Motherhood: What I am trying to teach my daughter

by Josephine Namusisi-Riley

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Josephine Namusisi-Riley gives an honest and moving account of motherhood and the challenges of protecting a child’s innocence while instilling awareness

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Josephine and her 16-year-old daughter in New York

I am a mother.

And now a blogger. Let me start with a confession. I can’t remember the number of times I made a start on this but pressed delete.  There are many people who are better qualified to write about gender equality; doctors, therapists, victims, survivors – but I have decided to write from my personal perspective about my own reflections, experiences and challenges to date.

The biggest challenge at the moment is not my new job although that is also high up there. It is way more challenging and it is this – parenting my 16 year old daughter.

She is sassy and stylish, independent and strong. She loves dressing in grey and black, looking smart and making her own choices. Her clothes all look the same to me, yet she says she looks different in each and every one of them. “Oh, mummy you don’t understand, grey is the new black!”

How am I going to ensure that she appreciates the abundance that growing up in the UK offers, but remains sensible and keeps safe? The jungle here is online, the danger, sleek and sassy, just like her. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snap-chat and yes, these are probably yesterday’s apps as new new ones become available, cooler, free and offering all the things that the youth are into.

As a young woman, my upbringing was not much different from the rest of my peers. Poverty, hard work and domestic violence, sometimes it took me three days to travel to school. But I persevered and saw the journey through and here I am, trying to guide my daughter through a much smoother route.

Josephine age 16 (left) and her daughter aged 16.

Josephine age 16 (left) and her daughter aged 16.

Throughout my childhood and for a very long time, I knew that I did not want to get married. This is the single thing I was absolutely sure about. Why? Every single woman I knew who was married, was miserable. I don’t know whether being a girl exposed me to the woes of my kind, but their suffering at the hands of their husbands left me determined not to follow the same path.

I had seen my parents laugh one day and then the next, watch in horror, as my father attacked, beat and walked all over my mother. I could not begin to comprehend it. What I knew, was that I loved the laughter filled days and basked in those moments, but absolutely loathed the violent days. My father was an elegant, charming and handsome man and when he was good, he was amazing. When he was drunk and abusive, he was unrecognisable.

A colleague once described me as a very nice person, but went on to say that they would not like to step on my toes. That was about 20 years ago, but I will never forget that moment. It is the first time someone had described me correctly. These were and still are, the two sides of my coin.

As a young girl, I failed to distinguish between the two sides of the marriage coin. The dark, nasty, violent side and the warm, loving side. I decided that the best thing to do was to avoid marriage all together. Did I succeed? No! I have been happily married for 10 years now. Life and marriage is still tough but I am not disrespected or abused and I feel most complete and happy when I am walking beside my husband.

When my teenage daughter tells her friends that she has never seen her parents argue, they think we are weird. I think we are weird and wonderful because we chose to live our life by the sparkly side of the marriage coin. At my traditional wedding when relatives were giving me unsolicited advice, I flatly refused to agree that I would put up with abuse of any form from my husband for the sake of marriage. I promptly informed everyone that I would leave my husband if he so much as kissed his teeth at me. Everyone said I was way too westernised. Fine by me.

I have listened to my daughter’s many debates with her siblings, my friends and her friends and my proudest moment is when I hear her describe the ideal of marriage. She sees no point in getting married for anything else other than love. Of course, there are other things that come into play, but why aspire for less? Although her upbringing to date has not exposed her to domestic violence or the dark side of the marriage coin, she understands that it exists.

So as a mother raising the next generation, I feel a tremendous amount of anxiety for my children. I want them to be happy, productive human beings but at the same time be empowered and let people know they should not be crossed. Subtle but clear. How do I teach them to communicate this without a word or action? While I search for a solution, I have decided to fill my home with laughter and love.

We talk about anything and everything because I know being able to communicate is one of the essential life skills. As a child, I just listened. As a mother, I love giving my children a voice.

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