Health & Fitness

Go with your gut, there is no one parenting formula

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When it comes to parenting, and no one formula will work for all parents and all children at all times. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Question: How far should a parent go in ensuring the safety of her children without becoming overbearing? I can't tolerate seeing my children exposed to danger and abuse.

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In the Holy Bible, we read the story of Cain and Abel and my suspicion is that the first mother on earth, Eve would have asked herself the very question you have posed today. What is the best way to keep my boys from danger she would have wondered?

In her case and as we all know, Cain killed his brother Abel in what is clearly the first case of murder on record (for those who believe in the Old Testament). It is possible to conclude that Eve failed in her parental duties and hence the tragedy that visited her family.

In the New Testament story of the prodigal son, we come across another boy who was a bit of a mess. The boy became impatient and could not wait for the father to give him his inheritance. As requested, the father obliged, and the boy took off to a life of excesses and enjoyed his money in the company of among others, prostitutes and later, pigs. His life of near disaster comes to an end when he returns to his father, presumably in tears and severely malnourished.

Is this a case of failure by parents? Is this the type of scenario you hope to avoid?

A few years ago, a young man was brought to us by his parents. For a few years, he had traversed the globe in search of higher education. At first, he had done his Form IV exams at a national school and had done badly. As many parents do, the blame fell on the teachers, bullies and everybody except themselves. Peer pressure was the most cited reason for the failure to perform.

He did a bridging course in South Africa and was admitted to a local university to study Economics. He did well for the first term but soon fell to his old ways. He soon started to skip classes and was twice cited for drunken driving. When drugs were found in his car, he was deported after paying a hefty fine, which his parents did to avoid a lengthy prison term.

After six months of cooling his heels in Nairobi, a place was soon found for him to continue with studies in the UK. According to him, there was too much racialism in his first school, and he was again moved further north. After the third change of schools in the UK, his parents were convinced to bring him back to Kenya to try a school near them.

Two universities later and two write-offs of his mother’s cars, it was time to send him to the US. We saw him after he was deported for the use of illegal drugs and not adhering to the visa regulations. The doctors in the US had put him on medication but had suggested that he would be better off in the care of his family.

The history we obtained went as far back as his primary school. His mother, a teacher by profession had kept all his school records. In primary school, he was said to be jumpy, restless, and with poor concentration. He was said to be clever but did not apply himself. He was often too playful and disruptive.

He did well in primary school, but his mother had arranged private tuition and supervised his homework every night. She had noticed but ignored his poor attention span. No such help was available in high school or university.

In high school, the same observations were made by the teachers. Clever but lazy. To easily distracted, they wrote in his reports. He was suspended on a few occasions from school and was expelled from one high school for indiscipline. His father blamed the schools because he had gone through a similar fate in his life.

The diagnosis was as clear as daylight. The young man had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and all his life, parents, teachers and even experts had blamed the young man, his parents, as well as peer pressure. Nothing could be further from the truth because the parents had two other sons who had done very well in life.

The point of this story is that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to parenting, and no one formula will work for all parents and all children at all times. The wonder of nature for me is not how often we get it wrong but rather how, in most cases without prior training or a manual, so many parents get it right!

Dr Frank Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant. [email protected]