Children’s Day

May 27th is Children’s Day here in Nigeria, a day where we are supposed to celebrate our children and youth or reflect on the lives and their future. This reflection usually focuses on hot button issues like girl-child education, child labour, infant mortality and malnutrition and other childhood diseases. I guess in that context, this article then comes across as a bit ‘First-World Problems’ but I do think it is something that most parents can relate to.

What do you expect of your children? To take up where you left off, to be what you couldn’t be, to fulfil YOUR dreams for them? Check yourself. I’m not talking about lofty, generic dreams like dreams for a better world, dreams of cures and such. Are you one of those parents who hide behind ‘I just want you to be independent? I’m not asking anybody to feed me or look after me. I studied what my parents wanted me to study. You have to study what makes sense.’ I am not saying that parents should not have a say in their children’s careers or advise them, I am simply saying that our motives should be the right ones, only, and only for our child’s good, taking cognisance of everything they are, everything they have been created to be and the dreams they have. Tough isn’t it! After all, we are not God. Precisely! That is the point I am trying to make. Parents do not know it all; they have simply lived longer than their children and maybe, can help them navigate through the minefield called life.

No one can live any other person’s life for them. I am reminded of the writings of Kahlil Gibran on Children in his book The Prophet — ’Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you … You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you …’

My father was a medical doctor and he wanted me to be a medical doctor. A worthy ambition, but not for me. I needed to chart my own course. I had the courage to speak up for myself, but not all children can. Many go ahead to do what is ‘expected’ of them. Some fail, some succeed and then walk away from it and for some, hurray, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered! How can a parent know when to back off? I don’t know. All I know is that a child has a right to his or her own dreams and to live them, without being expected to live out someone else’s dream, from a different generation. Our children’s dreams and ours for them are sometimes exactly the same. I wish that could be the case in all circumstances.

Sometimes our children have multipotential, the ability to pursue many totally different careers, all with excellence. How can they choose? Can their abilities and preferences be ranked? What is the overriding consideration? So many questions! There is no ready answer as children are all different. What is important is that we think about the children, and not about ourselves and what we want.

Let us share in our children’s dreams, help them to articulate and realise them. Let us trust that God is in their inspirations and let us support them as they try to discern which way to go. They have the power to be whatever they want to be that is good and true. They are the future, we are the past. If their futures include our dreams, all well and good, but let us not give them the burden of being the inheritors of our sometimes obsolete dreams, and in doing so failing to realise their own dreams. Let us cleanse the world of the pain that follows generation upon generation trying to live other people’s pipe dreams. Those destined to realise those dreams will do so. In my own case, my niece, my father’s granddaughter, is a medical doctor, her choice, but also fulfilling my father’s dreams. I rest my case.

This is an excerpt from my book “Sounds from Silence: Musings”