by Aster Yilma
After my first column appeared in our
last issue, insecurity kicked in. “What if
no one sends in questions? What if no one
finds my column helpful or interesting?
What if..., what if...?” I am here to report
that the response was overwhelming. Thank
you for all the support and encouragement.
I want to remind our readers of my purpose in writing “Parents’
Corner”. It is to share honestly my own experience of trials,
tribulations, sad and funny moments, and successes and failures
in my journey of parenthood, in the hope that other parents might
find my experience helpful. “Parents’ Corner” must not be a substitute
for professional help.
1. My husband and I have spent a lot of
money buying books for our daughter,
but she does not like to read. What can
we do to motivate her?
New York, NY
don’t know how old your daughter is but I really believe that
getting kids interested in reading has to start at a very early
age. A long time ago, I read somewhere that a baby’s sense of
hearing develops while still in the womb and that reading aloud
stimulates its brain. I did not know whether this was true or
not, but whatever I was reading when I was pregnant, I read out
loud. My feeling was that if this theory was right, well and good.
If not, I had nothing to lose. Since what I read did not mention
just how many decibels of noise a fetus can hear, I decided to
read extremely loudly - just to make sure that my voice went all
the way through any barrier between my lips and the baby’s hopefully
developed hearing. When I was in a situation where I could not
read, I just talked very loud. “Hey, a baby in a mother’s womb
would not know the difference”, I said to myself. So you can imagine
how deranged I looked when I walked in the park talking to no
one in a voice that was loud enough to reach Jupiter. I am amazed
that my husband did not leave me and that my son is as normal
as most teenagers. You don’t have to go to such extremes, but
I believe that the earlier you start your kids on reading, the
are some suggestions on the subject:
read to your small children every night. Once they know how to
read, even if they can only spell out the words, allow them to
read to you. It is simply not enough to give them a book and put
them in a corner. If you have a child who is fascinated by books
and does not need any encouragement, you are very lucky. Most
young children, however, want somebody to sit with them during
reading sessions. Sitting day after day reading stories and rhymes
that are meant for the intellect of small children can at times
be mind-numbing for an adult. For me, books with knockknock jokes
were the worst. The few jokes that I actually understood were
not funny. It is my belief that my son owes me a vacation house
in the South of France just for listening to what seemed like
trillions of his knock-knock jokes for what seemed like a couple
of centuries. I also believe that people who create these jokes
should go to jail for life without the possibility of parole.
a parent involves many sacrifices. Reading to your children is
not only a small sacrifice, it is also a temporary one. Eventually,
they learn to appreciate books and to read independently.
Our neighborhood library gives cards to children as soon as they
can write their names. Since I was teaching my son how to read
and write at home, he was able to get his library card when he
was three. He took great pride in using his own card. Believe
it or not, having a card of his own motivated him to finish his
books quickly so he could use it over and over. Check with your
local library. Maybe they have a similar policy. The sooner kids
get their library cards, the better.
set an example. I know too many parents who lecture their children
about the importance of reading and yet their children never see
them holding a single book. Our kids are a lot smarter than we
think. They develop hypocrisy detectors at a very early age. We
as parents can’t just talk the talk. We also have to walk the
walk. I am not referring to things that we can do and they can’t
because we are adults and they are not — such as driving or seeing
“R” rated movies. When I saw the first episode of “The Simpsons”
many years ago, I just loved it! I thought it was great but not
age-appropriate for Nathan. You have no idea how difficult it
was for me to give up what I felt was a brilliant show. I could
have used my position of authority and power to continue watching
the show, but I did not. It would have been very difficult to
justify why he could not watch a cartoon show and I could. When
he was older, one of the shows that he liked to watch was “The
Simpsons” and we watched them together religiously for a few years.
“How come you don’t have to read and I do? How come you watch
TV all the time and I can’t?” We are all familiar with questions
similar to these. They are absolutely legitimate.
am glad to say that this past Christmas, Nathan gave me several
seasons of “The Simpsons” on DVD. We watched quite a few of them
when he came home for vacation. We just sat in the den and laughed
our heads off. I still think it is one of the funniest shows.
My husband, on the other hand, hates it.
I was growing up, we had many Amharic books in our house. What
really steered me toward reading was not the presence of the books,
but watching my mother sitting on the veranda reading until it
got too dark to see. For years, I read at least one or two books
a week. Unfortunately, these days, I don’t read nearly as much
as I used to. As I am writing this, I am making a commitment to
go back to that wonderful habit.
limit TV viewing (that means for the whole family) and use some
of that time for reading. Most TV programs don’t stimulate imagination
or promote intellectual growth. I can’t stress this enough.
understand your children’s interests. I used to buy books for
my son that I thought were of great value and would
teach him the deeper meaning of life. They
are all collecting dust in our basement. What
I realized early on was that when I carefully
selected books in subjects that he was interested
in, he read them in the car, while
he was waiting to be picked up from school
and (don’t faint - I almost did) even sitting
in the backyard while his friends were playing
let’s face it, our children don’t think we parents were ever their
age or that we know anything at all. When we suggest something,
they will roll their eyes and wonder how we were able to go through
life with a collective IQ of a potato. But if a teacher, a librarian
or even a stranger walking down the street makes the same suggestion,
it is brilliant. So don’t hesitate to have your kids’ teachers,
librarians, their 12-year-old friend or anybody else suggest the
books that you want your child to read. You will be surprised
how cooperative your son or daughter will become. Just make sure
that the people you are approaching don’t let your child know
that you were the source of the suggestion. We have to do whatever
put books in your bathrooms. Your kid has to be able to see them
and reach them while sitting on the toilet. Trust me. As there
are no distractions in a bathroom, a lot of reading can be done.
Sometimes, they get so engrossed, they forget to come out.
2. My daughter belongs to several clubs
at school. I fear that too many extra activities
might make her grades suffer. I
want her to give up some of the clubs, but
she says she will have a better chance of
getting into a good college if she shows
she belonged to lots of them. What do you
is a tough one. It really depends on how well your daughter can
handle a packed schedule and still maintain good grades. One of
my friend’s kids, Allison, is a high school senior who is in an
IB (International Baccalaureate) program with a GPA of 3.9. She
is captain of her fencing team, senior editor of the school’s
literary magazine, has reached the highest rank in
Girl Scouts, scored 800 in the verbal and
760 in the math section of the SAT’s, went
to Governor School, is an amazing painter
and much more. She is self-motivated
and is able to juggle it all. But how many
kids are like Allison? I don’t know many.
Most children would be totally stressed out
by this kind of rigorous schedule. So, if
your daughter fits the profile of Allison,
leave her alone. But if she is like most of
our kids, she needs to prioritize.
is half right about good colleges looking for students who, among
other things, are involved in extracurricular activities. While
this is true, admission officers want students who show dedication
and long- term commitment to what they do rather than students
who jump around from activity to activity or have minimal commitment
in numerous activities. Top colleges also look for uniqueness.
They are more interested in a student who plays the harmonica
instead of the piano, or a student who speaks, for example, Amharic
rather than Spanish. They can find tons of applicants who have
had piano lessons and many who speak Spanish. My niece, Nafkote,
just got accepted by many of the top schools in the nation. I
believe that the fact that she is fluent in Latin and Amharic
has added to the value of her application. A-level colleges have
many requirements. I only touched on two. The person who should
be able to answer questions that are specific to your daughter’s
academic concerns is her school guidance counselor.
3. OK. So here is the situation. My 18
year-old just told me she is pregnant. I
have no idea what to do or what to say.
Inside I am very angry. I am angry with
her and I am angry with myself. I feel like
I failed as a mother. I am conflicted. As
an Ethiopian, I feel shame because of the
stigma associated with it. I don’t even
know how to tell my friends at church. On
the other hand, I need to help my daughter.
I love her to pieces, but I am so angry
with her. The only thing I have been doing
is praying. What should I do?
Mother in distress
caring parents want the very best for their kids. When we see
our children make what we consider unhealthy choices, we do get
furious. It is understandable that you are feeling angry and it
is healthy that you are expressing your anger and resentment.
I think it is important that you don’t try to deal with this alone.
When I am upset, I have to tap into my support system to help
me work through my anger before I have the clarity to make healthy
decisions. You may want to talk to your priest, family physician,
a therapist, and trusted friends or whatever support system you
have to help you put things into perspective. One thing is clear:
we cannot hide pregnancy forever. Eventually, it will be evident
that your daughter is pregnant.
am sure that she feels guilty, scared, ashamed, confused, stressed
out and angry at herself. My heart goes out to her. You are right.
You need to help her. You need to let her know that you will be
there for her and that your love is unconditional. You have to
assure her that things will work out. Your relationship with her
is a lot more important than your relationship with your friends
my husband and I believe in prayer. From the time I was a small
girl, prayers have been part of my life. Therefore, a few years
ago, when Nathan came close to dying, it was natural for us to
be constantly on our knees. We asked our friends to pray for him
and to remind members of their houses of worship to do the same.
We had literally hundreds of people in several countries pray,
and many houses of worship held special prayer services.
might not feel that way now, but in due time, you will come to
realize that it is not the first time that an 18-year old got
pregnant and that it is not the end of the world. I am sure that
once you and her get a chance to reflect on the situation, you
will be able to see things differently. You might even find the
silver lining if you choose to look for it.
Please send me your questions to
email@example.com and I would be happy
to answer them!