Mon | Oct 25, 2021

Carolyn Cooper | Children are not old-age pension

Published:Sunday | May 12, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Proverbial wisdom warns that, “One mother can take care of eight children; but eight children cannot take care of one mother.” This might sound like a riddle. But it’s plain common sense. On Mother’s Day, this proverb is a timely reminder that children can be so selfish. Especially in a large family, every child seems to expect that somebody else will care for ageing parents.

It’s not unfair to claim that, many times, it’s the male children who conveniently forget about the needs of their parents. One of my friends who lives in Washington, DC, recently told me about her distressing experience planning her parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary party that was to be held in New York. She asked her brother who lives in New York to book the venue. He didn’t manage to do even that.

Now that her mother is about to celebrate her 80th birthday, she has taken the principled position that she is not getting involved in planning any party. She knows all the work will fall on her. So she’s decided to visit her mother for the day and take her and some of her friends to lunch. That’s her stress-free solution to the problem of male-sibling delinquency.


In spite of all the horror stories about neglect, many Jamaican parents, especially single mothers, still expect their children to look after them in old age. It might seem like a reasonable proposition: I looked after you when you were a child and now that I’m in my ‘twice a child’ stage of life, it’s your responsibility to look after me.

It doesn’t work like that. Children these days don’t accept that old-fashioned philosophy. They will tell you that they didn’t ask you to bring them into the world. That was your choice and you must suffer the consequences. If they feel like it, they may give you a handout every now and then. But they feel absolutely no obligation to ‘mind’ you.

Abusive parents conveniently forget how badly they treated their children. For a variety of reasons, they batter-bruised them, both physically and psychologically. Often, it was because of their own frustration at the demanding job they had taken on without any preparation whatsoever. Many just fell into parenting and were trapped for eighteen years.

They felt justified in their harsh actions. It was the Bible that advised them to not spare the rod and spoil the child. But many children were spoiled by the application of the rod, both literal and symbolic. In fact, sometimes the rod was even sexual. And mothers pretended not to know what was happening. Adults don’t forget the abuse they endured as children. Many of them find it very hard to forgive.


Child abuse, parental neglect, and barefaced adultery are the major issues Basil Dawkins highlights in his seductive play Maas Mat Comes To Town, which ends its run at the Little Little Theatre today. Dawkins knows how to tek bad tings mek joke. This doesn’t mean making a mockery of serious social problems. Instead, laughter is therapy. It helps us cope with trauma. And a good belly-laugh gives hope for redemption.

Dawkins skilfully turns his characters’ trials and tribulations into brilliant theatre. February 2019 marked 39 years since he wrote and produced his first play, Flatmate. In the commemorative progamme for his current play, Dawkins gives a roll call of some of his many productions:

“Since 1980, we have produced over 25 plays; the road was never easy but GOD BLESS every time and no GUILT TRIP – few times, CHAMPAGNE; and SKY JUICE many times. But through it all, we have continued to meet our two major objectives of producing plays which will make Jamaicans at home and abroad proud, and as often as we can, include new talent and give them an opportunity to POWER PLAY without DANGEROUS AMBITIONS. The blessing to love what we do and do what we love, even at the risk of sometimes causing a little UPTOWN BANGARANG and putting us into a HOT SPOT has not been lost on us, and FOR BETTER OR WORSE, to God be the glory, for He always shows us WHICH WAY IS OUT, even when FEMININE JUSTICE has to be summoned, we intend NO DISRESPECT, because MY GOD DON’T WEAR PYJAMAS.”

That last long sentence doesn’t really make all that much sense. But it’s the fun of the word play that matters. And Basil Dawkins’ plays are always entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Maas Mat’, even though the issues are so disturbing. I was disappointed to hear that the play isn’t going on tour. It hasn’t been financially successful.

Quite frankly, I think the name of the play is a factor. It’s not so appealing. And Maas Mat’s story isn’t even the main attraction. I would have called the play ‘Di Sketel an Her Hungry-Belly Mumma’. The titles of Dawkins’ plays are so properly English, he probably wouldn’t have approved. But my Jamaican title woulda draw big crowd. Di play woulda sell off!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and