I sit in the trenches of life as a silent observer. I see things. I hear things. I learn things. And then I speak. For your child’s sake, I must speak.
Your daughter is propped on a wooden bench. Her eyes are misty, her shoulders drooped, her hair in a slightly tumbled mess. The afternoon sun blazes down on her with gusto. She thinks long and hard. She has never been more frustrated or angry in her life. See, the previous day when she got home late from work, you assumed she had been out with men- AGAIN. In your typical fashion, you cussed and called her all sorts of names; the most polite of which was “Malaya (prostitute).” You accused her of hobnobbing with a bevy of unsavory men. You told her to leave your home with immediate effect. You muttered about what a disgrace she has become. And then you capped it off with an emphatic- GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! And that she did.
She climbs into her rickety salon car- aged from its numerous handlers and owners. Your daughter’s job cannot afford her luxuries like a new car. She can only afford this fifth hand Toyota. She clamors into the relative safety of her beaten car and drives off. Thankfully, her Masaai blanket is folded on the backseat of the little car. What a welcome relief it is for her! At least tonight, she will have respite from the cold. She drives to the middle of town. The mall is still open. She tucks the car into a corner of the parking lot. Couples holding hands pass by. Groups of friends engaged in loud conversation cackle with laughter. Loud music blares through the brisk night. She glances out of the car windows. A bright light still shines through the “Greenshop” window. She looks through her purse. 30,000 Uganda shillings. It is not enough to last even two days. Consolation; in the trunk are two loaves of bread and pints of milk that she had bought for the family. She never got a chance to get them out. These provisions will serve her well. She steps out of the car and walks to the Greenshop and later, the grocery store. After a few minutes, she emerges with a plastic bag in hand. Two second-hand wash and wear dresses, a toothbrush and toothpaste tube; she is ready for the prodigal life.
She gets back into the car, reclines her seat and drapes the Masaai blanket over her chest. She goes to sleep. You do not call to find out where she has gone off to. In your mind, a “disrespectful child who comes home after 8 p.m.” has no place in your homestead.
It is still dark- but she reckons it is almost 6 a.m. She gets up, rubs the sleep from her eyes and drives to her workplace. Today, she has to have her A-Game on. There is a big meeting with a client. The cleaners are surprised to see her in so early. She goes to the bathroom and pulls out the toothbrush and toothpaste. She freshens up and changes clothes. A female employee comes in a few hours later and she borrows her hand lotion and deodorant spray. She tells her that she forgot her toilet bag home. It is a flimsy excuse. The men at work think she was up to naughty shenanigans the previous night. They tease her mercilessly. She ignores the jibes. As long as she is fresh and prepared for the meeting, she is okay.
A few hours later, the meeting is done. It went remarkably well. She is a hard worker. Her bosses are not entirely shocked that she managed to pull off this client heist from their competitor. It is lunch time. She does not have money to buy an expensive plate of lunch. The downsides of working in an upscale part of town have become all too real. She goes to the gardens behind the office to “get a breather.” The hunger pangs are biting- but there is nothing to do. She has to ration the milk and bread in her car to last a few days. She is not sure for how long this nomadic season will last. She sits her tired bottom on a bench in the garden.
She remembers your spat from the previous night. Her mind floods with the arguments you have been consistently having ever since she got a job and attained some level of independence. You failed to realize that she is no longer a child- or a teenager who bided by your word without any objection. She has blossomed, this one. She has an opinion. When you are wrong, she will tell you- in her own quiet way. You take this for disrespect. Your word is law and hell hath no fury when she “disobeys” one of your commands. She must not talk on phone for too long, she must not laugh for too long, she must not meet young men (and yet she works with many young men), she must not come home later than 8 p.m. (and yet the traffic jam and the nature of her job dictate otherwise).You have started demanding that she get married or at least introduce a suitor. You have become uncomfortable with the queries from your relatives and friends about when she will jump the broom.
She rocks herself on the bench so the hunger waves subside. Her phone buzzes. She flips it open. A text message has just come in. She reads it, smiles coyly and dabs her wet eyes. She looks out across the garden. Her eyes twinkle with a mischievous glint. The dubious, morally slippery Marketing Manager of the client she met earlier that morning is flirting with her. He has asked her to join him at a top city hotel that evening. The prospect seems oddly more enticing than going back home to experience high decibel, hair-raising quarrels and emotional blackmail from you. She replies his text in the affirmative. What more has she got to lose anyway? You have already labelled her as wicked, rebellious, loose and everything in between.
Hers is the story of many young adults.
Your need for control over every aspect of her life has caused her heartache. She is tired and resentful. She prays to God fervently for her big break; a better paying job, so she can move out and have her personal space. Home is no longer “home” for her. And yet you have not realized that you are pushing her further away. She has her personal demons, her battles she is fighting. You ask her to share her troubles with you- but how can she, when all you do is speak negatively into her life? You have never learned to let go. You have not yet come to the place of peace where you realize that the foundations that you laid for her when she was growing up will remain her buttress root. You have not understood that the values and norms you instilled in her will guide her now more than ever. You have not allowed the caterpillar to blossom into a beautiful butterfly.
Find a common ground; establish firm ties with your 20-something year olds. Respect their independence while playing your parental role. It is easy to push your child over the edge. Learn to let go, trust them to make healthy decisions and believe that the lessons you have taught them will help them sail through this unpredictable experience called life.