BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Type Mopakwana on your Google search engine and the response you are likely to get is: “Your search -Mopakwana – did not match any documents.” This is internetese for “Mopakwa what?”
Most Batswana millennial first time mothers however still turn to Google for child rearing advice. In the past the rules were simple: When life threw challenges your way, you sought advice from the person in your life who knew best: your mother. Then there was the World Wide Web and the rules changed. Now most Batswana millenials instinctively consult Google which seems to have the answer for everything.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at University of Botswana says “The internet has replaced a lot of motherly advice for most young mothers. They prefer to read up on how to do things on the internet rather than consult their mothers or other elderly figures. This hurts a lot of mothers who spend years looking forward to passing down their child rearing knowledge down to their daughter only for them to be met with rejection. A lot of these young mothers don’t realise that their mothers’ battle with seeing them turn into grown women with kids of their own. They should sometimes let their mothers have their way; if at all whatever gets done won’t harm or be detrimental to the health of the baby.”
Since the advent of internet technologies in the 1990s, Batswana’s collective identity and culture has been dramatically shaped by the use of digital communication and engagement with the digital world.
With young Batswana’s lives revolving around computers, tablets and smart phones, the Internet has become a sort of “village square”, entertainment hall and library rolled into one. Unfortunately Botswana is at the bottom of the information food chain and has not been able to generate enough digital information and knowledge to keep its millenials in touch with their roots. This has contributed to erosion of local cultural values and practices.
Mme Gopolang Kehumile an elderly woman in the small village of Taung near Ramotswa bemoans how World Wide Web has endangered Botswana’s culture and tradition, fostering a society with less variety.
She says a lot of young people shun traditional child rearing practices. “A lot of young people don’t value culture anymore and this is also quite evident in their child rearing ways. When a newborn comes home, the young mother won’t allow any traditional rites to be done on her child as she sees it as backward and ancient. They would rather consult their peers or the internet. When they do consent to traditional rites, they constantly ask why this and that is being done. We did not ask too many questions back in our time. We were raised to just do and not ask questions. It is also important for kids to be raised by their grandparents, uncles and aunts hence the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. A lot of young parents don’t believe in that. Television and the internet has replaced storytelling and teaching kids their family relations.”
A lot of new age modern mothers spurn traditional child rearing rites such as the use of traditional Setswana herbal mixture on the baby’s fontanelle locally known asgo bewa phogwana to protect them from negative spirits and opt for newer versions such as using Lennon’s Haarlemensis drops. They also shun the practice of cutting a newborn baby’s hair three to seven days after birth and choose to do things their own way because they do not believe the child’s hair is linked to ancestors.
The past generation’s parenting style comes under fire for the fact that they don’t necessarily explain the importance of some of these traditional and spiritual practices on child rearing hence they feel undermined when asked why this and that is done. This may be because they don’t understand the significance of these practices, coming from a time when they were told to do and not ask questions.
Thulaganyo Baepeng a waitress at Wimpy Restaurant in Gaborone is adamant that the way previous generations raised their children wasn’t always right. “I’m not disrespecting our elders, but it all wasn’t right. Growing up, I hardly got any expression of love from my parents; I was never hugged or told I was loved. I vowed to change it with my kids because I believe holding your child and telling them you love them is a lovely way to express love. It is true that most of us young mothers don’t find the older ways of child rearing relevant in today’s time which is why our mothers tend to feel like we undermine and disrespect them but a lot of us should know that that is our own mother’s way of showing love by passing what they know down to us.”