By Prisca Sam-Duru
Tochi Opara holds a Masters degree in Law, LL.M, from the University of Lagos, and is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and Associate member of the Standing Committee of Mediation Advocates, ASCMA, UK. Opara, who has just discovered another viable means of expressing her views on topical issues to a wider audience – writing – speaks on her new book titled “21st Century Parenting”, and other issues:
Of all pressing issues across the globe, why write on parenting?
Thank you for this opportunity, and let me go straight to the answer. All the pressing issues in the world today are driven or powered by men via policies/systems/processes. The world does not exist in a vacuum, and so, does not run itself. Systems are run by humans brought up by parents. So one can safely say that the quality of our parenting reflects in the world we live in. If we are ever going to resolve issues plaguing our society, we have to go back to the basis; the family unit which is the basic unit of society and apply good parenting skills. That is why I wrote on Parenting. It undergirds everything that happens in society and our world.
In the book, you wrote that ‘parenting goes beyond the biological function of procreation’. Could you throw more light?
Often times, the assumption is that all it takes to be a parent is to procreate and indeed for some people, this is their reality. They have given life to a child and that is where their “parenting” journey ends. But parenting goes way beyond that in that after procreation there is a long journey of caretaking and nurturing. These two roles are at the heart of parenting. Not every biological progenitor, parents. So, whoever steps into that role and provides nurturance can be referred to as a parent. While the one breeds, the latter brings forth. On this basis therefore, a non-birth parent qualifies as a parent when he or she commits to play this role.
You also mentioned that children see the world through the prism of their parents’ lifestyles. Are you saying that parents have failed in the task of parenting, considering the level of moral decadence in the society?
Modelling a lifestyle teaches a child more than instructions. That is why we say in parenting, “more is caught than is taught”. Parents must therefore walk their talk since their children will more often imbibe their parents’ lifestyles. I will not readily say without qualification that the level of immorality and waywardness we see today is due to parental failure. While parents may not be fully exonerated from this social malaise, a couple of things are at play here. There is a change and a massive shift in societal values. A lot of things that society frowned at as unacceptable and abhorrent have more or less taken root and gained a measure of acceptance/tolerance. So, a bit of tepidity has slipped into the sub consciousness of society and the family forms part of this same society. Parental control and authority are sometimes compromised by these. Take for example the mode of dressing of many teens and adolescents, pre-marital cohabitation, unwed parenthood. Also, the larger environment in which the children are growing is vastly different from anything our generation knew or experienced. There is a lot of what I will call toxicity in the growing atmosphere of the child. The airwaves are charged with information that isn’t child friendly, the images darting across the electronic media are hyper-sexualized…..all these bombard the psyche of the young ones and set their minds in direct conflict with parental values.
Also, the quest to gain financial security for the family has brought about parental absenteeism in the lives of children and as a result, they do not have very close and constant presence in the children’s lives hence, many teachable moments are lost.
How does leaving children in the care of house-helps impact on them?
Parenting occurs in the modelling and little intimate moments and interactions. There is no substitute for these. However, the reality of the need to bring back the proverbial cheese has seen many parents go into the two working parent’s model, whether in full employment or private enterprise, leaving their children in the care of paid domestic carers. Beyond the quest for financial stability, a modern tendency is also to cut one’s teeth and prove one’s mettle in the competitive marketplace. There must be a balance between these competing interests and, deliberate efforts made to prioritise the welfare and safety of the children. Active parenting is time-bound, especially in the critical formative years.
Then consider the security risks associated with entrusting one’s children to unaccredited and unaccountable persons in the supposedly secure world of the child. This has many downsides -sexual molestation, inculcation of questionable values, aberrant behaviours, unsupervised growth, exposure to pornography and sexual predation, physical abuse, etc. This arrangement where it is not properly structured is fraught with dangers. The stories are rife in the public domain.
So what’s the solution?
There are some suggestions that can help parents get around some of these challenges as I documented in my book – “21st Century Parenting”, which includes a pre-planned child care regimen ever before a child is birthed.
What’s your view on corporal punishment as a mode of discipline?
This takes me back to the issue of changes in societal value systems, privatization of parenting – a case of “leave me to my style and preferences”, and increased legislation on child rights. So, the pushback at corporal punishment is heightened by all these factors and more, including some new-age parenting styles also discussed in “21st Century Parenting” which are indulgent and permissive. Discipline of any sort does not rank high in some of these parenting styles let alone corporal punishment. Personally, corporal punishment is not my first resort but this is not a vote against it. I will however caution that physical abuse cannot be categorised as spanking.
How has the absence of community lifestyle affected the millennials?
With the advent of the individualized family setup, the adage that it takes a village to train a child can no longer be taken as totally true in its literal sense. Discipline now seems to be the exclusive right of parents where it exists at all. Even schools are hesitant to administer tough disciplinary regimes now for fear of reactions from parents. Not wanting to tango with parental fights, legal issues, and shrinking enrolments, children are virtually left to rule their worlds. I believe this is not right as we have unwittingly empowered children to determine how they carry on with their lives; a case of rights without a corresponding sense of responsibility.
Are you also of the view that technology impacts negatively on the millennials?
There is no doubt that technology has a massive impact on the Millennials. This is the first generation to fully embrace technology as a means of living. Think of Google, GSM telephony, digital television, the Ipads and tablets, and the ubiquitous internet. Space and time are no longer constraints to living and interactions. Knowledge and inventions have exploded and human thought has been given free rein and expression via social media platforms. They live out their lives in the global digital space and have become unconventional in many more ways than one. Consequently, we have a new breed of hams on our hands. So old parenting practices and styles can no longer work. How does a parent grapple with these new realities and still be effective? I’ve offered some suggestions in the book which includes the need to realise the new persona on your hands and the drivers of his/her world; do not deny or resist this reality.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took me about five years as a whole to write the book. There were numerous breaks and developments along the way. At other times I experienced writer’s block. But the various covid-19 lockdowns gave me the best opportunity to complete what I could present as a complete manuscript to an editor. So you could say that the lockdown was a blessing in disguise for m
What challenges did you encounter in publishing the book?
There were lots of challenges along the way: time, I wrote mostly in long hand and had to depend on people to type on to my laptop. Lost manuscripts, illogically presented chapters and, the issue of professional editing which cost quite a pretty sum.
One observes from some of your projects that you seem to have so much passion for women issues; why?
You are quite correct in your observation that I seem to be passionate about women’s issues.
I grew up in a family of six girls and a boy. I also attended an all-girl’s school. Most of the strong influences in my life have also been women. I am enthralled by powerful women and when I use the word “strong”, I don’t mean in a feminist way rather, the regular women who carry on their roles as sisters, wives, mothers, cares, etc., with so much dignity, and still manage to have smiles on their faces and show up for their families anytime required. Women do so much to hold their families together and by extension the society.