This is part of a series of blog posts under the title Fatherhood Diaries.
It takes a village to raise a child, particularly in countries such as Cyprus where the operating hours of both public and private schools are based on the assumption that parents do not work, or if they do, they can afford afternoon childcare on top of school tuition, or more likely, that they have retiree grandparents willing and able to take care of the little ones past 1pm. Indicatively, my son, Johnny, who is currently attending nursery, is being picked up by my father-in-law around 3pm. From September onwards he will be attending a (different) kindergarten and he will have to be picked up at 1pm.
Enter the village. I don’t profess to understand how people without family support or the means for hired child care manage, especially with kids like our son who at 2 years old still struggles to sleep through the night. My parents, and even more so Sunshine’s parents, particularly her father, are life-savers when it comes to taking care of him whilst we are at work. This arrangement is quite familiar to me, as I grew up in the care of my paternal grandparents, for whom I developed great love and affection.
The baby is developing skills at a rapid pace and both school and grandparents facilitate this process, providing love, support and stimuli. Alas, this collective arrangement is not without its shortcomings, as the baby is not only picking up what I consider to be positive reinforcements. The baby is like a sponge, absorbing and mimicking, often unintentional or rather unconscious behaviours of those around him. Even though our parents have sufficient respect for our beliefs and child-rearing approach to not pass onto Johnny ideas and behaviours that we do not approve, the baby is learning by observation without needing much teaching or guidance.
Watching the baby exhibiting behaviours I find objectionable is frustrating. When these behaviours are shared by everyone around us, including his mother, I feel a sense of loneliness, which really has no place considering the extended network of support that we have available. And this frustration and loneliness, then gives way to guilt and regret for what can be interpreted as ungratefulness, despite the deep gratitude I feel for our parents and Sunshine taking such good care of Johnny.
Let me give an example. As I suppose is clear by now, I do not believe in deities of any sort. Sunshine and everyone else in our families are Jesus Christ fans. When the church bell rings, they cross themselves. When they see pictures of saints and other Christian celebrities, they pay their respects by kissing the icons. The little monkey picked up on both and now every time the church bell goes off (sometimes multiple times per day) he tries to cross himself. Likewise, when he sees the icon of a saint, he rushes to pick it up and give it a kiss. He is also quite confused by the fact that I do not partake in the ritual and looks at me with dismay trying to understand what is going on. Obviously I cannot say “no, Johnny, this is not right,” as I do when he is about to fall off the sofa.
I am not sure how to handle the matter or whether it needs handling at all. For the moment, I’m trying to manage my feelings, to process the fact that this is not about me, and consider what is right for Johnny. Obviously I cannot ask people not to worship their god in front of my son, and considering that Sunshine is also religious, I do not have much leeway for negotiation anyway. But as I do not pass onto him my beliefs, I expect that others won’t do so either. The objective is for Johnny to make an informed decision when he is old enough to make one. If things continue as they are, and as his intellectual capabilities develop, I will have to explain to him my view on things, which might or might not confuse him. The last thing I want is to expose him to opposing indoctrination attempts by others and myself. This is contrary to the freedom of choice that we owe him. He needs to be able to decide for himself and all of us will have to deal with whatever path he chooses. But my concern is that this freedom is in jeopardy. Really, no wisdom to offer here.