Family matters: What’s your problem?

Jackson Biko registers an interest in parenting advice but takes most of it with a pinch of salt.

Family-MattersMy daughter’s school often organises ‘parenting talks’. The speakers are usually gurus on parenting – chaps with distressed suits, squinting through glasses, brandishing PhDs… and with the experience of raising a dozen kids of their own. It’s always conveniently held in the evening on Fridays, after work, when all the fathers would rather be in bars getting rat-faced. But we normally attend because there is usually a register at the event where attendees (and the names of their children) are noted to single out truant parents who are too busy, and indeed too important, to learn how to be better parents.

How that cookie crumbles is that the PhD chap speaks for about an hour then opens the floor to questions. I never actually mind the first hour, even though quite often I always feel like the approach is just too ‘cookie-cutter’. Children are different and not one approach can work on them. For example, my son is the type I have to get a bullhorn and scream, “Stop climbing the b***dy window, Kim!” before he even turns to look at me, let alone listen what I am telling him – while I only ever have to tell my daughter something once for her to listen. While I use threats of bodily harm on the boy I use long eye-contact with the girl to get stuff done.

One of these experts, who spoke about punishment, said we should not to be afraid to whack a wayward child a bit. Across the sea, that could land you in jail – or (worse), in prime time news. Even back here in Kenya it might fly. But how do you smack your little girl? That’s painful even to think about.

The second half of these talks is always the most annoying and tedious: because everybody wants to grab the microphone and talk about their kids. So there’s always a five-minute introduction on how Sandy is an excellent student and such a joy to the family and how Sandy is funny and smart and likes sharing. Then just when you are thinking that Sandy deserves a Nobel Peace prize the enthused parent suddenly asks something innocuous like, “We are often afraid that with her niceness she might not be able to fit well into society, so how do we make sure she isn’t taken advantage of?”

At that moment I feel like standing up and hurling my bottle of water at the back of this parent’s head. And there are lots of questions of that nature. Loads. Nobody asks about violent kids who rip off dolls’ heads, or kids who still suck their thumbs, or kids who hate visitors, or kids who are constantly angry (or hungry), or kids with multiple personalities, or kids who never say a word in school but are noisy and boisterous at home – you know, kids with genuine problems.

At the end of these meetings I always feel exhausted after listening to these parents and their ‘oh-so-damaged’ kids. These meetings have become forums for parents who want an audience to boast about their kids. Nowadays I try to escape before the second half of these talks, generally to avoid being charged with assault. Or for booing.