My daughter was in year 8 when I went to pick her up from school one afternoon. As I walked through the school gate, I sighted she and her friends clustered in a circle talking in an excited manner, as I walked up to them , one of them turned at my approach and asked “Aunty what will you do if Teni gets pregnant, will you beat her ?”
My first thought was, where is this coming from and what had they been discussing?Showing no sign of shock or surprise even though my heart was racing, I cleared my throat and listed the possible consequences of her getting pregnant. The foremost being that she would have to loose at least a whole year of schooling (the school is sure to expel her as an example to other students) to take care of herself and the Baby whilst her classmates continued at their pace.
At the end of my submission, they all agreed that getting pregnant was not something to toy with.
I was very pleased that they understood that the pain wasn’t worth the pleasure but I didn’t tell them how deeply her choice would have affected me mainly because it’s easier to motivate someone to action when they are aware of the disadvantages of their inaction and when they can see the cost and consequences of their decision in their lives.
I didn’t tell them of the pain that any parent will feel when their child acts contrary to the plans, dreams and expectations they had for them nor the pain of knowing that life for her may never be the same. I also did not speak of the fears I had for the unforeseen and related obstacles she would face both now and in the future because of her choices, neither did I speak of the disappointment I would have felt because despite the upbringing and relationship we had, she had allowed herself to get into the dilemma she found herself in. I made no mention of the guilt that would plague me for a long time making me feel somewhat responsible for her choices nor the shame I would feel because my child’s story was an aberration amongst the many successful stories my friends told about their children.
Those feelings are the feelings an average parent goes through when their kids make the wrong choices that have the power to affect them and change the course of their lives. They are the feelings we have when our children adopt a lifestyle different and contrary to their upbringing such as a drug or alcohol addiction, identifies as a gay person, commits fraud at their place of work, commits a crime, drops out of school , becomes an atheist etc
Like all parents, I am acquainted with that pain which grips one’s inside every time you think of that child, that stays with you as a dull ache whenever you think about their future, that doubles you over emotionally when you come across their friends but unlike many parents, I have learnt that there is nothing to be gained from focusing on our pain and ourselves so much so that we forget that our child needs us.
The truth be told, most times our pain comes out of our fear of what our child’s actions will do to the public image we have and not necessarily what they are going through and whilst it is alright to be selfish and think of ourselves, priority must be given to the child who has caused us pain because most times they are hurting, ashamed, fearful and confused about their situation.
You might say it’s good for them to feel the pain you are feeling and I quite agree, our children must face the consequences of their behavior, otherwise they would grow up maladjusted but I am also aware that especially whilst that pain is still fresh, we must shift the focus from ourselves to that child because most times as young people are wont to act, they may not have intended to choose that lifestyle, get pregnant, be addicted etc and if that is the case they are feeling a worse pain than yours. Their pain is actually two fold towards themselves and towards you the parent they have let down.
Apart from the pain, a constant is guilt, the what if’s: if only I didn’t work so hard, if only I prayed 30 mins more each day or was more spiritual, if only I was a better or more diligent parent, if only my marriage worked...the guilt and the agony of thinking we have in some way contributed to the child’s bad decision eats at us. This feeling more than the pain may lead us to overcompensate for the child and try to shield them from the consequences of their actions but we must resist the urge to step in to save them even though we truly share in some blame as to how they turned out.
Whether or not the child is remorseful we should learn to separate the person from the act and try to understand ( not necessarily accept) the reasons they have made the choices they made. Though difficult, we should try to refrain from always referring to their actions especially in the negative as no one really wants to be reminded of their indiscretions. Whatever we do, it is advisable to keep the lines of communication open and we can do this by finding other ways to bond with the child whilst we ignore the elephant in the room.
Finally we shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional help both for the child and ourselves especially when it involves addictions, crimes, mental health issues and support groups as there are issues we cannot handle by ourselves.
There is nothing as difficult and painful as seeing a child make the wrong choices in their life, it’s like a open sore that never heals. However, with the right attitude, love and prayers, which avail much, our children can learn the right lessons from their bad choices and go on to live fulfilling lives as we envisaged.