Sibongile Mafu

How to be independent

2012-11-14 11:25

Sibongile Mafu

We need a crash course on what it takes to be independent. Is independence really the pot of gold we desire at the end of this rainbow?

There is an incredible amount of responsibility that comes with being able to look after yourself. This is the kind of responsibility that perhaps cannot be taught but should surely be talked about and investigated.

As a child you grow up being asked THAT critical question, a question that the adults asking you were asked when they were children too:  "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Children as young as six are expected to know what career path they should explore.

At primary school we were given a day to "dress like the job you want when you're grown up". I came as a doctor from ER, complete with white coat, stethoscope, surgical gloves and mask. I later scolded myself for forgetting to put tomato sauce blood on the front of my coat. I told myself I'd be the best doctor on earth, saving lives and curing cancer and the common cold. I then of course grew up a little bit and realised I could find my happiness (and healthy working hours) in words and storytelling rather than ringworms and stethoscopes.

Who do you want to be?

Everyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, not so much who you want to be. What kind of adult do you want to become? What will guide your thinking? That would require a little more self-evaluation; something that I think would serve children well as they progress into adulthood.

The dictionary describes independence as "free from influence, guidance and control; self-reliant and not contingent". There is a certain amount of rebellion in independence and also a great deal of conformation too. You need to behave in order to be given the freedom that allows you to get the things that you want from life.

We're taught very early on that if we work hard and colour within the lines, we'll grow up to live comfortable and reasonably happy lives. Does independence mean owning your own home, being free from any and all debt and seeing your children through school? Is independence thinking for yourself or perhaps finding what makes you happy? Some would even say independence is struggle. Routine. Being grown up.

Perhaps we should not scoff when Life Orientation is mentioned as a real and relevant subject at school. We've put all our eggs in the Physical Science and Mathematics basket, knowing that those subjects will serve the youth well in their quest to become what they've grown up wanting to be, neglecting the idea that maybe the subjects that we often take for granted, could serve our children better in becoming more well-rounded individuals.

My mother is a teacher in a high school in Zwide, Port Elizabeth. They don't have much over there. Doors and windows are stolen regularly from the school. A lot of the children come to school hungry.  Many of them are basically heading entire households. There are some days you come to school and your classroom has enough desks and some days it doesn't.

Real struggles

She teaches Life Orientation to children that have seen the real struggles that life brings, many of whom have been unfairly forced to deal with it at an early age. She says she often struggles teaching children about the ways in which life orientates itself, when for the most part, the lives of the learners she teaches, have arm wrestled them into becoming independent when they were not ready to be.

Now I'm not saying you have to have it all figured out by 12, but surely instilling some sort of holistic perspective into what it means to be grown up.

The reassuring hand of a parent will only be there for so long, and we need to know that we will be OK when it isn’t.
- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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