Monday, June 22, 2009

So wealthy, so successful, so brilliant, and that's your kid?

I know a lot of young people who come from affluent homes. Affluent, at least, by Ghanaian standards. But many of these acquaintances have parents who grew up in villages and then, thanks to the relative ease of social mobility, have now become, people with somebodiness, as Martin Luther King would have put it. The nouveaux- rich.

But constantly, i’m struck by how much narrower their experiences have been, their particular struggles, especially with money, and their lack of self-determination, and sometimes confidence, and I can this be? How can a man who comes from nothing, garner the highest academic achievements by hardwork, rise through corporate ranks to become, say the CEO of a can such a man end up with an aimless son, who lives from paycheck to paycheck, instead of becoming someone, who by virtue of the fact that he had a leg-up in life, should in every way be better than his father? How does the son of a president of a church dupe his friend? How does a much-respected vice-chancellor of a university have a son, who brings upon not only himself but his family so much shame? How does the head of a company like the then Ashanti Goldfields, a man who started in the pits, have a child who is dealing in heroin? How does one of the highest ranked people in the police force have a son who considers peddling hard drugs? How do you who grew up in the village eating bankye ampesi with palm oil , hustler like your type now have kids who neither can speak twi or find their way to the Kwame Nkrumah circle without a driver? How does this happen?

That it happens is especially disconcerting for two reasons. The first of them is that this is not the life the parents hope for their kids. Parents usually want for their kids, a life that's better than the ones they themselves had. I would even go as far as to say that at the heart of it, what we really want is for our children to be better -in every sense of the word-than we are. And yet, despite their parents better hopes for their kids, the kids don’t turn out well. The second reason is that when kids turn out this way, it actually drags our country backwards as they take two steps back when their parents took two steps forward.

So here’s the heart of today’s blog post:
Why did these great people fail to raising their kids to become better than them, and more importantly, how can we who will be tomorrow’s greats learn from their failures so that we may get it right?

I have some ideas. While I recognise that parenting is such that even when you know what to do, it’s not always easy to do it right, I think a better understanding of the fundamental problem (s) can still be helpful.

First, is that they spend a lot of time on their jobs and away from their kids. They’re not there to correct them, and train them. I this accounts for part of the problem but I think the second point I’m about to share is really where much of the problem comes from.

Second, if you’re poor and yet high-achieving, you end up in a lot of spaces where you’re the only one like you. You feel different, and that’s okay, because you are different. You may talk differently, dress differently (sometimes shabbily) and dream differently (a little less boldly). But you also realise that there is another reality...a better life...and you find that if you do excellent work, you can attain this life and escaping poverty and non-significance. So you do, and all is great. It seems to me that when Ghanaians become successful, they let go of every aspect of their past, the food inclusive and embrace without question their new life, including, unfortunately, its associated ills. Why do they let go of their past?

1. They think, erroneously, that everything of worth is found in this new world.
So when they have kids, they give them all that the new world offers such as the material things they did not have - tvs, the nice clothes, the computer games, a room of one’s own, and trips abroad. For example, whilst the parent may have lived in Kumasi and spent their holidays in a village, fully immersed in the life there they buy into the hype that letting your child visit the US or London gives them “exposure”...even if the child only stays indoors all day, and then finally at the end of the stay, returns to Ghana with new mall-bought stuff. How is that any more of an “exposure” than times spent in a Ghanaian village? When parents buy into this hype, they trade in one set of limited experience (knowledge of village life) for another (a summer of watching tv all day in someone’s living in Maryland) ...when they could have offered their kids so much more by giving them both. So in actuality, the kids end up being no better off than their far as being worldly is concerned. In many cases, they are actually worse off.

2. They are ashamed of their past
I don’t know why, really. I guess because some aspects of growing up poor were unpleasant, they don’t want to have anything to do with things that remind them of this past. What they fail to see if that there were things about that past that contributed in making them who they are. If anything, that past is to be celebrated, not discarded. Afterall, if it were so bad, it wouldn’t have produced someone as accomplished as you. But no...parents want their kids to be everything they were not. Example dadaba. But what does it mean to be a dadaba? In our culture, the true meaning of dadaba is always negative. Dadaba connotes, spoiled. Rich people’s kids who are properly brought up are not referred to as dadaba. It is usually the kids who are overdoing it, over-indulged, untrained that we refer to as dadaba. Instead of raising kids based on their values, we find parents who came from poor backgrounds consciously cultivating their children to become adadamba...and then they’re surprised when their kids do what adadamba do.

I’ll end by asking the question again:

Why do successful people fail at raising their kids to become better than them, and more importantly, how can we who will be tomorrow’s greats learn from their failures so that we may get it right? On a personal level, what will you do differently?

If you think I’ve got it wrong, I’ll be more than happy to hear what your own ideas are. I look forward to your comments.


  1. You certainly have a point. However, i wonder whether the parents you describe are not in the minority; I believe there are lots of other "rich" parents whose children turn out well. The central argument is certainly valid, although i think it applies to the proportion (whose size we can't easily estimate) of rich kids that don't turn out quite as expected. Additionally, as hard as some parents try, certain kids simply don't tow the line that they're taught (you'll find this in rich homes as well as in poor homes). It's also important to make that distinction. I like the idea of exposing our children to the local/village life in Ghana a lot; it gives a breadth of experience and knowledge that one would otherwise not have, living in the city. Raising children is a complicated process (and i say that not as a parent, but as someone who observes a lot) and many other independent factors (beyond rich and poor) affect how children turn out. Lovely article!!

  2. This is a very salient article.The fault I think lies in how the parents fail to teach the child about his culture and environment in Ghana,so the child loses out those values that made the parent a success.In their efforts to "open the child's eyes,"they immerse him in Western culture even though they are living in say Tamale. They make the mistake of thinking a British/American upbringing is superior to what they the parents were taught. So the English language is given preference to over local languages and ATTITUDES and child is encouraged to speak English at ALL times.Sometimes scowled at if he dosen't.

    He is given too much leeway and grows up lacking discipline. The parents meanwhile think their son knows how to use the computer by age 4 and I didn't. His English is flawless. His friends are just like him.He has been to London. We didn't go there at that age. So we are doing something right.In other words they measure success by how much they can immerse the child into a way of life that is opposite of what they had, and then everybody is surprised when the kids go wayward.

    What must I do different?

    1. The kid must learn the language and culture of his parents.
    2. Cultural practices he doesn't understand must be explained to him, so he dosen't think them to be inferior.
    3. We his parents must display pride in our culture and he must see that.
    4.Be careful not to replace discipline with material stuff.
    5.Watch the kind of friends he moves with.

    I am throwing in this video of an African parents overzealous efforts to ensure that her daughter "makes it."

  3. Actually I think rich successful people are more likely to have "rich, successful kids" in the vast majority of instances. I think the examples you provide stand out because they are the exception to the rule. I have just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" and he shows how after summer holidays the children of middle/upper class parents do better in terms of school work only because of the educational activities they participate in during the holidays

  4. As usual Esi, so much food for thought, thank you.

    My two pesewas:

    As much as there are parents much like those you describe who fail to teach their children the same values they grew up with, there are parents who do but find themselves up in arms against the culture of the new lifestyle they have progressed upwardly into, a new culture more dominant than their own.

    My father grew up in Fa wo nan bo wo to, where everybody was asleep by 7pm, there was no need for social activities outside of the home, and what he did to become who he is, was adhere to these rules and be serious in school. Now he is a big man and with his big money I go to Elite International School, Accra.

    Now here is my father trying to tell me that I cannot hang out with my friends after 6pm, I cannot have friends over, I cannot do all these things that are the norm in this new culture that he has birthed me into. Of course I don’t understand his era or his logic, it’s passé. He tries to take me to the village, what the heck, where’s my DSTV? I bulk, rebel, tow one line when I am home for the sake of peace, tow another outside of home. What is my father doing wrong?

    I see this happen so often with Diasporan children. The parents are trying to instill say Nigerian culture and values into the children, but the children are saying they are not really Nigerian they are American. At the end of the day there is conflict, at the end of the day it is very easy for the child to go wayward.

    My one friends parents are so strict that now she is a champion rebeller. Her parents think she is a saint, but dude the girl is living it up, traveling the world, her parents don’t even know. She tells them she is at one conference or another, but girl is chilling at a carnival in the Bahamas.

    So I don’t answer your question, what should be done differently, I present another view to the conversation. Noting though that children of this example are a mere minority, as are those in the examples you cite.

    Sorry that this is so long :)

  5. Hey Nana -

    I read "Outliers" too. Interesting concepts!In this case though, the focus is on what what parents DO NOT DO to ensure that their kids come out successful as they did.I wish the article were the exception to the rule,but it is really?Gladwell dosen't address what happens when affluent people fail to teach their offspring how to climb that ladder they so successfully did.


  6. This may not be directly related to the post but you briefly mentioned it. But what angers me the most is the parents who refuse to teach their kids born expecially in the US or UK how to speak twi or their native language.

    WTF? First of all, you the parent most likely (I'd say about 98%) speak english with the typical ghanaian accent. So why would you speak this english with your child at home anyway? Because wont that defeat the whole purpose of getting your child to speak with the "cool" accent? when we all know that as long as they grow up outside of Ghana (again, the US or UK) they are going to learn to speak as a british or american person because of the interaction they have in school? So why not take the opportunity to teach them twi because they will have no choice but to speak english outside the home anyway? It makes no sense to me what so ever! It just sends my blood boiling.

    I have made a vow to myself that kids are not going to speak any english at home until they are fluent in twi. They just absolutely have to speak twi b ecause lets face it, sometimes all you want to do is is not speak english. So what if they dont know a word of english when they go to pre-school? They will learn. I have plenty of friends who spoke little to no english as kids and now, speak their mother tongue as well as english with the american accent that ghanaians cherish so much.

    Sorry I know this was kinda long but as you can see, its one thing about some ghanaians that piss me off!

  7. hmmm... very interesting article, Esi. Lately, I am learning more and more that everyone's experience of life in Ghana or life anywhere in general is very different from what another might perceive it to be. For me, much like a bank manager or departmental store owner might have instructed their child to follow in the path of success, I was made aware that the only legacy my folks had to leave me was Ephesians 6:1. I am not even kidding. This is a topic for another day...

    Really, you got me thinking though. I feel like when people do not struggle or hustle a little bit in life to make it, they disregard the fruit of their labor;that may not be the rule. I do know several kids from affluent family backgrounds who are very hard working and do not expect anything to be handed to them on a silver platter.

    I think some day when I am a parent, it is up to me to make sure my kids respect the ethics of hard work, respect the joys of working or doing a legal respetable job, know the benefits of struggle, be it little or great. I hope that I can also teach them that in life, difficult times will build and shape your character and make you a better person. After all we do say in our local dialect that "dzin pa sen ahonyadze"(a good name is better than riches)

  8. Very nice article!

    I think that just because most of us can procreate, doesn't mean all of us should. Parenting is not about you. It's about your kids. And people who've fought tooth and nail to make something from nothing sometimes forget to understand when it stops being about them and starts being about the souls they have brought into this world.

    It is odd that you need a license to most anything today, but everyone can have a kid. Whether they make them work, abuse them or leave them unloved, everyone is having kids.

    Children are beautiful beings. They deserve to be loved. They deserve to be spoken to, they deserve to be engaged. Children can and will ask stupid questions. And sometime through this silliness I as a parent make some sense of some profound issues that I come across in life.

    Just when a child stop crying for what he or she wants is when parents should listen most intently. As children grow, they may become reclusive especially if their parents often start their sentences by No you can't. Or worse still, if they are simply left unloved.

    So, beyond Ghanian or even African, this is a universal predicament. And I have seen with alarming predicability that children who were loved and engaged and made to feel that they were unique, turned out to become such wonderful people compared to those who didn't. And sometimes, that is a more appropriate measure of one's success. It's the legacy one leaves behind, not the fame or fortune he or she amasses.

  9. Hey, again I loved the article.

    I think much as has been mention in many of the comments, parenting is not necessarily about knowing the correct skills but applying them correctly to YOUR individual child(ren) according to the life THEY face.

    I mean for instance, if you don't hand your children all things on a platter even IF YOU CAN my give them the chance to EARN things, I think it can positive impact on how your child turns out.

    Also on the little side issue of learn the language at home (UK/US born kids). It's all well and good Ghanaian in Ghana telling you, you should have learnt it at home but I know of many people who are ridiculed when they use the home language's with bad accents, accents which are bad because they (read me!) were raise in abrokyrie. Also from another angle, Twi at home English at school is how a few of my younger cousins have been raised. At school it can get a bit confusing, at one point one of the kids was branded 'slow' which is a difficult label to shake educationally and can stay with a child. All because when she felt harried or upset and she was asked something in English she would response in Twi or some mix of the two. They thought she had learning difficulties until some family members were brought in to decipher her...true story.

    All this said, I believe those abroad SHOULD teach their children the home languages...

  10. Great article, Esi.

    Forgive the analogy, but i'll liken this scenario to the often elusive attempt to "cross the chasm" to reach mainstream customers after an initial success with technology-savvy customers in a technology business setting. These challenges arise because the new tech companies are inexperienced with regards to addressing the needs of the mainsteam market.

    I guess the point is not that children of well-known rich families turn out bad; rather it is about the difficulty of children of newly rich parents sustaining their parents' successes. This is quite a difficult thing to do because the parents find it difficult to balance giving their children all they want and putting some discipline into their lives. As in most parent-child situations, success depends more on the children rather than the parents.