“i’m in a rut,” she says adjusting her position on the chair, as the tears well up in her eyes. “what’s wrong?” he asks watching her with his head tilted upwards, right hand propping up his head. the tears in him are restless too. he has an idea of what is wrong with her, he has known for three years now since her mother tried everything she could to destroy their relationship, and her estranged father came into their lives. so, he has been a part of it – they were lovers. they are very good friends now. “i don’t know – i just feel sad. i can’t put my finger on it.” he can. this is a classic example of how the hypocrisy of parents can destroy their children’s chances (at) and ability (to) love and be loved.

you see, there’s a saying that “a snake never gives birth to an elephant.” here i am not talking about the impossibility of size, but the nature (of the beast). remember how in jonathan swift’s gulliver’s travels flimnap accuses gulliver (a human of full size) during his trip to the land of lilliput of sleeping with his six-inch wife? nothng ridiculous like that. nor is it a consideration that science may one day come up with the possibility of mating a snake and an elephant and creating an elesnake or a snakele – or a pachyserpentes. what the proverb means is simple – children are a product/representation of their parents in more ways than mere biology. children learn a lot from their parents – in fact, children are nature and nurture formed mostly by their parents. you see, within the family, children learn character and morality in three key processes – forming emotional attachments, through being taught pro-social behavior, and learning respect for authority and compliance with rules from their parents.

the teaching of right and wrong usually begins with attachment – the warm, emotional tie that a child has with his/her parents. as you know, a child learns from and is influenced most by those persons who are most meaningful to him/her, and the most meaningful adults are those to whom the child is emotionally attached – the first being the parents mostly. consequently, if a child does not have a strong emotional attachment to a parent, the effectiveness of the parent as a teacher and moral guide is greatly undermined. the social psychologist, willard w. hartup (in cohen et al, 2014) in his article ‘relationships as developmental contexts,’ writes, “a child’s effectiveness in dealing with the social world emerges largely from experience in close relationships,” (253). considering this, we (as parents) have to take robert fulghum’s warning that “don’t worry that your children never listen to you; worry that they are watching you,” seriously. in line with fulghum’s warning, there is an african proverb that “when the mother cow chews, her children watch her.” for instance, it doesn’t bode well for you (as a parent) to go to church, sit and pray to god, and having previously condemned your child of immoral relationships, come out of church, go on the phone with a married man you are involved with, in the presence of your children to make appointments for later that day, get into the car, drive home to have lunch with another lover who is not your ex-husband, the children’s father – with them in the house. or as a young mother, you find yourself in competition with your daughters over the numerous lovers who visit you in your house. it doesn’t bode well if you preach morality but you don’t practice morality. it doesn’t bode well if you say your children cannot date older, married or divorced men but you have a battery of younger, divorced or married men you are in relationship with, who are also ‘friends’ with your children. george bernard shaw says, “if you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning, not an example.”

whereas, poor attachment to your parents may engender the inability for moral development, attachment alone is, however, not enough. as a parent, you must teach, model, and reinforce in your children pro-social behavior and moral values. you must continually set a good example. here’s the irony of strong attachment – strongly attached children will follow the example of parents’ behavior even when it is bad. to teach pro-social behavior you need to build on your child’s instinctive feelings of empathy, for example, through the regular use of reasoning and orientations in behavior management. for instance, you can point out the consequences of the child’s behavior on other people. how many of you have heard this before, “can you see how your going out with him/her hurts his/her girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband?” this can be more effective than using power-assertive forms of discipline like physical punishment or depriving your child of privileges. the latter often leads to a self-protection instinct than to the development of pro-social behavior. i say the former can be more effective because (for it to work) you must be a good example. when you only give advice you’re only molding your child with one hand. but if you give good advice and good example, you build with both hands. you should never give good advice to your child and set a bad example, for whatever you have built with one hand, you’re destroying with the other.

imagine a father who is going through a third divorce running around with girls much younger than his third-born child, changing girls every week and hosting them in a house he lives in with his three daughters from two previous marriages. imagine this man advising his third-born daughter that she is making another woman unhappy by being involved with a married man. does this man think dating young girls, whose parents may not want him (a quasi married man) being with them, is better than his daughter dating married men? let’s get one thing clear, i’m not validating the daughter. but arguing the fact that every parent’s duty is to instill in each of his/her child a respect for authority and a sense of obligation to comply with rules. this is the single most important moral legacy you can leave your child. where else do you want your child to learn such character traits as cooperation, honesty, responsibility, and self-reliance, except as a member of your family? by being physically present always and being emotionally, intellectually, and morally engaged with your child you can set the foundation for how your child relates to the world outside the family – especially regarding relationships. in essence, your hypocrisy regarding morals, love, and how you love, as a parent, can leave your child in a permanent state of emotional rut. 

“so, this is my opinion on what’s causing your sadness. i may be wrong, i am no psychologist or psychoanalyst. i speak only from the experience of having been your lover. you are extremely religious at heart … you have virtually found god on your own … you are in search of love – someone to truly care for you … you go after much older or married men because you believe they exude a certain kind of stability – to have loved one person long term – and this is what you seek. but they cannot do same for you. so you hurt. when you go after young men with dreams you are scared – because, like you, every girl wants them, so you fear you may not be able ever to have their full attention. but most affecting, from the fluidity of relationships you have seen with your father who’s is constantly changing his much younger girlfriends, and your mother who is involved in multiple-partner relationships with men who also want you, you don’t believe a man can love only you, and you only … it’s a subconscious thing, but your parents are the source of your rut. and as long as you continue to obey them as a child of god and live with them in their different houses and see nothing wrong in what they do, you may not find peace. your rut comes from the fact that you value what they say about your affairs, in spite of their ways, and this creates issues for you and your lovers. i admit i was hypocritical myself. but i found your believing the erroneous things your parents said about me and their hypocrisy too much to bear. i bet others after me feel the same. they, like me, can see you cannot be a good lover, you cannot offer the commitment your lover requires because, like your parents, you’re a hypocritical lover. this, is the source of your rut.” he gets up, pulls her up into a warm embrace, he feels her body spasm as the tears come unrestrained.

F-K 2016.