If there is one thing that is ubiquitous among Caribbean countries, it is the role of the man and the role of the woman, and derivative to those, the role of parents.
Because we’re so dismissive of feelings, and innately politically incorrect in the Caribbean, we don’t necessarily acknowledge that a child growing up to achieve great things, or mediocre things for that matter, does not necessarily reflect how damaged that child, and then that adult may be on the inside. Caribbean families espouse a special dysfunction, rooted in tradition, duty and sometimes resentful loyalty.
Let’s look at some of the challenges of parenting in the Caribbean community.
We often stifle children’s free and independent thinking
“Children should be seen and not heard. Do as I say and not as I do.” These are things folks in my generation and those before heard often. I imagine in many communities, those memes linger on. But keeping children silent, instead of engaging them in thoughtful, critical conversation, keeps them from developing thoughtful, critical thinking. Often the first thing we do when a child asks “why” is hush them up with “because I say so”. But regardless of whether you think they’re old enough or relevant enough to notice or pay attention, they do. Your children see who you really are and it affects them, even into adulthood. You are the compass by which your children will measure what is good and right, or bad and wrong in the world. Ever notice how they want to dress like you, or shave like you, or wear your make up? When you go to church, or are respectful to service workers, or hit your spouse, they are absorbing all of that and they will emulate it. You can teach them to remain silent and never challenge the status quo, never stand up for things they believe in because their opinion really doesn’t count when there is an authority figure around. Or you can encourage them to think. Talk with them (not AT them). Stimulate original thinking in them via open conversation with you. And do your best to show them only your best… Just a suggestion.
(In Caribbean culture) We fall back to archaic, harmful behaviors just because it is what we know
Here’s another common meme that we just won’t leave alone: Don’t spare the rod and spoil the child. We in the Caribbean, at least, the less forward thinking of us, can take that one to legendary extremes. I understand spanking in the years when the child can’t fully understand words and there is no democracy in the household because in truth – parents are the dictators up to certain age. But after you can communicate effectively with your children, after they are thoughtful enough to appreciate right from wrong, why would you physically do things to them that you would not do to another thinking person. After a certain age, if people do wrong, they get sanctioned. Extra homework, detention, suspensions, firings, jail sentences. In some corners of Caribbean culture, we don’t spank children, we BEAT them. Perhaps it IS a residual effect of hundreds of years of subjugation, but perhaps the time has come to reflect on whether we want to be the ones perpetuating behaviors we shudder to even think about in historical context.
In Caribbean culture we tend use religion as a weapon and the status quo as a crutch
Other challenges of traditional Caribbean parenting include the overzealous enforcement of religious beliefs. Practices that have no relation to trying to build a child’s relationship with God, only to scaring that child into doing what we would like. Practices like telling a child not to do something because Jesus won’t love them any more and they will burn in the raging fires of hell for all eternity, instead of having a reasonable discussion about benefits and consequences of their actions in THIS world.
Then there’s, falling into the doctor, lawyer paradigm, as if those are the only 2 professions that are worth any form of aspiration. Fortunately animation seems to be a hot one nowadays. But it would be so nice if parents would nurture their children’s aptitudes instead of constantly forcing upon them the thing they should have to “fall back on”.
Finally to this discussion:
We don’t understand the gamut of responsibilities that SHOULD come along with being a parent.
In our broad culture, there’s this belief that parenting means simply bringing a child into the world. Sadly, many of our men especially do not appreciate the importance of quality time with their families. Our culture so glorifies the idea of the man being the provider, and disturbingly the idea of men being promiscuous, that the entire family may lose sight of the man’s role as a role model. The promiscuity leads to many unaccounted for children, used for bragging rights by their father, but never cared for by him. The pressure to be provider leads to the thought process that simply paying school fees or spending money on your children is enough. It is not. Children need love, time, nurture, guidance.
Following a recent perspective broadcast, one Mr Eubank-Green from Jamaica proudly shared with me all the wonderful things he had done with his children to facilitate all 3 growing up to be successfully employed college graduates. He talked extensively about trips together, homework together, images of successful black leaders placed strategically around his house. He had a complete system for ensuring that your children WILL succeed. Little did he know that as I read his, sort of, manual for good parenting, the thing that seemed the most important was that he was even taking that amount of time to spend on and with his children. The way he went on, the amount of pride and love he showed in their achievements and his part in their realization, was truly an inspiration.
I recently read a positive review on a book by Drs Barry Davidson and Faith Linton, written to address parenting issues unique to the Caribbean paradigm. I haven’t read it myself and I’m not advocating that its contents are correct, but if parenting from a Caribbean perspective is a subject that sparks your curiosity, it might be a good reference for you. The book is called Answers to Questions Parents Ask. I’d also encourage you to visit the 18 Degrees North website and have a look at their investigation into how the absence of parental guidance facilitated the corruption of Caribbean-born DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo.