By Chainga Zulu
Few days ago, was my birthday and I had some deep reflections on my life and mostly on my parenthood. I have kids that I don’t know how to raise and this none ending learning curve is a tall order. How will they turn out to be when I am gone and forgotten? How do I insulate them from the growing ills in this world which aren’t showing any cultural inertia? Will they sustain a heritage that values community, loyalty, and tradition?
In all this, I was being reminded of the quote from a postapocalyptic novel by G. Michael Hopf which sums up a stunningly pervasive cyclical vision of history and reinforces my fears. “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” The idea, which I have developed and perfected me over the years of my existence on this God’s green earth, posits that harsh conditions make for morally pure and strong people, while wealth and sophistication make for decadent and weak societies.
Though this is a sweeping generalization by G. Michael Hopf which may not always be true, I am of the belief that the claim in question holds more veracity from what we have witnessed both in our lives and that of others. While it may be also true that not every successful person underwent significant adversity, truly remarkable individuals in various respective fields were forged in the crucible of affliction and trauma. The act of emerging from a place of darkness or using tragedy to cultivate one’s character, as opposed to succumbing to it, confers immense benefits. We are captivated with the stories of Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda, Simon Kapwepwe et cetera because of how they used every stone and mud thrown at them to build walls and lift themselves from the valleys to the mountain tops. Having worked so hard not only for their own recognition but also for that of their fellows because they were never born in privilege, nor with a silver spoon in their mouths. The notion of extreme ownership for one’s actions is relevant in this regard, as it entails adopting the mentality that one is responsible for everything that happens, and therefore, never a hapless victim of circumstance. This potent mindset elevates one’s capacity to an exalted level, as the victim mentality limits one’s efficacy and autonomy. Know that you are the master of your own fate, the captain of your soul, as penned by the poet William Ernest Henley in the famous poem, Invictus.
In my growing up, my mother employed a firm approach to toughen us up, insisting that weakness would not be tolerated in the face of adversity. My mother, if you dared to come back home in tears after a perceived defeat by my peers, would not hesitate to pummel you while questioning your lack of retaliation. This was also a time when the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” was not only true but was at the apex of its usages. During this era, any elderly person nearby could fulfill the duty of molding a child’s character by instilling discipline whenever they deemed a misdeed.
My own experiences of hardship and struggles growing up have driven me to an obsession of wanting to shield my children from such adversity. However, without experiencing the darkness, how can they appreciate the light? How do I improve my kids’ lives without spoiling them with material possessions they demand? How do I instill in them the sense of resilience and tenacity that I acquired through my own struggles?
In times of adversity, fortitude, self-sufficiency, and collaboration are the hallmarks of those who endure. It is during these periods of hardship, whether it be the crucible of poverty or some other crucible of strife, that super-ordinate objectives emerge as a potent force for unification. Empirical evidence in social science attests to the efficacy of such objectives in uniting men and women, urging them towards cooperation and collective action.
Fast forward to the present, and as a parent myself, my children are the ones disciplining me with blackmail and all sort of manipulations. I need to bribe them or/and provide incentives for even the most basic actions like bathing, eating, or going to sleep. Their first greeting upon my return from work is, “what have you brought for us?” And they have the resilience and stubbornness of a donkey.
It’s a common theme among parents – me inclusive – to strive for providing a better life for their children than they had themselves, yet they often fail to consider the type of children they are raising and leaving for the world. Many of us are absent parents and deep in a sunken place with an obsession to work and provide for our families that we even forget to be parents. We are guilty of leaving parenting to cable tv, domestic workers and school teachers. And we get surprise when kids turn out to be strangers to us?
I’m not an apologist for crude parenting, nor am I here to glorify suffering. No. I hate poverty with all my being. But I “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” – Romans 5:3 – 4. The reality is that parenting, like marriage, has no one-size-fits-all approach, and we must find what works best for us in our unique circumstances.
It is undeniable fact that life is full of its own challenges which will be presented to them at every corner. What we should do as parents is to prepare them so that they can have the ability to express and process their emotions, learn and grow from every curveball. Not creating wimps.
We must also acknowledge that our children will inevitably form their own identities and personalities, regardless of our efforts to shape them. As parents, we can only do our best to guide and mold them into becoming responsible, compassionate, and capable human beings. And if God wills it, they will turn out to be successful and responsible citizens. The suspense, unpredictability, pitstops and terrors of parenting just adds to the flavour of life. Life would have been boring if all things were predictable.