“Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.”
Robert Heinlein said that. Far from being a masochistic neanderthal, he actually means well for the pickneys.
I’ve got two smart and charming daughters. Pre-teens. Perfect peaches. I dote on them like the devil dote on sinners. They mean the world to me. I’ll hire the Mossad to knock you off if you look or smile at them. If you see them on the streets, walk by without making eye contact. In fact, cross to the other side of the road and run. Then I’ll let you live.
And that’s the problem. I suspect they are developing a brittle spirit being mollycoddled. Ginger prima donnas in a rugby world. That’s my fault.
The other day, the wife asked the eldest one to tidy her wardrobe. The chagrined missy enquired if she was being punished for some transgression. The way she saw it, if she had to do her wardrobe, she must have sinned. The help had always arranged the wardrobe.
A couple of days after, the missus also asked the two to scrub a small section of the house. Again the eldest demanded to know why they were being treated – in her exact words – ‘like Cinderella.’ Treated like a slave. Again, the help had always cleaned the house.
Earlier in the year, one of them told me “Daddy, you have anger issues.”
Well, I’ll be doggone.
They were binging on Netflix and ignored a chore. I’d turned off the TV. They weren’t too chuffed and lobbed my shortcomings at me.
I can’t remember telling my dad his foibles. Not because he didn’t have any but because flogging was a meal in my days. And I was well fed. You develop good sense early.
The younger daughter is the more intrepid. She told me a few weeks ago they’d prefer to spend this Christmas in Dubai. They’d done Christmas in the UK and the US. But they’d prefer Dubai for this year. They like what they see of Dubai on TV.
I am sensitive to words. Their choice of words intrigued me. They didn’t say ‘Dad, we’d like to spend Christmas in Dubai this year.’ They said ‘Dad, we’d prefer to spend Christmas in Dubai this year.’
The certainty of choice.
Unbeknownst to me, to my kids, a white Christmas was now a right and not a privilege. Trading down from stroking real-life Rudolphs and hobnobbing with white Santas was now anathema. It seems that any year they spend Christmas in Nigeria, I have to get on my knees and apologise for my failure as a father.
How did I, an Agege and street boy, pulling myself up by my bootstraps, sire such entitled kids? Kids who sulk when forced to settle for Frosties over Froot Loops? Who question why I have a Macbook and an iPad when they have a PC and Samsung tablets?
Oh, I forgot. “They are only kids and just being kids.”
I know you know that’s a load of tosh.
A few years ago, a neighbour’s daughter told me that in her class, going on vacation was not the issue. The country of vacation was. Two of her classmates had got into a girlie fight over bragging rights. One insulted the other of holidaying in ‘ordinary’ Dubai when she had vacationed in London and Berlin. She’d also traveled in Business Class.
These were 14-year-olds.
I suppose I was jealous. I didn’t travel out of Nigeria till I was 30. And I have only traveled in First Class once. By luck. Luck that has not cared to repeat itself. I can count on one hand the number of times I have flown Business Class. I do coach so much I can train Arsenal.
Yup, I’m envious of these brats.
Now, hear me. I am not saying to deprive your kids or to be hard on them without cause. By all means, give them life’s little luxuries if you can afford them. What we must do, however, is draw a hard line between a right and a privilege. Between a need and a want. This line is getting blurred.
Many moons ago, at an Executive Education class in Chicago, we discussed marketing to millennials. We analysed the peculiarities of the millennial. One bloke, a Vice President at Booz Allen, shared an experience. He’d interviewed a millennial for an internship position. When they got to the money part, the lad told the interviewer his mom would come to discuss compensation. The lad was 22 years old.
Well, true, the mom did call to negotiate the offer. She wanted to know why they lowballed her son.
Another coursemate told us none of the millennials in her team wanted leadership roles. They didn’t want to manage anyone. They want to do their job, get paid and go home.
Naturally, we would say “these are oyinbo children jare. They are spoilt.” But many of us are raising first-world children in third-world economies. Not a bad state of affairs in itself. But we must accept the benefits and the burden.
A few weeks ago, our cutesy family dog ate my flip-flops. It was the fourth it was destroying. I threatened to sell the dog to dog eaters. I made for the dog in mock ire. My daughters ran ahead of me and held on tight to the doggo. Their teardrops were as big as cucumbers. They cried so much, the tears would have floated Noah’s ark.
Of course, I wasn’t going to sell our beloved mutt to doggo murderers. But I would have expected them to call my bluff.
An older friend has a 17-year-old son who attends Covenant University in Ota, Ogun State. The friend lives in Lekki. He drives the son to school at the beginning of every semester and drives him back home at the end. I asked him why the boy couldn’t come home or go to school by himself. My friend told me the boy would get lost getting to Lekki from Ota. This lad also doesn’t do his own laundry.
Look, I get it. It’s become a very dangerous country. It wasn’t like in my days when I could board a bus at Oshodi for Ibadan at 10 pm. Now, kidnapping is rife. Around every corner lurks degenerates waiting to take advantage of children. Our morality and values shot to pots. So I get the paranoia about safety. I would do the same.
But it is not lost on me that we are paranoid over our children because we have bubble-wrapped them. There are 17-year-olds who travel from Lagos to Warri by themselves. There are teenagers who take public transport to schools. Why don’t their parents fear the way we do?
In giving our kids the childhood we didn’t have, we over-indulge them. We can’t bear to tell them “no”. We’d feel we are derelict in our duty. Their pleas and cries break our hearts.
No, you are not a bad parent if you deny them stuff! You are the parent.
When we give in to their whimsical demands, we make them brittle children. Children unable to crack on and adapt. Lambs in the woods of hungry wolves. If the wolf – the world – eats them, it will be your fault.
Many of you lot have experienced deprivation. Experienced rejection. Been down on your luck. Trod on. But you got back up. You fought. Became wise as serpents. Seized the bull and rode your opportunities till the wheels fell off.
Yet we bubble-wrap our kids. Make life too easy for them. We negotiate with them when we should put our foot down. Not okay, mom and dad. Because not intending to, we end up raising self-absorbed, indulgent and shatterable children.
On a recent trip to the US, I met a white lady married to a Kenyan. She told me she was reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander so she can better prepare her children for life as a black person.
Me, I’m trying to remould my daughters with Adamantium. Train them to reach for unobtanium. If that entails a measure of tough love, then tough love it is.
Because in this world, they will experience racism. They will experience exclusion and rejection. They will fall down. I would have failed in my job as a parent if they gave up.
By the way, my wife and I whoop our kids. Yup. Good old-fashioned hiding. Nothing devious or abusive. A cane. A wooden spatula (omorogun). You know, any appropriate device fit for chasing folly from a child’s mind.
Yea, I know. We are evil parents. We should be in prison.