By Mutryce A. Williams
Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue focuses on being an example for your child. The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.
How many of you have heard your parent or guardian echo the phrase, “Do as I say! Not as I do!” How many of you have heard this version, “I am the man/woman in here. I pay the bills. I could do as I like, so you don’t watch what I am doing, you keep a child’s place and do as I say.”As a rookie parent, I have come to realize that the invisible handbook geared towards parenting, that has been passed down through generations may need some serious tinkering.
As West Indians we tout our parenting skills the world over. We are known for exercising a strong hand when it comes to our child/children. Don’t get me wrong we have had our successes, however I contend that in this day and age when children are born “with more than their fair share of sense,” the old method of “Do as I say! Not as I do!” won’t fly because it is no longer just a case of “Monkey See! Monkey Do!” but “Monkey Questions Everything You Do!”
Even if society dictates that men and women should behave in certain ways, it is fathers and mothers who teach those ways to children -- not just in the words they say, but in the lives they lead. Augustus Napier
A few days ago I ran into a rather “colourful” acquaintance at the shopping complex. She had her beautiful four-year-old daughter with her. We exchanged pleasantries and in passing she briefly recounted an unfortunate incident at her daughter’s school. As she intimated her displeasure with the handling of the matter, her language grew even more “colourful.” I began to cringe because here was a child who was the same age as my older son being subjected to a litany of “colourful words,” and not just by hearing them on the street but from her own mother’s tongue. I suppose my facial expression was obvious. She questioned it. I relayed my thoughts and asked if she wasn’t concerned that her daughter would grow up to use “such colourful language.” Her response didn’t shock me at all. She said, “She knows better because I would cut her little (colourful word).” She laughed it off, and we went our separate ways.
I recall a friend joking that she had to do a personal cleanse after having children, a “total revamp of her person” is how she referred to it. In readying ourselves for the new life or lives that we bring into the world some of us fail to do that personal cleanse. It is not just removing the clutter from our external lives but removing the internal clutter as well, the bad habits. It may mean getting the colourful words out of our system. It may mean forgiving and releasing past hurt or bitterness. It may mean “putting the bottle aside.” It may mean returning to church after years of departure so that your children can have spiritual sustenance.
Over the years we have seen a great departure in this area and some parents even think that staying home and sending their children should suffice, but again what message does this send? A personal cleanse may mean curtailing the partying. It may mean dressing appropriately. It may simply mean growing up, and realizing that life as you know it has changed, and instead of looking for role models for your children you try to be that model.
Your children emulate you. When I taught, I had a pretty good idea of who the child’s parent was or the environment in which he or she was being raised, just by the way in which that child behaved. Most children grow up to be versions of their parents. At home they may be compliant, but when they are out of your grasp/sight they turn into little versions of you. This is what the world sees when you are not around with that firm hand. Believe me on this one, and if you don’t ask your child’s teacher what he or she observes when that child is at recess.
Those who have been a part of the teaching profession and have had a conference with a parent about a child who seem to always be in everybody’s business have heard the parent remark, “That child just jepse bad…I tired talk to her about it…I try to beat it out of her…I don’t know how she get so..” Those of us who have been there definitely know how that child got “jepse” based on our interaction with the parent who seemed to know every child, and his or her parent’s business, and not hesitate to relay the information at the same conference about her child being “jepse.” Your children have your language, and mannerisms mastered, and with years of practice they will eventually become you. Now ask yourself, is the “you” that you are today, the person that you would want your child to be?
As parents we are often so concerned about the behaviour of our children’s peers, complaining that we don’t wish for them to pick up this or that habit, but have we asked what habits our children are picking up from us? How many times have you heard parents complain about their children not having good manners even though they teach it to them? Is any thought given as to whether that child sees his or her parents practicing good manners. How many times have you heard parents complain about any other undesirable characteristic in their children, you may fill in the blank?
Again I often wonder if the parent gives any thought to how his or her behaviour impacts his or her child. We have seen this I am sure, “A man drunk at the rum shop, his little son passing and he is saying to the child…’use me as an example don’t become like me… I done waste and live my life… make something of yourself… I want better for you…” and although of course there is a poignant lesson here which may curtail this child’s future behaviour, it may also do the opposite, because children often identify or define themselves as a product of their parents so if “Daddy was a drunk, well I must be a drunk too, and this is the path for me.”
Over the past four years I have discovered, as Dr Ed Wimberly said, that parenting doesn’t have much to do with the child, but rather the parent. If the parent pledges to be the best parent and person that he or she can be, the job of parenting would definitely be a lot easier. One can read all of the parenting books, seek advice from mentors and friends however if one doesn’t work on him or herself the efforts would be futile.
Children really don’t listen to what you say but rather look at what you do. There is a saying, “What you do speak so loudly that I can hardly hear what you say.” It may not be exact and I can’t recall the person who coined it, but it holds true to parenting. We should not admonish our children for “keeping bad company” when our choice of friends are no better.
As parents we should not model a life of “Do as I Say but Not as I Do,” and expect that coupled with a “good amount” of threats and a “good set of licks” that this is the perfect recipe to raising a well adjusted child or that this would make you a good parent.
Setting an example of being loving, relaxed and joyful
By Jonathan Lockwood Huie
“Each of us is of infinite value,
and each of us has the ability to make
a profound difference in the lives we touch.
We leave our most profoundly positive impact
on those around us by the nature of our lives
and the example we set -
not by how busy we are,
or how important we believe we are.
Setting an example of being loving, relaxed and joyful,
regardless of external circumstances,
is a great legacy for our family and for the world.
Self importance - ego - is not a path to happiness.
Focusing one's whole life on responsibilities,
without taking time for self-renewal and play,
abandons the joy and the true value of life.
I want my tombstone to read, "Inspired others,"
rather than, "Never missed a day at the office."
We Parent from the Example Set -- It’s Cultural
Your example is far more influential and inspiring than any words of instruction, or threats, or even words of encouragement. Jonathan Lockwood Huie
We grew up in a culture of “Do as I Say! But Not as I Do!” We were told this in the most threatening of tones. We were assured that should we fail to comply severe punishment would be meted out whether a bull “pestle”, tamarind whip, electric cord, frying pan, shoes or belt. Some of us may dispute it. Some of us may swear by it and say that it is what kept us on the straight and narrow. Some of us may even say that such “barbaric practices don’t take place anymore.” I can assure that they do.
How do you think children view us when we chastise or punish them for actions that we have committed or are guilty of committing? How do you think they view us when we constantly tell them to do as we say but not as we do? Again, in our culture the aforementioned question is irrelevant, as the opinions of children are not relevant or shall I say none of our concern, because “they are our children, we are the parent, not them, and they ought to keep a child’s place.”
In speaking with a family therapist based in Boston, she complimented West Indian parents for the good values that they pass down to their children, and although I concurred I had to note that the bad ones are passed down too. I refer to the tamarind whips, electric cords and degrading/negative language, “Boy bring your so, and so before I break in you, so and so…if you don’t I would give you some box and tump… is me bring you here and I would take you out… I going mash you up...” Although you may disagree and consider this “normal” language as we are so acculturated to it, it is not. It is threatening language or “violent speak.”
I always contend that we don’t have to look too far to get a proper understanding of where children learn violence but that’s for another edition of Navigating Island Parenting. I say all this to say that we parent by example. We got our parenting tool kit from those who raised us, and if they believed in the “do as I say, and not as I do” philosophy we are more than likely to adopt it. Again, West Indian parenting does have its strengths but it can also be improved upon.
Pretend for a second that your child’s opinion of you does matter, what do you think he or she thinks of you, not just as a parent but as a person? Does this person need a thorough cleanse? What areas in your life need improving? How would you want your child or children to regard you? Think of the honourable characteristics that you want your child to emulate and begin doing them yourselves, as this is the most effective way to pass this message on to your child. Again I must note these are just my views.
He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.” Frances Bacon
When things turn out pretty much as expected, parents give little thought to how much they have influenced the outcome. When things don't turn out as expected, parents give a great deal of thought to the role they play. Arlene Harder
The best way to teach a child restraint and generosity is to be a model of those qualities yourself. If your child sees that you want a particular item but refrain from buying it, either because it isn't practical or because you can't afford it, he will begin to understand restraint. Likewise, if you donate books or clothing to charity, take him with you to distribute the items to teach him about generosity. Lawrence Butler
“To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.” Josh Billings
“We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate.” Brigham Young
Family is the first school for young children, and parents are powerful models. Alice Sterling
As a parent, you will often serve as an inadvertent example to your child. A child will model himself after you in many areas: how you deal with frustration, settle disagreements and cope with not being able to have the things that you want, to name just three. Lawrence Butler
Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 4-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Nicholas. She not only values the many facets of West Indian parenting but also thinks that there is vast room for improvement. A former educator and a child/youth advocate, Mutryce firmly believes that children should not only be seen but heard.. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org