Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Emotional Wellness

There's a good piece on the Huffington Post called "10 Ways to Improve Depression and Anxiety without Meds." It's written by a psychiatrist, Dr Sheenie Ambardar, and I believe it is directed at an audience of people living with mood disorders. But I think it makes great advice for a general audience.

The first item on the list, "Limit Your Time on Facebook," cracked me up, but it is true. I think spending time on Facebook is okay if you're strategic about it, and do it for networking or professional purposes. Using your Facebook account as an extension of your personal life is another story.

I think the seventh item on the list, "Pick a Goal, Any Goal," is not specific  enough. I can imagine somebody picking a huge task as a goal, and then getting anxious or depressed about not being able to achieve it. That would contradict the intentions of Dr Ambardar in writing the article.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Setting your own limits

I have just come across a great blog post by the writer, Donald Miller. It touches on decisions that we can actively make to improve our emotional well-being. The post, Need to Manage Your Relationships? touches on the challenges Miller has faced managing his time and relationships in such a way that he can meet his professional and social responsibilities without exhausting himself.

You really should read this piece. It articulates what so many of us go through daily, trying to be supermen or superwomen in our jobs and lives in general. We are under so much pressure to perform well at work, to be supportive friends, and to meet whatever personal goals we have set for ourselves, that we forget that we can't do it all.  Many of us go overboard, committing ourselves to too much, and then subsequently wonder why we are so burnt out and resentful in the middle of the week.

I'm glad to say I checked out of that particular hotel a long time ago. But the article resonates with me because it parallels my own process of coming to the realization that I had to set my own limits and stick to them. I was the person best placed to do this because I knew when I was at my most productive, when I was most exhausted, what was really important in the scheme of things, and what wasn't.

From his brief post, it is apparent that Miller learned what his daily work and life rhythm was and structured everything else around it. Fortunately, I too learned to do something similar a few years ago, and it simplified my life tremendously.

This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On popular perceptions of adoption in Kenya

In August last year, a Kenyan media personality, Caroline Mutoko, announced on her Facebook page that she had just become a mother. At first glance, it may seem like there was nothing unusual about this. After all, motherhood is part of the natural order of things. This, however, was a special situation. The radio show host had just successfully adopted a baby girl and was happy to share her joy with her fans.


Predictably, the responses to her announcement ran the full gamut. They ranged from those which lauded her actions to those which cast aspersions on her motives for adoption. Of those who wrote negative comments, some were sure that she had adopted because she did not want to 'ruin her figure' with pregnancy and childbirth. Others were certain that she had adopted in order to prove she was a 'self-sufficient woman', with no need for a man. Yet others claimed that she was infertile and poked fun at her for this perceived shortcoming.

These negative comments were pretty ugly, and they also said a lot about the insecurities of the people who expressed them. Many of them suggested an underlying belief that one's social worth primarily came down to his or her capacity to perpetuate the family line: Only a 'true man' could impregnate a woman, and only a 'true woman' could give birth. Anybody who 'failed' this basic test was not quite 'man enough' or 'woman enough.' It seemed that these people imagined that a child could only bond with those to whom it was related by blood and that adults could only feel maternally or paternally protective towards their biological offspring. Hence, a woman who had not given birth to the child she was raising was a 'fake mother;' she was simply masquerading as a mom until the 'real mother' came along. To me, the very idea that a woman or man who took on full responsibility for another human being could be labeled a 'fake parent' was absurd. What was so fake about the affection, time, and resources they had chosen to give to these children? What was so fake about the fact that the children now had a place and family to call their own?


It is true that giving birth to a child is in and of itself important. If women were to stop giving birth, the human race would not last long. However, we all know that a newborn cannot mold itself into an emotionally-stable, productive, adult member of society. It takes a parent or parents to do that. It so happens that the biological parents of children are sometimes unable to play that role. People pass away, leaving their children orphaned, others are incapacitated by illness, others are overcome by addiction, while others don't have the desire or capacity to nurture their children. This is why we make it possible for others to step in and play the parenting role: to protect those children, to feed, clothe, and shelter them, and to teach them morals and values. When they succeed in raising happy, well-adjusted, young men and women, who are we to take that achievement away from them by calling them 'fake parents'?


Those who are dismissive of adoption seem to forget one crucial thing. Our societies have structures in place for the protection of many children whose parents are, for one reason or another, unable to parent them. These structures are called extended families. Think about it: How often does the average African nuclear family welcome a young brother, sister, niece, nephew, or cousin into the home, and support them through primary and secondary school, or even college? Do these relatives not become part and parcel of the home? Do we not consider them our brothers and sisters and share our resources, however limited, with them? For all practical purposes, this system is pretty similar to adoption. Perhaps the only difference between the two comes down to the legal formalities that define them. Legal adoption bestows upon the adopters the legally-recognized role of parents while fostering within the extended family proceeds even without legal recognition. Both situations are defined by a shared ideal. They seek to provide a child with a loving family and a safe place to call home.

Fortunately, Kenyan society has matured to the degree that legal adoption is steadily gaining legitimacy in the public's eyes. More people recognize everyday that there is more to parenting than conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. In addition, more people are willing to accept the idea that we are all stakeholders in our society. When children in our communities suffer from neglect or abuse, their pain and suffering reflect on us as a whole, not just on their biological parents or relatives. We have something to offer to our communities, something that goes beyond our capacity to bring vulnerable, little babies into the world. Hopefully, as time goes by, we will develop an expanded sense of the roles we can play as socially-responsible, adult members of our communities.

This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In America, everything is politicized

When I read this article, I had to laugh. It brought to mind a conversation I once had with my friend, Maina, a Kenyan living in the US. We were both attending an event organized by an African American student group. Some of the African American women attending the event were dressed in the best of African couture, but there was a distinct difference between the way they carried themselves and the way a Kenyan or Tanzanian woman dressed in a similar outfit would have carried herself. I put it down to the fact that the American women probably felt self-conscious in their dresses. Maina, who had lived in the country longer, had another theory. He figured that Americans didn’t know how to simply be. Everything they took up, every cultural practice or idea they picked up from another nation, they had to repackage, politicize and turn into a movement.

I shook my head in doubt, but Maina smiled. “Believe me,” he said, “this lady in the Kitenge is probably wearing it to express political solidarity with pan-Africanism. She’s not wearing it for the reasons our moms or aunties would- because they liked the color or because the pattern flattered their figures.” I never did ask the lady in the Kitenge why she was wearing the dress. That would have been rude. But today, as I read this article on Digital Journal, I have to admit to myself that there may have been something to Maina’s words.The title of the piece is “Time magazine cover features boy,3, sucking on mother's nipple.”  And here is an excerpt from the article:
The cover of this week's Time truly shows a boy being breastfed by his mother, exposing some side-boob. Aram Grumet, 3, was asked to stand on a chair and place his mouth over his mother's breast, a practise familiar to mom Jamie Lynne Grumet. The Grumets employ attachment parenting in their household, described by Time as "extended breast-feeding, co-sleeping and 'baby wearing,' in which infants are physically attached to their parents by slings.
I come from a part of the world where women routinely breastfeed their children. It is simply what they do. Most Kenyans, female and male alike, don’t give a second thought to a breastfeeding mother in the room. I can't imagine a Kenyan photographer conceiving of breastfeeding as a controversial subject, and going out of his way to have the mother and child pose in a manner designed to provoke readers. It is true that, in Kenya, some kids still breastfeed occasionally beyond the age of 3. This is normal. They ultimately outgrow it. It's not an issue that has to be politicized.

Apparently, a different order prevails some hours West of the Greenwich Meridian. Not only is the decision to breastfeed or not to breastfeed a political stance backed by ideology, but basic childrearing practices are also labeled with special terminology. America has already given us “helicopter parenting.” Make way for “attachment parenting,” “extended breast-feeding,” “co-sleeping,” and “baby wearing.”

Seriously, it would never have occurred to women of my grandmother’s generation to come up with fancy names for these basic practices. Nor would it have occurred to them that, one day, parents would engage in battles over the legitimacy of their child-rearing ideologies in the comments sections of magazine articles and blogs on the Internet. I think Maina was right. Americans can be a tad bit too ideological about everyday matters.

This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.