“A mi bring you come ya and mi wi tek yuh back out.”
This common expression from Jamaican mothers making their authority known to wayward children represents, for me, the ultimate parent — so confident in her role that the child must know who is in charge. For those unfamiliar with the Jamaican language, the expression translates in English as, “I brought you into this world and I will take you out”.
Hearing those words growing up always reminded me of who was the bigger boss. I must confess that I am yet to find an expression to use when scolding my children with an impact as powerful as those words had on me. I have, however, mastered “the look”; the one that says “I dare you to try it”. They recognise the look, and no words are required to motivate positive action. There is no formal education manual about parenting and so we learn from our own parents, reading articles and books or through sharing with other parents. Many of us parents question ourselves daily, especially when we witness the 'wins' other parents are experiencing with 'almost perfect' children.
The truth is, we often value the wrong things — the child excelling in track and field, dancing, music, academics — and we pay less attention to how happy our children really are. Before we start judging ourselves harshly, let us remember that parenting is not easy, and looks different for everyone — there is rarely a right or wrong way (except in instances of abuse which is completely unacceptable). Having confidence in your parenting skills is important so your children know that you are always present for them and you have their backs.
I remember when my older child was being bullied at school. She came home one evening confident that I could fix it and said, “Mommy, can you put on your big bad bear self and come to my school please?” I knew I had to show up and so the next day I turned up at school to deal with the matter. Whether or not I was my “big bad bear” self is left to your imagination, but my child felt more comfortable at school thereafter. The lesson is that she was very confident that her mother was able to fix the problem she was experiencing. I did not let her down and she continues to feel confident that I will always show up for her.
Being a confident parent takes practice and we get better at it over time. One of the things I have learnt is to say what you mean and do what you say. I have been guilty of saying that I will be doing something whether it is a reward for good behaviour or a punishment for bad behaviour and when the time comes, I do something else. After repeating this behaviour a few times, my words meant absolutely nothing to the girls.
Children must be able to trust our word as adults, they should know that we are serious about discipline and following through is important for them to develop trust and respect for us.
It is often very easy to “lose it” when life in general brings its challenges. It doesn't help that some of us grew up with parents or guardians who showed their authority by raising their voices. The older I got, the more I realised that those methods were not having any impact at all on me; as a matter of fact I felt that it made adults look weak. Remaining calm even in the most stressful situations may be hard but I have discovered that a calm and measured tone is way more effective than uncontrolled shouting. Being calm assures your children that you are in control. Be mindful though that silence or being too quiet may be read as passive, so ensure that you create balance.
Remember that a confident parent is not born but is developed over time through observation of best practices, and hands-on practice. A confident parent is mindful that she or he has nothing to prove to anyone but themselves, and they are in charge. A confident parent raises confident children with a balanced and empathetic hand, without threats or shouting, and is patient with self, knowing that to parent is to engage in lifelong learning.
Finally, be kind to yourselves when your parenting style is less than perfect, and feel comfortable showing your vulnerability to your children. Be confident that you are a great parent and that you are raising the next generation of healthy, confident, and happy parents.
Coleen Antoinette is a mother of two girls, an educator and arts marketing professional. She is the director of marketing and communications at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.