In every profession there is some type of training and “tools of the trade” because there are desired results. Isn’t it peculiar that a job as important as parenting is now left to chance? At one time I imagine parents simply did what their parents did. At one time that may have worked but indications are that society has changed drastically and with that change Black youngsters are being victimized in large numbers and in many ways, including by each other.
Parenting is the most important profession there is since the product is ultimately responsible for determining if the world continues and what will take place in it. It’s time we placed some significance on what kind of world we want to leave them, what’s required and what we need to do in order to prepare them for the task. It’s time we placed some significance on what kind of job we parents do.
In some communities that significance is there, still in place. The tyrant in your office doubles as a Cub Scout leader on weekends with another executive. They make sure that their heirs are groomed to follow in their footsteps – to lead – to be powerful. For African-American parents, the job of parenting is a bit different. We need to raise children who, for the most part, will go beyond where we’ve gone. That trip involves, in my opinion, returning to the values of African ancestors where relationships between humans was held supreme. It seems that surviving in a capitalist society, serving in its wars, having bought into the idea of money and material as the chief objectives in life, our respect for relationships and life has been lost – hence, the rise in killing in our neighborhoods and among our young people. For us (Black parents), the job of parenting is a bit different. We need to raise children, for the most part, will go beyond where we’ve gone. We can support their travel but we must recognize the fact that we have bought into a value system that values “things” over “human relationships and human life”.
Parenting tools fall mainly within the area of communication. Our children fall prey to negative influences because they are not grounded in emotional security. That is often a function of communication. Every day there are incidents that arise in which the handling of it can either bring parent and child closer emotionally or push them into opposite corners of hostility. If enough encounters end in hostility, the child becomes alienated (it may not be visible) and vulnerable to outside influences.
Communication Rule #1
Before you give advice to your child, understand his/her feelings and state it to make sure you’re correct. I’ve found that adults still often think that there is only one way to be, one legitimate reaction and as a result true communication is blocked. It’s important to create the space for the child to get in touch with and communicate their feelings.
Years ago, my 11-year-old daughter had cramps. She was moving slowly and on the verge of tears. My immediate concern was that she go to school because I didn’t want her growing up letting pain stop her from attaining goals. I shared this gem with her that morning. It made absolutely no difference. She moved more slowly and started to cry and I, of course, became more tense. She finally left for school with the look of being forced from her home. Later that day, a feeling started to nag at me. I realized that not once did I sympathize with her pain. Instead, I immediately spouted parental words of wisdom. The result was that both of us started our day in upset.
A few days later I read something she had written in her Language Arts notebook on the day of the incident. “I can’t hear what Mr. — is saying because my stomach is hurting so badly. But nobody seems to care.” This incident serves as a blatant reminder of the difference I could have made for her had I remembered to understand and sympathize with her feelings. She would not have thought for a moment that no one cared.
I did apologize later to her for not having been more thoughtful and she seemed relieved to hear it. Since that day, whenever incidents come up I count to 10, 20 or 30 so I can remind myself to sympathize with the feelings before I move on to advice or actions. Parents make a difference. Let’s choose the difference we want to make.