By Mpho Kuhlmann
“O ngwana waga mang?” the popular Setswana question which loosely translates to “who are your parents?” is almost always asked in the same breath with the observation: “o sena maitseo jaana”which means you are so ill mannered.
It is almost an article of faith that parents take most of the blame for their children’s indiscretions.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says today’s world is filled with people who are happy to judge one another’s parenting skills. “No mother is perfect, and our children don’t come with a ready manual. Most of us learn along the way, and might take a while to have this whole parenting thing figured out. But most mothers try their best given the circumstances. That’s why it hurts when you hear criticisms about your parenting, or worse, about your children. Parenting is different for everyone; what might have worked for you might not apply to someone else, given her situation. Parent shaming is a way that people can impose their rules and “shoulds” onto others. What people should and shouldn’t eat, what they should wear, how they should educate their kids.”
The culture of parent-shaming has become so toxic that it has turned normal childhood behaviour ÔÇö essential for child growth and development ÔÇö into a huge battle ground of norms and mores.
Shaming parents for the way they are bringing up their children is nothing new. Being constantly told to supervise their kids, parents are now vilified for the dangers of doing so.
Those who “over-parent” their children are being condemned for producing spoiled children, who cannot cope with the challenges of life. Those who are too soft are accused of raising weak kids. Parent shaming can be loosely described as criticizing or degrading a parent for their parenting skills.
It starts small, like shaming a parent for breast feeding, to food choices and even what type of toys kids should have.
With globalisation the world has shrunk in time and space and is exploding in incendiary culture shocks. Parent shaming seems to have caught a new wind, and women are having the worst of it. The internet and social media have only amplified the problem, with comments materializing at the speed of texting. Parent shaming is unique and unlike other forms of criticism in that it targets something intimately linked to a woman’s sense of worth.
Cutting an infant’s hair is a long-standing tradition in some cultures, while breastfeeding a child well into school age is perfectly acceptable with some parenting styles. But this can seem weird or alarming to an outsider who doesn’t agree, provoking the shaming. Parent shaming breeds competitive parenting too, this exists and it is happening every day. Parents are constantly being measured against each other almost as if a child’s achievements are a direct representation of the parenting they receive and on the parent themselves. Harsh comments incite fear in parents who don’t want to be perceived as bad parents. And that influences the way parents are raising their kids today – no one wants to be on the receiving end of harsh criticism and judgment. So in an effort to avoid unsolicited advice, parents are going to great lengths to hide their parenting mistakes. Parents also changing their parenting habits in an effort to avoid looking like a bad parent. They give in to whining and tantrums in public because they’re afraid a child’s misbehaviour will make them look bad.
Mphoentle Mathumo a call operator at Orinoco in Gaborone says she is sick and tired of people who shame parents for their parenting choices. “Someone once told my daughter while I was carrying her ‘ahh you look clean today’ then proceeded to lecture me on how I should tie my daughter’s hair all the time like her daughter. Working mothers are often torn between the pressures in the office and the responsibilities at home. Juggling both is next to impossible. I wish people would just mind their own business, especially those who aren’t even moms, because they don’t really know how hard it is. We are doing the best we can to raise our kids on our own, and these people who live to criticize are not helping at all.”
Resego Taunyane a preschool teacher at Hibiscus Pre School and a mother of two says parent shaming is a bad thing. “There is a certain element of superiority that people feel when they parent shame others. Criticizing someone can validate their own parenting skills. It is a way of saying ‘My parenting is great and my child is fine, because I would never do this’. When it comes to raising kids, there isn’t a right way or a wrong way to do it. There are many different ways to help kids grow up to become responsible adults.