Do mothers live their lives through their children? This is the question I posed as part of an after dinner conversation, and was surprised by the negative response which it received. My son-in-law, who is a family therapist in Ireland, was of the view that the question reflected a stereotype of women that has resulted in them being consigned to the role of being in the home and bringing up children. There is no doubt that the old fashioned view of a woman’s place being in the home has resulted in serious discrimination within many traditional societies, including Ireland. In Ireland women were forced to resign from government employment when they got married, a practice that continued until the seventies, because of this stereotype of their role. Women were also discriminated against in terms of pay, even if they were doing exactly the same job as men.
But the stereotype was not what I was meaning at all: what I see in Uganda is that girls have many obstacles to overcome as they go through life, but their mothers are their strength and support. Chauvinistic attitudes persist in this country and there are many abuses of girls and women. Although there are laws against domestic violence it is still common, young girls are given as brides to older men, and girls’ education is seriously lacking, especially in rural areas. Girls face many challenges and it is often the strength of their mothers that sustains them. However, because of these challenges girls develop character, and in many instances they become the best ‘man’ for the job.
Some mothers lack the opportunity to improve their own lot in life and as a result determine that the same thing will not befall their children, especially their daughters. These mothers fight to give their children the chance they never had; these are the mothers who live their lives through their children. I have met many successful young women who told me that they owe everything to their mothers. In their stories the father is often absent, leaving the wife with total responsibility to bring up the children. I know of one young lady whose mother was a market vendor selling vegetables, but she managed to put her daughter through school and college to receive a teaching degree. I know of another mother who brought up two girls completely on her own and put them both through university. I know of another mother whose husband decided to abandon the family because they were all girls, and start another family, but all of his girls were successful, more so than his sons from his other family – because of their mother.
I know these family histories because when the children became successful they told me. Their childhood experiences made these young women determine that they would not let their mothers down, and when they had jobs their first priority was to ensure that their mothers were provided for. Qualities such as work ethic and honesty, which stood these women in good stead, were developed under the tutelage of their mothers. All these daughters experienced hardship but were taught discipline by their mothers. When they were children they may have felt their mothers were strict but later they appreciated that she had shaped them into individuals who could deal with all that life has to throw at them.
So in answer to the question whether mothers live through their children I can only say that I hold Ugandan mothers in high esteem for how they have managed to overcome so many obstacles in this society in order to bring up children to achieve what they themselves were denied.
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