By Rohey Samba
She was stressed out and panting. Over the steaming cup of porridge she had carefully toiled and sweated to cook for her infant, she gave the first swearwords. I held my breath for a moment as I watched her blow away the steam and try to wheedle her child out of her stubbornness.
‘I don’t want to eat this Mama,’ the child protested innocuously.
Pissed by the child’s intent refusal, she continued on with the cusswords unprovoked. My attempts at explaining to her that it was all a minor misunderstanding between them both and that she should be a little more patient with the infant were brushed aside tersely.
‘She is my child,’ she insisted. ‘I know her too well, to be told otherwise,’ she added.
We were in the dining room of their house and my friend’s four-year-old, who was the topic of discussion, was refusing adamantly to consume the meal her mum had cooked for her and the baby. After attempting weakly to persuade the child for what seemed like a second to me, the frustrated mother began to hurl all sorts of invectives at the child for refusing to eat. She was ‘mean’, ‘spoilt’, ‘ungrateful’, and even ‘wicked’ according to the mother.
When I tried to calm her down, my friend could not be placated. The child, acting like a normal toddler refused to shift from her stance. ‘I want to eat bread and chocolate,’ she cried. ‘I don’t want porridge.’
‘Then you would starve for all I care because this is what you will eat or nothing at all,’ her mother finally resolved.
As I watched on, a part of my mind wandered into a maze of confusion and sadness, which I am increasingly inclined to feel when confronted with the muddled realism of human relations. I wondered for the second time that week whether because we are so strained by our work lives and so burdened by our personal lives, that there is a logical explanation why we act or react in certain inane ways to the most frivolous situations in life nowadays. This was a toddler for goodness sake! It is her universal right to refuse and try to do things her own way. All it takes a responsible parent is to coax her, to wheedle her out of her unyielding stance. In short, nehhal koh as the Wolof would say. And if need be, let her have her way for one day, and then the next day say in a nice way, as you would to someone you love, ‘that porridge is all mummy has today sweetheart, please eat or mummy will be very sad.’
Which child wants to see mummy sad?
The power of mum is compelling. The gift of motherhood unsurpassed. Of all the gifts God has given me in this short life of mine, motherhood is still the only thing that really matters to me. I will give away everything in one moment’s notice but I cannot relinquish motherhood. Funnily, the more kids you have, the more your love spreads out to hold all of them because as a mother, the gift of love is your greatest gift to yourself and to your kids. Love is the gift of God that increases in fold as a favor to the bearer of His favored creation, the human being. Really, if it were that easy, I would have ten kids or more…but that’s just by the way!
The narrowest and lowest form of love is coercive control. I loathe to control or be controlled. I like being in control however, when the need arises. What differentiates these three aspects of control is their usage. There are a few misguided parents in our society who deem it their universal right to control their children from birth. It is certainly neither fair nor just to restrain a child’s desire to grow in a particular fashion. When we give birth to our kids is when we lost control over them. Of all my kids, Kabba Makumba is the crier.
When I almost got frustrated from lack of spousal support, for my husband is mostly travelled, and lack of sleep from his colic cries when he was newly born, I remembered my privilege of being a mother for the woman just like me, who would traverse the end of the earth to become a mother herself but could not for all her efforts have her own child. This knowledge, which of course is fired by a particular sense of gratitude towards God, lightened my burden in no small ways. Soon I took it upon myself to accept the little inconvenience of his lately cries and like I was used to persuading myself whilst burning the midnight oil, accepted it as a phase in my life, which would pass. Oh yes, it will pass…
Children are children. They depend on adults to provide guidance and fostering to make them grow into responsible, God-fearing citizens of the world. Children are not pariahs, as some parents and especially guardians seek to make of them. They are dependent on their mothers or guardians entirely when they are born. And they will continue to depend on them till they are old enough to find their own feet and make their own decisions in life.
Some parents begin to treat their children as adults once they wean them from the suckle. Children as young as three years old are allowed to bathe themselves, cleanse themselves after using the bathroom, struggle to feed themselves among adults sharing a meal in one big bowl etc., and so forth.
Other parents begin to transpose all their own shortcomings and attitudes to reflect the child they are meant to raise at an early age. For some mothers, a feat of rebellion by a small hiss, a frowning face or even a little action on the part of a kid triggers negative reactions, which gives lease to stinging response either in the form of verbal punishment, just as my friend did with her toddler, or by passive mistreatment.
Other parents still, allow their own children to raise them instead. I say this, because it is not uncommon in little Gambia to hear some negligent parents insist on their children’s wishes to justify their own sloth and laxity.
I baffle to understand when a parent tells me, ‘Oh, my child said I should allow him/her to do hairdressing or work as an apprentice in the garage because he/she is not skilled in the book.’ That’s one.
‘I decided to allow him/her to do as he/she pleases because he/she says, I am only wasting my money on his/her education.’ Two.
Now, how in God’s name does a child come to make such a big decision for him/herself?
A CHILD IS SUPPOSED TO BE TOLD WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO!
In this instance, a parent must be in control. All children have a right to basic education. What they do after high school is their own prerogative, but the parent must insist they have an education. Essentially, many children are very lazy to learn. It is for the parent to know the value of education enough to instill and inculcate this in their children. When they finish their schooling, they can choose to do what they please, but not till then.
Now, this case is not very different from the case of a young boy and/or girl, who deems it necessary for their parents to contribute towards their journey ‘back way’ for greener pastures. Instead of sitting down their children and warning them about the risks and perils of this fatalistic journey for many young people, some parents for the most part would sell everything they have amassed over the years in order to finance the perilous journey and satisfy their imperious child for whatever reason.
The rising trend of treating children as age mates and adults is one of the banes of our Gambian society. Recently, I witnessed a very strong altercation between daughter and mother, each of them wanting to make a point whilst the whole street watched on. It was a nasty sight to see. If nothing, this is one of the latent effects of treating your child as an adult; he/she would assert his/her authority over one when push comes to shove. And there is nothing one could do about it. This is what the Wolof would say, kou yarr sah mburr, yow laa dann balaa dann kehnen. Meaning ‘when you nurture a warrior, he will conquer you before conquering anybody else.
Yet it starts from the base age. My friend, with whom I began this write-up with, cannot stand it when her child insists on having her own way. She takes it as a rebuke and/or defiance on the part of the child. She forces her to accept her own will, and makes her do what she wants her to do by resolving to verbal abuse and coercion. This is asserting control on one’s child, and will surely backfire one day as the child desires to oppose and enforces his/her ideas/will along the way to his/her growth.
Many such parents fail to realise this.
Children are born questioning everything, including what the adults in their lives insist they do, because that is how God created them. It is neither defiance nor a challenge but rather a genuine lack of understanding at that base age. Even the most intelligent adult needs to be guided when he/she enters into a new environment. Remember the world is relatively new to a child. Everything looks bigger and bolder than it really is.
Responsible parenting involves shaping children’s characters and telling them what is good and what is bad, what is the right way to do things and what is wrong to say or do. Anger should be the last resort. In fact, why anger?
The extremes between forcing your child and allowing that child to be the adult in the house are both wrong ways to treat children in general. The attitudinal behaviors of certain parents to humiliate, snob and exchange invectives with their own children bears the fruits of deviance, loss of respect and marginalization of those parents for the most part, in latter life.
Your child is not your best friend neither is he/she your perceived enemy or even your equal. Your child is your child. Mind your words because words have effect. Treat him/her with kindness and respect and the world would be a better and safer place for us all.