Call me a terrible mother! But I am a self-confessed Uganda-Chinese-French-America parent, and in that order! Uganda, because that is my country of birth, where I was raised. Chinese, because the parenting style of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, is a lot similar to Uganda. French has the “hand-off child. Adults and children belong to separate spaces at playtime, meal time and leisurely”, and I am a big fan of that! America, you probably figured that out already. Yes! my child is American and we live in America, my country for over fifteen years. So, we have to follow the rules about American parenting, and adopt the socio-cultural upbringing of children growing up in America or as Americans.
I am increasingly in agreement that anybody who has never been a parent should not be granted audience for dispensing parental advice. Sorry child psychologists, Early Childhood Development trainers, baby minders, friends and family without children of their own. Until you have brought a child into this world, you have no “expertise” to dispense. You do not know a thing, zilch!
True, back in the days, even those who had never had a child of their own could dispense wise tips on parenting and proper child upbringing. Even children as young as six were ‘parents’ and babysitters to their siblings, baby cousins or baby neighbors. They were the “neighborhood watch” or, as is said in Africa, “brother’s/sister’s keeper”. But those days are dwindling, as society becomes increasingly individualistic, and families more nuclear. Couples are choosing much more to raise their children without the interference of relatives, neighbors or friends, and more young people are staying single without children, even within Africa. I was once among those little girls who babysat my sister’s children. As the last girl in my family, I was expected to help care for my all my older siblings’ children. So, I learned a lot about child upbringing (or so I thought). In fact, I assumed that ‘expertise’ accumulated through babysitting my nieces and nephews would ably serve me once I became a mother. But I was about to find out when I became a mother that, every parenting experience is new and uniquely challenging. It does not get any easier when one becomes a parent, nor is it optional.
My experience at the public play park today with my son just reminded me how complicated parenting is, and made me wonder, “How does one parent a child who wants to do things his way?” My son is very comfortable engaging himself, even playing by himself. He creates his own play toys, play space and playtime, and wanders off as far off as his imagination leads him into his comfort zone. He creates multiple toys – an airplane, a bird, a car, a dragon, in just one napkin. He loves puzzles, the maze and anything that engages his brain. At a kids playground, he often stays away from climbing play stations, preferring to run around or be pushed on the swings. He likes the baseball pitch, even playing what he calls “pretend baseball”, that is throwing a nonexistent ball to mummy to hit with a nonexistent bat, then run around to different bases.
Today, I tried getting my son to climb the slides at the park, but he would not indulge because he was scared. So, I pointed him to a little kid who had climbed up, and praised her brevity. I knew this was breaking one of the “don’t dos of parenting”, by comparing him to other kids. But how else was I going to get him try new things, and gain the courage to do things he was not comfortable with? We have already had the talk of “it is not always about you”, “sometimes we do things we do not like but because we have to” or “sometimes you have to do stuff to make mommy happy”. Plus, raising a boy as a single mother guilt-trips me sometimes, when I worry that I might not be able to mould him into a boy. Ironically, I grew up a tomboy, climbing trees, and playing with the boys. I loved outdoors and team games, unlike my son who is a lone player. So, I argued him with what he loves most, telling him that “climbing makes you stronger” like Superman. Finally, I managed to convince him to climb and slide down. He enjoyed it so much that he went back and forth until l had to take him away to use the bathroom. Thereafter, he did more climbing until we moved to the field to play soccer, baseball, ride the bike and swing.
In a way, parenting my son challenges me to learn lessons in managing people. Not everybody is the same, and not everyone will want to do or behave the same way as I do. It also allowed me to breath, remain cool and think through ways of keeping both of us happy and each a winner. In a way, I see parts of myself in my son; I have a strong personality and strong conviction. I am committed to things I love, and will dedicate myself to effectively accomplish them. Yet, I am also flexible when engaged in a non-threatening way, with examples derived from real experiences of others.