I recently read about a mother who wanted her children to be all that she wasn’t.
She enrolled them in an elitist school, sacrificed to pay fees, pushed them hard, gave up a lot to ensure they mixed with the rich and mighty in the hope that with the connections they made in school they would have a better future than the one she (the mother) had.
But her plans didn’t quite work out not because she didn’t try enough but because she underestimated the class system and how nasty children could be.
Her younger daughter mixed effortlessly and made friends with the other children. She was initially bullied by some seniors and classmates and although some students didn’t relate with her all through their school years because of her obvious lack of social standing, her friends came through for her.
The older daughter was not accepted by the people she was told to mix with. She was bullied, made fun of and told in every way that she did not and would never belong in those circles. Both children told their mother time and time again about how they were being treated and made fun of and that they wanted to change schools but the mother wouldn’t hear any of it.
The younger daughter adjusted with time whilst the older child became increasingly withdrawn refusing to have anything to do with her sister, who persistently told lies about her background, parents and home to the disappointment of her mother. This didn’t stop her mother nor did she relent in her plans to ensure her children walked with the high and mighty.
The mother always made an example of the younger child and felt that her older daughter was weak, didn’t try hard enough to fit in, needed to grow some backbone etc. The story had a sad ending, the older girl committed suicide and the mother was left wracked with regrets and guilt.
I read the story and could understand the reasons the mother acted the way she did. I could not really blame her for having the desires she had, though I questioned her methods and the bullish way she went about achieving her goal.
I understood her feelings because I had walked in her shoes.
Mr Aisi taught in a lot of elitist schools, in fact I have friends whose children he taught or who were students in the schools he taught and although there was always room for our kids in these schools, we never enrolled them there even with a good discount mainly because we felt that children should not school too far from home especially when in primary school. The schools were on the island while we lived on the mainland.
However, there was a school we admired on the mainland and it so turned out that we could afford the fees when our daughter was going into secondary school. She took the exams and was accepted into year 7. The school was elitist and because it had a primary school, most of the students in year 7 already knew each other and had formed strong friendships and the few outsiders that joined them had to find their way socially. Needless to say, like all schools there was a class structure and my daughter took time in finding her level. She had her “rat pack “ as Mr Aisi called it but she never put down strong roots. It took years for me to know how deeply the social peer system had affected her even though I ferried her to and fro school 90% of the time and we always talked about her day.
It was the time of blackberries and MTN midnight chat rooms and because she didn’t have the ‘it’ phone plus I ensured she kept to a bedtime routine, she always got gist secondhand and felt out of the loop of things. Also it was obvious that she didn’t have a lot of the things her class mates had either because we couldn’t afford them or if we could, we, thought it very inappropriate for children her age. Nevertheless her father and I ensured we were there for her and had an open policy where she and her friends could talk to us and ask all sort of questions.
We had always planned for her to leave the school after her junior years because we wanted her to go to boarding house and a rustic one at that, so we took her all the way to Kwara State-to a school that had a setting like the secondary schools of old. Big grounds and no frills. It reminded me of my secondary school, a unity college where you had the children of permanent secretaries and drivers in the same class becoming great friends.
My daughter wasn’t so enamoured with the new school at first but she made good friends there, settled down better and it made a world of difference.
Like the mother in the story, I have the tendency to brush aside my children’s inhibitions asking them to be strong and put themselves out there and even being insistent on them doing things that they do not want to do or that they are afraid of and that’s good. It’s part of the job of the parent to affirm a child, encourage them and even hold them out at times in spite of their objections.
Most of us did not have parents that sat us down and asked about how we felt, rarely did they ask for our input on matters that concerned us like our course of study, schools etc. The mantra growing up was that “children were to be seen and not to be heard” and it worked for their generation to some extent ours as well.
Parenting today is a bit more different than when we grew up, our children are subjected to all sorts of information especially with the advent of social media. We are seeing more and more the negative effects of our fast paced world on our children. We need to be more cautious and intentional when relating to our children, there is a delicate line to brushing away their objections to difficulties in life and trying to make them more assertive and not listening, really listening to them. We must understand that children, even those brought up in the same household will react to things differently. Their personalities differ and some children seem to have been born with a good self esteem and have the ability to endure stuff whilst some have a terrible self esteem deficit notwithstanding the support their parents give.
I have Mr Aisi to thank for being more approachable and a better listener than I was. He listened, really listened to the children and many a-time told me what they were really feeling and helped me understand them better.
We must help our children to build their self esteem in a world that tells them everyday in every way that they are not good enough. In a world that tells them they have to stand ou and sometimes do the absurd to be noticed. We must be there for our children, to listen to the feelings behind the words they speak, to help them understand themselves even when they can’t put their feelings into words. In it all, being listened to helps each child feel better and valued even if the parent does not have the ability to change the circumstance.
Today, sit with your child and ask them questions, let them tell you how they really feel about things they are involved or interested in, listen with an open heart, listen without prejudging or assumptions. Listen with your heart in your mouth because you will hear things that may surprise and even shock you. Listen and try to understand and empathize with them. It doesn’t make you less of a parent, neither is the aim to make you best of friends. Listen because they need to talk and those they are talking to do not know any better than them.