“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”The Holy Bible
First, Happy Fathers’ Day!
Being married or siring a child does not make one a father. The task of fatherhood is great but exciting and ultimately rewarding if one performs it well. If one lives long enough into late adulthood and joins the great club of septuagenarians and above, such is the time that reaping the reward or punishment of fatherhood comes inevitably.
In old age, one has done a full circle, weak and frail, and patiently waiting at the departure lounge to journey back to his or her creator. The organs are weak and the bones are dry and aching. This is the time one needs help as the body is really weak and many would not be able to work and walk around without support – needing walking-stick, physical support of another stronger person and more importantly, needing financial assistance for food and drugs for degenerative ailments such as hypertension and diabetes that come with age.
The children one raised well are the first line of defence in dealing with the challenges of old age. Good children are always thinking of aged parents and helping to make their life easier. Aged parents treasure their children’s calls and visits, and look forward to them. It keeps them alive and helps them live longer. Aged parents would sometimes bring out the pictures of the good children and admire them, reminiscing on their growing up. The troubles each gave, especially the stubborn ones who have grown into responsible adults.
Contrarily, terribly raised children are a thorn in the flesh of aged parents. They are not able to find their place in the society and easily join the deviant subcultures that are antisocial, drug abusers, wife beaters and abusive adults and parents. They are a case of arrested development and misguided childhood.
Such adults start right from the home by soon beginning to challenge their parents and older siblings. That they are irresponsible is all well-known to neighbours, schools and workplaces. They have gotten so used to doing things the wrong way and changing a herculean task.
When the parents are relatively young, they try to grapple with such conduct and antisocial disorders of their irresponsible children. But as they grow older, the parents become weaker and the recalcitrant children stronger and more audacious with their dangerousness increasing as well. Many beat up their parents, sell off their valued possessions to fiancé their reckless life or to get at their parents for the years of neglect of their childhood. The conduct is actually a sort of cry for maternal help.
How then do some children become so good and some so terrible in adulthood and become a source of succour to their parents or punishers? It is all embedded in childhood.
Psychologists believe that childhood is the foundation of life. Gabriella Mistral, a Nobel Prize winner from Chile said that of all the evils of mankind, abandoning the child is the worst to underscore the critical importance of childhood.
Abandoning the child comes in several forms. Physical separation is the one that many would easily think about. But it is far deeper than that. In a broader and psychological sense, abandoning the child means abandoning the parental duties that must be rendered to the child in childhood.
Parental duties are vast but can be summarized thus: security, discipline, and nurturance. Security refers to everything that must be done to secure the child from all manner of harm – physical harm, abuse, emotional and so forth.
Unknown to most people, discipline is so fundamental. Even the Bible talks about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Discipline shapes the child into a responsible member of society. Man is born hedonistic – pleasure-seeking and avoiding anything that would bring pain. Discipline forces the child to see that life is not a bed of roses and begins to learn responsibility as an integral part of life.
Work and life are taught in childhood. Some tasks are age-specific and taught in the family and schools. Any level missed is paid for in future by the child through compensatory conducts or relearning. When too many of the tasks are missed, poorly learned and accumulate, they can overwhelm the child in later life and seeking easy ways out becomes quite attractive.
Simply put, the foundation for a happy life is laid in childhood when the child is socialized into being a useful member of the society. It is in childhood that a child is taught to accept responsibility. Evidence of this is seen in the life of firstborn and lastborn who are generally socialized differently. Firstborns are made to accept responsibility and soon made to start taking care of younger siblings and playing surrogate father or mother. Often pampered, the lastborn misses this and it shows in their general carefree attitude in later life.
What then is the best way of parenting that will ensure a happy end for both the parents and their children? It is really difficult to prescribe a method that will work in all situations and for every child or every parent. Some children require special attention and tough measures may not be necessary for the children.
However, three forms of parenting can be delineated and their consequences, so that parents may have an idea of how to apply or avoid them. First is authoritarian parenting. Authoritarian parents are the so-called disciplinarians, wielding the big stick all the time. This kind of parenting banishes love in the home and makes the home an ordeal for the children and their products tend to be wayward when they experience freedom. They lack social competence and confidence to face the real world.
The home should be a sanctuary for its members and the last line of defence. Every child should look forward to going home. A good home makes the members homesick when they stay away for long. Some parents have not been able to make their homes a happy place for its members. Some homes are a bedlam and a house of commotion. This has nothing to do with poverty or riches. There are very happy poor homes and unhappy rich homes.
It is all about authoritarian parenting. Such parents believe that the home must be lax. Such parents cannot play and joke with their children whereas the parents must be their children’s friends and closest confidants.
Let it be known that discipline is not the same thing as punishment. A parent can punish without achieving discipline. Discipline requires engaging all concerned and reasoning with our child and strictly enforcing the agreed rules. Punishment must be set in advance and consistent so that the child can know precisely why he or she is being punished and how to avoid being punished in the future.
That’s why authoritative parenting is believed to be the way to go. Under authoritative parenting, parents are firm and fair, and engaging. Parents reason with their children, and children even make inputs in setting the rules and feel free enough to bare their minds. Reward and punishment are consistent. Love is shown by both mother and father without the man compromising his role as the authority figure, which ultimately shapes the children.
The third form of parenting is laissez-faire parenting. In this kind of parenting, rules are neither set nor enforced. Parents are lackadaisical, largely carefree, wayward, and irresponsible. Their children are allowed to grow up as they please, being free to nothing. They almost always grow into irresponsible adults. No child should be raised in this condition.
Finally, parents are models for their children and fathers particularly, are the first and original heroes of their children. Children believe their fathers are capable of anything and would proudly announce that to anybody who threatens them, “I will tell my daddy for you”.
Fathers, since you are the first and perhaps the only hero of your children, do your best and it will be good enough. God being your helper, your children will grow into responsible adults and take care of you in your old age. If you fail, you may have a bitter old age. May your children never be a thorn in your flesh.
Once more, happy fathers day!
• Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja based Forensic/Social Psychologist and Journalist; Tel.: +234-905 642 4375; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org