There is so much unknown when it comes to being a parent, you just have to jump in and hope you get it right. – Brie Larson, Best Actress winner, 2016 Oscars.
As parents, we like to think we’ve got this whole parenting thing down. As Nigerian parents, we don’t even want to hear that we make mistakes. If our kids don’t turn out right, then it’s their fault. Quite frankly, I think we are all clueless. You might know the basics on how to look after a child, but training up a child is not really a one-way street. Heck, it’s not even a two-way street. Training up a child is so multifaceted that one step out of turn could be the difference between raising a murderer, rapist, pastor, murdering pastor, devious deacon, or a virgin prostitute. We already know all kids are not the same. One kid might rebel when spanked while the other conforms. How you train your child is totally up to you; borrow ideas from different people, but in the end, it’s totally up to you. Why am I starting with what sounds like a rant? Okay, let me explain.
I believe Nigerian parents were made to formally give unsolicited parenting advice and criticize you at the same time. It is a wah for us. We take the adage of a child being trained by the entire village and blow it up to mean ‘trained by the entire country’. They’ll tell you things like:
“If you don’t do exclusive breastfeeding, your child won’t be smart…”
“Use only Cerelac, no buy nutrend or your pikin go dey poopoo too much…”
“Ah madam, give that crying child breast nah, that’s what they need. These mothers of nowadays sef…”
“Use only coconut oil on your baby’s hair and it will grow like Indian hair…”
“Take your child to that school…”
“Take am to that church…”
“Allow ya pikin to dey enter Okada…”
“Allow am to dey drive Okada…”
“Spank you child…”
“Don’t spank your child…”
“Spank your child and leave him hungry then he go learn him lesson.”
I can go on and on about the absurd advice we’ve gotten in the past and the many more we keep getting. Every child do not respond the same way; even between twins, their personalities are different. I’m a twin, I should know.
When you’ve been blessed with your first child, you’re more or less clueless. It’s a daily lesson and in this part of the world, we are lucky to have elderly women on ground to help. Our mothers visit, help with the bathing, feeding, swaddling, burping, and general cleanup. We learn from them and we try to adopt those techniques. Some babies respond while some others don’t. My son is in the latter category as most of what we learnt didn’t work on him. My neighbour once asked me what he should do at night to get his crying daughter to stop. I told him he’d have to keep trying it all until he finds the one that works. While I learnt how to carry my son and stand for hours to get him to sleep, his daughter might respond when he lies her tummy down and places her on his back. It’s one thing to tell a new parent what worked for you and another thing entirely to insist your way is the only way.
Sadly, some parents will swear by the Holy Bible that their way is the narrow and sure way to raising a winner. Oh that’s right, a winner. To them, their kids are always winners, always coming first, never second or third. They ask you questions on your child’s development just so they can shove their “my child has already done that” rhetoric in your face.
“Awww, your son has started walking? How old is he? Really? A year old? Ah, he started late ooo! My child started walking when she was three months old. She didn’t even crawl; she just stood up and flew.”
Oh, what a load of RUBBISH!
That’s not usually how they say it, but the gloating becomes so obvious in their voice that you’d want to pick up their flying babies and smack these parents over the head with them. They’ll then go ahead to tell you how you should have fed your son only natural calcium induced diet, made by Massai herdsmen at the high peaks of the Kenyan snow-covered mountains.
You think fathers are exempt from these shameful competitions? Oh no, they are definitely in on it. When my child was four or five months old, a friend of mine compared his son’s hair to that of my son. He asked why my son’s hair was not as textured as his son’s. I can’t remember exactly what my reply was, but it was pretty sarcastic. I didn’t create his hair, how was I to make it more textured – whatever that means.
My wife has gotten really good at ignoring these comments and I envy her for it. If I was the one on the receiving end of these unfair, unhealthy baby comparisons, my sarcastic comebacks would have made the other parents stop inviting us to their tea parties.
We actually do have good friends, first-time parents that fumble along with us, and experienced parents that give advice without them sounding smug about it. One of the best parenting advices I ever got was from a very good friend of ours, Mama Cutiful as we like to call her. She said all children are not the same, they’ll grow up differently, develop differently, and so, why should she have to worry if her child is one week late in joining the ABC club.
My son is a year and eight months now. His development has been going on well; there is nothing out of the ordinary to make me worry. He has not started forming his words yet but he is way, way ahead in his babynese language, and that’s just fine by us. He’ll start forming the words pretty soon, I won’t rush him, his mother won’t either. No other parent should have the right to try and make us look like failures because our son hasn’t started reading the thesaurus.
Let’s leave our babies to grow up. Don’t force them to.
Written by Anyibaba