A friend narrated a story to me recently, her mother had been brought up by her elder sister, they shared the same mother but different fathers and there was a huge age difference between them. Her aunt was already a teen when her grandmother remarried after the death of her first husband and had her mother. Her mother stayed with her grandmother for her first ten years and after primary school was sent to live with her sister who had just had her third child and needed help to take care of her family. The sister was fairly well to do and lived in a big house in Victoria Island. The sister claimed she wanted to help her mum out by training her younger sister and also she needed her own blood and kith to help keep an eye on the domestic staff. The agreement was that my friend’s mother would go to a school close to their house for her secondary education and would also be sponsored through university.
The sister kept her promise to send my friend’s mother to school but that was about it. My friend’s mother became an unpaid nanny to her sister’s children and filled in whenever there was a dearth of maids. It was bad. She didn’t get to eat from the same pot as her sister and her children, wasn’t given toiletries -she had to steal from her sister and her kids’ bathroom or used the tiny sliver of soap left over from washing plates thrown into the dustbin; she used cloth for her periods and wore pass me downs from the eldest of her sister’s children which she amended to fit her.
Luckily, she wasn’t physically or sexually molested and she bore all the treatment meted to her knowing fully well that although she wasn’t being treated like family, she was better off with her sister than with her mother who wouldn’t have paid any mind to her complaints.
Fast forward to some 15-20years my friend’s mother had married her father -someone she met in the university and though he was from a poor background as hers, he was quite brilliant and won a scholarship to do his masters and doctorate degrees abroad. She had my friend and her siblings in the USA and worked there sending money back home to her mother as we Africans do.
It so happened that her elder sister with whom she stayed with and served like a servant fell on hard times, her children who had the best of education and travelled abroad frequently while growing up are not as successful as my friend and her siblings. At a recent family gathering, my friend’s elder sister went on her knees to beg her sister for all the hardship she put her through saying, she never knew she could be living the life she now lived and that the tables could turn against her in such a manner.
My friend’s story brought to the fore, my thoughts about how we treat the people that live with us especially those that are of a lower status than us by reason of age and class and it reinforced my decision to treat people especially my children well. I can say that I have gone full circle, from living with my parent as a child, to having my children live with me, to them leaving home and living by themselves, to having my parent live with me and I see clearly how the wheels turn.
As a parent, it is quite difficult to imagine your child as anything as your child and to fathom how their future will be. It is our prayer that they turn out successful but the way and manner their paths go are a mystery to us. I am sure the parents of some of the released Chibok girls could never have fathomed that they will one day be schooling abroad nor could the family of a man who told us he had no shoes yet rose to become the president of the most populous African nation.
People remember how we treat them and I have found out this applies to our children also. It is said that children have long memories and that they remember things differently from how we recollect events. This is mainly because they are intuitive and can readily decipher motives, intents and even the atmosphere and also because they are very impressionable. My children have told me things I have said to them when I was angry, frustrated or hurt that I have completely forgotten or would never have thought I would say. I forgot the words but they remember still as I do the words of my parents.
I have found myself marveling at the switch in roles between myself and my mother and I know the same will happen to my children and I. My mother who was such a formidable person when I was young is now like my child. In several situations I find myself taking on the garb of the parent rather than the child – I take major decisions concerning her life, need not take her permission when going out (when growing up I had to give her the address of any party I would be attending) look after her wellbeing, scold her when she forgets her age and wants to do things that will task her physically, curb my impatience when she finds it difficult to manipulate things like her phone or an household utensil which are mundane to me. I have had to tell myself repeatedly that we are both on different sides of the same circle and I can already see that in the foreseeable future I will be just like her with my children.
I have also seen cases where a help or relative whose status changed in life was the saving grace of their former employer and benefactor just because they were treated right. The lesson to learn in all of this is that we should be careful about how we treat people, some of our children, relatives and help will attain heights we never thought possible for them especially if we looked at their potentials when they were young or when they lived with us. Treating people with respect may just be the major contributor in how we enjoy our lives in old age.