The ‘Aunty Joys’ of Parenting
Its is not easy being a parent. Parenthood is hard. It is one of the things I strongly emphasized at my mother’s funeral a few months ago. My mother was not a perfect parent, but many parents often make their choices and do what they have to with the tools they were given. Some people don’t know better. My father wasn’t perfect either, his method of parenting was skewed but his intentions were meaningful.
His tactic caused me a lot of angst during my teenage years. I never liked his tactics but as I got older and had children of my own, I began to understand my parents and later learnt to forgive them.
It was just the other day, my friends and I were discussing some of the things parents said when we were children. If I was given a penny for every time a paternal relative told me that I would turn out just like my “wukliss mumma”, I would have had a little money for college. My mother had several children, with multiple men, was unemployed most of her life and ‘changed’ boyfriends like the weather.
My sisters and I are savagely branded with our mother’s lifestyle and labelling men sometimes asked, or implied or wondered if we were ‘anything’ like our mother. My entire life I’ve tried not to be like my mother. I have been committed to averting some of the generational curses or cultural stigmas that continued in many families for decades.
I thought about these things when I watched the alleged video of the young man that committed suicide. I knew Aunty Joy personally. I can still remember her face, nodding and smiling in the audience as I gave my tribute at my mother’s funeral. Aunty Joy was always loving towards my sisters and I, my mother and aunt spoke highly of her. I do not know of her to be an abusive parent. I was surprised, if not baffled at her grandson’s remarks in the video.
If we are to be true to our culture of parenting, we know that the average Jamaican does not think calling their children “jankruh” is verbal abuse. Many adults find no distaste in comparing the ‘Pickney dem’ to all sorts of unsavoury things. I know parents who beat children with barb wire, hose, machete, or 2 by 4 board. Jamaicans were socialised to see these methods as effective means of discipline for children. There are many “Aunty Joys” on our island.
If we are to admit, how many times we’ve shouted at our children, called them “eeediat” in a bout of frustration or anger, we would not come as harshly as the critics on social media have on ‘Aunty Joy’.
‘Aunty Joy’ is not wicked. I can only imagine how devastating this must be for her, knowing her offhand, culturally accepted way of criticising a child when he\she is inadequate in performing a chore or errand was possibly a factor in her grand son’s suicide.
On the flip side, I am no psychologist but Davion may have had deep psychoemotional issues that were compounded by being bullied at school and his home environment. He appeared to be sensitive and thoughtful. He said he thought about growing up and killing people, his statement provided a review template, that may explain the surge of violent behaviour portrayed by our young men. What if their story is much like ‘Davion’?.
Some will say that since Davion attempted suicide before then he should have been monitored. We know that here in Jamaica, we don’t take mental or emotional issues seriously. It is almost as if it is some sort of taboo to seek help for mental problems. Some parents might be embarrassed to admit a child has a mental illness for fear of being ridiculed and gossiped by members of their community. They would rather say “a people do him so, or a duppy deh pah him”
Additionally we are not a culture of people that endorse the notion of expressing emotions especially when it comes to our boys. We see emotional distress of any kind as a show of weakness. We are told toughen up, don’t cry, don’t show others that something is wrong with us, we are to wear a brave face, and to never share our ‘personal business’ with people.
Many of us, who sought help from guidance counsellors at school, know very well that mommy or daddy would hate it if the guidance counsellor ever showed up at home. Mommy and Daddy don’t want people knowing their business. As a matter of fact, most Jamaican parents don’t think a child can be depressed or stressed.
“A wah u cudda a stress ova, yuh a work, yuh a pay bill?” “Yuh nyam, yuh drink, yuh sleep.”
I have shouted insults at my child before, I often regret it. I will sit with her and apologize, explaining to her what she did and how it affected me. She ‘in turn’ will tell me how she felt about what I did and why she did what was done. “Me sorry but me nah mek my pickney fraid a me”
In closing, ease up off Aunty Joy. Her situation is not unique, many have said what she might, and I assume her intentions were meaningful. In the same breath, we must be reminded that words carry weight, hence we must be careful what we say to each other and to our children. Look at the environment we are raising our children in, try and make our homes a solace for them against the harsh outside world.
Listen to our children, talk to them, get away from this culture of “pickney a pickney” and treat our children as human beings, short people with feelings and thoughts just like us.
Remember the things, you thought about and saw as a child while adults thought you were oblivious to it, keep that in mind, your children are watching, learning and internalising a whole lot too.
The results of parenting is a two way street. It has as much to do with the receptiveness and temperament of the child as the method applied by said parent. Children in favourable family structures commit ruinous behaviour and suicide and there are kids that are raised in challenging environments, who have maximized their potential and come out and up against the odds.
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