Grace Okore was at work when she got a call that her son, 16, had disappeared. The previous night, they had had an argument where she was insisting he had to shower every day and he got angry.
“His suitcase was missing. He had taken some of his favourite personal items. It was clear that he had thought through everything and planned for it,” she says.
He was later found at his friend’s place, but a few weeks later, he ran away again.
“I felt like I could not understand him. I had tried talking to him and we were even thinking of taking him for counselling. I realised I also needed guidance on how to parent a troublesome child,” she says.
Okore registered for a parenting class and says she has now mastered the art of parenting.
“I was made aware that I was too protective and I was projecting my fears to my children. Parenting classes also taught me to allow my children to learn from their mistakes,” she says.
The number of so-called parenting coaches is increasing over the years. Posters bearing promises to teach parents how to handle teenagers, manage conflict among siblings and know if their child is using drugs make rounds online and on billboards.
Many parents now admit that handling the pressure of parenthood can be overwhelming and they are exploring options available to help them become better parents, including hiring a coach.
Dr Stanley Mukolwe, founder of ‘Raising Future Parents’, an organisation that runs parenting courses, says almost 80 per cent of the cases of parents who are struggling with parenting are carrying baggage from their past.
“In dealing with parents over the last 28 years, I have discovered that a majority of Kenyan homes are dysfunctional. This is an environment where many children are being raised. In many cases, children are left to frustrated house girls,” says Mukolwe.
Mike Theuri and his wife have been going for parenting classes annually. They say what pushed them into going for a parenting class was having a child with special needs.
“Our first son is autistic. We did not get a diagnosis until he was about five. We struggled to contain him, to discipline him and to make him act like a normal child. It was confusing,” he says.
One incident that happened in their church made them seek help. Their son slipped from their watch and went straight to the altar where communion was being prepared. He pushed the table and Theuri says he still remembers the murmurs and gasps from the congregation, with many people accusing them of spoiling their child.
“I went and grabbed him from the altar. I was hitting him, even though people were trying to restrain me. All the anger I had of how I was failing as a parent could not be contained. I hated being a father,” he says.
It is through a counsellor at the parenting classes that they started noticing that their son had a disorder.
The issue of how parenting should be done has been the subject of many studies and discussions. This week, as sports lovers mourned the death of legendary US basketball player Kobe Bryant, one of the most discussed aspects of his life was the bond he seemed to have cemented with his children.
In Kenya, it resurrected the debate on the kind of parenting that works and whether being authoritarian is the way to go.
“I wish my parents were that close to us. I grew up fearing my father and not knowing how to talk to him,” said Angeline Wasuka on her social media post that attracted a lot of comments from people sharing their experiences on how their parents were conditioned to be harsh and distant, and the effect it had on them.
“Every time my mother beat me for a mistake I did, and for every humiliation I got for something petty, I vowed to parent my child differently,” said an online user who added that she has never caned her children.
Recent cases of children committing suicide when confronted with stressful issues have even put more pressure on parents when it comes to discipline methods that work.
Dr Susan Gitau, a counselling psychologist and chair of the department of counselling and psychology at Africa Nazarene University says when a child is threatening suicide, there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
“Some of the children could have accumulated a lot of anger in their past, and this anger comes out in the form of them thinking: ‘I want to revenge, but I don’t know how to’,” she says.
Gitau advises parents not to ignore any threats, saying children never have a view of the bigger picture, so they are likely to proceed with the act.
Fedora Mwaka, a social worker, says many cases of drug abuse stem from a past of poor parenting. She blames the current economic times for the crumbling of family units.
“I handle cases of parents who are so busy they cannot even remember their children’s date of birth. They are looking for money to help the children survive, then they lose them to things like drugs because they were not there to guide them,” she says.
Mwaka says no matter how many parenting classes are held, there is nothing that can replace being present when it comes to raising children.