Growing up, I was an extremely curious child and hardly ever took anything at face value. I demanded explanations on everything I was asked not to do or touch, and when they didn’t make sense, I defied authority. This always got me in trouble. My defiance was however adequately dealt with. My parents were ruthless disciplinarians, a tag team made in heaven that was perfectly capable of dealing with my transgressions. I have scars to show for the number of times I climbed up the tin rooftop of our house, a fascination that now baffles me. I was probably seeking the sense of liberation that comes with being on top of the world. Our world. For this reason, I have added mountain climbing on my 2019 bucket list with the hope that it will bring back the memories and provide a logical explanation to my reckless childhood.
I climbed trees as well and often sprained my ankle. My older brother once broke his foot and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance whose siren was unnecessarily loud for the small community that we lived in. I snuck in and out of the house through the narrow window grills, a skill that I thought would prove useful if our house was ever raided by thugs. Thank God I never got to utilise it.
For all my atrocities, I was spanked with slippers or a cooking stick, whipped with a belt, pinched and sometimes flying objects were thrown my way. Of the two of my parents, I feared my dad the most. He would let misdemeanours slide and would over compensate when we got into nefarious activities, stuff that would typically cause us harm or was disrespectful-like disappearing to our Kisii neighbour’s house to play over lunch hour, yet evidently we couldn’t get enough of their road runner chicken and traditional greens.
My mum also detested lazy kids, so she assigned us chores from when we were as young as five years old. Simple tasks like tidying the house, washing dishes, sweeping the yard, picking produce from our kitchen garden, that kind of work. At seven years, I ran my dad’s shop in the estate. He worked in an agricultural research institute and we lived in their lavish houses with beautifully manicured lawn. The community shop was given to any of the employees who felt enterprising enough to run it, and my dad had it for a few years. We had a shopkeeper who lived in our servants’ quarters.
I loved spending time at the shop whenever I was free. My dad would let me sell under his or the shopkeeper’s watchful eye initially, but eventually allowed me to run the show. I worked the difference between the cash a customer would give me and the cost of the items they were buying with the precision of a true mathematician. The cash given back was always correct, not a penny more, not a penny less. Whenever I manned the store by myself, I attended to customers with as much gusto as I stole sweets, whose wrappers I hid behind the racks. Then one day, my dad decided to have the shop thoroughly cleaned. Those tall heavy standing wall to floor racks with numerous shelves had to be moved, and behind them, were stashes of sweet wrappers enough to fill a 100kg gunny bag! To date, I shudder when I think of the beating I received.
While there are many ways parents can discipline their children, I believe the proverbial rod yields profound results. I was brought up by the rod, and I can attest that the fear of facing my irate parents whenever I crossed their path, sometimes got me having second thoughts about committing unnecessary crimes. Except for those whose thrill was too much and hopefully worth all the trouble I would get into haha. I believe most of us can attest to the effectiveness of military style parenting.
In stark contrast, we are bringing up our kids to be these spoilt, lazy, entitled, feral human beings. Most of them do not understand the value of hard work. They cannot make their own beds and will not take their plates to the sink because the maid is there to clean after them. They will not wash their underwear, nor will they wash or dress themselves because that’s not in their Job Description. Their job, as kids of all ages, is to play. They believe everything under the sun is theirs because daddy and mommy loves them. Some of them even have apartments in their names as soon as they are born, and the parents never cease to remind them of the fortune that awaits them. We are failing, miserably.
I am reminded of a story my friend Ciru once told me, about how her dad once bought a state of the art (at the time) brand new flat screen TV. When he brought it home, all the kids were ecstatic. They imagined that finally, they would enjoy the hilarity of Joey and Phoebe’s anecdotes in FRIENDS with so much clarity, as if their house was Central Perk pop-up cafe where most of the show was acted. To their dismay, he proceeded to set up the TV in his bedroom.
“This house, this life, is the result of our hard work. Your mum and I. So, we get the best.” He said. “If you want a spanking new TV, you have to work hard for it.”
Some of our kids have become master criminals in their small ways because they know they will get away with whatever crimes they commit. Why stay on the straight and narrow? Why not push the envelope? After all, the only punishment they know of is standing in a colourful corner which in most houses is not drab, but has something to keep them busy-like a plant that is better behaved than they are. And in cases where some parents are keen on disciplining their kids, their efforts tend to be watered down by the other parent who is crushed by the thought of their princes and princesses being scolded, or thwacked. Some parents go as far as rebuking their kids’ teachers for being too hard on them.
“Don’t beat them, don’t scold them. You will make them lose their confidence.”
We were brought up by the cane, whipped till we became numb, both in school and at home, yet we lived to tell the tales. I am cognisant of the harm that has been afflicted on kids in some schools as a result of excessive and sometimes unnecessary beating, but that’s not what I am addressing here.
Some of our kids will never know the frustration of public transport, because they are chauffeured all their lives and later on, gifted cars as birthday presents when they turn 18. They don’t know what it means to desperately look for a job, to be in the trenches. So they treat the jobs that are handed to them by their well-connected parents with the casualness of a mall askari ferreting a handbag.
So if we are not allowing our kids to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, even over the most mundane tasks, and we are not correcting their wrongdoing in whichever way that we deem effective, how are we preparing them to deal with the brutality of the world when we can’t defend them anymore? When they leave our nest? Our kids are having sex at 8 years and girls getting pregnant at 12 years. Can we really blame them, given the hands off parenting approach we have adopted as a society?
I have been reading this book by Clementine Wamariya, a genocide survivor, which has sparked some serious introspection. At the age of six, this girl and her sister who was twice as old, moved through seven countries in a period of four years. They trekked for weeks through a dense forest and eventually emerged at a refugee camp in Burundi. They moved from one refugee camp to another. From one slum to another. They took long bus rides from one country to another and sometimes a boat ride that did not guarantee them their lives. They ate dry maize for days in one camp, then boiled banana leaves in another. They were affluent before the war, with a garden and a yard where this luscious mango tree grew. They had maids before the war but became maids later on, and they regretted their mom never allowing them to learn tasks such as washing clothes that seemed mundane then. The writer credits her first nanny for her survival skills.
As we strive to give our kids the best education and provide them with a comfortable life, let’s also impact in them values that will ensure they are well-balanced. Skills that will see them through life’s toughest experiences. Remember, nothing in this life is guaranteed. Comfort is fleeting, even for those born in opulence. These words from Clementine’s book really struck a chord:
“Everything is yours, everything is not yours. The world owes you nothing; nobody deserves more or less than the next person.”
In 2019, I pray that we are intentional on how we bring up our kids.
***Thank you for coming here every Tuesday, for taking time to drop a comment or like the post. Thank you for all your encouraging comments when I made my come back. For those who cheerfully greet me when I bump into them on the streets, malls or the supermarkets and encourage me to keep writing, thank you for helping to keep this fire burning. I pray for a mind-blowing 2019 for all of us. Let’s meet here next year on Tuesday, 9th January, Inshallah. Merry Christmas and a Happy 2019.***