Tuesday, March 5, 2024

How tradition has turned Botswana into a society of puppets on parents’ strings

‘Study hard and become a doctor’. This is almost every parent’s words of encouragement to their children growing up. Although it means well there is also a hint of command to it and a well-groomed Motswana child is expected to live up to parents’ expectations. 

From the choice of a life partner to a career path, it is traditionally believed that mom and pop know best and oftentimes, they project themselves on their children, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Dr Poloko Ntshwarang a Social Work senior lecturer at the University of Botswana says part of the reason is because parents try to live their dreams through their children. “A common reason some parents force a career of their choice on their children is that they claim that they want them to live a nice and comfortable life but most parents live through their children, they look down on certain professions and want their children to pick those with a higher status. If a parent was a doctor then he/she doesn’t want their child to pursue a career in say teaching because by rank it is lower than being a doctor. The pressure is real in families, a lot of young people are genuinely struggling at varsity because they are fulfilling their parents desires instead of studying what they have an interest in.”

Ideally, when children come of age, they would break free from familial shackles and forge their own identity. Real life however is a different story. In Botswana the umbilical cord never breaks. Even when coming of age young adults move from home to college or on work posting they still defer to family on life changing choices like career or spouse. As a result, most parents chose partners and career paths for their children. Parents usually lean towards “traditional professions” such as doctors, lawyers and engineers for their children. Parental sway is often the result of mothers and fathers, wanting their children to follow in their footsteps. Oftentimes, they fail to understand that their offspring may not share their interests and strengths.

Dr Ntshwarang says, “this might explain why a lot of people are stuck in jobs that they don’t like and don’t enjoy. A lot of parents live through their children which is not fair. I think young people should be given the freedom and the support to study and choose the career of their choice.”  When it comes to deciding on a career, the current generation of Batswana youths are spoiled for choice and each choice has consequences. Although most parents make career choices for their children, it is the children who have to live with the consequences of those choices. Unlike in the past, a career is no longer just a means to a paycheck, it is a major life choice. Being trapped in a career you dislike may make your life a hell on earth.

Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks in Gaborone says, “In some cases, parents mean well. They want their children to work in a profession in which they have a good chance of succeeding economically. They feel that the social sciences and arts in general do not offer as much potential for financial success as do engineering, medicine, business, and law. And they are right. However, many young people do not place the same priority on getting a high salary as their parents do. They might be more interested in a lower paying career that matches their interests or that provides emotional, psychological, or social rewards, rather than monetary ones. Not everyone is meant to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. To pressure the child into studying something that is not really for him could merely ensure his failure at it, which might also be followed by shame, depression, low self-esteem, rebellion, frustration, and maybe even suicide.”


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