A few weeks ago while waiting in line at the bank a lady turned around and responded quite cheerily to the sunny and ringing, “Good Morninggggggg Lovely Lady,” that my three year old son rang out. The running joke amongst my immediate circle is that he is a ‘little Earl Clarke,’ as he is quite the charmer. She then turned to the lady in front of her and said, “Isn’t that something? He has manners. The thing is though that at that age they are so innocent and sweet and then they grow up to be MEN! It is such a pity.” Some comments you let slide and others I feel you just have to respond to, this comment I couldn’t let slide. I suppose I had grown tired of hearing too many negative comments about the bleak future of boys in today’s society. I suppose I had grown tired of the pitiful looks, and hearing about the challenges that I would face having to raise boys in this day and age. I suppose I had grown tired of my sons being exposed to these comments as well. And although I keep hearing that as a parent you can’t protect your children from everything, I just felt it necessary to respond to this lady’s comments, because these are the comments that our children grow up hearing, and eventually if they hear them often enough they begin to believe them.
With a cheeky grin and a wink I responded, “I can assure you that he is in good hands, as I would try to do my very best in raising him.” The lady smiled and said, “Mama, I didn’t mean to offend you, but you know as parents sometimes we do our very best, we give them the world, we shield them from the ills of the world, and at the end of the day it all gone for “nought” because they end up following bad company and get themselves in all kinds of things.” She continued, “Mama, listen to me I have been through this, that is why when I saw your son, I smiled. It was like for a split second I saw my son when he was at that age, an innocent and sweet little boy. For a split second it all came back to me and I asked myself where did we go wrong? I tried my best. His father tried his best. We all tried our best. Do you know where he is today? He is six feet under.” Hand firmly placed on my shoulder she asked, “Can I pray for you? I realize you have not one but two. Raising boys especially in today’s world it is not easy at all I tell you Mama.” Tears streaming down her face, she put her hand on my head, and began to deliver a ‘Holy Ghost’ filled prayer. Then she put her hands on my sons’ heads and began to pray for them.
Although I was very uncomfortable with the attention that was directed our way, I couldn’t help but sympathize with this woman because her pain was so palpable. I must admit that as a mother, and as a human-being, knowing the world that we are living in today, and also knowing the struggles that so many parents, especially mothers endure in an effort to raise good men, there was a little pang of fear in my stomach when I left the bank.
I was reminded of just how much control parents have over their children by a friend; this was after relaying my elaborate road map for parenting, how I plan to evaluate my performance, and my expectations for my sons. The response was, “Sometimes no matter how good you train up a child sometimes they still turn out bad.” She went on to list examples. With that statement, as a mother, there was another pang of fear in my stomach. I would tell you what I would have preferred to hear from my friend, “It’s great that you have a plan. Look at Jane, and how well her sons have turned out. She gave it her all maybe you should ask how she did it?” This would have been more reassuring.
As parents I don’t think that we are truly cognizant of how many negative messages or comments we are subjected to on a daily basis, especially as it pertains to the raising of sons. We comment on the negative messages and images that our boys and young men are subjected to, and think about how these messages would impact them but we don’t look at how these messages may impact us as parents. We don’t look at how these messages may cause paralysis, and ultimately affect our ability to be good parents. As parents we constantly hear, “You can bring a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink. You can give a child everything in this world but you can’t give a child a mind.” And I would be quite honest when you hear these words you really do ask yourself whether or not your efforts would be worth it. You hear those comments more than you hear, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older he won’t depart! …I know it can’t be easy but press on and do your best… Hold your children in prayer… Teach them how to pray.” This is what many parents especially mothers need to hear now more than ever. If you are constantly being told that your son or sons are going to grow up to be criminals, wanton vagabonds, and end up over the “big wall,” or six feet under, regardless of your efforts, you may throw yourself in a state of despair, and you may just give up. DO NOT GIVE UP!
It is not only the negative comments that bother me, but the eager expectations. As a society, at times we eagerly await the downfall or mishap caused by our neighbor’s son, so that we can sit under the tree and lament, “You see! I expected it. God don’t sleep! I tell you God don’t sleep! I wet me hand and wait for it, and see look it happen. You see there! It happen! The sins of the father fall upon that child! Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! Sheep nar bring goat!” Why do we rejoice in these things? Why isn’t there empathy or sympathy? Whatever happened to it takes a community to raise a child. When a child falls through the cracks, I firmly believe that it is not only the parent of that child who has failed, but society on a whole has failed. Instead of correcting that child or lending a hand or an ear to an overwhelmed mother, we sit waiting to be “chief, judge, and jury.” If we had the expectation because we knew or saw something that was going wrong, why didn’t we step forward to help correct it? Why is it that when one child is in jail and the other is six feet under, we jump up singing, “Eh ley, ley shang, shang, mudoo, ah tell you so!” Why can’t we empathize or sympathize with a mother’s suffering instead of saying, “let she take that in she magazeema!”
In our culture, we are taught that we should not “prêt up” or “love up” our boys, because they are supposed to be “hard” not “soft.” They are supposed to be men, so we should show them no affection. We don’t run to them when they fall. We expect them to suck it up and take it like a man. As mothers I also think that some of us are afraid to love them, so we show them no form of affection or love. In every study on gangs, you hear that children join gangs because they need a sense of belonging. They feel needed, and wanted. They feel loved. Love up your children! “Pret, them up! They are yours. Even if they don’t always walk the straight and narrow continue loving them because they need to know that they are loved. They need to know that they have a home, and could return from the perils and snares that may befall them.
In our culture, we communicate with our children in the negative in order to reaffirm or get the positive. We say, “You go ahead follow bad company. You going end up over the big wall. You go ahead! Who can’t hear in the earhole…will hear in their… You go ahead, you going end up like your worthless good for nothing father…” We say these things in an effort to deter the bad behavior but it doesn’t work, what the child hears is this is what you really expect of me. Speak to your children. Tell them exactly what you expect from them. Tell them you love them. Praise them. Say, “You are special. You are my treasure! I have great expectations of you. I want you to be a good person. I do not want you to end up in jail. It is no place for you. It will break my heart.”
As I write I think of those mothers, especially single mothers who are faced with having to raise a son, a young man, in this day and age. I can honestly say now that I truly understand the pride that emanate from some mothers when they talk of how they’ve raised their sons to be good upstanding citizens. After deep reflection and much observation I can tell you that no mother can honestly say that there isn’t some degree of fear within her heart that she would lose control of her son. She fears that he may innocently end up on the other end of a bullet, six feet under or as an inmate at Her Majesty’s prison. This has got to be a very heavy burden to bear.
As I write I am certain that there are mothers who are in deep despair, wearing out their knees in prayer and feeling a sense of hopelessness because they feel as if they have already lost control. In their minds no amount of threats, licks, box or ‘tump’ could bring that child back to the land of ‘good.’ She knows that calling Uncle John or Tom to straighten out this child at this point won’t work because Uncle John and Tom won’t come, and as I heard a man say to his sister the other day, “I can’t help you because I like my life, nobody going shoot me, you deal with you demon and bear you cross.” This mother has given up. She has let go. She has reached a resolve that her son would spend the rest of his days at Her Majesty’s Prison. She has made up her mind to bury him. Again this has got to be a very heavy burden to carry. I ask: who is there to lend support to this mother? Who is there to tell her that she shouldn’t give up the battle is hers to win?
As I write I reflect on past headlines. As I write, I remember the faces of those whose pictures graced the headlines. As I write, I can’t help but wonder about and sympathize with the mother who has lost her child, a child who she has carried, a child who she has loved, and a child who was hers regardless of how the world viewed him. There is much anger, hurt and pain in this. What happens to her now? Who is going to be there for her? How is she coping with this loss, because this is no ordinary loss? It is a life changing and very traumatic one. I can’t help but ask whether these mothers are getting the help they need, and I do not mean the pastor dropping by and offering words of prayer or comfort, this is of course good, however this mother would be in need of therapy or counseling, as she has to move on with her life, as oftentimes she has to struggle in raising her other offspring. As a society we have now begun to take a serious look at mental health, the mother of the victims will need help and are going to need help for a while. We need to reach out to them and offer this help. In our society women are viewed as formidable and resilient but the fact remains that a mother who has lost her child has to be reeling and agonizing in a world of hurt. A mother, whose child has wronged society, is also reeling and agonizing in a world of hurt. Surround her, and provide her with support.
As I write I am wondering how many mothers are willing to go in search of help in order to cope with the trials of raising children especially boys in today’s society. This help can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be professional help. I am in awe at how easy it is for us as women, to turn to the other and ask, “Where did you buy that pair of shoes? Where did you get your hair done? May I have your recipe please?” However, we won’t ask for parenting advice. We have no reservations about asking for relationship advice or suggestion on how to impress a man, but yet we won’t sit and discuss woman to woman the best parenting tips or techniques so that we can be a successful parent. Isn’t this something? Aren’t our children worth it? We join social clubs or organizations that suit our interests, why not form groups or join a club which is devoted to finding solutions or sharing best practices on how to tackle the challenges of parenting. This group can be a close knit group from your PTA or parents who share similar interests.
Reach out. Trust me you are not alone in your trials, some other parent has been through it or is going through it. You can lend each other support. There is somehow this fallacy that parenting or motherhood is easy. It is inherent. The second you “pop-out” that child, you are bestowed with all this motherly wisdom, and you dare not show weakness or give the appearance that you know not what to do because if you do, you are a failure. You are not a good mother. This isn’t true. Sorry to say but for many mothers, especially if there is no grandmother around, parenting is baptism by fire and definitely trial and error. Do not be afraid to reach out. Do not be afraid to ask for help. No man is an island.
We seek mentors in our careers, because we want to be successful, so doesn’t it make sense to find a ‘parent-mentor’ because we want to be successful at parenting? Find a mentor. I have found a few, and I can tell you they are on speed dial. To every mother who wants to be successful at parenting, I say seek out a mother whose parenting style or whose children you admire and ask for advice. You can say, “I have realized that you have done such a phenomenal job with your children what is your secret?” And I can assure you that the response won’t always be “a lot of licks” which seems to be the ultimate remedy or solution to every parental quandary in our region. We are always quick to say, “All that child need is some ‘good’ licks to straighten him out?” Why can’t we say, “All that child needs is some good love and a bit of attention.” We have been searching for solutions on how to fix our boys. We have been searching for answers on how to address the issue of crime. I have realized now it has to do with providing much needed emotional support to the mother, and also changing society’s expectations of our boys.
To every mother, especially those raising sons, love them, cherish them, have high expectations for them. Do not be dissuaded by the negative noises spewed by society about what the odds for your sons are, you do everything in your power to help them “defy the odds.” HAVE FAITH! DO NOT FEAR! EQUIP YOURSELVES! YOU CAN DO IT! THE BATTLE IS NOT YOURS TO LOSE! IT IS YOURS TO WIN!