Parenting matters – Jamaica Observer



is much excitement in the political arena across my two homelands.

In the United States, the Iowa caucuses are two weeks away and New Hampshire, about three weeks. I am partly rooting for my former governor, Martin O’Malley, but certainly the real interest for me on the Democratic side is whether Democratic Socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will trump the woman most likely to be the first female president of the United States, former Secretary of State Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

With the certainty of general elections in Jamaica, this year as well, there is increasing ferment. Frankly, the greatest interest here is the extent to which this election will signal the end of a political culture that has not worked well for the country and, correspondingly, the need for a more mature process.

In the face of all of that, I am writing about parenting — a sociological issue, but impacted as well by issues of governance and therefore, politics. I have written about this only in passing, yet my one full-length published work, incidentally, was approved by the Ministry of Education under the previous Administration for use in their parenting programme. It never got beyond that, but it is enough that the person in charge at the time, Dr Rebecca Tortello, recognised the value of the work. She particularly liked the fact that the book asked big questions in the children’s voices and answered them from the perspective as a wise adult, serving as their guide.

Parenting is extremely important to me. It is not an abstract subject that I can write about dispassionately. It is the kind of thing that chokes me up because at a personal level; it’s about my parents as well as aunts, uncles, friends and neighbours — all with limited means materially, but doing their best and instilling core values which remain the guiding light of my life. It is also about my own experiences raising daughters and addressing the various challenges we face, made more potent by issues of culture and race.

At an academic level, I appreciate the complexities involved in being parents generally. n Jamaica, I find it disappointing, infuriating even, that we take our typical classist approach, which confuses the issues and seeks only to point fingers at certain sections of the society without taking into consideration the broader context in which people must operate. This is why each time I hear someone talk about poor parenting, I want to ask them to explain further. What do you mean? What is poor parenting? And, since it implies the opposite, what is good parenting? Rarely is there any serious explanation, but the criticism of others come with the in-built assumption that they are themselves good parents. So, I want to say: write a manual and give the rest of us; complete with guarantees that if we follow it, we will get exactly the results we want.

Media mogul and international philanthropist Oprah Winfrey was raped as a teenager and became pregnant as a result but the baby was premature and stillborn. Winfrey never had another child because of the recognition of the magnitude of the responsibility, she said and, as her life evolved, the realisation that she could not effectively parent a child — although she is one of the wealthiest women in the world. For her, it was about time and how much of herself, she was prepared to commit to raising another human being.

Psychologists, sociologists, and essentially anyone with common sense understand exactly what Winfrey means when she talks about the responsibility of parenthood — protecting, nurturing and guiding a child into adulthood as functioning and fully-fledged human beings. As in every area of life, personal responsibility matters enormously. Certainly, many of our women need to take better control of their reproductive choices to ensure that they do not have more children than they can afford, relative to material availability or time and emotional and social constraints. And our men need to be re-socialised away from a culture of irresponsible sexual conduct; encounters with no consequences. Our entire culture needs to tone down the hyper-sexuality that encourages indiscriminate sexual behaviour as an end in itself.

It is quite interesting that at the macro level, we encourage this behaviour, but at the individual level we do not expect people to respond to the messages we send or the behaviour we encourage. The weaknesses in the structure of many homes and the external factors impinging on them have to be addressed, as well if parents are to function at their best. Poverty is obviously an inhibiting factor. It does not mean that poor people are irresponsible. It means they often lack the tools and the resources to parent effectively.

Like former prime minister, the late Michael Manley, in the

Politics of Change — his blueprint for the development of Jamaica — I believe the influence of the education system must supersede those of the home where they are negative and inimical to the healthy development of the child or “contrary parental influences” as he labelled them. With so much work to do toward the goal of a developed society, these efforts simply have to be doubled or tripled at the State level.

“The education al system must be set the conscious task of overcoming home influences…In a sense, the educational system must create new generations who evolve…as an extension of new concepts which they discover together in their formative years.”

American author Robert Fulghum, paid homage to the value of his early experience in the education system with his beloved work,

All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. This is one of my favourite works and it applies just as well to Jamaica. Here are a few of his best lessons:

1. Share everything.

2. Play fair.

3. Don’t hit people.

4. Put things back where you found them.

5. Clean up your own mess.

6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

7. Wash your hands before you eat.

9. Flush…

Grace Virtue, PhD, is a social justice advocate.