By Bamidele Salako
I grew up almost always being told I was no good even though I was brilliant academically. But I was a menace – a deviant. The more I got beaten and talked down on – the worse I got.
So even when my academic performance got me the prefect’s badge, my mum (who is an angel btw but didn’t know better at the time) told me, “Prefect’s badge that you will soon misbehave and they’ll take away from you.” True to form, a week after her “prophecy” an incident happened in class that I was not directly responsible for but still got stripped of the badge because my seat was in the vicinity of the occurrence and it was assumed I was in concert with the perpetrators.
Now several more events like this caused a far-reaching psychological damage that in my 20s when I had even become better-behaved and more introspective, I never thought I deserved good or that good would come and that even if it did, I’d lose it. It was a defeatist mind-set that was self-sabotaging. Whenever minor opportunities came, I worked hard to distinguish myself. Whenever the resultant promotion came, I’d be hampered by a deadly impostor mentality that made me think, “I will soon mess up grandly and fall below expectation and lose this.” Then I’d think up reasons why I wasn’t good enough to accept this promotion or why someone else was better poised and more deserving.
So people told me how there was something special about me, how I was marked for greatness, and how exceptionally talented I was and should be doing great things. But I never saw it myself.
That “no-good” rhetoric that was drummed relentlessly into my ears as a child became an entrenched and more believable narrative. I mean, an uncle once told me to my face that I was so worthless he wouldn’t consider paying five naira for me if I was up for sale. These were vitriolic comments that attacked the core of my being and eroded my sense of self-worth and confidence.
It became so bad in adulthood, people would recommend me for jobs and I’d decline because I was afraid this was too good for me and that I’d eventually just run foul of expectation and be found out as a hack – even though I really did have the capacity to execute this job. I always second-guessed myself. People saw greatness in me – I didn’t.
My fears about my inadequacies were always louder than my faith in my strengths. Why? Because as a recalcitrant child, my relationship with the adult influences in my life was purely transactional. When I did bad, I was scolded or beaten blue-black. When I did good – I didn’t get any praises. So I thought I was altogether no good at all.
Church also introduced me to a despotic and angry God that was out to get me if I ran foul of his laws. As long as I was good, God was good – if I was bad, He came for me. I was taught God could make you sick to get your attention. I was told of men who didn’t heed God’s call and God took away their jobs or killed their families through accidents or illness just to get his chosen man’s attention.
I mean I knew folk who loved people that didn’t love them back but would still lose an arm and foot just to demonstrate their love and capture the other’s affections: but the teachings I heard told me God was holiest of all but these people who kept loving even though it was unrequited were obviously better than God.
I mean we were told God loved us but I just never understood what that meant for a long, long time. My faux relationship with God had a big cloud of fear, the size of Australia, hanging over it. My devotion was for a long time compelled more by fear than by love.
I mean when you had list upon list of to-dos to placate God and stay in his good books. I mean nothing came for free in this God’s economy. You had to do to get. Nothing except what we were told was the most important thing – his son, Jesus. He gave Jesus for free as a visa into His paradise but once you got in there – you had to EARN your coin. And God was unquestionable. He sounded more like Hitler than a saviour. It was like he saved us yeah, but we had to pay every dime of that blood that was shed or lose the salvation.
But I know better now.
Nothing could be more toxic for the growth and development of a child than a deathly cocktail of awful parenting (not just by parents but also by guardians, teachers and other adult influences in a child’s life) and an inaccurate knowledge of God – one who I have now found to be truly good and highly misrepresented.
I mean parents have a responsibility to build their children and are largely responsible for how they turn out in life. Parents are not to tear their kids down with hateful and resentful words that erode kids’ confidence in themselves and their ability to make something good of their own lives.
My sociology class taught me that a child is born a biological being and then progresses to becoming a social being through various socialising influences. And the first and primal agent of socialisaton that the child comes in contact with (in ideal settings) is its family – parents and siblings if there are any. The strength of this foundation determines the quality and strength of the superstructure that eventually sits on it.
The values, norms and principles that the child is introduced to at home become the filters that govern how he responds to other agents of socialisation like teachers, various peer groups and the media, when he becomes exposed to them.
The words we speak over our children’s lives are seeds. You can’t sow thorns and reap apples. You can’t keep calling a child a failure and reap a successful child except that child comes in contact with an external socialising agent that that undoes the damage you did at home. And many in this country left their homes as damaged goods. Some reinvented themselves and others became domestic abusers, rapists, paedophiles, sadists, junkies, and more. Even the professionally successful ones never manage to shake off the demons of childhood. They become a terror to people at home or at work.
Parents need to climb down their moral high-horses and interact with their children. Talk to them in a language they can relate with. Become acquainted with their struggles and the peculiarities of their generation. Be the last to give up on them – meaning – don’t ever! Punish their wrong but celebrate their good even more. Reward them for doing good in such a way that doing wrong loses its allure.
Be mild, tender and gentle. Nigerian men need to learn this. You can barely find a Nigerian man whose dad hugged him and told him he loved him. And so what you get is a transgenerational cycle of macho unfeeling men who can’t inspire confidence in their kids through warmth and affection. Don’t call each other names at all – let alone before your children. Values are being communicated.
This nation is what it is, marriages in this nation are what they are, in no small part, because of dysfunction in many, many homes. We can’t change the past but we can create a better future. Each one can make a pledge to fill their children’s lives – starting from today with confidence, love, blessings and positivity rather than fear, doubt, hate and bile.
Let’s heal our homes. So help us God.