What is the most important thing to you as a parent?
That your kids fear, respect and obey you or that you are able to navigate or guide them through every aspect of their lives with your wealth of experience?
Or maybe you would say all of the above?
If you are Nigerian, you would probably say that if they fear and respect and obey you, they will trust that your instructions will not lead them astray.
You would probably be right.
We rarely push our kids in harmful directions deliberately. In the world that we understand, we have learnt the things to avoid to maximize success. We do not want them to make mistakes that are avoidable.
So how do we do this?
How do we compel them to obey us and trust us?
We shout at them and we beat them.
The worst thing you can tell a Nigerian parent is that beating a kid is not beneficial to the child.
If DEM NO BEAT PIKIN, THE BAD TING WEY IM DEY DO GO MASTER AM.
We swear by the cane.
She is not doing well? Beat her.
He did not do his homework? Beat him.
You sent him on an errand and he takes too long to get back. Beat him.
She answers back to you? Beat her and her descendants so none of them will try you.
You want to potty train a toddler? Beat him.
Someone once even told me that if a baby keeps biting your nipple while feeding, you need to smack the baby till the baby associates pain with biting nipples.
We point at ourselves as the poster children for how beating works.
We turned out alright didn’t we?
We watch white children talking back to their parents with our fists curling and uncurling. If only they give us that brat for one day, we will teach him a lesson he will never forget.
A few months back, there was a conversation about rape and sexual abuse on Facebook. People sent their stories anonymously to Olu Bunmi who writes on social issues.
If you know the untold things that happened to adults right under the noses of their parents when they were children or young adults, you would place your hands on your head and wail.
Children were raped, assaulted, threatened and traumatized by relatives, neighbours, pastors/imams and even in some cases one of their parents.
Children were holding penises and being made to suck them, they were forced to lick vaginas, they were even penetrated vaginally or anally in these our tough African homes with so much religion and discipline.
No we did not turn out alright if stashed in our memories are horrific experiences that we could never tell our parents about. We carry pieces of broken hearts while we ‘adult’ pretending we are fine.
Why could kids not run to their parents and say Uncle X did this to me?
Parental reactions were typically predictable growing up. You are good and no one beats you. You are bad and you get beaten.
How would my parents react if I told them someone did this to me?
Would they shout and beat me and blame me?
Do I trust that the situation would not get worse for me?
So kids believe a stranger would harm them over trusting that their parents would protect them.
In some of these stories, some reported to their parents and they were blamed or made to keep quiet simply because the parent, usually the mother, did not want to complicate life by confronting the molester.
A true story.
There was a preteen that suddenly became withdrawn. But that was not the worst, he started bed-wetting and defecating on himself. The mother kept beating him because she did not understand why a child long potty trained suddenly started soiling himself. His performance in school dropped. She kept beating him but instead of improving he became more withdrawn.
She confided in a friend who was smart enough to steer her. She said something was happening to the boy that he could not help or speak about. They had to get him to talk. The mother stopped beating him. She started reassuring him that he could trust her. That she would help him. To talk to her if something was happening in his life.
He finally told her.
There were two men that had raped him. And then they threatened to kill him if he told anyone. They held this over him to repeatedly sodomize him. He could not retain his feaces. Some damage had been done and he was suffering from incontinence. And this mother had been beating this child through this untold trauma.
She wept bitterly and sought for justice.
The men were arrested. The rich one from an influential home got bail and found a way of extricating himself from the situation. The other guy is rotting in jail.
The mother wants full justice.
This happened in Jos.
If we want to get our children to trust us to guide them in any aspect of our lives, we need to keep that cane down and stop the erratic shouting and sermonizing.
What is the most important thing to you?
If your daughter got pregnant, would you want her to come to you first or go to some dingy flat and have her stomach mangled by a questionable character under unsterile conditions?
A secondary school junior of mine died having an abortion.
A lady about to marry found out she was pregnant and rather than ‘disgrace’ her parents who were prominent in church, she decided to have an abortion. She died.
We would rather our children not even make these mistakes in the first place, but what if they did? Or even by no fault of theirs they find themselves in situations like these?
Despite our ‘home training’ and religious parents, how many of us got married as virgins?
There are some parents that would rather a child struggled through mistakes or problems than destroy the perfect image that they have in their heads of who their children are.
I am relatively new to this parenting thing. But my biggest fear is that my children don’t come to me when they need me the most.
Recently, my first son resumed in school and was struggling. This was a shock to me when I was informed by the school. My son is genuinely a high flyer. He is very smart and never needed extra schooling.
NA PLAY ENTER IM HEAD, BEAT AM.
The African solution to everything.
I did not do that.
I spoke to his dad.
Then I called my friend who had worked with kids for decades.
Then I chatted some friends with experience with kids.
I called my pastor’s wife who is a trained educator and owns a school and also has 3 children.
I listened to them and started to trouble shoot.
I recently had a baby, could it be he felt left out?
The summer holidays were about watching cartoons and playing because I did not have the energy to arrange any lessons. Was that too long to be away from school work?
Had he developed hearing problems or something medical that was affecting him?
Well, my husband and I explored every option and I took him out to his favorite eatery just the two of us. We talked about everything without me querying him. I got him practice books for home. When it was time for his midterm tests, we studied together.
He aced it. He got a distinction.
His confidence is back. His teachers are all excited again.
Without beating him and calling him names simply because I am afraid he is becoming an olodo.
Let us not use the same lack of imagination to handle our kids that our fore fathers used. It may take longer, but we need to find ways that will not damage them and years later we will boast they are ok when we do not even know half of what they have been through.
I am not advocating for the complete oyinbo style of raising children where they are shielded from every consequence and where a child crying is seen as abuse. A lot are raising self-indulgent, entitled children without an ounce of respect.
I want a middle ground.
I refuse to be just another African mother.
Spare the rod and spoil the child is symbolic. Rods are used to prod sheep in the right direction else they will wander and get lost. If you do not “prod” your children properly they will be ‘spoilt’. This scripture does not mean you should buy a big rod and empty that child of his very essence.
You are welcome!