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Of clay, building, fresh fish and dry fish

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By Francis Ewherido

For some time now, I have been saying it in the appropriate fora that many young people preparing to go into the matrimonial institution are only preparing for their wedding not their marriage. For the few who might not know the difference, wedding means marriage ceremony, while marriage is that life-long institution you step into after your wedding.

Marriage is primarily for companionship and many new entrants also do not know this; that is why tension builds up after a few years, if children or the “mighty” male child does not come. And when the children do come, we have a responsibility to bring them up properly to be useful to themselves, the family and the larger society. This is called parenting, a task many of these new entrants are not well equipped to do.

In honing your parenting skills, the first point of reference should be your own upbringing. The problem here, though, is that you have only one upbringing and so you view parenting from the “prison” of your upbringing. What you do here as a smart young parent is benchmarking. First, the young couple should look at their individual upbringings dispassionately and pick the best aspects of both to form the foundation of their children’s upbringing. Then, they can look without. They should look at how their cousins, other relatives and neighbours were moulded. There surely are a few tricks to pick from them. Add these to knowledge from books and other sources. Finally, throw in the ultimate book on parenting, the Bible (at least for us Christians) and you are ready to hit the road.

Parenting, like driving, is learnt, not taught; it is applied social science. You apply it to children you beget or under your custody and that is where the next challenge comes. Social science is firm and uniform that every human being is a combination of nature and nurture. How much influence each wields in the ultimate character of a person is still a matter of individual conjecture. What is noteworthy though is that you give birth to children whom you have no control over their nature: physical and innate. Some children are innately stubborn and no amount of beating and intimidation can change the stubborn disposition. Some are extrovert or introvert and remain so all their lives. No amount of nurture changes that. So as a parent, you must realize that you are limited, ab initio.

Our children are clay in our hands. Ours is to become great potters to mould them rightly into shape. But unlike clay, which is inanimate, our children are human beings. Unlike clay, which you mould into what you want, you are expected to mould them into beings that can fulfill their destinies. Many parents have realized this, which is why parents do not force their children to study law, engineering, medicine, etc., these days. Some children who were railroaded into studying these traditional courses are now fashion designers, actors, musicians and experts in other endeavours where their innate abilities lie.

Like clay, we have a limited time to mould our children, which must be well utilised. Unlike clay, however, you cannot soften human beings to be remolded. That is why the wise one, King Solomon, wrote that there is time for everything (Ecclesiastics 3:1). Those of us from the Niger Delta know that you can bend a fish only when it is fresh. Once it is dry, you cannot bend it, you can only break it and the outcome is unpredictable. Only God has the power to break a dry fish with 100 per cent accuracy.

Children are most pliable and amenable in the first 10 years of their lives; that is also when parents can exert the most influence: It is the time to lay the proper foundation that the building (child’s life) will rest on. If properly laid, defects in the superstructure (later parts of the child’s life) can easily be corrected. But a human life is not like a building with a defective foundation that you can just pull down and rebuild afresh. With us, once time is gone, it is gone.

Parenting includes providing food, shelter, clothing, education and other necessities of life that require money. This poses a major challenge for young parents. These days, especially with the economic situation in the country, both parents need to work to make ends meet. Meanwhile, they also need to devote time to their young children. Parenting, especially in the early stages, cannot be outsourced. Both parents therefore need to come up with arrangements that enable them to earn a living as well as have quality time for their children. As the children grow older, fresh challenges arise, but, hopefully with a firm foundation and experience garnered by the parents, parenting will be easier.


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