I attended a function over the weekend where I happened to overhear a mother and her child, a boy of about eight, arguing.
The boy must have hit his younger sister, who was seated next to him, because his mother said, “I told you not to hit your sister, why do you keep doing it?” she asked, sounding exasperated, to which the boy replied,
“She tried to take my thing,” he said. “Is that a reason to hit her?” the mother wondered, only for the boy to retort that she favoured his sister, a declaration that ended up derailing the whole conversation and becoming one where the mother tried to assure him that she loved both of them equally.
It occurred to me that this is what present-day parenting has become — parents don’t tell their children what to do; they suggest, and when the suggestion is taken, they reason and negotiate with them.
Some even plead with their children, and when they don’t come around, they simply do what they want done themselves.
How different it was in my time, and thinking back, how easy and uncomplicated it was to be a parent then.
Had that been me who hit my younger sister when I had been warned not to do it again, my mother would probably have promptly given me the smack of the century, one that would have convinced me to be on my best behaviour for a month.
She would not have bothered to find out what had prompted me to hit her, what mattered was that she had warned me not to do it again, yet I had gone on and done it.
In my day, parents did not negotiate or reason with their children, they told them what to do.
I have been doing a lot of thinking after that incident and have come to the conclusion that these are tough times to be a parent.
If you don’t believe it, consider the tons of information out there whose sole purpose is to teach us how to be good parents.
How to raise confident children; how to raise successful children; how to raise money savvy children; how to raise God-fearing children; how to help your depressed child … The ‘how-to’ is endless.
It seems like just yesterday when all was needed to raise a responsible all-rounded child in harmony with the world was a sharp glance from your mother that communicated a million-and-one things, which you all understood in the one second that the glance lasted.
That one look communicated a multitude of things: “Wait until we get home, you will see me …”
“If you know what’s good for you, you will stop what you’re doing right now!”
“What did I tell you this morning?!” “Finish your food!” “Behave!”
To supplement ‘the look’, or if it didn’t work, the stick, slipper or the lightening slaps and pinches that set your cheeks and ears on fire would do the job.
And we turned out alright, if the only baggage many of us carried with us in our adulthood is the unpleasant memories.
Granted, these are different times, perilous times even, what, with the internet, urbanisation and modernity that seems determined to get its way; so we probably cannot afford to parent the way our parents raised us.
I mean, we are living in times when an upset child, instead of sulking for a few hours and then goes on with life, commits suicide!
This modern way of parenting all seems too much and too complicated. Though, think about it, how many “parenting” seminar posters have you seen posted on the social media platforms you are in, especially WhatsApp, just this August alone?
Are we that inept, clueless and helpless when it comes to raising their children?
The writer is the Editor, ‘Society’ and Magazines, ‘Daily Nation’. [email protected]