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Power of telling our children stories of success, sacrifice

 Power of telling our children stories of success, sacrifice  (Photo: iStock)

Michael Hopf in his postpocalyptic novel, Those Who Remain, gave us the famous line; “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” It describes a cyclic wave down generations where success ultimately breeds failure in subsequent generations.

The above quote can be found among Africans in the form of; fire begets ash. The English have “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”. Japanese came up with, “Rice paddies to rice paddies in three generations.” The Scotts say “The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells and his son begs.”

A generation is all the people who live at the same time and is always regarded or grouped in 20 to 30-year groups. Let me go with 25 years, the time it takes for a child to be able to lead a household. Why do things go south from the third generation?

The general and specific reasons why things take a wrong turn from the third generation are many. Hard times will indeed push people to make great sacrifices and easy times lead to an attitude that all is well and will always be well. The first generation will work hard and their children will experience the process whole and raw; drama, pain and the joy of progress when they enjoy an easier adulthood.

Grandchildren will not have any idea of the struggle their grandparents went through. They know the life of plenty and ease. They never had to forego some things and see their parents sell off the property to put up the family home. To them, the family home has always been there. Their parents or grandchildren did not do enough to make it more magnificent like their wealthier family friends.  

The children of parents who struggled through hardship learn about money early enough. Their parents do not teach it intentionally, but their relationship with money rubs off on the children. It doesn’t matter how successful they become, their relationship with money will be guarded and thrifty. They also value work as a means to earn a living. The third generation find that most of the older family members do not have to work for money. Some money was set aside earlier and is working for them. However, they fail to connect the two seasons because they did not live it.

Bringing up children in lack is also very challenging. Money makes it easier for us to raise our children into responsible well-balanced adults. We can take them to good schools and expose them to high-value networks. As you grow in wealth, money stops being an enabler to good parenting. An increase in your net worth begins to be a disadvantage in the raising of good children. The main mark is knowing the elastic limit, where more money becomes a liability and then stops.

Meanwhile, we know that poor neighbourhoods also ruin children. There is sex and early pregnancy that comes up close to children at a very early age. Drugs are also dragged into the neighbourhood by older residents who have lost their tangent. Meanwhile, the exceptions, who break away from the cycle move away very fast taking their good reality with them depriving children of their positive reality of grinding out of the mire.

We have heard the stories from Nairobi’s middle-class neighbourhoods like Buruburu and Langata where children hang around idling in the neighbourhood, go back to eat at home and then go to bed drunk in the guest wing. All while waiting for the parents to pass away so that they can inherit the house. Both extremes of lack and wealth are challenging to parents.

The economic Law of Diminishing Returns says that at some point, increasing factors of production do not correspond to earlier increases in production. That point where the more you add an input, the less it increases production based on your expectations. More push can result in a drop, acquisition of money in relation to parenting should take note of the point of diminishing returns.

At that point, what money can buy stops making you happier and excited. Meanwhile, it is difficult to tell a child “NO” when you have three top-of-the-range cars parked outside your magnificent house. The power to invoke, “we cannot afford it” is gone most likely with compensation for not spending time with the children.

How do we beat this? Stories, telling our stories to our children and grandchildren. Stories are powerful, they shape our feelings and perceptions more than facts and figures. We use stories to recall facts because our knowledge is based on stories we have heard before and internalised.

This brings another challenge; more money drives barriers between family members. The emotional energy required to change the fortunes to a first-generation “millionaire” doesn’t leave much for stronger family ties. Millennials and Gen Z are more guilty here where even the not-so-economically endowed do not see the value of cross-generational relationships with “toxic” and “narcissistic” being thrown around to kill chances of restoring relationships.

There may be older people to tell the stories, but there are no young ears to listen. If the ears come, they come prejudiced to the backwardness and not-so-important historical facts. Then the fire is snuffed out leaving behind ash.

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