The art of parenting

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Society rates your parenting skills on the output, which is your children and what they become in life.  For many, parenting is an art and not a science.  Some succeed while others fail in their attempt to nurture their children.

Once two people, knowingly or unknowingly, decide to engage in certain biological acts of the procreation kind and succeed in their endeavour, they fall into the parental evaluation class. Society will have a say right from the time when the stomach begins to bulge, and it is evident that there is a child to be born.

So pieces of advice start pouring in – “eat well; eat this; don’t eat this”, “exercise every day,” “don’t bend this way,” “don’t hold the kid that way”, – and parenting starts right there in the womb. For the first-timer, this is overwhelming, but just as they begin getting comfortable with the initial barrage of tips, there are tons and tons more to follow. Parents are lifelong recipients of the “wise” words.

While psychologists have taken a stab at it and come up with categories of parenting, I consider this such a Herculean task given the various nuances that lend themselves to this skill set (yes, it is a skill set).

These subtle shades in definitions and my close to half a century experience on earth led me to this piece. One day future generations may come across this blog, and I may join those who have taken on the Herculean task.

In my view, there is the first group of those I will call Hands-on parents. You would know them from the onset from by their comments, “this will be a noisy one; it cannot keep quiet” (said while rubbing the stomach so that everybody can see). Over the child’s lifetime, the Hand-on posse will fuss over the baby, the toddler, the teenager, the adult; ad libitum in aeternum.

For pre-teens, it would be checking for a fever every evening, tucking the child in when they go to bed; making sure they know exactly where the child is every minute of the day. The parents would also be donors of lashes or slaps equivalent to their children’s age.

The process of punishment proceeds as follows.  Say, John, 11 years old, and Mary, six years old, were caught in a misdemeanour, as so often they are. There would be a brief hearing where the parent establishes that they performed the deed.

After the presentation of mitigating circumstances, The Stick (if you know, you know) is used to pass on the requisite lesson. John will count to eleven and Mary to 6, and both will proceed to the corner to nurse their wounds in silence.

For the adult, even those who are married, the parent will be heard asking, “Umekula?”. This question is the source of many “domez” – “why is she asking as if I don’t provide for you in this house”, or “kwani your mum doubts my cooking skills?”.

I know you know this parent, if not just look around, and you will see one. So, let us leave the adult children with their domez and move on to my next category.

Modified hands-on should not be confused with the latter group above. These parents would pretend to be ignoring the child while applying the “corner-of-the-eye” or “eyes-behind-my-back technique” to ensure that each child toes the line.

This group does not follow every stride, but they will be one step ahead of their progeny. More often than not, the punishments will not follow the order described above. Instead, a child busy in their nuisances will receive a pinch or slap from where or whom they will hardly establish until after the lightning had struck.

Every child knows that the Modified Hands-On parent is present. My advice is that you don’t bother looking around to identify persons in this category. Just be satisfied that they are will appear when they need to.

The third category of parents is those I chose to call the Hands-off (aka Laissez-Faire) group. These do not care what is happening around them. They are the proper adherents to the saying “children are not to be seen or heard.”

Scenes from a house with such parents are from silent movies only. When parents walk in, or just before they do, there is a flurry of activity as every item arranged, floors swept, dishes washed and such related tasks. You all know what I mean. Then the children will disappear into whichever hole they know best and maintain silence, studious silence.

Usually, in such a home, there will be somebody to report on the activities of the day. Such a report would include a list of actions in compliance with the rules of the house and those that were afoul. Then at the end of each description would be those responsible for the actions.

I need not repeat that the sanctions for non-compliance here will follow a similar approach as those of group #TeamHandsOn above.

The fourth lucky entrants on my list are the Telephone Parents.

These group hardly have time for face-to-face contact. All interaction between parent and child is through one electronic medium or the other.

We all know that any electronic process has to have a manual. For these parents, they adopt a detailed list of instructions to remember at all times:

1) For what to feed the kids refer to the message I sent you on the 26th January 2017.”

2) “You shall call me in case any of these things happen a…., b…., c….”

3) “should I be unavailable, call the following numbers 07……. and 07…

4) be available for a skype call at 7 pm every evening. Martin will show you how to log into the computer.

Such are the instructions. Notice that all of them have technological enablement. In addition to the above, will be a list of service numbers – hospitals; food delivery; police station and all other essential numbers.

Is it not easy to find such a parent? If you are still unsure here is a clue – ONLINE. Check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everywhere else electronic.

Last but not least (this is the way most speeches conclude, and so I oblige) are the Delegating Parents.

This group work through proxies perpetually. So there is the domestic help who takes up the parent role. To this extent, it is common to hear the child call her “Mummy” in Mummy’s absence or even presence (I hope you understand this).

The trusted domestic help has earned her stripes having lived with the family from the time she left school. Eight years on, she has been present when the kids were born, present when the parents travelled; present when there was the need to go out on Friday night; present almost all the time.

The other proxy support is the “Auntie”. She could be a blood relation or a close friend who earns the title. (I am not sure why there are not many “Uncles”; are there any?). These would also claim the title Daddy or Mummy in many cases.

Proxies are bound to adopt any of the above styles as they exercise the powers bestowed upon them by the parents. Often the style they adopt allows them to continue with their lives while accommodating “Delegating Parent’s” child. The success of this relationship depends on the proxy’s heart (Moyo wa huruma in Kiswahili).

Interestingly, and with the varied assessments of the different parenting styles, the jury is still out on which is the best. 

Current research offers that children who have stable relationships with parents or other adults who take on the parenting role, have a higher chance of success in this tough world we live.

My take on this is to encourage those on the journey and those who intend to join the parenting journey.  While you may face the constant criticism and rare praise, parenting is fun.  Stay close to your child; love your child; hold your child’s hand as they learn to take on the journey of life.“Good parent” rating or not, you will have done your part.

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