After giving Christian input to a secular US parenting magazine, I thought I’d never hear from them again. I was surprised when the reporter emailed me back with: “Thank you so much – this is really terrific.”
Here are the questions and my answers:
Q: Please tell me about things unique to your culture, specifically in regard to raising your children: Like are there certain stories, rituals, family traditions, practices, social gatherings, celebrations, spiritual beliefs, books and anything else?
A: My Dutch ancestors arrived in, what is today, Cape Town, South Africa, in the late 1600s. The Dutch settlement was a re-supply point and way station for the Dutch East India Company ships sailing between the Netherlands and the East Indies. These settlers later became known as Afrikaners.
Historically our children have been brought up to obey and respect authority. Dutch Reformed Christianity was entrenched in Afrikaner culture – we have a tradition called ‘Boekevat’ (taking the book), of parents (usually the father), reading from the Bible to his family. We still, after hundreds of years, practice this tradition in our family.
We have found that this tradition and our Christian beliefs have given our children a confidence and sense of belonging to the greater ‘Christian family’ worldwide. So when we have traveled with them to Zambia in Central Africa, or the USA, they have a natural affinity in connecting with their peers, whether they are AIDS orphans or children of wealthy families.
Story: My great, great grandmother was a cousin to President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic (gold coin – Kruger Rand, was named after him). It was said that as president he gave free land to the churches, but only half the portion to the Jews, because they only believed half the Bible. (People think this is funny where we come from, but I’m sure this would be frowned upon in other societies, even though it is just a tale.)
Q: Are there any (unique things mentioned in Q1) you find particularly beneficial to your children? – Specifically, are there ways (cultural / religious / unique to you) that you use to help your children gain a sense of positive belief in themselves? Or a sense of courage, inner power, or confidence?
A: South Africa is one of the most dangerous societies in the world; I have survived a terrorist attack, car stoning and attempted car-jacking. Our neighbor was stabbed in his home just before we left for the US in June last year. My children, while peering through the lounge window, saw the police arrest the stabber in our backyard.
This causes us to be over protective of our children. On arrival at the townhouse where we were living in Springfield, VA, my 9-year-old son was concerned because the townhouse had no burglar bars or security gates; needless to say, it took us months to settle at night and sleep through. At home we get up for any strange noise and go and check that the family is alright and no crime is about to take place.
Positive belief, confidence and courage are critical issues we keep reinforcing daily. We teach that life is not just about ourselves, but rather also serving others – this instills a sense of purpose or positive belief; confidence is built by getting the children to do things over and over again until they master what they are doing e.g. my two sons throw knives with their grandfather for hours.
Courage is instilled by letting our children do crazy things – well, we did not think they were crazy until we spent time in the US.
I asked my children how they thought they were being brought up differently to their US friends. These were some ideas:
– We are allowed to climb trees; the other boys in the townhouse complex may not
– The public pools don’t allow us to dive/jump off the high diving boards
– Some people were very concerned when they found my children walking over an iced creek in the forest in the US
– We were looking at a beautiful waterfall in the Shenandoah Valley and my 7-year-old son said: If we were back home, we’d be in that water, wouldn’t we?
– They have been taught to throw knives, shoot bows and arrows and fire real guns from 5- years-old onwards (under grown-up supervision when necessary)
– Camping, swimming in rivers and dams with snakes and leaches – all form part of our ‘fun’
– I remember some youths from the USA came to help at a mission base in Zambia; they had the time of their lives cutting undergrowth to make a road for vehicles. The fun included hanging on the roof racks of the vehicles while in motion – this got us Africans into so much trouble from our US counterparts – we did not even consider this to be ‘too dangerous’!
Q: I am looking forward to learning more about your experiences and culture. Also, I welcome you sharing about your own personal experiences of being raised and what was incredibly positive. The type of things you want (or do) to pass along to your children. Beliefs, books, rituals or anything unique that helped you become the unique person you are today and helped you feel good / think good thoughts. As an aside, I would also welcome your impressions of American parents and what they do really well, and what, overall, needs some possible improvement.
A: I was brought up outdoors, camping, hiking, swimming in rivers, dams, the sea, cycling, dirt motorcycling etc. – very different to most westernized societies, I think, where children spend a lot of time on computers. We have a more temperate climate, which lends itself to more outdoor activities.
We were overwhelmed by the kindness shown to us by US citizens in general – Americans are the most generous people in the world; the children are extremely eloquent in the way they communicate – we love this. Amongst the people we have rubbed shoulders with, a healthy attitude of giving is instilled in their children – the less fortunate are helped and supported.
It is concerning the amount of childhood disorders and mental health issues that appear in the US society. I’m not sure if they do or don’t exist in Africa or if we just are unaware of them – I don’t know what the solution to the challenges are, but back in Africa a good healthy dose of tree climbing, swimming in the dams and rivers, I’m sure would work wonders.