“Igrew up in a family where my parents were conservative and authoritative. There was never a time when my parents and I discussed any topic. Their word was final and my siblings and I had no option but to abide by the home rules,” says Sharon Mwanje, a mother of three teenagers.
Mwanje adds: “Although our parents provided all the basic needs of life and ensured that we all attained an education, the authoritarian environment we grew up in did not provide a platform for us to be friends with our parents. They expected us to do what they said without questioning, which left us feeling stifled and frustrated.”
“While my parents were preoccupied with the idea of raising perfect children, I feel we missed an opportunity to bond with them. Ideally, children should be friends with their parents’ in order to help them deal with different challenges as they grow up. Today, if I faced any challenge in life, my parents would be the last people to know. We were not friends and there is no way I can open up to them about what is happening in my life,” she adds.
When Mwanje became a parent, she purposed to create a relaxed and pleasant connection with her children while instilling discipline. “My children open up to me and they freely share whatever challenges they face because they know I cannot judge them. They know I want nothing but the best for them,” she says.
She is quick to state that her kind of closeness is not necessarily where she had to try to enter their world of music, movies, but a deeper one anchored in experience, wisdom, and mature discussions “They update me about their lives; the kind of information parents often have to fight to get out of their children. And I steer them in the right direction,” she adds.
She says that by empowering her children to have a voice and validating them when necessary, has helped her raise self-confident, well-adjusted and disciplined children.
To achieve this, child development expert Evelyne Kharono Lufafa says parents need to clarify their role. “Parents who try to be their children’s friends might find it difficult to determine when to allow children to make independent decisions and when to set limits and enforce discipline.
This blurring of lines between parent and child often leads to confusion. Many end up being forced to be the adults and treat their parents as their children. You have probably heard a parent asking their children what to wear or what to cook for dinner. These decisions are supposed to be made by the parents, not the children,” Kharono notes.
Although children need rational, open-minded and loving parents, they also need parents who can enforce the rules by exercising their authority. When parents are not willing to assume the parental role, children become anxious and feel lost. Likewise, when they make for them every decision, it gives them the impression that they are unable to make good choices, which ultimately affects their adulthood. “It is possible for parents to fulfill their role without sacrificing their relationship with their children. Parents should provide a platform for their children to express their opinions and listen to what their children have to say, they can respect their children’s feelings and remain firm while setting boundaries,” Kharono advises.
“Let your children know the things you are not willing to tolerate. If the line is crossed, take action as a parent. If you have put in place punishment for using inappropriate language, breaking curfew or any form of indiscipline, enforce it when they break the rules or else it will look like nothing but threats, which will encourage them to undermine your authority,” Mwanje shares.
Experts say parents can enforce authority in a way that does not make them too controlling. Research shows that when you control children, they react by rebelling. They might rebel openly and look for ways to sneak, lie and cover up; to be un-cooperative, to be hostile or even talk back. Control does not feel like respect, and if you do not respect them, you cannot expect your children to respect you.
Relationship between parents and children is so crucial for children’s emotional, social, and spiritual development. However, parents are also given the ultimate responsibility for raising their own children. Delegating that responsibility to teachers, church or community is a disservice.