Having recently discovered Viber I got chatting to a friend from Uganda who put me to task about my blog page that appears to have gone rather silent. It wasn’t for lack of topics to blog about, the real reason was down to my restlessness and poor practice in using my time.
To kick-start off my blog I’ve been asked to give my take on parenting. First of all, this is one definition on what parenting is about…
Good parenting happens when a person creates for a child a stable, nurturing home environment, is a positive role model, and plays a positive and active part in a child’s life. Good parents provide moral and spiritual guidance, set limits, and provide consequences for a child’s behaviour. Good parents accept responsibility for the total development of the child and guide the child in making sound, healthy, life decisions through open communication and mutual respect. – US systems policy, 2002
Most people think that a good parent is someone who has “good” kids. The truth is, however, that good parents can have any kind of kids and for the worst part not at all reflecting their goodness, but rather the genetic character of the child. What parents can claim credit or blame for, however, is their own behaviour.
Parents can do a good or poor job of parenting: socializing and educating their kids and providing a healthy model for them to emulate but whether or not the character of their child/children opts to emulate is an entirely different matter. In my native language of Luganda there is a saying which loosely translates, “we [mothers] give birth to the body but not personality”…tuzaala mubiri so si mwoyo.
Whilst definitions of parenting get isolated in to “good/bad/poor”, I am not keen on the use of ‘good parenting’; instead I opt to say positive parenting practice. Reason being: seeking to add what is positive or focusing on the positives in all situations adds motivation both to the one practicing the parenting and the one being parented.
Parenting style and family factors
The approach to parenting differs dependent on personality, character and existing family factors. It can also be compounded by cultural and/or religious beliefs and practices.
Whilst I have been accorded some beautiful compliments over how well my daughters are maturing in to young ladies, I do not accept the credit is all down to my parenting alone as a single mother/parent over the years. This was before I met my current partner of the last five years and hopefully one to spend my old age with. My partner has actually accentuated my parenting role.
A whole system of support way back from birth not least their genetic makeup has played and still is playing a part in how these young people are maturing in to as adults. Verna Springer, a friend, mentor, sister from another ‘mother’, midwife being one of many!
Overall and in effect I owe my parenting skills to my late aunt who nurtured me to become the person I grew in to. Authoritarian and stern, but effective.
My older brother ‘Uncle Beno’ has been a pillar of support since I can remember, taking on the role of a male figure during the girl’s formative years and still does to this day. This is not to say the girls’ father was absent physically from their lives. He was…at least until they were teens. Enabling the girls to grow up balanced was more important than indulging my revenge for the adult issues that existed between me and their father.
Mind you, divorce or separation where children are involved does have an impact on all concerned and this is where parenting skills can truly be challenged. This and the teenage years are the critical periods of parenting where I’ve been advocating for parental support from the social system here in the UK.
When parents separate or divorce, it is imperative to support the children to not take the burden of the issues the adults have between them. When the affected parent(s) are hurting it is sometimes very difficult for the characters/personalities involved to put the interests of the children foremost. Hence why it is imperative for social systems to give this area redress and support.
Nostalgia allowing and if I am to compare the brief childhood time spent in Uganda, parenting was a practical and community affair entailing physical care and practical education. The business of psychological or emotional care was predominantly the preserve of grand parents – assuming the grandparents had welcomed your mother! If not, well you just forewent the luxury of wallowing in a grandparent’s dotting and instead faced up to reality early.
Everyone older than you was a parent and could even discipline you as they saw fit. A child belonged to the whole clan in which shared responsibility was expected. Note: I said nostalgia. I cannot vouch for what is taking place now.
These ends (UK) when you become a parent and find yourself to not have a supporting network of friends or extended family members, then I’m afraid you need to imagine yourself as someone that has just taken on flying a plane for the first time. I remember having to take my eldest daughter with me shopping for groceries 72hrs after she’d made entrance in to the world. It certainly wasn’t for wanting to show her off – I simply didn’t have anyone to leave her home with and Tesco hadn’t started doing home deliveries then! That’s another thing that comes to mind…it is rare to find new-born babies with their mothers shopping or in public places in Uganda. Give it time though…
Whilst reading up on parenting books may help, and hopefully if you’ve had exposure or even practice looking after other people’s children, the reality of you being in the driving seat can be overwhelming. And that’s only in the early part of parenting when the little bundle of joy has not yet learnt to assert his/her rights other than exercising the vocal chords and lungs.
It’s the teenage years that can make or break you as a parent when you alternate between losing the will to leave and wondering if somehow in your labour pangs you picked up the wrong child. Accepting I was the most hateful person and yelled at for refusing to agree to what was deemed to be cool became part and parcel of my teenage parenting drill. Remember I had this on rotation of 3 girls.
Teenage parenting is the period when you have to reach deep to use all your skills, both mental and physical as a parent to keep the communication open while remembering to remain mutually respective to your child. It is important to get in there first before external influence does it for you in exploiting their naivety. I remember my telepathy skills went up a notch monitoring what was spoken or not spoken, taking interest in friends made or dropped, then the sleepless nights when the rebellion phase hits. Repeating the mantra of focusing on their beautiful positive characters did save the day and my sanity.
In the process I also learnt that reacting to inappropriate behaviour made it worse resulting in the behaviour becoming an attention seeking method. Instead I would pay attention to appropriate behaviour by rewarding or praising it. I find as humans even in my working environment, praise or show of sincere appreciation wins big time in motivating people. As does genuine respect. of an individual’s input no matter how small in age or status/social standing – well all need to feel appreciated and respected. If I was practicing empathy, customer care skills, management etc at my workplace, why not put it to use on the most precious investment in my domestic setting?
Of course this is not to say or believe all at home was like Little House on the Prairie! In between I’d experience moments of wanting to send them to Uganda to be straightened out or until their hormones calmed down. I am aware some parents in the diaspora have taken this option, however this was not for me. I’d remember that my role in their lives did not just extend to just the pleasurable aspects of their existence but in all stages of their growing up to hopefully become responsible persons. Using that option would simply be passing on my inability to learn how to deal with the effects of their changes and instead giving that stage of their development to someone else. I guess I like doing things the hard way!
Sending them off to boarding school like had been part of my earlier childhood was not an option and besides, boarding school fees here in UK unless your earnings are well over £40K, is not an option. I missed out on that boat soon as I had the 3rd child and was looking at a single parent income.
It is my belief that family therapy is vital in as much as parenting support to all of us parents especially when we lack any kind of extended family or community support. It gets parents to re-evaluate how they interact with each other as a family and seek solutions on how best to communicate taking in to account each other’s personalities and characters. No one method fits all – parenting skills are an acquired skill on the job moulded to fit in accordance to the personalities, quirks or individual characters that make up a family unit. Open communication remains the key in all and sometimes this key can only become visible when family therapy or support is in place.
The experience has shown me the value of having taken a career break in the first 5yrs of my daughters lives. It put me in a better position to study and learn their characters and how best to communicate with them as individuals – something I wouldn’t have been able to perhaps do fully if I’d placed them with another person. It also made me realise why grandparents always seemed to know more about the characters of their grandchildren than the parents. However, this has been my experience and my journey. It shouldn’t translate to be a template for everyone. but rather as a reference point on some issues that might come up during parenting.
I wish every parent the best and for them to enjoy the experience. I have.