What makes a good parent?

I was eating in a restaurant recently, and a little cherubic boy was also there having dinner with his parents. A quarter of the way into little Themba’s meal, however, he decided to have a major, and I mean colossal, tantrum.

You know: the kind of tantrum nobody can ignore and everybody shoots mental daggers at the parents, inwardly begging them to take charge of the “situation”.  While slightly sympathetic to the parents, I’m willing to bet my bottom Zim dollar that most of the patrons in the restaurant, especially those of us who are child-free, were quietly but seriously judging the couple for being “bad parents”. 

It’s a parent’s duty to love and nurture the little one until it can take care of itself, hopefully becoming a model citizen for this country. But parents also have an obligation to society, by making sure that little Lerato understands the difference between right and wrong, and the consequences of “bad” and illegal behaviour

We’ve made great strides by introducing sex education into the school curriculum, but nobody really teaches us to be parents; we’re expected to instinctively know how to raise children, as if by osmosis! I suppose the problem is that there’s no magic formula or theory that leads to successful parenting, but where do most of us even know where to begin, or whether what we’re doing is “right”? 

Should parents be completely responsible?

Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, your little monster may be just that, a little monster on his way to becoming an even bigger monster. It’s unreasonable that parents be expected to take full responsibility for what their children become. Admittedly, we have to take the good with the bad. You can’t just beam with pride and accept congratulations from your friends when Junior gets her academic colours, only to deny all culpability when you have to bail her out of Sun City jail. We can all accept that as a parent you’re guaranteed to make mistakes, but even these can be powerful opportunities for learning. All you can do is try not to repeat them.

While I do believe that some parents are just downright challenged and even incapable and unworthy of raising children, it’s unreasonable to blame all of a child’s behaviour on the parents. If the children around you are anything like my brother’s brood, then you’ll appreciate the fact that kids have their own minds, and for a large part will ultimately do what they want to do, regardless of your interventions.  We live in a time where we have to make a bigger effort in communicating with our kids, put our awkwardness aside and teach little Themba that he may be allowed to touch himself in private, but that touching, pulling or playing with someone else’s nunu is a big no-no. 

What's the real problem?

Bottom line though, most parents probably don’t spend enough time with their kids, and no amount of cash or material goods will ever replace the necessity of teaching good values. Our work hours are increasing, and more and more parents rely on extended family and paid helpers to raise our kids.  All kids need love and attention as much as all kids need boundaries, and the worst thing you can do as a parent is to enable bad behaviour.

For better or worse, kids don’t come with warranties that can be exchanged for better models.  And neither do parents.  Until then, you may just want to get yourself a copy of “Parenting for Dummies”. 

Kgomotso Matsunyane is the host of “Late Night with Kgomotso”.  She is a producer & partner at TOM Pictures, a TV and Film Production Company in Jo’burg. You can follow her on twitter @MotsoMatsu.

Do you think parents should know by instinct how to raise their children?
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