A few days ago I was invited at a Women’s day event at Future Africa, where one of the questions posed as conversation starter was to discuss which moments or events in our lives were pivotal to our career thus far.
I was making my notes and as I was going deep into a self-reflection and evaluation of my career thus far, I thought “my kids”. Now most women that became mothers will attest to the fact that having kids contributes to the need for more hours in a single day, to the juggle of many more things on your to-do list and in general, to the feeling of guilt every single minute of the day. My response, however, was less driven by everyday challenges: having kids made me realise that they are the future of this world so I have to make sure that the world they grow up into is a better version of the current one.
My aspiration for the future and in a sense a motto for my life purpose is to change the world by changing the people. Hence, all my activities, all my efforts, all my tasks have these as an underlying axiom. As an academic, I conduct research and I publish research; nowadays, I make sure I communicate my research in wider audiences, out of academia too. More people read the findings, more people’s knowledge is improved; changing the world by changing the people. Teaching and supervising activities are the definitions of changing the world by changing people. Every time, I see in class a face that lights up because they understood a concept, I feel my purpose is fulfilled. That person that is a student now might be my boys’ teacher, lecturer, boss, and a colleague or even, this person might be the politician that will make the right decisions.
But the latest events in South Africa (September 2019) have made me wonder about all these. I feel a responsibility now to the world, not only to prepare it to “receive” my kids but also, to make sure I prepare my kids to be the changing catalyst to a better world. To do so, I choose to be honest and open in my discussions with them.
By being honest, we as parents need to be also cautious that we don’t create human beings that are stressed, full of concerns, worries and fears. When they heard about the xenophobic attacks in the country, I had to explain the situation in a simple manner but making justice to the issue “There are a few people in some neighbourhoods that think that people from other countries should go back to their countries and they became violent”. And then it hit me. I am from another country; what if they are scared now that I will be asked to go back where I come from. That question has not hit me yet, but the more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes that I have to start the discussion again. I still don’t know how to explain to an adult, let alone a child, that the country of origin is a reason for violence against the person.
I heard on the radio someone arguing that we cannot really prepare our kids, specifically boys, because we cannot discuss with them issues of rape for example. I agree honesty is key but also age-appropriate language is also key. A few weeks ago #bigboy wanted to kiss #baby boy “I love my brother so much”; but as expected, #babyboy refused “I don’t want kisses now”. The argument got heated with one’s heart shattered “BUT I love him” and the other one feeling violated. Perfect opportunity for a lesson, we thought! We had a discussion with them about kissing and hugging: both people have to say YES, otherwise it’s not acceptable. So, when they asked me this week why people are sad and protesting, I explained to them that there was a lady in Cape Town and a guy wanted to “kiss” her; she didn’t want to and sadly, he was upset and killed her. “BUT mama, both people have to say YES for a kiss”….Right my boy, right….
And that is where ensuring our kids learn to behave respectfully to the “different” to their image in the mirror is crucial. Respectful not in a “protect and love the weaker” but in appreciating the strengths and not making assumptions based on stereotypes. “Mama, girls cannot play soccer,” #bigboy said one afternoon, “you and me outside” was my response. He has not said that again. The boys have seen their father, their superhero opening the chair for their mum to sit or the door of the car. My comment recently to them is they can be nice and polite to ladies, not because they are weak, but because they are precious. People tend to confuse a strong dynamic woman as the one that does not want to be loved or being treated politely and romantically. The two are not correlated in any way and based on my personal experiences and preferences, I hope the examples of their parents will mould the boys’ behaviour accordingly.
A disclaimer that I should have made much earlier: I am not saying by any means that I am a perfect mama, or the way we raise our kids is the one and only and all the others are wrong. We are trying our best based on our beliefs and ethics code. Also, there are more things in our parenting choices that this post does not touch on, such as how we deal with competitiveness, responsibility and independence for example. But all these sound excellent in theory, right? In practice, we, like every parent on earth, make mistakes E V E R Y S I N G L E day!!! And we also joke to each other that our objective is to minimize “damage” subject to our skills and knowledge of course. My personal reason for aiming at improving my parenting skills continuously is the responsibility to this and next generations to prepare the future citizens to be responsible, sensitive, rational, critical thinkers and respectful to fellow human beings and nature.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all like this already?