugs, are dealing with marital problems/family challenges and are finding difficulty to break-through may be more likely to displace their frustrations on their children and, in the process, possibly abuse them. Still, Ms. Ayub believes there is never a justifiable excuse to abuse a child and, as much as it may be hard to handle, any good parent should learn how to hold their grits together in any difficult situation. Displacing anger and pain on innocent children only breeds successive generations of bitter and abusive parents. 

Ms. Ayub agrees. Showing the way to deal with parents who see no wrong in negatively disciplining their children, she opines that children who go through abuse have a higher tendency of becoming abusive themselves later in life. To such ones, abuse becomes a normal way of defending themselves and getting back at people they may disagree with or who oppose their views. If such a child grows to become a parent, they are more likely to mirror the harsh parenting approach they were subjected to in their younger years, feeling no sense of guilt or shame. And who could blame them when that’s the only way they know?

Such parents have come to accept it as a form of training, and also because they believe their wards cannot have a say largely because they never had any in their own childhood. Clearly, then, there is a need to break this vicious cycle of bitterness and vengeance at some point. And perhaps that point is now

In dealing with parents with this mindset, it is important to start by appreciating and appealing to any strengths and positive traits they may have. When helped to develop a positive image of themselves, albeit rather belatedly, parents would be more inclined to concretely envisage a beautiful future with their children while drawing out current issues that may hinder such prospects.

What, though, if a parent wronged a child — or vice versa? Who should apologize — and to whom?

Miss Ayub believes that saying sorry is a very important way to rebuild or to rekindle broken relationships. 

“Apologizing may not repair what is damaged,” she says, “but one should never underestimate the ease it brings to the person whose feelings may have been hurt.”

And it is no one-way traffic. Apologies should not only be given to parents or adults but also to children when they are unintentionally — or especially intentionally — hurt. Children learn by imitating the adults around them, and they would pick up the word ‘sorry’ quicker if it is said to them whenever warranted, thus teaching good behaviors and social skills they would need for life. 

Apologizing is necessary the very moment a person realizes they have hurt the feelings of another or as soon as their attention is drawn to the injury by the aggrieved individual. It is important to note, too, that when one apologizes, they must try as much as possible not to repeat the offence in order not to render the previously uttered apologies empty.

While explaining, Ms. Ayub said she cannot overemphasize the negative effects of talking down on your child. Children develop — social skills, emotions, sense of trust and assertiveness, among other qualities — in stages. The type of socialization and support they receive directly influences how they will successfully progress through the stages. 

As parents, children depend on us while developing their independent identities. Constantly talking down on your child will cause them to develop a negative identity of themselves. It shutters their self-confidence and self-worth. With time, they only see themselves as being of little or no value. When this happens, they struggle with maintaining social relationships and may have significant problems in dealing with their partners.

When asked to advise parents, Ms. Ayub appreciated the reality in the struggles of most African parents but nonetheless added that most parents around the world struggle to support their families, especially their children. What would be gained if we don’t prioritize the same people for whom we struggle? 

It’s important that we take a break to conduct an introspection of our styles of parenting and the impact it has on the overall wellbeing of children.

Ms. Ayub concluded by appealing to all parents to pay attention to the holistic development and wellbeing of their children. She advised that parents listen to their children and build a trusting relationship while teaching them about life and how to adjust during turmoil. 

“Most importantly,” Ms. Ayub urges, “be there for them always.”

From our talk with the psychologist, here are a few pointers to look at in making life easier with/for your children:

  • take a chance to know the friends of your wards
  • include your child in decision-making
  • make time for your children
  • have rules and regulations
  • share your frustrations