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  • Writer's pictureThe Old Farmyard Forceleap Farm

Bringing up kids

We are over half-way through our time in Ghana, and it is as hard as I thought it would be, but also as rewarding. It is worth a bit of discomfort (says she, with sweat uncomfortably dripping down the back of her neck) to give the boys this unique opportunity.

You really do get such an insight from living with people who do things so differently and see the world through a completely different lens. In recent weeks, I have been having various lively debates with James and Ma about bringing up children. It is fascinating to hear their impressions of my boy’s up bringing compared to their own. It is certainly true that their children are far more obedient (or subservient) to their parents than mine! I rarely see children here answer back, argue or complain and if they are told to do something, generally they just do it. In contrast, mine always have something to say! For them every instruction is a challenge or the start of a new negotiation. For example,

Mummy: Can you get your bag ready for school,

Kids: If you can ask Jeff to take us to school on the motorbike, or

Mummy: You can have 10 minutes each on the Tablet

Kids: 20 minutes?

Everything is a debate, and the fact that their opinion is even acknowledged, let alone considered, is a pretty alien concept here. I was explaining about ADHD the other day, and James’s response was to laugh and say that this kind of thing does not really exist here, you either have a stubborn child, or a calm child. A child being stubborn is being disrespectful, a cardinal sin here. But it is not all one way, in some ways my boy’s less repressive upbringing, means they are doing far better than the children here. As they have not been crushed, they are more outgoing and don’t disappear into their shell. They are willing to have a go, give their opinion, have original ideas, even if it backfires sometimes. Ma has really taken Toby under her wing, and he loves doing jobs with her. She is teaching him to light fires, help with cooking, looking after the animals and they have just disappeared on a motorbike to go and winnow beans.

She finds him good company, and complains that her kids don’t show any interest in learning these things with her. Everyone loves Mikey, and he is often found surrounded by kids making bracelets or playing football.

James has said that he has enjoyed some deep and meaningful conversations with both boys, and is amazed by how much is going on in their heads. Both James and Ma have also commented that they can’t believe how much time the boys spend reading books for fun, their kids never read apart from at school. But mostly they say that everyone is genuinely impressed that Toby and Mikey have coped with being in Langbinsi at all. They really thought that if I bought white kids here, it would end in tears, and they predicted they might last a week! So, I think it is fair to say that my kids are no better or worse than the kids here, just different. It is amazing to me that, even by this age, how different their approach to life is. One of the things I have enjoyed is sharing all these thoughts with Ma. I think her best advice to me about parenting, has been to slow down. Realize that it is a long-term process and, in her words, “You will not conclude today!” It is like a brick wall, layers of effort and gradually you develop their thinking, bit by bit, year by year. She also keeps saying, “Alice you can’t do this alone, it is not possible.” Her view is that every adult has a role to play with every child they come across, and she is constantly looking at how she can support my boys, giving them bits of advice, comforting them, or just finding things for them to do that they like. That is a very African approach to child development, the basic philosophy being, that it takes a village to bring up a child. It sounds idyllic, but it is not like they have all the answers! I guess my impression of the African parenting style would be that it is very strict and based on fear. But it is ever evolving. James tells me that the way he brings his children up today, compared to the way he was bought up, is radically different. At school there are canes, which my kids are obsessed with.

Although it is perfectly legal and normal here to use them, the teachers are actively discouraged from caning, as it makes parent meetings extremely tricky! Some parents turn up each time and say, “I am taking my child away, as your teacher beat my child and I don’t agree”, but an equal number arrive saying, “I am taking my child away, as you do not beat the children enough, and so I am not happy they are being disciplined adequately!” So, I guess you can never get it right!

I have had a few queries about the boys health. But glad to report so far, so good. The only real issue I have had is skin infections. Toby got swiped by a mango branch when he was on a motorbike and cut his cheek but Mikey, who has eczema anyway, has had real difficulties with his eczema getting infected and he had sores all over his body.

Despite me applying all his normal eczema cream it just got worse and worse. So last week I asked Ma if we should not take him to the Clinic for the medical officer to look at. Instead, one evening as the sun was setting she took me to a friend who is a pharmacist. He took one look and instantly said, "he needs triple action". This is an antifungal, anti bacterial and anti inflammatory cream, all in one! Well it has truly done a great job and we are going the right way now, which is relief. The sores are drying up and some have disappeared. Whilst we were talking to the pharmacist, there was a whizz and a large drone shot over our heads at about 200 ft. I was like, "What on earth is that!" and I was told it was the drone health service delivering medication and bloods to the clinic and hospital. What a great use of modern technology! The hospital can get any anti venom or less used medication sent up from Tamale with one telephone call. Now, that is what I call development is, a really positive change!

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