“She is 13 years old today” I said to myself; still not believing that the baby girl I held in my arms just the other day a few minutes after she was born was now a teenager. It felt like it was not too long ago we were excited to hear her first words, that I watched as she took her first steps and danced around the room with her. Her first day in Kindergarten when she waved goodbye and boldly took her first steps of a long journey in pursuit of knowledge. So as she cut her birthday cake to mark Thirteen years and the beginning of a new season for all of us, I could not help but ask myself whether I had played my role as a parent well enough! Was there more that I should have done to be a better parent? Have I done all that I could to prepare her for the years ahead?
These, among many others, are questions I have heard over the past ten years from parents as we continue to facilitate a Parenting Programme. Raising children today has become a headache for many parents, and a nightmare to some.
Some common challenges we’re asked to advise about include:
- My son seems to be a different person around the nanny and in school. When with me, I cannot get him to do anything I ask.
- When I get home I have to ask the nanny if my daughter has eaten. If not, I do some work in the car until they finish. She eats better with the nanny than with me.
- Going shopping with my children is too much of a hassle. For peace of mind, I would rather take the child home first then go back to the super market.
- Visiting friends with my children has become difficult because they are disruptive, or we have a friend whose children we would rather not have visiting our home.
- I don’t know who my child is anymore!
- My son has grown up to become someone I cannot relate to anymore.
- Left alone with my daughter, we have nothing common to talk about.
- My child is not disciplined and I do not know what to do…
These indeed are the whys and wherefores that bring parents together to seek parenting advice. The burning question in their hearts being “I need help to raise my child(ren), what do I do?”. The corner-stone on which ‘Parenting’ is built however, lies in the question that few have the courage to ask – ‘What is my role as a parent?’
Three key lessons on which families can build their parenting conversations
Our rich history has woven with in it real value, and we often draw lessons from the traditional African kitchen to tackle and respond to current parenting issues. Traditionally, the fireplace was where family gathered in the evening and shared stories of the day. This is where family values, cultural norms were shared and the children got to learn about who they were and what was expected of them as they grew up. The question for today’s parent is “What is your Fireplace?”, “Where and how are your children learning your values and family norms?”, “What are you doing to lay the foundation on which your children will stand and build their lives on?”
Like the traditional fireplace that had three stones on which the family meal was prepared, there are three key lessons on which families can build their parenting conversations on and understand their roles as parents. As a parent you need to Provide; be Present and to Protect.
Be a PROVIDER
Your primary role as a parent is to be a PROVIDER. Many parents have taken this to mean just financially, and to do this are out building careers and businesses that will ensure the children lack for nothing. For many this desire to provide comes from our past where we grew up in modest families and often lacked some of the basic needs. Many parents minds are made up that their children will not have to miss out on anything they did. True to this desire, children nowadays have all they need and want, from toys and gadgets to the best facilities at home, the best clothes and go to the best schools. Children who grow up getting all they want and ask for, tend to make similar demands of the society they grow up in and expect to get what they want when they demand for it.
Whereas there is nothing wrong in providing for our children, a number of parents often forget there is much more in providing for your children than just financial security. As a parent you also need to be as deliberate in Providing your children with experiences that will impart life skills and develop their character and mould their personality.
There are many stories around us in society of families where the parents make it financially and are wealthy, but spend their old age having to watch their children waste the money or fight for their inheritance.‘Sometimes the protective instinct that arises in us when we become parents is destructive for our children. We seem to think that creating a bubble for them to live in, is what is most helpful for them. Unfortunately, when they go into the real world it becomes evident that there should have been a balance between exposure and sheltering.’ Parenting 101 manual Chapter 7 ‘Living Life; Getting it right’
Beyond going to a great school and excelling academically, if your child does not have the right life skills, they will find it difficult to fit into school, society and the workplace. Many Human Resource experts today confirm that they’re finding it difficult to recruit employees with the right character and personality.
Secondly as the parent, you need to be PRESENT – Ask yourself, how many hours do you spend with your child, on average per day/per week? Time spent not around your child but to connect with them and ensure you can talk about anything. What time do you spend with your son and daughter and how can you make it creative? The sad reality for most of us today is that as we are building that career and/or business we have become too busy and have absconded from that parenting responsibility and have left the training and advice of our children to the Nanny and the School or Sunday School! The question for us parents then should be, whose values is your child growing up with?
Statistics indicate that many of us are engaged with our children for less than an hour in total every week. We may have a lot of time spent ‘around’ each other at home, driving to and from school, weekends at the club or visiting friends but with all these activities very little connected time is spent. Children are thus spending more time with the nanny and teachers than with you the parent. To compensate for absence, the best possible schools and churches with good Sunday school and youth programs are sought with parents hoping that these will fill the gaps in their children’s life.
Missing out on the formative years, and the moulding of a child’s values and character being determined by third parties, creates situations where years later parents wonder about how they don’t know their son or daughter or have a relationship with them. The first 6 years are critical. After the age of 10 it becomes really difficult to change established patterns and directions. To be present in your child’s future you MUST be Present in those formative years. There is a limited ‘Window of Opportunity’ for the work of parenting and intentional character development.
Be the PROTECTOR
Lastly your role is to be the PROTECTOR, Your Son and Daughter needs to feel protected from bullies and other social vices they may face. They need: social protection, where they know that you care for the friendships they form and their values; moral protection where you teach them about personal values and how to be safe from negative peer pressure; and physical protection a safe environment where they can grow up to discover themselves.
Protecting your child requires you to have formed a relationship where they can be open to talk to you about anything they are going through in their lives. This kind of relationship is only developed over time and by having invested time for your child to know you and for you to know them and their friends.
Are you the person your child will come to for advice on any situation they are going through? If not the question you need to answer as the parent is WHY NOT? From many conversations with teens and pre-teens about why they don’t talk to their parents, their consistent answer has been ‘My Mom/Dad has never been there for me’. And when asked if they could spend an hour to talking with their parents, they often ask ‘About what?’
It is never too late to invest in providing, protecting and being present for your children. Start right away and remember the three stones around the family fire place – ensure your children walk into society and stand out with a sense of belonging and identity.
Steve G. Mbuthia is the Head Coach and Trainer at Endeavour Connections Ltd that provides Strategy Coaching and Training for SME business owners to set up and align their business goals, processes and systems. He is married to Tibaga Talitwala and they’re blessed with two children 13 and 8 years. He has facilitated the ‘Parenting 101’ workshop at Nairobi Chapel for 6 years and influenced over 400 parents. For a complimentary Coaching session on Entrepreneurship or Parenting kindly contact firstname.lastname@example.org