Sunday, August 4, 2013

Parenting blues

Yesterday (August 4, 2013) my colleague Susan Felch and I attended a church service at the Nairobi Baptist Church in Nairobi. My cousin Stephen Kinoti is a youth pastor at the church (a Methodist minister seconded to a Baptist church) and so it was not a chance attendance. We had thought of trying to walk to church but it would have taken us probably over an hour and we did not have that much time so we chose to take a matatu and were able to make the 10:00 o'clock "family service" (kids stay in the main sanctuary but leave just before offertory and sermon). The preacher was Dr. Timothy Wachira VC (president) of Daystar University which is the immediate neighbor of the church. I must note that while the church is strongly rooted in the Baptist tradition it draws from other denominations and has mostly an interdenominational identity even though the name remains distinct. I learned that in the current search for a senior pastor the church council can get someone from other closely linked denominations. During the service, there was an announcement by one of the pastors about the challenges facing Kenyan youth and even mentioned that majority of them leave their faith by first year of college (familiar note for many in the US) which made me wonder where his statistics were coming from but didn't get a chance to ask. I am not totally convinced of that claim but do not have any data to support my claim either. The theme for the month of August (a month when school children are on break) is "family." Dr. Wachira preached on how to make sure parents are able to raise their children grounded in their faith. He was able to connect Psalm 8 (children able to know an otherwise majestic and almost unknowable God) and Mark 10 (let the children come to me) showing that knowing God is a gift (not dependent on our human attributes but by God's grace) and that no one should hinder children from approaching Christ (that we too ought to come to Christ like children). Yet the role of parents, Dr. Wachira noted, is critical in three way: not to hinder them but instead point them to Christ; prioritize their lives so that their commitment to Christ comes first; and modeling Christ-like living. He then asked the congregation to consider if taking their children to boarding school (a very common practice in Kenya) was hurting the chances of cultivating the right relationship with their children as they nurture them in the faith; or would taking another job be dependent on how a parent's relationship with children will pan out?; and if they make decisions as a family. These are very important questions to ask and especially for this context where there is a high level of children's socialization being handled by house helps (locally termed "house girls"-a relic from the colonial times probably). Moreover there are few, if any, families known to me where decisions are made in consultation with the children especially younger children. This is not the norm-children are told what to do after their parents (mostly the fathers) have made the decisions. So Dr. Wachira was touching on a critical sociocultural reality that is best understood by someone who knows the culture as he does. Every time we visit out friends in Kenya we quickly notice how many of them have little time spent with their children and how the children spend more time (and at times confide more) with their house helps. Having experienced raising our daughters in both Kenya and now in the US I clearly recognize this reality. I am definitely much more closer to our daughters than I was when we lived in Kenya (part of it is the reality of having to give up the luxury of house help we had in Kenya when we moved to the US and also the reality of living in a new place where your most stable and important social links are your family). In that sense I empathize with the message Dr. Wachira shared but I am also cognizant of how this is not just a Kenyan challenge only because I know of many families in the US that struggle and which in the absence of house helps have peers and technology socializing their children. My hope is that places like the Baptist church in Kenya will be catalysts for a more concerted effort for steering parents towards a good relationship with their children. I am convinced that there are no short cuts to such social interactions.  Incidentally it seems like this patenting challenge seems to be a sermon focus every time we attend church in Kenya because, as Margaret reminded me when I shared this story with her, a few years back we heard a similar message at the Nairobi Pentecostal Church when a pastor talked about his experiences counseling youth who had no affirming relations with their parents.  These parenting blues seem to be growing. What has been your experience? Share your comments. 

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