Every 27th day of May has been designated as Children’s Day in Nigeria.
This year’s celebrations made me quite emotional especially after having recently listened to a friend talk about her experiences as a fertility doctor and the stuff people go through to have a child they can call their own.
Undoubtedly, man has achieved a lot of seemingly impossible things through science. He can draw up a shopping list of things he desires; like the sex, race, genes, (to an extent) intelligence and birth place of a child and get all boxes ticked. He can also choose the method of conception eg IVF, Surrogacy etc. However, in spite of all the advances in science, man is still limited in that, he cannot predetermine the personality of the child, his or her attitude and the specific genetic dispositions deposited in each child.
I love my children but there have been times when I found it difficult to accept them. It was much easier to love them when they were babies, sweet, cuddly and always ready to respond with a smile. As they grew to have a mind of their own and started to challenge my ideas and images of them, I wondered.
Like most parents, I had dreams that my children would behave in a certain way, like certain things (things that I liked) and unconsciously wanted them to fulfill my desires and aspirations, so it was a huge disappointment whenever they didn’t always conform to my expectations. I felt let down when they were not interested or as brilliant as the other child in subjects I liked or thought were important, not extroverted or as cute as I wanted them to be, not as self-motivated, nor as street wise and even sophisticated.
I wanted them to be perfect copies of the image I had in my head about them and the funny thing was that they could feel it. My actions, words and criticism told them they weren’t hitting the mark and many times they rebelled, albeit, unconsciously against my efforts to cast them in my mould.
Acceptance is vital to every relationship and it is doubly so when it comes to our children. Our children don’t ask to be born, most times we are the ones that invite them into our home and hearts and they come expecting to find space for them and an unconditional love. But that often is not the case. Sometimes the circumstances of their birth leaves a bitter taste in our mouths that affect our behavior towards them, other times we are disillusioned with our expectations of them.
Children crave parental acceptance and the reasons they do so is not farfetched, after all parents are their first contact with the outside world and if we do not accept them who will? I daresay, that parental acceptance is the basis for self-acceptance and it makes a huge difference to how we feel about ourselves and how we, in turn, relate with others.
This longing for acceptance from our parents is lifelong. We never outgrow the need for parental acceptance and approval and this was all the more emphasized to me one day when I sat with my mother and her friends and one of them a 60+ (then) woman was complaining about how her mother never saw anything good in her. I was first of all surprised that it mattered so much to her at that age but after reflecting on what she said I realized that no matter how old we are, we will always have a need to know that our parents love us, are proud of us and delight in our being their children.
It behoves us, therefore, as parents to ensure that we love our children unconditionally and that they feel that love. We should foster a sense of belonging in them that will make them feel at home with us, be vulnerable and let us into their world. We should endeavor to ensure that our children never feel that they can never be good enough for us and that we will only be happy or proud of them when they behave in a certain way.
In accepting our children, we must understand that
- Our children are different from us. They are unique individuals and although they are products of our parentage and upbringing they have their own likes and dislikes, unique ideas, vision and abilities, dreams and goals. They are not likely to fulfill our passions and replace our lost dreams.
- Children have several developmental stages of growth and that sometimes the things we worry about are evidences of the age and stage they are at. Some children will reach these stages faster or slower than others. For instance, my daughter never crawled but started walking from 10 months, while my son crawled and walked when he was 1 year old.
- Their personalities are different from ours and even from each other. If you have 2 or more children, you will realize that they have different personalities and one of the main causes of sibling rivalry is our tendency to compare our children unfavorably with one another.
- Some of the things our children will do may not matter in the long run things like following the fashion trends the latest being having an Afro, dreads, coloring their hair, wearing a durag etc. We must learn to choose our battles wisely and allow them to live their age within reasonable boundaries and with time they will outgrow the fads.
- Our non-acceptance of them may be due to our own fear that we project upon them eg fear that they would make the wrong decisions, that they will not be able to face the outside world because they seem to be too slow, introverted or laidback.
- There is good in each child so focus on the good. To help myself, I drew up a list of 10 things that I liked about each of my children and reminded myself of them from time to time.
- That they have a right to their perspective and opinions and to respect their choices even if we don’t agree or understand them.
- There maybe underlying causes for their behavior. It behoves us to search for the reasons why they choose to behave in certain ways. Sometimes bad behavior can be a cry for help and sometimes it might be due to learning or behavioral disabilities.
Finally, we must always remember that children are children and will behave like children in ways that may irritate, exasperate or even hurt us but true love is accepting our children for what they are and not what they do. It is my prayer that our children will always be assured of their place in our hearts, know, and feel our acceptance of them.