While at campus, my chaplain, Rev. Prof. Lawrence Njoroge , often quoted Prof J.S. Mbithi, “I am because you are, and since you are I am’’. We are a product of the environment and since our first environment usually has parental figures in it, we can say we are because our parents are. Regardless of how small a percentage of time we spend with our parents, they have the most impact on the people we become, or may never become.
Am reminded of a story I read when I was in High School, The girl with a twisted future by Mia Couto. It is one of the stories featured in Looking for A Rain God and other stories. It features Mr. Bustante, a parent, who tries to force his daughter to become a contortionist in his bid to improve his material well being. This was inspired by the fact that he heard of another contortionist who made it by getting hired by a certain Impresario. So when He heard that the impresario would come to his village, he went ahead and ‘Tortured’ his daughter in the name of training by tying her to a drum every day and pouring hot water on her so her bones would be loose enough, and of course letting her go without meals to impress the Impresario. By the time he, the Impresario, arrived, the girl was too sick to perform. She died after the no performance. What a tragedy!
Well, that may be the worst case scenario. But it makes me wonder whether parents know that when their children grow up, they become an example to others by default, either to be avoided or emulated? Not once but several times have my parents told me, look at so and so, when u grow up, I want u to be like him or her, or, you remember so and so with whom you went to school with, he/she has become so messed up, take care that you don’t end up like him. Dear parents, who do you, want us to become? Who to be emulated or to be avoided? Either way you set the pace.
They say that Knowledge is most durable and religious instruction most useful, when imparted in early life. The begetting and educating of children are intimately linked. One does not have to look very far in the teachings of the Church on marriage and family to find strong, repeated affirmations that parents have the innate openness to beget and right to educate their children. The Second Vatican Council clearly teaches that marriage and conjugal love “are by their nature ordained towards the begetting and education of children” and that parents “should regard, as their proper mission, the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted”. Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Divini illius Magistri, devotes considerable space to this right and obligation of parents. Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. Note that they are not just educators, they are principal educators.
Why is this so? Since parents have given children their life. The family therefore becomes the first school that every society needs and parents must face the raising of a family as a Christian obligation that requires much sacrifice. They must give themselves for their children, and thus obtain joy of soul both here and in eternity.
Having begotten them, the first duty of parents towards their children is to love them. If experience is the best teacher, then to nurture a loving person in future, they must be endowed with love at a tender age. Love is the mother of very many virtues. The next big role is educating them.
So in what are parents bound to educate their children? How do they teach them? Educating in this case does not refer to academics. When I look back at my growing up, I can say there are two methods a child learns, through direct instruction and through observation. Instruction takes the form of word of mouth from parent to child where the do’s and don’ts are imparted. One of such lessons I remember from my father is, Nyinyi, mnapoenda huko nje, jueni kuishi na watu, meaning know how to live with people. My father’s greatest principle is as you grow up, you belong to the society more than you belong to them, parents. I also remember him telling us that we should not drink alcohol and he would give a lot of examples on the negative effects of alcohol. Well that translated into me being a tea-totaller. But I must say that the biggest lessons which greatly impacted on the person I am, was what I learnt from observation.
Observation is the first step in scientific method and it is said that example is the greatest teacher. Given that children are the greatest imitators, they will imitate their parents more than they will the priests and sisters of your parish. Parents must therefore lead by example. They must desire to be emulated. For example, if I am an honest person, it is largely because I observed honesty in my parents’ character and if I am hardworking, it is because hardworking was one of their character traits among many other characters and virtues that I may have acquired in the end. Of course this does not rule out the fact that honest hardworking parents may raise dishonest and lazy offspring. Parents must therefore keep out of the child’s life any example that will be harmful for instance lying, bad language, immodesty, drunkenness among other vices. They must also lead the child to a life of virtue by giving good example in prayer, attendance at Mass, frequent reception of the Sacraments, abstinence from meat on Friday, love of Our Lord, love of Our Blessed Mother, and respect for the Catholic Church, her priests and all the religious. Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which the well-rounded personal and social education of children is fostered. It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and office of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught from their early years to have knowledge of God according to the faith received in Baptism, to worship Him, and to love their neighbor. Encouragement of common prayers instills an attitude and habit of prayer in a child. Parents should not only teach their children to pray, but should lead them in prayer. Daily prayers should be said by the whole family together. Let me admit that to this day, the prayers that I recite more fluently and which I love doing are the ones my mother taught me. I remember that, well, since we would go to her bedside and would say our evening prayers together. I can also honestly say I miss those days.
Besides that, parents have the obligation of providing a roof over their children’s heads, healthy food and recreation time. Both parents are obliged to provide for the healthy development of the child’s body. A mother fails in her duty by not preparing good, wholesome food for the children, by feeding the family irregularly, by not providing warm clothes and a neat, clean home. A father makes a serious omission by not providing the money for a decent home and good food. Men who spend large amounts of their pay on gambling or alcohol or in other ways not connected with the good order of the home regrettably deviate from the norm because they deprive the family of the necessities of life.
However, my main concern is the teaching both imparted and implied on matters of sexuality. How to become a woman or a man, when one become a woman or man and what to do about it. I know, and most of the people in my age group will agree that we learnt all matters of sex and sexuality in school in a Home science class in standard six, a topic called adolescents. Well, I was lucky to get a teacher to instill the fear of the lord, read male beings, in me and, well, I treaded carefully. So whose responsibility is it to teach the growing child on what Chastity is? What are the values attributed to chastity? What is sex? What are the consequences of sex? What is contraception and abortion? What are the impacts of being involved in birth control pills at a tender age? The back stops again at the parent.
Attitudes on marriage are coinned in people when they are quite young. How the parents live their married life impacts a lot on the child. For instance, an absentee father, who shows up only in Christmas, or a mother who batters the husband, or parents who cheat on each other, among other observable characters points a negative picture on the institution of marriage. A negative picture makes children lose faith in the institution. Other things may be what are stored in the bathroom and bedside drawers. Are there birth control pills in there or a pack of condoms? The child always knows that by default, my parents are right. So if they are using them, then it is okay to use.
One might wonder the relationship between all the above and the attitudes towards marriage. I read a story of a father who wanted to find out if his 15 year old son was already sexually active. When the boy said yes, the father went on to explain the mechanisms and ‘’protection’’ measures that he should employ. I was left wondering what if he had decided to give him an insight into chastity. Is it always too late to change? Why chastity? It is so that one can stay pure and holy until that time bound in holy matrimony when they are allowed to perform the holy act that is open to and aids in co creation. Parents should then teach their children the sacredness of the marriage bond, the purpose of marriage, the impossibility of divorce. They should warn their children of the false teachings of the world on marriage and the unhappiness that comes from following the world instead of following God and the Church in these matters. What does the world teaches? It teaches that as long as one has reached puberty, one has the freedom to explore sexual activity. To avoid pregnancy, there are birth control pills and if the pills do fail then they can abort. Strange how people are more scared of getting pregnant than any diseases that may come from sexual encounters. Anyhow, once one knows the sacredness of the conjugal act, then the rest will be AOB. By default a child will know that they should abstain till marriage, and the use of contraceptives will be a thing of the past.
Parents have a responsibility to sit their children down and have an in-depth talk on sexuality. The father should teach his son the simple facts of sex, the mother should teach the daughter. This teaching should be given in a beautiful and correct manner always suited to the age and mental development of the child, never shocking him or embarrassing him by the manner in which it is discussed, but always giving correct information. Otherwise your children will learn the facts of generation in an incorrect and even sinful manner from their companions. Of course this is to presume that all parents are educated well enough and confident in these matters. In the Philippines, 75% of parents were willing to be educated on how to talk to their children about these important matters.
In all, parents, you may or may not teach, but Children learn anyway through observation and of course external interactions. Three things happen; they become you, or the exact opposite of you, or become their own person, a different breed from either of you. Whichever they become, you, the parents influenced their becoming.