Thursday, June 16, 2011


This is the FOURTH in the series of posts called "PARENTS LIVING UNDER DIFFICULTIES".

"Our family falls into the probably rather small category of Westerners parenting in slums. We are living outside of our home culture in a rapidly developing country with a high rate of poverty. We find ourselves living in a two-room 'house' with our three small children, aged 7, 4 and 2, intent on an experiment of identification with our poor neighbours. This probably sounds like lunacy to some, or a recipe for disaster; yet we made the choice to come and do this with our children because we want to live out our beliefs, and engage with a part of society too easily relegated to the side-lines.
Poverty is everyone's issue. For those of us who live in wealthier nations with social welfare benefits for all, it is easy not to engage. We too easily forget that the poor in other nations are our poor - the people making our clothes, shoes and electronic goods. We believe that there is a need to be advocates for justice and peace in the midst of this situation; hence we came to live and learn amongst poor friends.
Parenting in a situation like this is far from easy, though I would wager that parenting small (and big) children is a challenge at any time and in any place. For us, we find the challenges and difficulties of parenting are multiplied here, as we lack many 'essentials' that parents in our home country have access to. Shaped as we are by our home culture, there are aspects of child-rearing here that we dislike and choose to avoid; yes, this makes it harder for us in some ways, but it is also healthy to stick to your ideals sometimes. For example, we choose not to have a television (great baby-sitter that it is) because we want our children to grow up learning to play creatively and make their own fun.
Our three boys are highly energetic lads, and move from one activity to the next with gusto, accompanied by plenty of noise and chaos. With three like these, the ideal location to live would be a farm somewhere - with endless opportunities for exploration and play. Instead, our neighbourhood is a barren, dusty wasteland; and play is limited by security concerns and a lack of facilities.

Everything here is dusty and grey; you can forget grass to roll about on or trees to climb. There are no public parks or libraries, swimming pools or beaches. It is hard to offer children good opportunities for normal healthy development. And when everyone feels a bit house-bound and in need of a change of scenery, there is no-where else to go. We often need to creatively separate the three children so they can have some time and space to themselves - even building a little fort outside so that they can have their own 'place'.
We've had to let go of some parenting methods that worked back home, and look for solutions to the parenting struggles that result from our new situation (these include a lack of privacy, negative influences from outside, limited space, few opportunities for development etc.). Children here usually go to bed at 10pm or later which is stressful for parents. Strategies like time-out don't work well when there are no quiet places for children to retreat to. Other strategies continue to work well, for example, motivating and rewarding children by giving them small privileges, e.g. who gets to check the hen-house for eggs or extra reading time at night. Without that wonderful helper SPACE, one needs to use a lot of psychology and encouragement to keep the children happy and compliant.

Most parents want the best for their children - a good education, a healthy and happy upbringing, a united family etc. The parents in our poor community are exactly the same. They too have many hopes and dreams for their little ones. For many, these dreams will die to the reality of poverty; others will fight hard and hopefully achieve their vision of a better life for the generations to come. However, one healthy aspect of parenting here is the lack of competition which is so prevalent among parents in the West. One often encounters mothers and fathers who live vicariously off their children's achievements, or find their worth and pride in the successes of their sons and daughters. Back home, expectations are high and there is often a lot of pressure put on children to succeed and 'do their parents proud'. Life here is a lot more relaxed and easy-going. There are not endless practices and extra-curricular activities to attend - children spend more time being children and not running on the treadmill of success. I like this.

I hope that, in the future when we look back on our time here, we can celebrate the opportunities we had to spend time together as a family, the slowness of life and the many hours of simple play. That we look back with fondness to the many friends we made here and the way we were invited into people's lives despite our differences. And hopefully, we all will have been changed .... hopefully our children will grow with greater maturity and grace, aware of the gross differences that exist in the world, and empowered through their experiences here to be advocates for justice and peace."

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ you have probably been made aware of all your SPACE, freedoms and choices along with your possessions that, like mine, have been taken for granted for the last while. This is somewhere to start this week with your kids - to find and see the privileges we live in. Next step would be to put this into the context for your kids that the majority of the world don't live in this way. The experience of the above Western children living in the slum, will give them some knowledge of its reality, but how about your kids and my kids? Is this an area you need to consider more in how you parent?

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