HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsIn my father’s house – parenting in another era

In my father’s house – parenting in another era

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My baby is a teapot. Yes. In this season where all doting mothers are vying for their little ones to be Joseph, Mary, the Angel Gabriel or one of the three kings, my little treasure has been cast as a teapot! And what do you know — in the history of theatre, no one has ever so looked forward to being a teapot.

Parenting sure is something else! I observe with interest as parents engage fully with nativity costumes, sports days, cake sales and extra lessons and wonder how it is that when I was in school parents just didn’t seem to get quite so involved.

We didn’t feel less loved or that our education and recreation was less important, but somehow our parents just kind of expected us to get on with it (and quietly too!) Was it the right thing to do? Or might we have been better off with the more modern level of intensity?

I am reminded of this every time I hear a parent say they are dreading the holidays because they will have to create lots of activities to keep their little ones busy. I think of it too each time one of my own little ones tells me they are bored.

In my day, you didn’t look to your parents for entertainment — they provided the toys (limited in number) and you had to sort out the playing bit for yourself. Now it seems kids are more and more dependent on parents for not only the toys, but also the companionship and the imagination to make it all worthwhile. It’s exhausting!

And how did this happen anyway?
In my father’s house there were not so many rooms, or even many rules. Things didn’t need to be spelt out in a rule book; you just kind of knew what was expected and you had a very good indication of what might happen if you failed to meet expectation.

Today children negotiate everything. A friend whose parenting skills I admire immensely told me years ago that children need boundaries and that to deprive them of boundaries was the worst disservice you could offer.

She also pointed out that children are programmed to test every boundary to its limits, and that the job of a good parent is to hold fast to the boundaries; offering a consistent, uncompromising standard for acceptable behaviour. It is she I quote when I say to my children: “We don’t do things because they are fun. We do them because they are right.”

But how difficult it all seems when the parenting shoe is on one’s own foot. And I wonder whether we tested our parents to the same extent. (At this point my own parents are nodding vigorously, I’m sure!) In my most introspective moments I am tempted to believe that the reason our generation struggles so much to affix boundaries for our children is because we cannot even hold them fast for ourselves.

Moral decay is rife among us and it is not “they” but “we” who are the perpetrators of the most insidious sins, the subtle ones that we think no one will find out. It is our failure to stick to a standard we set for ourselves that makes us willing to negotiate the simplest standards we set for our children.

What time is bed time in your home? What are the rules concerning meal times? What chores do we expect the modern-day child to help with — as soon as he is done with homework, sport, social stuff and not forgetting Nintendo of course? How many of us are holding our children accountable for the rules we set? And how many of us are accountable for the promises we ourselves have made?

It’s a little depressing if you think about it too hard. It could have you imagining the current and the next generation are doomed. But the story of us is nothing if not a story of redemption. To fall and rise seven times is indeed heroic. More heroic than falling once, never to rise again.

So I am guessing the moral of the story is — we have to continue to demand more of ourselves and our children.

To do less would be to give in. To do less would be to fail us all.

In the same way I suppose, we must demand more of each other — more of our neighbours, our public officials, our societies’ role models. I am not sure if this is fair or just, but I know a wise person once said: “Of those to whom much has been given, much is expected”.

And so I will make space in my diary to go and watch my little teapot. I will throw myself into the preparations as best I can, and I will expect a performance worthy of an academy award.

Because this is a teapot to whom much has been given, I’ll remember to communicate how much is expected.

And then when I’m done, I’ll take a long hard look in the mirror, and try to remember to demand more of myself too.

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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