A few days ago, I read an article about the safest ways for parents to create Instagram pages for their young children. However, it wasn’t the article itself that caught my attention; it was the scenario that led to it. The writer had been discussing with a friend why she thought it was a bad idea for Nigerian celebrities to have Instagram accounts for their children. She was told by her friend to mind her business; it was not in her place to dictate how to raise other people’s children.
I was instinctively annoyed by that response. I instantly thought, “The day I give a friend well-meaning advice about their child and they tell me to mind my business, I shall be “minding my business” forever even if they do ask for advice.” Then I thought about it again. I didn’t know the complete context or the atmosphere during that conversation. As an unmarried female without children, I have strong enough relationships with my friends who have kids to trust that my motives aren’t called into question. While I am still cautious when I speak about child raising issues with them, I may sometimes take that aspect of our friendship for granted. I have heard horror stories about well-meaning single women who got the classic “How will you understand? You don’t have children so it’s easy for you to talk.” No one needs that kind of drama, so some people, whether single or with families, believe it is best to just mind your business.
However, if like me you still believe it takes a (small) village to raise a child, let’s talk about three things that influence this process.
I’d like to think that people who talk to you about how to raise your children mean the best for you. In other words, when it comes to the motive, I am automatically weeding out people who want to criticise for the sake of it and people who just want something to talk about before carrying your gist to another person’s house (“Hmm! The way she allows her daughter to do what she likes! I’m just watching them from afar. What’s my own?”) As an aside, as I have gotten older, I’ve been amazed by how many people belong to this group.
As a friend, family member or acquaintance, you may be speaking from a place of love, but the motive can still be selfish. What worked for you may not work for them. The times are different, personalities are different, and people’s ultimate goals for their children are different. If your child is naturally more reserved and introspective, they may be perfectly happy to sit still for hours just observing the world, which you might interpret as being “well behaved.” In contrast, your friend’s child may express their own curiosity by wanting to touch things around the house and ask questions. This doesn’t automatically mean that by indulging the child your friend is “spoiling that child.” You may mean well, but be careful to not impose your own views and methods just because they worked for you.
This is a big one. How is advice given? Many people in our societies have no filters. I’m sure some of us have been victims of the “well-meaning aunt.” She’s your father’s sister or your mum’s best friend. Incredibly, she may even be some lady from your hometown that you last saw when you were 10 and has never inquired about your well-being. She gives you a hug, you smile warmly and open your mouth to ask how her family is doing. Then she kills any goodwill you have towards her by turning down her mouth and saying any one or a combination of these:
“Hmm, you’re getting fat O. You haven’t even had children yet.”
“So…when are you planning to marry? I didn’t know you had gotten a second job as a professional bridesmaid.”
“Tell me, why are you not pregnant yet? What are you people waiting for?”
“Why are you so skinny? So you’re starving our baby because you want to do fit-fam ehn? You don’t know you’re pregnant? Okay O, “Awon Hot Mummy.”* If you like, don’t eat.
“Ha! So because you are pregnant you want to eat the whole world. See how big you are and you aren’t even in your third trimester.”
“This new generation! Why are you and your wife raising her to do that? Don’t you know it’s not good for children to…?”
On a good day you might hold your tongue, clench your teeth and say something like “Thank you. I will work on it.” On a bad day, you ignore your parents’ unspoken warning, look the aunt squarely in the eye, and tell her to go to hell. Then you stalk out of the room and mentally prepare for the family meeting that will ensue. Suffice it to say that delivery is important. Even if the adviser has a point, how they phrase it could impact how the parent reacts to it.
As a parent, the odds are you may react more positively to a close friend’s actions and advice than to that of someone you don’t know as well. Some people think that family – no matter how distant – automatically trumps friend, but this isn’t always the case for the parent. On the other hand, out of respect you may tolerate disciplinary liberties that an in-law takes with your child compared to those of your best friend.
There are multiple questions that arise when you consider relationships between parent and adviser. If your friend believes children should be spanked when they misbehave and you know this, should you be upset if your friend spanks your children when they are in his or her care? What if this friend has a child too and they did something wrong together? Can your friend spank your child as well theirs?
The line becomes even blurrier when the person watching them is an older family member like a much-loved aunt or even a grandparent. Does a grandparent have the right to smack the child or yell at them or punish them when you haven’t given them specific allowance to do so?
What are your thoughts on handling other people’s children or on people handling your children? Does it depend on multiple factors or are you simply #TeamMindYourBusiness? We’d love to hear from you.
“Awon Hot Mummy” -“Hot Mummy Crew”*