THE CRITICAL ROLE OF MOTHERS IN THE LIVES OF CHILDREN
Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremedhin
West Virginia University
Most of us, the male parents, go through life comfortably, without being conscious of the innumerable tasks our spouses are involved in, raising our children and taking care of their households. Many of us men are still dwelling in the privileges and legacy of our male-dominated cultural norms and practices. If we seriously observe and account the daily tasks and responsibilities of mothers, they are many and varied, as compared with those of fathers, when it comes to the unparalleled obligations and challenges of raising decent children. Recent research indicated that married women with young children work more hours, ranging from 14 to 16 hours per day, than married men who work not more than 4 to 6 hours a day. Women play the role of mothers, spouses, and workers (or farmers). Mothers are involved in many tasks of the household such as raising the children, meeting the demands of their spouses, and, nowadays, they have even become the bread-winners in single-family households. Men think that a father’s role is only that of a provider and consequently struggle with the role of fathering, particularly in a father-to-daughter relationship. They do not even instruct their sons about being fathers let alone instruct their daughters to be mothers. Every father of us, unfortunately, has to find his own way, or from members of our community, in being a good parent in order to effectively collaborate with his spouse in raising their children. The extent to which a father can give to his child, very much depends on what he can receive from his relationship with his spouse. In fact, we all have to take the time to teach ourselves or learn from our spouses to be real fathers, especially the fathers of our daughters. It is a constant state of learning for the fathers and has become involved with the spouses in the interpersonal responsibilities at home.
Mothers have a special place in their children’s lives because of the bondage that starts from pregnancy and develops through childhood, youth, and adolescence. A mother’s involvement with her children is unique and different because there is a strong emotional and social bonding occurring in between. Bonding with children comes only with a day-to-day unconditional love and care of the family. We need to recognize the inextricable strong link that exists between the mothers and the welfare of the whole family including the father and children. Every thing is well if the mother is well in the household. A Jewish proverb says, “God could not be everywhere and therefore He made mothers.” The words of this venerable proverb have strong emphasis on the important role mothers play in raising their children and taking care of their spouses. Like wise, the Italian proverb says, “Dietro un uomo di successo ce sempre una grande donna di successo.” In Arabic, it also says the same thing, “Warra kulu rajil Azen emraa.” What it means is that, behind a great man, there is always a great woman. It is unthinkable to find a great man who is unmarried because a man is not complete until he is married. But if there is a great unmarried man, he must have a great mother behind him. In other words, women not only mold and guide their children to be the best citizens, but they also prepare their spouses to become successful at work and in life. Men become the best they can be only with the support and encouragement of women. It is evident that men cannot live without women, but women can live without men because we have observed many of them raising decent children in a household full of love and, care without the support of men. However, it is true that mothers have unique role in parenting, but it cannot be 100% complete without the involvement of fathers.
We should gratefully cherish and uphold the love and dedication of our Eritrean mothers who willingly brought us to this world with great pleasure, nurturing us with love and care and raising us to be humble, considerate and understanding with our friends and foes alike. As we are well aware, cultural barriers have been difficult to cross because our mothers were not allowed to see beyond the sacred fences of tradition. However, the role of women in the Eritrean society has altered radically and widely diversified over the years. Eritrean mothers, against all odds, not only challenged traditional roles by engaging in typically male-dominated occupations, they also provided progressive and positive role models for young boys and girls and diligently served the Eritrean villages and communities. During the thirty years of armed struggle, the Eritrean women threw away their veils and skirts to carry guns like their brothers and fight the national colonial enemy. After independence, Eritrean women replaced their aprons with overalls, their wooden spoons with wrenches and pick axes, and their kitchens with offices to collaborate with their brothers in nation building. Currently, contemporary Eritrean women are playing a more active role in professional careers and, at the same time, making all the necessary efforts in the world to raise their children with love and care.
Eritrean mothers usually talk about parenting among themselves when they come together. They talk about the activities of their children in school and at home, but not necessarily talk about sex and sexuality. When Eritrean fathers come together, they tend not to discuss parenting with each other, leaving that to the mothers. A mother usually understands intuitively what children do not say, but a father usually does not even understand what children say and do. It is true that we, Eritrean fathers, are concerned about our daughters’ developing sexuality but we usually do not talk with our spouses or friends about these concerns. Most of the time, we want our daughters to be attractive and beautiful, but at the same time we do not want them to have any sex appeal that will attract the neighborhood boys. We are threatened by boys coming around wanting to see or date our daughters. It is funny when I see it, in retrospect, that we greet them with a stoic and mean expression and a look that conveys a message, “If you touch my daughter, I will break your neck.” We literally give them an impression that we have a beeper attached to our daughter’s waist to rally us a signal, when ever they attempt to get involved in sexual activities. We, the fathers, like to be in charge and think that we are in control of the situation, but we usually create a mess and a big misunderstanding between us and our daughters. But, there is always a mother around who put things in order and who heals hearts that were bruised and hurt. When our children’s emotional lives suffer various maladies of the heart, it is corrected and comforted by the mother. When a daughter feels ashamed, fearful, and insecure, it is the mother who instills in her confidence and security. When a son feels the fear of failure that he can never be good enough to live up to the expectation of those around him, particularly to his father, it is the mother who encourages her son to be brave, strong, and to have a good discipline and make moral choices. Mothers are the bank of the whole family where members of that family dump all their hurts and worries. When the family is in total chaos and disorder both emotionally and socially, it is the mother who creates peace and harmony in the household.
Mothers are every thing for children. The relationship is built on unconditional love and care. One day a certain mother ran into (or bump against) a stranger as he tried to pass by to cross a street, she said, "Oh! excuse me please." The stranger said, "Please excuse me too; I was not watching for you." Both the stranger and the mother were very polite. They said good-bye and they went on their separate ways. But, at home, how we treat our loved ones, young and old, is a different story. It was one of the days that this same mother was cooking the evening meal for her family. Her son came into the kitchen unnoticed by his mother and stood beside her very still and silent. When she turned around, she nearly knocked him down. "Move out of the way," she yelled at him with a frown face. He walked away to his bedroom and his little heart was broken. She did not realize how harshly she had spoken to him. While she lay awake resting in bed after dinner, a small voice from a little angel of God came to her ears and said, "While dealing with a stranger, common courtesy you use, but the family you love, you seem to abuse. Go and look on the kitchen floor, you will find some flowers there by the door. Those are the flowers your son brought for you. He picked them himself: pink, yellow and blue. He stood very quietly in the kitchen not to spoil the surprise; you never saw the tears that filled his little eyes." By this time, she felt very small, and now her tears began to fall. She quietly went and knelt by her son’s bed; "Wake up, little one, wake up," She said. "Are these the flowers you picked for me?" He smiled, "I found them, out by the tree. I picked them because they are pretty like you. I knew you would like them, especially the blue." She replied, "Son, I am very sorry for the way I acted today; I should not have yelled at you that way." He said, "Oh, Mother, that is okay. I love you anyway." She also said, "Son, I love you too, and I do like the flowers, especially the blue." So what is behind this touching story? Our children need our love, particularly the most when they least deserve it. We should be aware that if we die tomorrow, the company that we are working for can easily replace us in a matter of days. But the family members we leave behind will feel the loss for the rest of their lives. When we come to think of it, we pour ourselves more into work than we focus into our own family and that is an unwise investment indeed.
Relationship is the fabric of our life. We feel like a whole person or a whole family, when all the pieces of the fabric are in their proper place. But, sometimes some pieces of the fabric are torn or ripped off and become difficult or even impossible to have the pieces patched or sown up to make the entire fabric to stay intact for life. For instance, many children have grown up divorced. When a mother and father divorce, the children are divorced as well. Divorce does not improve their lives; it has just the opposite effect on children for the rest of their lives. The effects are not temporary; they shape their lives with fear of confusion, abandonment, humiliation, and rejection and these feelings are carried with the children for years in their lives. Divorce is a traumatic event that significantly contributes to the formation of economic hardship, for both mothers and children, particularly in poor female-headed households. An account of a poor mother based on the true story of Kudusan in rural Eritrea, is a typical example. Kudusan was married at thirteen to Gurja, a twenty year-old man. She never had the chance to go to school as a young girl. The marriage was arranged by her father and Kudusan saw her husband for the first time on her wedding day. Gurja was a poor small-scale farmer before he died of illness after 20 years of marriage. Not long after the wedding, Gurja turned out to be a cruel husband and irresponsible father. He mistreated his children and beat his wife constantly by reprimanding her for not bringing a good dowry when they got married. Although she has been a good wife, loving mother, and provided four wonderful sons and two beautiful daughters, the beating continued until the day he died. Even though she could not stand the beating and scolding, she could not move out and leave him because she did not have the skill to go out and raise her children by herself. She could not get help from her parents because they were poor. When her husband died of sudden illness, she was burdened with a high proportion of dependents and typically has been left with no resources to make a living. She was allowed to farm a half share of his village land. She owned only two goats and one working ox which she paired with the ox of her neighbor to plow the farmland. It was very difficult to support her and six children with limited resources. To augment her meager farm income, she started to exploit her untapped and unused skill, braiding women’s hair for cash or in kind, as an emergency survival mechanism. Through her determination and effort she managed to survive and raise her children with dignity and integrity. Her children are now all grown ups and married and she even became a grandmother. She is proud of her children and serves her village community as a wonderful role model to young Eritrean mothers who are having the same fate. Kudusan’s story is not uncommon among many mothers in rural Eritrea, but very few of them like Kudusan become successful in raising their children because many of them do not have Kudusan’s skills to fall back on hard times. The lesson we can learn from the story is that if relationship is only taking without giving, it is a doomed affair in the making. Thus, fathers and mothers are significant players in patching up situations, partners involved in caring and sharing, and active parents devoted in making home a nice place to live in for children.
We all do mistakes in raising our children and in our relationship with our spouses. Since “to err is human and to forgive is divine,” we should not be afraid to admit when we know what we are doing with regard to our spouses and children are wrong. It is not a sign of weakness to admit and ask for forgiveness for what we did wrong, but shows character and responsibility. Others will respect us for that kind of character. We must always do the right things, even when everyone does as they please with no consideration for the feelings of other fellow Eritreans and the welfare of our children. Obviously, if we have our own communities in our localities, we should never compromise our values and beliefs for something else because we will have the consolidated power of unity and strength. We have to refuse to run away from the things that divide us and overcome our fears so that we may grow as strong and solid Eritrean communities and raise well-disciplined and responsible Eritrean children. It is evident that we have many Eritrean professionals and scholars who have enormous wisdom and capabilities to make unique contributions and differences in our communities. We need to be aware that we are each an angel with only one wing, and we can only fly with two wings by embracing each other.
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