I embrace a hearty Nature versus Nurture exploration. It is partly why I got a degree in Psychology for my undergraduate work. I read every book I can find about identical twins that are raised apart then reunited later in life. They almost always make similar choices in their lives. Fascinating! I believe I am hard wired by God to bend in a specific way that he has designed for my life. I also know He has allowed all sorts of people, experiences, and places to influence my bend. The result is quite unique for every person walking this earth. But whoever I become is no surprise to God. He’s seen the end from the beginning. He’s using me, allowing me to influence what is hardwired into my five children. My job is to help them find their bend and keep them safely in that direction. I count it as such an honor.
When I watch our Kira grow I am fascinated by her nature versus nurture situation. She’s pure Ugandan blood raised in a culture completely different from her genetic placement. What’s interesting is I can regularly observe her among children in Uganda. Her behavior at age four is a complete contrast from the Ugandan children. She opens her mouth and an American accent spills out. More than that all of her mind finds its way to words, oftentimes shocking. The filter hasn’t been installed. Her body language is confident and in charge. Her impulse to share her mind is too quick to be caught by any taught formula of manners that we have sought to instill. It is coming slowly but mostly she’s free to share because I am interested in learning who she really is inside that spunky personality. She’s not only free to question me she is encouraged. I answer her honestly and completely so she understands why I ask her to change and what I expect her to do. I am willing to have a conversation about why she can’t wear her Beauty and the Beast wig to school. Though we correct her and she listens, practices, and usually respects our guidance, her impulses remain very strong, and they get her in regular trouble.
I’ve got consistency practiced by the fifth child, so when I choose to say no, there’s nothing that will change my mind. I’m careful though about using the full stop. Whenever possible I try to see if what she wants might be possible. It’s cruel to shut down her every wish and impulse just because it inconveniences me. Over the twenty-one years I’ve been parenting I’ve learned to pause when asked for something and honor the request with a full consideration before I answer. With teenagers, the first answer is always, “I have to think about it.” And I really have to think hard sometimes to out smart them.
I want Kira to develop self-control but I don’t expect her to have it at age four. Most important to me is that she explores herself, her mind, her feelings and she doesn’t feel shame associated with them. I want her to express herself. I learn about the bend God has given her when I watch her raw behavior. Gradually as we raise her we will curb that mean edge, soften the harsh tone, teach a little humility, set a boundary around expectations and build a fortress against the nitty-gritty of her strong will. She’ll figure out she isn’t my boss soon enough. Actually, she now seems to believe she is my assistant. That’s progress right there! I can see from the twenty-year-olds we are raising that self-control is an ongoing process. She doesn’t have to have perfect manners at age four. I’ll give her some wiggle room and grace.
Her behavior among Ugandan children is astonishing to the elders. They giggle and gasp because they know she’s raised American. But she would get regular beatings in that culture until she conformed. A good child in Uganda kneels to greet adults, is quiet unless spoken to and obeys without questions. If they don’t do that they are labeled “stubborn” and then shaped with a regular caning. It is their way and I won’t judge them for it. In our Kirabo Seeds home we reserve spankings for specific consequences not as a regular means of discipline. We use positive reinforcement, encouragement, time outs, counseling and unconditional love to shape the children. It has been working beautifully. The staff doubted me when I introduced the system, but when they saw it work they said it was a miracle! As a result our children are confident, they feel valued, understood and greatly loved. They are secure. When they do something like brawl with one another they get a spank but they don’t feel “beaten”. And they get a long counseling session to understand fully what they have done wrong and why it is wrong. Mostly they work towards excellent behavior to earn rewards. Children love praise and recognition.
I’ve brought Kira to Uganda with me every three months since she was one and a half. The whole family there has watched me discipline this child in every way. The most interesting to them was the practice of time out. They have never heard of it. Kira would have one of her colossal fits, shocking everyone, so I’d pick her up, put her in a chair and say, “stay there until I come get you. Get yourself calm.” I mostly ignored her while she misbehaved wearing her angry eyes. She would cry and flail but not get out of the chair. After a while she was ready to join the others and willing to apologize. Auntie Julie said, “I can’t believe how well that worked. I didn’t expect her to stay there.” She needs the separation to feel her emotions, let them simmer down and then forget what the big deal was in the first place. Missing all the fun she hears wasn’t worth the trouble. So they began to use timeout with the younger children at home. They would send one to his bed without any thing to do and it was near torture for them to be separated from all the fun. They begged for a spank to get it over with so they wouldn’t miss the play. Timeout worked!
When Kira greets someone she doesn’t know she used to growl. Actually she was known to hiss like a cat. I’m fairly sure when she’s ten she’ll know how to greet adults. I’m more concerned with understanding what she’s afraid of now and why she feels she should defend herself with a hiss. That’s what I need to address more than the fact that she surprised a stranger who probably got a little too close to her personal space. People in Uganda always touch her in a way that looks like a playful jab before saying hello. She does not welcome that. People in America sometimes pounce on her socially because she is so unique and she doesn’t actually want all that attention. I might hiss too.
Ugandans see how delightfully free Kira is to be herself and they marvel at it. She isn’t stuffed into a form and expected to conform, at least not all at once. Her personality is big and colorful and she’s hysterical. The children in our home love to imitate her accent and use her American sayings. I’m not saying the American parenting result is better. One thing every visitor to Uganda will appreciate is the excellent manners children display. They are polite, quiet, respectful, and obedient. I never see a child misbehave in public or talk back to an adult. Ever. That comes at a high price to the child. Ugandan children’s public manners are delightful to experience especially when you don’t know how they are achieved.
The Watoto church offered a month long parenting seminar and Robert and Phiona were so excited to participate! They are eager to learn more about positive parenting and break out of the cycle of traditional Ugandan upbringing (the cane). The point is that the bible has a lot to say about how to raise children. With the bible as a guide, culture goes in the back seat. It doesn’t matter if I’m American or Ugandan when the bible is clear about how to go. I’m safest if I go God’s way. With the bible as the bottom line of our guiding principles at Kirabo Seeds we can proceed despite our cultural differences and find God’s design for this ministry. What may seem impossible, we learn the promise God gives is true: “Train them up in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.”