Omo tí a ò ko láá wo ilé tí a ko (The undisciplined child will destroy the home of distinction).
A friend called yesterday, who was facing a peculiar dilemma. She was hosting a family on vacation – dad, mom and three children ages 9, 6, and 3. In the first two days in her home, the children had broken an antique mirror, a dining table chair, and several plates. One had spilt grape juice on her beige rug, another had torn a curtain, and the third had written on the wall. Each time any of the children committed an infraction; the mother would spank the offender and proceed to plead, “Stop disgracing me!” and threaten, “I will never take you on vacation again!” Dad was always out enjoying his vacation exploring his environment.
The family was well off ergo a family vacation for five from Lagos, Nigeria to three cities in the US. They had similar furniture and amenities in their own home as the ones they’d broken. And never having visited this home before; they should have been subdued and attentive. So why the hell raising on what should be a pleasant family vacation?
During the school year, their routine was thus: Dad, a lawyer, left the house every day at 5:00am in order to arrive in court on time. Mom ran her own business but also left their VI home early enough to run around Lagos closing deals. One maid got the children ready for school as another made their breakfast. The driver managed the school runs. On weekends, the family fulfilled their separate or joint social obligations – a birthday party here, funeral there, extended family drama up center. The household ran smoothly with the staff picking up the slack from the parents. Unfortunately, the children barely interacted with their parents.
In fact, this vacation was the first time mom would actually be in such close quarters with her kids all year! Since she did not travel with household staff, she couldn’t call out, “Binta, come clean up Tara!” or “Driver, take these children to Mr. Biggs!” So she is forced to try to instill some discipline in children who are unused to her authority or even, presence. Devastated she laments, “What have I done to deserve this? I give them everything they want. These things they are destroying…they have them at home. Why are they disgracing me?”
Unfortunately her dilemma is common in absentee-parent households wherein the parents are too busy chasing money to play the primary role in training and socializing their children. Instead, they abdicate their responsibilities to nannies, drivers, maids, and teachers. As stated in the quote above, “the undisciplined child will destroy the home of distinction.” While these parents make tremendous money and build fantastic careers, their children wreck unimaginable havoc on everything they build. They are untrained and they grow to become uncouth thugs and criminals. If they live in countries with laws, they end up in jail; if not, they become profligates engaging in varying degrees of criminality.
The act of parenting goes beyond biological reproduction and provision of sustenance; it is the systematic training of another human being to live productively in a sociopolitical community. Having enough to meet the needs and wants of your family is excellent BUT if you don’t train your children, they will drain your reputation. Housemaids, drivers, nannies, and other staff cannot carry out your parenting duties. They cannot operate as surrogate parents while you are busy running all around town chasing the naira, dollar, or other currency! It is your unique responsibility as a parent to train your children. To parent well, you must be there, beware, and be fair.
• Be there – you cannot express love in absentia nor can you earn respect in absentia. Don’t buy your children’s affection with things instead, connect with them truthfully. Spend time with them. Shower them with affection. Dream big dreams with and for them. Love them unconditionally and they will love you in return. For African mothers, it is a child you have nurtured who will understand your “evil eye” when s/he misbehaves in public. The one you have not trained will simply ask you, “what’s wrong with your eye, mom?” As much as it is within your power, be present in your child’s life in good times and in bad so you can instruct in the right manner. The idea of quality time is a myth because without quantity time, you cannot pick out those teachable moments we refer to as ‘quality time.’
• Beware – be aware of the influences entering your children’s lives – whether virtual or physical; emotional or psychological. What shows do they love to watch? What are the lessons being transmitted to your offspring via those shows? Who are there friends? What are their current fads, trends, and ideologies? Do they represent your values? When you are aware of what’s going on in your child’s life, you are able to take corrective or reinforcing action in your parenting. Interestingly, you cannot beware if you are not there first. So, be there then beware.
• Be fair – don’t beat your child simply because you are angry at what s/he did. A child’s behavior is not directed at the parent; it is simply a child’s behavior. Too often in my role as Sunday School Teacher, I marvel at what kids do. For example, I look at a chair and see at best, a seat. A child views the same chair as a horse, a rocket, a car, a launch pad, a hiding spot, and more. And when that child flips the chair over and launches himself 10 feet into the air, I’m forced to restrain myself and simply marvel. Being fair is separating mischief from misbehavior; administering the proper punishment for misbehavior without damaging the child’s soul; and accepting repentance and restitution as needed. Likewise, you must be there and beware, in order to be fair.
(This article is the first in a series entitled Parenting Leaders © AfriLeads…training the next generation of leaders)