May 18, 2024

You Should Be Your Children’s Friend

By Bob Kisiki

We all need a friend. No, not the many hangers-on who cheer us on and dip their hands in the same plate as us and generally go where we go, until we take the road of discomfort or of tribulation.

I do not write about those for just like everything else of minute value, those can be found at every street turning.

The friends I refer to are those who give the expression “one soul in two bodies” extra meaning. It is magical when you have such a friend, but the magic multiplies by incredible degrees when that person is your parent or, to the parent, when it is your child.

A relationship that goes beyond the basic roles of father-son/ daughter or mother-son/daughter, but stretches to levels where you know in your heart of hearts that you are friends… That relationship is pure gold.

Of course your primary duty to your children is to be their parent. This overrides anything else and, where you have to choose between two actions basing on the two merged relationships, it is advisable to be a parent before being a friend.

For instance, if your child is doing drugs or is hanging out with dangerous company or has been expelled from school over indiscipline, you do not begin by offering them a shoulder or funding their habit.

That would be disastrous. Take parental action. Reprimand them. Guide them. It is Chinua Achebe who writes in Things Fall Apart, that we should first send the kite away, before cautioning the chicken about wandering too far from home.

Driving the kite of drunkenness or engaging in early sex or hanging out with street gangs away comes first, then the friend in you sits the child down and offers the hand that will hold theirs till they have overcome the bad habit.

Building a relationship with your child is not a decision you make this evening and, by sunset tomorrow, you are bosom buddies.

It is not like Nescafe. You build it just like anything else that is built — from digging a firm foundation, to laying the first brick, to doing fine finishing.

The best way to do this is by starting right at the beginning of the child’s life. For mothers, this might come a lot more easily, seeing as they carry the baby through the nine months of pregnancy and nurse it through infancy and so on.

Bonding between mother and child can only be messed up by a careless mother. Not so with a father. The father must make a deliberate effort first to create this relationship, and then to sustain it.

Whenever my wife was pregnant, I always made sure to begin relating with the babies while they lived in that cushioned, secluded environment called the womb. Every opportunity I got, I lay my hands on the mother’s tummy and spoke to them, prayed for them and, basically, established my position in their lives.

The writer says the best way to be your child’s friend is to start at an early age

Unfortunately, in the case of the first two, when they were born, I worked in environments which did not give me much time to sit down with the children and bond. I left second thing in the morning, before sunrise, and returned home late, after nightfall.

So, I would leave them sleeping and find them asleep. But when the last one came, things had changed. Work was more relaxed and I gave the little man time. The difference is visible up to now.

For a long time, before he went to boarding school, he would be calling out to other people but begin with “Daddy…” then, laughing sheepishly, correct himself and say, “So and so…”

If you are not your child’s friend, the world will offer them one, but you will have no hand in that relationship.

Of course you cannot (and should not) be their only friend, but when you are friends, you have ground to have a say even in their other relationships — as a friend.

The writer is a parenting counsellor and professional teacher

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