Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation ~ C. Everet Koop, M.D.
Raising children has never been easy. Before the days of the global village, family was, at the furthest, a bus ride away. When one had a child, your mother would be there to hold your hand through labour. Your aunts would be there in the months before and after the birth to advise you on exactly how to swaddle the baby, how to hold it, what the cause of the incessant crying may be and so much more. Not only that, when your baby was a few months old and you had to go back to work, you could take your pick from any number of cousins who look after the baby while you worked. Those were the days of the extended family.
How times have changed. In this age’s days of the nuclear family and the global village, the world is so much closer but we are more alone. Now we travel easily across continents and oceans, we fall in love with people from other countries; we build homes in countries far away from home. We face the task of building a home, having and raising our children in an entirely new social context. We are breaking new ground and with that comes a lot of trials.
Raising children in an entirely new social context engenders problems our parents never encountered. Simple questions become difficult. In a home where both parents are from a different country or tribe or culture and the primary language of communication is English, is it ok for your child to grow up speaking English only? How do you teach a child a language they never hear you speak? When they go to school, would it be alright if they learn and begin to speak the local languages regardless of the fact that neither of you understands those languages?
Most of us need fulltime help to deal with children. This is even more so if both parents are gainfully employed trying to earn enough to give their children the best they can afford. Hiring a trustworthy maid and/or nanny is exceptionally difficult for one simple reason: how do you know they are trustworthy? We no longer have the benefit of calling a distant cousin to help. We are faced with hiring a stranger. Aside from the security risks, this stranger will most likely be from a different culture and will bring with them their own idea of how to raise a child. How do you begin to teach an adult the little things you would like to pass on to your child? The little things you learned when, not just your parents, but an entire “village” was raising you.
Children of school going age are the source of even greater worry. For most of the day, they are with their peers and, if you are lucky, are paying attention to what they are being taught. Stories of sex tapes doing the rounds in high schools, of sexual abuse, drugs, violence in schools and teenage pregnancy have become the norm. It used to be, at least for me, that the “village” had eyes. My mum would know my sins before I even made it home from school. That is not so anymore. Most people are forced to try and mitigate these risks by placing their children in only the top schools. Unfortunately, these schools and the security they offer come with a steep price tag. This means one must work to maximize their earning potential and consequently spend less time with the child. Managing to do both is something only a few people can do.
Add to this the fact that the High Court decriminalized consensual sexual activity between children aged 12 – 16 years of age. Leave aside the question of criminality, as if there is not enough to worry about, one must deal with the fact that a 12-year-old can have consensual sex (*gasp!*) ergo can walk into a family planning clinic with an STI. Prior to reading this judgment, it had never occurred to me that a 12-year-old child might consensually have sex. Perhaps I was a little sheltered?
I have no answer to any of these issues but I do know that as busy as we are trying to establish ourselves, to build a home, to build careers, to be good parents out here in the diaspora, it is easy to forget that “each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.” Ultimately we are responsible for the foundation that will ground our children when they are making decisions on their own. We may not be able to protect them to the same extent we were protected but we can try, as far as possible, to teach them to protect themselves with their choices and voices. I honestly don’t know what else we can do. Perhaps that is the price of raising children far away from home?