Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The greatest gift of all

December is a fabulous time to be in South Africa. Popularly called the festive season, there are some interesting traditions around. It’s the height of summer and the rainy season when on most days the intense heat is punctured by beautiful thunderstorms.

It’s also the season when people take a full month off and go home, out of the cities, to spend time with their loved ones. So, in December, Urban spaces, usually bustling with activity, become tranquil havens of clear roads, no queues and basking weather. This welcome lull comes after the frenzied spending sprees of everything from trinkets to groceries for the families ‘back home’.

As in many other countries, December is the time for giving whether you are celebrating Christmas or not. Gifts come in all shapes and sizes, be they shop-bought gifts or heart-made gifts.

Gifts bring joy! You see it on people’s faces –they are more expansive, smile more and you can literally feel the heart-swell of loving energy. It’s a beautiful experience which demonstrates the universal principle of giving and receiving. Through giving, we are all elevated to a higher sense of joy and happiness. The energy is palpable. It’s a shame we’re not able to share the lurve on a sustained basis.

It’s no secret that gift-givers are feeling the pinch more than ever this year. The plastic is not so flexible anymore and cash is in short supply. So, inevitably, we are forced to make choices. Buy less and give less? How so? Surely there’s a way we can buy less and give more?

The Jamaican community living in Johannesburg have decided to gather together on Boxing Day (26 December) and give heart-gifts of love to children in a shelter. Remembering that it takes a community to raise a child, the gesture highlights the plight of children whose parents are not there to give them life’s heart-gifts.

On considering gifts and all things material, how is it that so many fall unwittingly, into the trap of buying gifts to make themselves and the receivers happy? Will the credit crunch leave you feeling empty or unfulfilled because you weren’t able to buy what you’d hoped to give?

Love Gifts
It’s like eating chocolate – giving gifts lifts you to a temporary happy high. For many, not being able to give gifts is akin to sucking lemons. Why so? What happened to your love gifts? What is the greatest gift parents can give to their children? We’ve heard the answer love. Yes, but let’s scratch beneath the surface love of, love to, love for; all of the above?

Surely, the greatest gift from parent to child is a sense of purpose through service? By using our special gifts, we are able to give endlessly to the world by actively defining our life purpose. Let’s not wait till life begins at 40 to claim this gift! Package it, wrap it and unwrap it with your children. The more you give, the bigger it becomes, truly, the greatest gift of all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yes we can!

How often have you heard parents lamenting the fact that their children have gone off track or that they are wondering aimlessly through life with little sense of ambition?

Frustrated parents of those children who have dared to go against the grain and eek out a unique space in the world often also harbour a sense of failure in not having accomplished their vision for their child.

Recall the words penned by the much feted Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, in his seminal work, The Prophet, first published in 1924.

He wrote: ‘Your children are not your children. They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but they are not from you and though they are with you, they belong not to you’.

The angst is understandable; it’s only natural that we would want the best for our children but maybe we set ourselves up for disappointment by typecasting our children’s lives from the minute they are old enough to recite the alphabet?

What ever religious doctrine you may subscribe to, the source books all speak of a parent’s responsibility to shepherd our children through life. So, it is widely accepted that a parents role is to love, guide and protect their offspring.

So, relentless efforts to instil strong moral fibre, a robust work ethic and a sense of community register as a good success rating in the parenting realm. However, if, as Gibran states, our children represent ‘life’s longing for itself’ then where do you draw the line? Who holds the destiny chalk, you or your children?

Gibran went on further to say: ‘you may give them […children] your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams’.

Fittingly, these words, when set against the gloomy backdrop of current global financial crises, serve as an invitation for us to review our perspectives of parenthood. Gibran’s tomorrow is now!

Speak to the ‘wayward’ children; those who respond to ‘life’s longing for itself’ and you will hear stories of a journey deep with conflict as they wield a double-edged sword of respect for their parent’s desires countered against their soul’s yearnings.

This leaves many tossing out passion in search of steady incomes no matter how soul destroying the career. Those brave enough to stick their neck out are often confused as they navigate through feelings of betrayal to the parental vision to pure joy as they touch their dream.

Is there room for a happy medium? Parenting styles that seek to nurture the soul vision while building the foundation blocks of ambition, drive and passion? We better get ready to find it, because today our children say, yes we can!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cultured Sex Talk

It seems sex education in our homes is still a touchy subject. Even against the backdrop of the ravages of HIV/AIDS, nurturing healthy attitudes around sexuality in our children remains a culturally sensitive minefield.

Globally connected, yet rooted in our heritage, issues of sex and sexuality in our families are taking centre stage in our world – like it or not.

As the world reflects on the impact of HIV/AIDS, celebrates successes and shares ideas about how do deal with the evolving challenges of the pandemic, young people are seen as the key driver in turning the tide of HIV infection rates, through attitudinal and behaviour change. How? - By taking personal responsibility for their lives and by being in the know. Information, education and dialogue are the fundamentals.

Touchy subject
So, where did you learn about sex? Who helped you navigate through the confusing maze of puberty as you discovered your body through tingly feelings and strange body odours? In some families, discussions about sex and sexuality are, even today, a no-go area.

Some claim it’s a cultural issue saying we, (read: Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora), do not believe it’s appropriate to dialogue with our children about the fuzzy details of sex and their bodies. Still, we agree on the importance of instilling moral values of chastity, abstention from sex before marriage and self-respect.

How so? Is it possible to paint the rose without allowing our children to smell it?

Side Stepping
Are we using culture as an excuse to side-step the ever more complex responsibilities we have as parents?

While we’re nurturing values and ideologies through our cultural mores what is holding us back from collectively devising approaches to bridge the dialogue gap between us, the way our parents taught us and the new generation?

Young people are gasping for information. No matter the geographical location, young people across the world are part of a global youth culture. In a technologically advancing world, access to sex in all its forms is a click away on a cell-phone or a computer.

From Rianna’s sensuous hip-rolls and 50 Cent’s ménage-a-trois video scenes to the pastor’s Sunday morning sermon about the virtues of abstinence; youth are hit by conflicting messages of sex and sexuality from all sides. The very cultural icons they adore threaten to erode the roots we, as parents, strive to plant in the home.

Let’s face it; even our homes are not what they were. For many caught up in the frenetic activity of life, the idea of a Sunday dinner with the family has become a luxury – but that’s for another day!

The statistics speak for themselves. With one in three people HIV positive in some regions of South Africa, sex education in the home and the community is at the sharp end of the wedge in HIV/AIDS management.

The call is to stretch our parenting role from technical ‘birds and the bees’ information to developing a cachet of life-skills that will empower our children to confidently navigate through the barrage of sex (mis)information. For it is skills of negotiation, listening and assertiveness that will enable them to make informed choices when faced with making a decision that could irrevocably change the course of their lives.

Our culture doesn’t allow us to talk openly to our children? Enough said.