During a recent gathering, a number of 30 something Diaspora women lamented about how disciplining their children today is a more difficult job than in their parent’s day. Apparently, children then were much more ‘compliant’ and understood that whether it was the belt, slipper, switch or love-stick that punishment meted out was in their best interests and certainly not up for discussion.
Fast forward to current day and we as mothers and our offspring, have evolved to a space where we question whether our parent’s tough love approaches designed to keep the children on the straight and narrow are exactly that – too narrow? Would you call it evolution or quiet terror as the goal posts move have we lost our footing in a world where discipline is regulated by government authorities and the sharp end of child-rearing has become a much publicised human rights issue?
Sade, a London-based Nigerian sista believes the disciplinary methods her parents used have stood her in good stead. As far as she is concerned, their early versions of ‘time-out’ where she was told to kneel in a corner, hands on head till her arms ached while she ‘came to her senses’ worked wonders. She emphatically assured us that such methods work equally well on her children today.
Some sistas agreed, some didn’t – so, were we, as children, really more compliant? Truth is, it’s a new day! Three decades ago, both parents and children were insulated from new fangled child-rearing ideas and sometimes misappropriated rights driven by media pop culture.
Our parents and their parents shaped their cultures of discipline, child rearing and community building on long-held notions of values systems informed by history.
Nadia, a Jamaican 60-something mother of three shed some light on issues of discipline back in the day. She recalled how she shudders when she thinks of the ‘mistakes’ she made as she was bringing up her children in the USA during the sixties, seventies and eighties.
A gentle and sensitive soul, she had been brought up in a God-fearing, tough love regime where hard work and stern discipline were the order of the day. The oldest of nine children, she remembers her father as playful but firm and her mother as the strict no-nonsense disciplinarian.
Nadia told of how the daily trek to fetch water before school may today look like child-abuse, but how she and her siblings enjoyed the responsibilities given to them at a tender age. They may have had less idle play time than children of today but they made the most of the time they had together and made fun out of the chores.
The much feared belt reared its head often and in hindsight she agreed that the thought of the belt was probably much worse than the few occasions when she actually felt the lick of leather on her skin.
Such experiences, she says, have undoubtedly shaped her resilient yet temperate personality today. Her husband, a Trinidadian retiree, also came from a similar disciplinarian regime. So, together, they had no qualms in following similar approaches in their child-rearing years.
Nadia’s describes her ‘mistakes’ as the dilemma she and husband faced as they wavered between the zero tolerance approach they grew up with and the experimental free expression of Montessori and others.
In reflection she cautioned the mothers at the gathering of the increasing need to clearly reframe approaches to discipline which do not annihilate our sense of being, our culture; while also being courageous enough to slaughter holy cows if deemed necessary.
In distilling the task of parenting clearly, we seek to do what our parents also sought to do – to teach our children well.