Per Ardua Ad Astra!
The Alexandra School celebrates its Founders week from September 24th to October 1st, this year. We use the opportunity to trek back to our beautiful school grounds as well as to participate in social and community activities.
This coming Saturday, the 24th, the Old Scholars kick off the week with a football match at 3:30 in the afternoon. Alexandra has long been known to offer the best of all worlds, so the football is followed by a cricket match at 7:30.
During our week of celebrations, we will lime under the bamboos, assist with morning assemblies and, for the believers among us, we worship too. Do check the Alumni Facebook page for all the details.
Speaking of Facebook, I saw a very positive use of the medium this week and I thought it was worth highlighting. There is a petition which has been started by a young Barbadian male, Cardinal Fields. He has a toddler daughter but, in his mind, is not getting enough access to her as a father.
So moved and frustrated is Fields that he has started a petition on the change.org forum to be delivered to Madame Justice Pamela Beckles. Change.org is a worldwide petition facility where various people launch issues which they want to gain public support for.
I am delighted that this young father has flung off the carpet under which we have placed the issues of child maintenance and child access. He has used a world forum to mount his plea to have his right to raise his child, honoured.
This is one of the many issues which we have not brought to an acceptable conclusion in Barbados. For years, we have not been able to create a streamlined collection and distribution of child maintenance. We have also not been able to address the issues of access.
The first point to understand about child maintenance and child access is that they are not the rights of the adult. They are the rights of the child. If we centre the child as the important variable in child access and child maintenance issues, we would make further progress. It would take the two issues out of the acrimony which can arise when a romantic relationship has ended.
Each child needs financial provision to ensure that they can eat, be sheltered and pursue education. Perhaps more important than financial facilitation, each child needs the emotional support of his family unit – as much of that family unit as is available.
The concept of the family unit has become stuck in Barbados. There have not been significant changes in the concepts about family and the roles of family members overtime. Ironically, there have been some changes in the practical applications of family roles. We are slowly moving away from seeing child-rearing as only the responsibility of mothers.
Although the nuclear family is not yet seen as the normal structure, there are more men who are asking for a place in the family structure beyond being bread provider. The result of all this, is that we have definitions of family and family roles which have become historically shaped into our cultures and practice.
We also have more Barbadian men and fathers who are rejecting the roles as they are currently constructed and asking for redefinitions. Women stand to benefit substantially if the family roles are readjusted but sadly women are sometimes the ones who are foremost in the preservation of the traditional family roles.
I have said before in this column that too many Barbadian women are still having children either as a means of financial empowerment, to trap a man into a relationship or as ‘oops’ moments. When motherhood is entered as a conscious decision, the child created becomes the primary focus.
It is then easier to negotiate a parenting partnership, whether an intimate relationship peters out or not because there is a commitment to provide for the child. This is different from when children are created to trap a man into a relationship, or when ‘oops’ babies come along.
It is also different from when a woman gets pregnant solely to make herself eligible for parts of a man’s monthly pay cheque. These types of parenting circumstances create resentment and conflict and oft times the needs of the child are second place to the other cross stories and drama going on.
When a woman gets pregnant for a man without first talking to him about whether he wants children, or what are his parenting values, or even if he wishes his child to be in athletics or cub scouts, there is a situation of force created.
All men cannot handle that.
Some of them are not then able to rise to the responsibility and expectations of fatherhood. This cannot be completely the fault of the man in the situation.
There are women who become involved with men who express clearly that they do not want any more children or that they do not want children from the particular arrangement or relationship. The women ignore the request of the man and becomes pregnant.
It is obvious that forcing a man to become a father in this manner is not the best way to start a parenting relationship. Men too, though, must learn that not every woman should be trusted for sexual relations without condoms.
It is all of these complicated factors which we must seek to reengineer as a part of solving the issues of child access and child maintenance. The fact is that many of the women who become mothers in Barbados have not themselves grown with any or an effective father figure. Some of them, thus, do not have an understanding of how a man parents a child and when they become mothers, they perpetuate traditional behaviours.
It is this very complicated and messy issue which one young man has challenged us to pay attention to. He wants to kiss his daughter and watch her take her first steps.
He wants to hug her. I think he should be given the opportunity to. Our nation will only be as strong as our weakest family is.
Due to historical and other factors, the family structure in Barbados has left mothers as the primary parents but I believe our children would be better served if this reality changes.
What we must do is have a conversation about how best we can change. We must be honest about what are the current challenges in parenting and then we must reshape the undesirable until we get what we want.
Above all, ladies, we have to accept that men have a right to a choice to be a parent or not and then the right to parent his child once he bears one.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email mhindslaynegmail.com)