FAMILY MATTERS

Challenges of Parenting in Modern Times

By Joseph Gitau

Of all the animals, human beings are perhaps the only specie that require a prolonged period of care-giving and support, generally as much as twenty years on a gradually   reducing scale, before they can become relatively self-reliant and sufficiently independent, barring any unexpected challenges.

Unlike many other animals at birth, the human child is physically absolutely dependent on a caregiver.

Whereas many wild animals are on their feet almost immediately after birth in order to survive in the wild, human babies take approximately a year to even make their first tottering steps.  Even then, their basic needs remain paramount with complete reliance on another for many years.

Biological needs take precedence but emotional, mental and social wellbeing, increasingly demand attention.

A fourteenth century experiment in France demonstrated, sadly so, how babies in a neonate nursery, deprived of all direct human contact, all died despite all their biological needs being met. They craved human interaction of a loving and tender person, just as much as they did for food, warmth and other physiological needs.

Secure and insecure attachment

The degree of physical, emotional and mental connection with the parent and or caregiver and vice versa determines the child’s sense of well-being to the extent that, this can fundamentally influence their outlook and attitude towards the environment.

It is safe to say, that a child’s mind at birth is a “tabula rasa”, a blank slate, or a dry sponge, that waits to soak in all the good, the bad and the ugly day to day experiences presented by the erstwhile environment. A rejoinder to this view however is that, the developing foetus, already in the womb of the mother, would have had a measure of positive or negative experiences, which unconsciously play in their interaction with the immediate surroundings.

Will power

Surprisingly, as delicate and apparently helpless the little bundle may seem, it has the subtle capacity to accept or reject, albeit passively, whatever is presented and may struggle to express especially the unacceptable most powerfully, even at the tender age of several months. The challenge to the caregiver is to actively negotiate and establish compliance without coercion.

Once a pattern of collaboration has been cultivated, the bond of mutual trust grows and a rewarding relationship can flourish.  The infant is instinctively able to distinguish between a friend, a truly caring person and a “foe” and react to them accordingly.

Parenting Styles

Parenting styles, particularly from the critical stage of toilet training and thereafter, require tact, patience and tender care.

Authoritarian or dictatorial parenting style is defined in simple terms as – “do as I say”, without questioning the rationale. The authoritarian parent will demand and expect compliance without any questions and may be punitive in the face of defiance.

Such a parenting style is directive and coercive and tries to impose the will of the superior. The parent knows what best, period is. It tends to loom large and overhang like a cloud, to oppress and suppress the will of the individual, so that blind obedience is rewarded, and modicum of independence is vehemently discouraged.

Children growing in such an environment may always be submissive or outright rebellious. Some of them in later life may only thrive in an atmosphere where all is catered for and they have no direct duty to make decisions.

When exposed to self-determination and motivation, such a person may be seen to be indecisive and without a clear direction. Traits of passive aggression may also be detected in them due to the bottled up resentment and bitterness about their ignored feelings and aspirations.

Authoritative or democratic management style accommodates consultation, discussion and respects the opinions of the individual. One is encouraged to think independently and make decisions aware of the possible consequences and personal responsibility for the outcome.

It promotes and enhances maturity of the individual because mistakes are not viewed as personal flaw but as isolated incidents, which would be beneficial to the learning process.

The person gains in self-confidence and becomes self-regulating, such that they can embrace challenges, face problems and live up to the demands of the occasion. They are aware of their limitations and can fall-back on their strengths.

Another style of management, ipso facto of parenting, borrows a phrase from the French Language and is known as Laissez faire, loosely translated as – let do, or let be. Here, minimal authority is exercised and one is left to their own devices.

One learns by experimenting, from mistakes, sometimes painful so and may become self-made individual. A sense of lack of active support can pervade one’s journey in life and can either make or break the individual. One learns to be creative and to take initiatives, which promote their own interests and aspirations.

Negligent management parenting style refers to totally absent or occasionally available direction, motivated by pangs of guilt and the desire to sanitize one’s behaviour. The parent is away, pursuing own unmet needs and is unavailable.

Such a parent may be absorbed in the pursuit of a demanding career, business interests or even academic aspirations to the detriment of his parental obligations. The child in such a situation may be described as either a career orphan, or an economic orphan or an academic orphan. However, there is a price to pay and the victim will be the unlucky child.

Every parent employs a mix of these styles, but there is a predominant one which defines the manner of interaction.

Parenting is full-time and involving work, cannot be postponed or recouped later, and which may only be delegated sparingly without abdicating from the fundamental responsibilities.

Loose parallels in the Bible

When one reflects on two parables in the New Testament, one can see parallels which go to the root of the role of parenting. The Parable of the Sower, as remote as it may seem, aptly depicts the parenting roles as outlined by its acronym. The seed on the highway can be equated to a situation where, all parental roles are absent.

The seed on the rocky soil may indicate lack of depth and caring environment to nurture growth and development of the child.  The thorns may well define a hostile and a traumatizing experience, thus hampering and impeding the full expression of one’s potential.

The rich soil, to the compliment of the parents enables and facilitates the tapping of the potential of the individual physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, so that one becomes a fully functioning and self-regulating person.

The parable of the prodigal son is a rather interesting one and a big challenge to all fathers. The personality of the Heavenly Father, from which all fatherhood borrows, is  the embodiment of unconditional, constant, boundless and infinite merciful love as depicted in Isaiah 49:15 and Psalm 145:9.

Every father must be aware that, it is not the goodness or success of the child, which should define their relationship.

The nature and the character of the father is to accommodate and respect the strengths, the weaknesses, the flaws and attitude of the son, his free will in all circumstances and this is the fullness of fatherhood.

Mr Gitau is a counselling psychologist and a certified professional mediator in private practice.