Why we should revive our Ubuntu values of parenting

In Ubuntu parenting, the child’s well-being is considered a collective responsibility of extended family members, neighbours, and the community and parents.   

What you need to know:

Parents must make ends meet by working. This makes it nearly impossible for them to nurture their children. Unless one parent deliberately stay at home, children grow up under the care of the maids.

Growing up, we had a neighbour who called himself uncle bad. If he found you in some misdemeanour, maybe harvesting a neighbour’s mangoes, fighting with another child, or riding a car tyre half-naked (which was common)…, he caned you and took you to your home for more canes. We feared uncle bad. But he was generally a good fellow, kind-hearted and generous.

During the 1980s and 1990s, communities exercised Ubuntu parenting; which was the normative traditional African model and philosophy that a child belonged to and was raised collectively by the community and not only by their parents. Premised on the Ubuntu principle--“I am because we are”- is a concept deeply rooted in African culture, emphasing the interconnectedness of individuals within a community.

Collective responsibility

In Ubuntu parenting, therefore, the child’s well-being is considered a collective responsibility, with extended family members, neighbours, and community members, playing an important role in the child’s upbringing.

“It takes the whole village to raise a child”, we say. However, in this 21st century and with globalisation, we seem to have moved away from this norm and adopted Western models. Although advantageous in some aspects, they are fraught with problems we are incapable of addressing.

Is it, therefore, possible to recapture some of our Ubuntu parenting values for our times, and what would be the reasons?

Parental workload

 Parents are loaded with work. The standard of living has exponentially risen. They both must make ends meet by working.

This makes it nearly impossible for them to find time to nurture their children as they should. Unless one parent deliberately chooses to stay at home to perform the parenting role, children grow up under the care of the maids at best and as weeds at worst. 

Regina, a parent in Bweyogerere, says she had to take leave from her work that week to be home with her children. “I am self-employed, so it was easy for me to make the costly decision,” she says.

But can she can sustain this? No one knows. Ubuntu parenting can offer a communal approach to raising children.

Moses, a mechanic says, “On days when I do not have much work at the garage, I inadvertently observe the activities of all children in our gated compound. I see who rides their bikes dangerously and warn them or those who use bad words against their friends and correct them. I am conscious that what other children do or do not do, affects my children.”

Separation of roles

 Some aspects of African parenting were separated and shared. For instance, when girls became of a certain age, they were sent to their paternal aunts/sengas (who are also called their “mothers”) for marital advice because some subjects therein were difficult to broach by their parents.

They needed the help of kinsmen to do the role. That is Ubuntu parenting 311 at work. It is still a challenge for some parents to talk about some personal issues with their children, so they require assistance from family and friends.

Joyce, a mother of three girls, says: “One of my daughters turned 18 and I am not comfortable talking about sex education. I prefer one of her aunts to talk to her. There are those aspects of our Nkore culture that I do not know, but one of my sisters is good at it, so I approached her for help. There is no shame in me needing help because parenting in our culture is communal, interdependent, and cooperative,” she says.

Parental support and safety

Mbabazi, a single mother of four boys, says: “We are living in an age of information explosion that some of us parents are out of touch with what our children are exposed to. As a result, we are finding it difficult to confront our children. But with the help of the clan, an uncle or aunt can summon my child for a talk and they will not refuse because they know the repercussions. This provides me the buffer support I need in raising them.” 

Ubuntu is thus empowering for parents like Mbabazi, who may not have the resources to manage four children singularly of the opposite gender and who may not have the time or ability to read a book or two about parenting.  

Ubuntu promotes discipline

 Ubuntu parenting reinforces the authoritative parenting style, which is the dominant African style of parenting. Here, parents provide for and protect their children, while children submit to their parents and community rules and structures. In the absence of parents, say in cases of death or migration for labour purposes, children are still held accountable to community values. This is different from the permissive parenting style, practiced in some societies.

Jackie, who lives in the US, but has her two children living here, says: “I left my children in the care of their grandparents. And they are doing a good job. Whenever I call home (call it digital parenting), I get to talk to my children and I read a sense of responsibility and maturity in their conversations. My 12-year-old manages the chicken project at home and he is doing well.’’ 

Preservation of African tradition

 “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” -Proverbs 22:28, says.  Landmarks are a euphemism for traditional cultures. Those who support Ubuntu parenting  argue that the current distortions to stable and normative family life and heterosexual marriages are threats to the institution of the family.  They contend that Ubuntu parenting gives the African child a unique cultural identity, strong interpersonal relationships, and a sense of belonging.

“You can raise your children in a western way, but they will never be Western. Teach children to preserve and be proud of their own cultures,” says Justin, a blogger and father of two.