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Resurrect the fireplace tradition in families

Of late, I have observed a consistent habit in my two-year-old girl.

For whichever thing you tell her to do, the response is one: why? The word ‘why’ punctuates her response to literally every instruction given to her – whether it is a call to have her meals, a reminder to take a nap or even a rebuke. This is characteristic of most, if not all, children.

Some may never have the opportunity to ask ‘why’ because it is traditionally sacrilegious for a child to respond to an elder.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t take away their questions. This reminds me of my time serving in child ministry in partnership with Compassion International. We implemented age-appropriate programmes to achieve deliberate outcomes in the lives of vulnerable children.

Again, the memory that stands out most is my interaction with the youths. They had so many ‘why’ and ‘is it true’ questions. They wanted to know why we pushed them for excellent performance, why we could not just let them be and so many other questions about life, purpose and destiny.

Each time we went into reproductive health sessions, they had so many ‘is it true’ questions. Many times I found myself torn between getting angry and patiently answering their questions. Some of their questions were outright evidence of a generation that had lost its innocence.

“Is it true that when you have sex while you are standing you cannot get pregnant?” they would ask.

“Is it true that lack of sex causes back pain?” These and many more were typical of the issues they raised during question-and-answer sessions.

Beyond the thought of a generation devoid of innocence lay a bare fact that we live at a time of many questions, but with few or no answers. Unless the right people take charge to give respective answers, the wrong people will.

Like my little daughter who is continuously asking me ‘why’, children have very many questions. These questions range from the reason for their existence, truth, myths and the life after now. This quest for answers is irrespective of age.

So, who is answering the ‘whys’ in your child’s life? In the olden days, children had an opportunity to interact with their parents – especially mothers. Mothers concentrated on homemaking and child upbringing.

Around the fireplace, they told their children stories and taught them about their cultures and values. But times have changed. Today, most children do not know what the kitchen means. Electric gadgets and gas cookers have continually replaced our typical cooking stones.

A mother’s nails are so neatly manicured that a session in the kitchen means messing up her nail varnish. The popularity of fast foods is killing the culture of long hours of cooking.

It is trendier to help yourself with something quick and fast each time the pangs of hunger set in. Slowly, the ‘family meal time’ tradition is being sacrificed.

When then do families ever sit together just to talk? The only available time together is when they gather around the television to watch their favorite programme.

Ironically during that time, the instructions are clear: maximum silence. No one wants to miss a line of the show. Is it then any wonder that our children are becoming more antisocial? We have left them to find solace and answers in the smartphones our jobs are able to provide.

We may not get back the traditional fireplace time, but each home can reinvent a custom that facilitates consistent interactions.

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