An Essay by Hakima A.
In many, if not most, areas in the world, having a child is a pretty big deal but not where I come from. In countries like Afghanistan, having a child is not a product of excitement, passion, plans or love. In my country children are often born because of biology, babies are not planned. In countries like the U.S., many parents read about having a baby, research, join groups and go to meetings. These people actually train and prepare for becoming a parent. Where I come from, there are many parents who don’t have the time or energy to care about what kind of example they are setting for their children.
In the U.S. many parents remind their children often of how much they are loved. People aren’t afraid to tell their children that they love them. Parents demonstrate to them how much they are loved and cared about by talking to them, having meals together and moms and dads ask their children how their day was. When it is time for bed they are reminded with a hug and a smile to brush their teeth, then the mom and dad together read bedtime stories or sing to their child or children and tell them again that they love them very much.
But in Afghanistan the phrase, “I love you” is considered something negative. Parents love their children, but for some reason they don’t confess it. Parents, mostly fathers, use fear as their tool. In most of the larger families, men and women eat separately. Parents don’t ask their children, how they are or what has been going on in their lives. In most families there is no such a thing as “talking” between parents and children. Prophet Ali once said, “Treat children like bosses when they are young” but Afghans don’t do that. It seems that only foreigners are following the rules and regulations of Islam and yet we continue to hate foreigners.
In countries like Afghanistan, children grow up in fear but in other lands parents work at not raising their voice to their children and many parents would never strike a child. Moms and dads both take care of the children. Children are taught from a young age to be calm, to not lie, and not hurt other people.
In countries like Afghanistan, children are considered property. People beat children, scare them, threaten them. A very basic example would be spilling water. Children in countries like the U.S usually aren’t afraid when they make a mistake. If they spill water, they will most likely say, “Oops! Sorry.” and that’s’ it and someone will bring a towel and dry the water. In Afghanistan it is different. When a child spills water, most likely he/she will run away, lie, blame it on someone else, start crying right away, or completely shut down due to shame and the fear of being beaten. If the Afghan mother or older sister or whoever is in charge of cleaning the house discovers the mistake made by the child, she will chase the child with a slipper whatever is handy. After beating the poor child, the mother or sister will clean up the water. Why? Why not take a shortcut and clean the mess? The answer is complicated.
Most of our parents’ generation is not educated. Many were raised by parents who beat them so that is how they believe children should be treated. Women are mostly the only ones in charge of cleaning up messes. They start before sunrise and finish up after sunset. Afghan women are often not healthy but even with health issues it is still not okay for women to have a break. In Afghan society, women are judged right away. People don’t tend to reflect and think about what the reason behind something might be. We Afghans seem to love conclusions, so we jump right to them. With all the pressure and stress of expectations and judgments from others, plus health issues and usually a lack of sleep because of long hours doing the household chores, women run out of tolerance early in the day. So, when a child makes a mistake, there is no tolerance or forgiveness and that is why the poor children are beaten for not being perfect. No one is perfect, not even adults.
As for men, there are expectations for men as well. Most of the fathers today are not educated, they spend the full day outside working hard either physically or mentally. Our biggest problem is believing in the stupid stereotype that men should be the only provider of the financial needs of the family. This is quite a big burden that men are expected to carry on their shoulders alone. This meaningless stereotype has been promoted so much by our people that men think of it as shameful if their wife works outside the home, or if the men help with the household chores. So, when the men come home tired after work, there is no tolerance for children or any mistakes.
Sometimes, brothers and uncles and cousins who are young and go to school, play with children and entertain them. But the problem is that they PLAY with children as if they are toys — pulling their cheeks, swinging them up high where it is completely out of their comfort zone, sometimes giving them wild spinning to the extent that they run out of breath, tickling them so much they have to cry for help. In some families, children are given funny names. Their speech is mocked, or they are interrupted and told to be quiet when they speak. Family members try to scare them, argue with them and many more practices that are NOT okay.
How children are treated sometimes depends on the financial status of families. When adults have too much stress over financial problems, they have less patience and that could be why children are treated in a negative way. The grown-ups take it out on the children. But stress about one’s economic situation shouldn’t and can’t be excuses for us distancing ourselves from love and respect. So, please, please, please, as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins the next time you interact with children please take a moment for reflection on how you are behaving towards them. Letting children speak, even if is slow and difficult to understand, being gentle with them, hugging them, reminding them with kindness to take action in protecting their health such as brushing teeth and washing hands, asking them if they are worried or sad about anything in particular, taking the time to listen to what they have to say, all of this is called respect. This should be our top priority, and all of this will help them become better, more successful, people in the future.
Psychology says physical touch, such as hugs and hand holding, can reduce stress and make one feel happier. These are some of the most essential necessities children in Afghanistan are hunting for and it is their right to have it. Telling them how much you love them will make a huge difference in their day. It will only take a second of your time, so don’t be afraid or hesitate to say it!
Today, many of us stutter, are nervous, forget, get stressed-out, when we have to give a presentation. Why? Because as children we were not given the chance to finish our sentences. Adults would become angry if we hesitated when we spoke. We were mocked, laughed at, made fun of in our childhood and due to all of that, today most of us have problems sharing ideas in public or more efficiently public speaking.
Today Afghanistan does not have powerful forces such as nuclear weapons or a well-trained/well-equipped army or any of that, however, we have two strong forces — the young generation of today and the children who will be the future of our country. So, please respect them as if they are the bosses because they will be bosses! Act in a way so that they are not afraid of making a mistake, speaking in public, coming up with ideas, being creative, acting and speaking with full self-confidence and less self-doubt.
My one and only request is that after reading this article, when you see a child from the family or neighbor, smile at them, ask them how they are doing and if possible, give them a gentle hug. Tell them you love them. Trust me, it will charge them with happiness!