Politics aren’t always just about elected officials, legislation and astro-turf. I’ve realized over time that politics are everywhere, including in today’s world of parenting. Too many of us are quick to judge the decisions of other parents — are you a stay-at-home parent or do you work full-time? Are you somewhere in the middle or are you a non-custodial parent? I was reminded the other day that some parents are even critical in the very early days of our child’s lives, saying things like, “You mean you sent her to daycare and not preschool?!”
There are so many venues for the now infamous “mommy wars.” But Africa isn’t one of them. I’m no expert, but I think it’s probably safe to say that most families in most African countries don’t have that luxury.
That reality hit home when I took a look at this amazing picture from Jen Lemen from her Picture Hope journey. At the moment, she and Stephanie Roberts are in Rwanda taking pictures and collecting stories that will remind those of us who are believe we have a corner on the hope and optimism market here in our comfy homes in our lovely neighborhoods that that really isn’t the case.
Just because life hasn’t dealt you the perfect hand, doesn’t mean hope doesn’t exist in most places in the world.
The photo today at the PBS SuperSisters site is a beautiful portrait of Jen and a 10-year-old Rwandan girl. And in talking with the girls there — girls who are only a few months older than PunditGirl — Jen reflects:
One of the things that strikes me about children in Africa is how independent and self-sufficient they are. Your average ten year old can navigate the bus system, go to the market to buy food, care for a younger sibling, wash clothes by hand and walk a good mile or two to carry water home for the entire family.
In light of this, she wonders — and now so do I — are we spoiling our children? Are we as parents too overprotective in our society? Even if we aren’t “helicopter parents,” are we doing our children a disservice by tending to them as we do and not letting them explore the beginnings of adult responsibility?
As I read her post, I couldn’t help but think of my slight bout of stress as PunditGirl boarded a big bus to travel to an all day outdoor camp this week. She’s never done this sort of activity before and has never traveled by herself so far without some parent in tow. I worried about whether there would be enough water and sunscreen, and about whether it was really safe for her to learn how to tip over in a kayak safely and whether I could trust the rope wing over the lake.
I’ve only left her at home alone once at this age, and that was to dash to the store 2 minutes down the street from my house for a box of pasta and only after I had lectured her for five minutes about not answering the door or the telephone and making sure she had my cell number.
When I was her age, I know I was more self-sufficient — I walked from my grandparents’ house to the post office in a rural area without anyone along. I worked in my family’s vegetable garden, could drive a tractor and pitch bales of hay. When I was a smidge older, I was helping to clean the house, cook meals and keep an eye on my two younger siblings during the hour or two of time after school when my parents were still both at work.
So Jen, as she always seems to do, has given me a lot of food for thought when it comes to raising daughters and how we can help them become the strong girls we hope they’ll be.