Parenting Matters

Culled from Nigerian American Child Advocate

“Ka ko omo ni iwe, ko da bi ka ko omo ni eko”

“To give a child school learning is not the same as giving a child home training.”

As many of us prepare for the festivities that typically accompany this season, I encourage us to create that time to reflect on how we can take hold of our future and how we can continue to parent with powerfulness and love.

Nigerians have always been lauded for the high regard they have for parents and parenting. Collective groups have traditionally raised children and this is often reflected in speaking; in most Nigerian cultures, older women and men are referred to using the word that means mother or father respectively. The use of these terms sometimes appears confusing to people from other cultures where mother or father refers principally to one’s birth mother or birth father and not to all those whom are capable of serving in the role of parent. Clarification of whose actual parent one is becomes necessary only in certain circumstances and then a child’s name is attached to the parent’s – Mama Ade or Baba Ade, Ade being the name of their child. It went without saying that children were considered children of the entire community. A child brought pride or its reverse to the collective and not to his/her birth parents alone.

Nigerians do not live in isolation and much that happens globally influences our way of thinking and viewing things. Collective child rearing patterns have been eroded to varying degrees in many Nigerian communities. This is due, in part, to migration patterns, acquisition of new life styles, changing perceptions and misconceptions about the expectations, the realities of life in the western world in particular and historical connections to the western and eastern worlds. Despite the aforementioned changes, Nigerians continue to recognize the important role that education, both formal and informal, plays in their survival in the future.

Most people will still agree that the education of children begins in the home and that parenting in the United States can be quite challenging. The demands of daily life often times seem to overshadow the structure, care and nurturing that our children need in our role as parents. Too often we abandon our role as parents to babysitters and schools forgetting that we are giving other people permission to define our children’s thoughts and attitudes and to define the future of our people, as they see fit. By no stretch of the imagination am I suggesting that we abandon our jobs, discard our social lives and make our children the sole focus of our lives. No. I am stating that is not enough for us to feed and clothe our children and send them to school. It is of vital importance for us to re-evaluate our priorities and to create for ourselves a meaningful balance of activities that will ensure the future of our children and of Nigeria in a rapidly changing world.

“American Pickin!” “Yankee.” Too often I have watched parents excuse their children’s misbehavior with similar statements. I say shame and shame again. We cannot continue to hide behind meaningless statements that denote powerlessness or that attempt to excuse our shortcomings in parenting skills. Although methods of discipline may sometimes differ, Americans do discipline their children and they are faced with many of the same parenting challenges that we are faced with. Just as American “woods” is a Nigerian “bush”, an American “spanking” is a Nigerian “beating”. In the English dictionary the words may paint very different pictures. However, as Nigerians, many of us often use the words interchangeably. I am neither approving nor disapproving of spanking as an option in parenting; that choice is left to individual parents. I most definitely am stating that parenting is about love, not about semantics! No parent in his/her right mind wants to abuse a child. Setting boundaries for a child and discipline are integral parts of child rearing and parenting.

Parents in Nigeria and everywhere are asking the same questions- “How do I raise my child in this world of violence, drugs and social injustice?” “How can I best provide for my family with my limited income and time?” “How can I find good and affordable childcare?” “How do I ensure that my child gets a quality education?” “How can I best prepare my child for the future?” These are the issues and questions that we should be focused on. It’s time for us to take a hold of our future. These are our children. We must therefore engage in a paradigm shift that will take us from a place of powerlessness and ignorance to a place of powerfulness, knowledge and increased love for our children. As we empower ourselves first, and then our communities we will realize that we have begun the walk toward taking a hold of our future.

How does one get started? Take a moral inventory. Take a look at yourself. Do you like the person that you are? Are you trustworthy? Are you honest with yourself and others? Is your honesty limited to a specific group of people? Are you responsible? Do you take responsibility for your actions –good and bad? Do you learn from your mistakes? Take a look at your children. Do they exhibit behaviors and attitudes that you are proud of? Are other people wary of correcting your child when he/she misbehaves? Does the teacher contact you often about your child’s behavior? Does the part of your child’s report card that deals with work habits paint a negative picture? Is your child failing in school? Are other parents concerned about your child coming over to play? Are you too harsh or permissive as a parent? Introspection is a very difficult thing to do, but it is necessary if one seeks improvement. Take care of the personal problems at home. Behave in ways that you want your child to emulate. As Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, ”To train a man in the mind and not in morals is to train a menace to society.”

It goes without saying that the formal and informal education of our children requires much effort in today’s world. There are many distracting activities and objects available to our children in the United States. At the same time, our expectations of schools and the expectations that schools have of our children and ourselves as parents are sometimes unclear and may in some instances not even coincide with what we believe. Now what? Be proactive. Don’t avoid the school and the school staff. Become familiar with your child’s school, its routines and staff. Even though you may not be able to visit the school often, write or call to inquire about your child’s progress in both academic and non-academic areas. Open dialogue is an essential part of most Nigerian cultures. Articulate your beliefs and expectations briefly and clearly. Be open and willing to make adjustments that make sense to you. Remember that the school wants to provide your child an education with your help. Be careful not to make unfair demands on the time of the school staff. Remember, everything happens quickly in the United States. There is always a time crunch!

“So so book and yet no home training.” We cannot simply drop our children off at school, with the expectation that the school will take over both the formal and informal education of our children. Time or a lack thereof and the nature of life in the United States do not allow for the personal relationships we tend to establish with teachers back home. This is also a time of reform in American school systems and change carries with it both benefits and disadvantages for all involved. What your child is expected to learn is more extensive than it has ever been and the implementation of accountability and assessment mandates leave many school systems in a contained uproar. Should you panic? No. Become an involved parent. Knowledge is power. The United States is an information society. Many school systems have publications that address just about everything they are involved in; at least this holds true for most of the larger school systems. Find out about those things that concern your child’s education. Connect with other families and discuss your experiences, issues and the patterns you see and how to find answers to questions that you may have. Now act. Act powerfully with love as your motivation.

All of this said. Take a deep breath and reflect on the words of Jim Rohn –
“Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is poverty. Ignorance is devastation. Ignorance is tragedy. Ignorance is illness. It all stems from ignorance.”

Seasons Greetings from all of us at Eduwatch!

Permission for republishing granted by Nigerian American Child Advocate – an online publication of Eduwatch

Written by
Enitan Doherty-Mason
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