By Mutryce A. Williams
Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, 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: Religion - That Good Old Fashioned West Indian Up-Bringing When Shaping the Content of a Child’s Character Was Everything! 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.
“Sometimes as a writer you write songs that you love to write and sometimes as a writer you write songs that you have to write.” ~ Winston ‘Gyspy Peters. This issue of Navigating ‘Island’ Parenting falls in the category of ‘have to write’.
“That Good Old Fashioned West Indian Up-Bringing When Shaping the Content of a Child’s Character Was Everything!”
It was my hope to write on how music can influence a child’s development, thought process and worldview. This was after I heard my older son Daniel playfully belting out the lyrics of Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters’ ‘Little Black Boy’ to his younger brother. You see, this is a song that has been on repeat in our home since he arrived into this world so he knows every line and every word. The message is clear and the lyrics are quite powerful. My thought, what better means to indoctrinate a child than through the use of music. However, as I sat, I reflected on a conversation that I had with a friend who was trying to convince me to enroll him and his brother into an accelerated science and math afterschool program.
As I sat I thought about the emphasis that we place on ensuring that our children get the best education. As I sat, I thought about our doing everything within our power to ensure that our children get that ‘leg up in life’, that they are afforded opportunities that we never had as children. As I sat, I thought about the recent reports that I have read on crime and violence among our young people in the region. As I sat, I thought about the headlines, “Another One Dead”, “Two Dead in One Night” or “Another Bloody Weekend”.
As I sat, I thought about the state of the West Indian family. I thought about the following terms which have been used to describe our current state of affairs in the region. The terms, ‘the denigration of our society’ and ‘there is a breakdown in our homes and families’. I thought that I really ought to address the issue of religion and the vital role that it played in West Indian parenting of yesteryear.
As West Indian parents today are we failing to ensure that our children’s spiritual upbringing is a parenting priority? Has this led to what we now term as the ‘denigration of our society?’ Has this led to what we term ‘pure lawlessness in our communities?’ Have we forgotten what the end goal of West Indian parenting was? Let me tell you.
The end goal of West Indian parenting back then was shaping the character of the West Indian child. Shaping the content of a child’s character was everything. Getting a sound education was of the utmost importance but that went hand in hand with character development. The West Indian wanted his or her child to excel academically of course. He or she wanted his or her child to make something of him or herself. He or she wanted that child to seek excellence in everything that he or she did. However at the heart of all this was that excellence came from a solid foundation. It came from a foundation built, strengthened and fortified on a thing called character.
The West Indian therefore took every care in shaping and reinforcing desirable character traits. The emphasis wasn’t only on ensuring that you get your child into an accelerated science or math program but rather that every Sunday without fail your child was clapping off his or her hand in Sunday school or seated as prim as could be in a church pew. This was essential to the West Indian child’s upbringing, and when I say essential, I mean essential. Is this so today? I am just asking.
The emphasis was on ensuring that your child, learn the Golden Rule. The West Indian parent of yesteryear didn’t only boast about his or her child’s report card but rather sent the message far and near that his or her child was Bible Scholar of the Month or Bible Quiz Champion. He or she sent the message far and near that his or her child knew the Lord’s Prayer in addition to counting or saying the ABCs. These are the things we took pride in as West Indians and regardless of what we may want to argue or how we have progressed as a people, religion has been the very glue that has kept the West Indian society together, but where are we now? Religion was an integral part of our culture.
You see I am rambling on because as a people we question why our society has lost or is losing its way. We speak about the breakdown of families or the breakdown in the homes. Could it be that our emphasis or our value system has changed? We say, “Oh long ago, this or that couldn’t have happened. These children are modern children. We are living in modern times.” Have we really stopped to ask ourselves what has changed? How has West Indian parenting changed? What are our values today? What are our dreams and aspirations for our children?”
I ask again, where or to whom did the West Indian look to for guidance in this regard? He or she looked to the church or to religion. Again, I say, that ‘way back when’ the pews and Sunday Schools were packed with children. This is not the case today. My husband couldn’t help but make the observation last Halloween as we drove past a Halloween school festival, “Look at how we have adopted this culture…look at how many children are there dressed in their costumes…I can’t help but wonder if their parents would take the same care in ensuring that these children find their way through a church door tomorrow.” This is our parenting reality today.
Let me say this again, we pontificate on the lack of parenting but do we forget where or who West Indians used to look to for parenting advice or guidance. We didn’t have access to all these parenting journals, books or magazines. There was no Internet or Google to do a quick research. We relied on each other. We relied on the church. We relied on God. And do not get me wrong, I am not talking about the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ quote that we so often refer to and cite this for the reason that children are the way they are today but rather that we relied on those religious teachings, that religious foundation which instilled morality and helped to shape the character of our children.
Now let me note that I am no Presbyter, I happen to be the daughter of one, but as a parent, as someone who grew up in the church, and can attest to the ‘positive’ impact that church attendance or involvement can have on a child’s development, it would be remiss of me not to address it in this forum. Many of us can say today, “I am so and so because of the church.” We hear so many singers or great orators say, “I got my start in the church.” Many of us can say that we honed our leadership skills in church whether we were youth leader, scout, boy’s brigade officer, youth choir director.” For many parents the goal is to cultivate the next great leader, send your child to church. It may be a good training ground plus he or she would have the benefits of moral lessons and teachings.
Now I will tell you that after I reached adulthood my church attendance wasn’t the best as we would say, but the minute I had my first son that changed entirely because as a parent I think that children need something to believe in, a power that is, some Deity that is bigger than themselves.
I won’t dispute that there are many ways to build, strengthen or fortify a child’s character but try an old and proven method. I end by saying that as a people we saw the church not only as part of our culture but also as a strong, sound and vital parenting tool, maybe just maybe we should look to it once more to help us in our parenting journey.
Sage Advice from Parent to Child
‘Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.’ Bruce Lee
‘Solid character will reflect itself in consistent behaviour, while poor character will seek to hide behind deceptive words.’ Myle Munroe
‘The truth of your character is expressed through the choice of your actions.’ Steve Maroboli
‘Character not circumstance makes the person.’ Booker T. Washington
‘When character is lost, all is lost.’ Billy Graham
‘Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are to some extent a gift. Good character by contrast is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece by thought, choice and determination.’ John Luther
‘Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best.’ Bob Talbert
Recommended Reading for Children
Character Building Day by Day: 180 Quick Read Alouds for Elementary School and Home
by Ann D. Mather and Louise B. Weldon
The Book of Virtues for Boys and Girls-A Treasury of Great Moral Stories
Edited with Commentary and Afterword by William J. Bennett Introduction by Doug Flutie
10 Minute Life Lessons for Kids: 52 Fun and Simple Games and Activities to Teach Your Child Honesty, Trust, Love, and Other Important Values
by Jaime C. Miller
The Book of Virtues for Young People: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories
by William J. Bennett
What Do You Stand For? For Kids: A Guide to Character Building
by Barbara A. Lewis
How to Behave and Why
by Munro Leaf
How to Speak Politely and Why
by Munro Leaf
Manners Can Be Fun
by Munro Leaf
Recommended Reading for the Parent
The Moral Compass – A Companion to the Book of Virtues Stories for a Life’s Journey
Edited with Commentary by William J. Bennett
Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 7-year-old Daniel and 6-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