Sunday, June 27, 2010

Seen and not heard-African American parenting styles

First I have to start this article by saying how GOOD it feels to be writing again! I've had to wipe away the cobwebs and dust off of my blog and reestablish it as my prized outlet and solace in a time of growth and self reflection. my social life and my family are not in the same city so when I come home from school, I get to spend a lot of time to myself.

My summer job (at a summer camp) has afforded me the opportunity to observe over 125 kids ages 6-12 and their interactions with their parents. The camp is predominantly black with a few biracial children mixed in ( no pun intended). As a young adult, I'm just now starting to realize how challenging it can be to lead a productive and successful life. Adding children to the equation, even though they are a blessing, is another layer of complication. After my first day at work I was sweaty, tired, had a headache and a backache to match! I won't say that children are annoying because they aren't yet aware that the world does not revolve around them. They are at that stage in life where they'll do ANYTHING to gain their friends approval, cut someone in line just to get to the water fountain first, interrupt your conversation because it is paramount that they tell you that their peer called them a name, cry as if their pain is unbearable only to see them laughing and playing two minutes later and making fun of kids whom they secretly admire. The list goes on and on. As I drove home from work I found a new and improved appreciation for parents. Parenting can't be easy! I then began to reflect on my own childhood and for the first time I remembered my childhood a little differently. No longer did I see the perfect angel I thought I was. Now that I look back, I could have caused my mom a lot less turmoil about small things that weren't that important to begin with. Did I really need to cry in hopes of making her feel guilty because she wouldn't stop at "Toys R us" for the 1,000th time? Did I really need to wake her from her slumber so she could watch my favorite cartoon with me? Now that I see through the eyes of an adult I regret every time my mom came home and I hadn't washed the dishes or taken out the trash. She didn't ask me for much but because I thought it was all about me, I rarely considered what she needed. So I would like to take this time to publicly announce my shameless gratitude to my mother. Ma, your the best!

On that note, I would be remiss If I didn't address my concerns about African American youth in regards to how they are being conditioned both by their parents and the general public. Their conditioning is the antithesis of how White children are conditioned by their parents and society at large. African Americans can attest to the fact that when we were children, we were constantly given restrictions, told to stay in our place, and above all else be seen and not heard! "Don't show out in here!, don't touch that!, don't you let nobody have to speak to you cuz I will go off on you and them!". We've all had those messages communicated to us in one form or another. In many ways our culture is focused on teaching children restraint, respect and self control in environments where adults frequent. Conversely, White parents give their kids a host of freedoms including: allowing them to cry and throw tantrums in public, run around the grocery store, demand what they want, and talk back to their parents (all of these things are foreign to your typical African American household). As an African American, I always thought that our way of parenting was fundamentally right, and theirs was fundamentally wrong. But lately I've been looking at white parents thinking, is there a method to their madness? One day at camp I met a parent (black women) who has created a blended family. She has beautiful messy hair and dresses modestly yet somewhat eclectic. Her husband is tall with blonde hair and blue eyes with long messy hair to match his wife lol. At first glance he looked like one of those grunge types you used to see at prospect park in Brooklyn, toting a bicycle and a bong but when he opens his mouth you can't help but notice his thick, Irish accent. I had come across many different families this summer but there was something special and off (in a good way) about this family in particular. I had seen them before and never got a chance to strike up a conversation but one day I got a chance to talk to the mother and she began to tell me about the book she's writing as a letter to African American women. She said "The book isn't meant to encourage black women to find a white man but rather open their minds to all different types of men." We went on and on and then we began to talk about different parenting styles. We discussed both black and white parenting methods and came to the conclusion that both while well intentioned, have gleaming flaws in their respective foundations. While blacks teach their children respect and restraint they also inadvertently kill their dreams and imagination, constantly telling them what they can't have and what's off limits to them. While white parents teach their kids it is okay to explore and ask questions, they accidentally (or deliberately) teach them a haughty and presumptuous sense of entitlement. Wouldn't it be nice if black parents and white parents could hash this thing out in some sort of conference or forum? Maybe the conversation will spawn some great new ideas that merge the two diametrically opposed philosophies. I don't know... just food for thought. I am clearly making extreme generalizations but I think we have all witnessed this phenomenon to some degree. If you don't believe me go to your local grocery store or Home Depot (which is where I got some of my most memorable and humiliating "pants down" butt whoppings). You're bound to see some kids in action. In aisle 9 you'll see Hayden throwing a pitch fit while his mother begs him to stop. In aisle 10 you'll see Jaylen getting scolded by his mother, threatening that if he ever embarrassed her in public and acted like Hayden, she would slap the taste out of his mouth. Poor Jaylen...he didn't even do anything! He was just an innocent bystander lol. I'll let you [insert] the race of each child for objectivity purposes. Bloggers you tell me, is this a worthless observation or could it be the beginning of a discussion that is both fruitful and promising?
Ya Basta,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, Mister Roosevelt.
I have seen the same things going on and also think that parents should try to aim for the sensible, moderate middle. This is the better part of wisdom.
I'm white, from an upper-middle class, educated background, with married parents.
My folks did not allow noisy public tantrums, disobedience, irresponsible or rude behavior, and unjustified, excess aggression. They definitely did not spoil me. Yet they very rarely used corporal punishment and never issued vile, over-the-top threats of eminent bodily harm to scare me out of disobeying them.
Punishment was sure, timely, and effective, drawing my attention to the consequences of my actual or potential actions and their CONSEQUENCES to others and myself.
My dad, especially, was exceptional in his ability to discuss and explore matters of behavior (mine AND other peoples', kids') with me. We had excellent communication and talked about all sorts of topics frequently/daily, especially behavior, culture, values, life skills, emotional skills ("E.Q.")and goals.
I was so very fortunate to have my dad as my father!
As an only child, learning how to fit in with other KIDS (versus adults) was challenging. I needed to have a parent with whom I could converse and intellectualize and explore this topic without fear of him suddenly "going off" on me, sabotaging important conversation and thought, and giving me the message that it's NOT OK to ask, think, learn, and (within reasonable limits) question.
R.E. the Black community in our society, over the years I have had extensive opportunities to see the parenting style differences which you mention. I attended elementary school and junior high in working-class neighborhood, Oakland, CA, public schools and have spent a number of years volunteering in Eastbay women-and-children's homeless shelters. Most of the women and children staying at these several shelters have been Black, Hispanic, or Afro-Hispanic.
Frankly, some of many of these mothers' discipline methods horrified and disappointed me.
Many black moms routinely yell or scream, "SHUT UP! I SAID SHUT UP!" to their infant and toddler-aged children! They often add various obscenities to the command. And VILE threats of violent punishment such as, "I y'all don't shut the Hell up, I'm going to smash yo' face in!"
The 32 year old single mom of five kids had one little 3-going-on-4-year-old son whom she obviously could not stand and does not love (compared to her adorable little 18 month old toddler son). Despite the fact that the 3-year-old is actually very well-behaved, intelligent, conversant, and sweet, the 32-yr-old mom flies into a rage whenever the little boy cries or becomes sad and withdrawn, emotionally. (I wonder if he suffers from depression. These sad moods do not appear to be manipulative ploys- I've watched pretty extensively.) She then issues the hideous threats and drags him into the shelter's restrooms and gives him a belt whooping! All for virtually NO misbehavior!
MOST OF the other Black and Hispanic moms treat their kids this way. This is the rule, not the exception! I've seen this over the years at school, kids' homes (that I played with my friends at), in public, and at all of the shelters.
Keeping it real, perhaps some of the rage and senseless violence which is epidemic among a sizeable portion of young Black and Hispanic men gets its fuel from this misguided style of parenting.
Remember, I am not advocating flabby permissiveness and parental abdication from setting limits and teaching crucial values and life skills.
Rather, I am saying that there DOES need to be some frank, honest, open-minded discussion and fewer excuses within the Black and Hispanic communities about the UNINTENDED consequences of rough, "old-school" parenting upon young Black and Hispanic-Americans.
Thank you.