Wed | Jun 3, 2020

Mother’s Day and family values

Published:Friday | May 8, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We continue to mourn and sigh and cry for the abominations taking place with our children, especially our girls. We continue to hear horror stories and our hearts continue to be broken. When will our terrors cease?

Mother's Day is a good a time to reflect on family values. Last week, our minister of youth and culture, Lisa Hanna, in her Sectoral Debate presentation, lamented: "We have a problem: How does a mother have an 11-year-old girl pregnant in her house and not know? How does a community say they suspected a child was being abused only after the same child has been murdered? ... Our clinical psychologists tell me that this is as a result of the generational breakdown of the family structure, single parenting, multiple partners ... ."

This issue of values keeps intruding in polite society discussion, interfering with hot topics such as the economy, politics, the Caribbean Court of Justice, and a host of other seemingly more important and pressing matters. It turns out that much turns on values, after all. That we ignore the issue to our peril. Our economic foundations and our ability to function as a society are intimately related to values. Our minister of youth and culture had to send the memo last week that "how much child yuh get" is not a stripe ... ". Tell that to our inner-city youth.

"A mother with six children with six different fathers or the converse for the father with multiple babymothers is not proving helpful to the children's overall development."




But tell that to our dancehall artistes and their management. Tell that to the big corporate sponsors who fund stage shows and promotions with these artistes who are purveying these anti-child values. Tell that to television station management with dancehall shows promoting vulgarity, crudeness and lewdness. Once these television stations are making money and the corporate sponsors are raking in the dollars for their products and services, they couldn't care less about values. That's for the speeches when their executives go to luncheons and dinners to feign concern over our declining values!

We are hypocritical on this issue of family values. Lisa Hanna is right that it's not just a matter of poverty causing these dysfunctionalities, though poverty is definitely correlated. I again quote the minister: "I know that we are tempted to go for the easy fix and point a finger at the scourge of poverty, and while the conditions that are bred from poverty are presented in most of the cases that come before us, the truth is that the answers we seek lie in each and every one of us and the choices we make."

Choices. That's the operative word. Poverty never totally robs us of agency and volition. Poor people are able to make choices which counteract their poverty and which help them to escape that poverty, rather than perpetuate it. It is a pity that the Left does not pay adequate attention to the power of personal responsibility. The Left usually leaves conservatives to speak about personal responsibility. There is no contradiction or even tension between structural reform and the exercise of personal responsibility. We need both.

Conservatives are misguided to stress personal responsibility, pulling oneself up from one's bootstraps, while ignoring the social and economic constraints under which poor people live. Poverty constrains choice, though not in a deterministic way. But the Left needs to understand that there are some people who, no matter how many opportunities are open to them, no matter how structural reforms facilitate their advancement, they self-sabotage by their irresponsible decisions. Like having children all over the place rather than having children they can adequately care for. Like not instilling proper values and attitudes in their children, which will help to break the generational poverty.

A lot of poor people have grown up to become highly successful persons because they had parents, particularly mothers, who inculcated certain values in them. One of the best things parents can give their children is a sound, values-based education.

Single mothers, don't feel sorry for yourselves. You might think the statistics are stacked against you and that your children are doomed to failure, but you can make a difference by your attitude. The perspective you bring to life can radically change your circumstances. The lack of money, the lack of big friends in high society, the absence of 'links' or political connections need not hold you back. You can thrive despite all of that. Tell yourself that you and your children can make it. Tell yourself you can bring up psychologically healthy, emotionally stable children, even though their fathers are not there. Yes, that's not the ideal situation, but there are father figures whom you can call on to help.

They are in the church, the community and in the school. They are around you. Look carefully. Don't psyche yourself into failure. Many highly adjusted individuals grew up in single-headed households. It's not a prescription for failure, but a lot depends on the faith, endurance, resilience and resourcefulness of that head of household, usually the mother.

Let your children know they can achieve whatever they put their minds to and whatever they work hard at and invest their passion. Bruce Scott, who is now a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers but who grew up dirt poor in Southside, said in a 'Profile' television interview with me years ago: "All my achievements have been undergirded by a burning desire to succeed. You have to have a dream and not just a dream, but it must be something that you are passionate about."

Bruce told me in that interview, as recounted in the book Profile of Excellence: "I was born on Barry Street in very humble family circumstances. But amid the poverty and deprivation and the violence of the period, we had a very strong family ... . I lived with my grandmother, who herself had 12 children and who themselves started to have their own children. My mother had four of us living there."

Bruce is one of those reared without a father in the home who turned out remarkably successful. Hats off to our mothers, who have given so much. Our mothers who love and nurture so much. Who have never stopped believing in us, even in spite of evidence against such faith. Who kept on hoping for us when rationality would suggest they should give up and be 'realistic'?

Hats off to our mothers who kept telling us we could do it; that we could defy the odds; that we had a right to be successful. Mothers, continue to pour hope and determination in your children. Give your girls, especially, self-esteem and enough love so they won't have to fall for the tricks of dutty or deceptive men. Don't force them to go searching for love in the wrong and dangerous places.

Mothers, bequeath to your children a heritage of love and caring. There's no greater investment.

n Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to and