“It’s hard to be a mother in Uganda,” Aunt Sarah explains. “I have to worry about providing for my children for their school fees, transport and when they fall sick. I am a single mother and my ex-husband does not help me with providing for the children. It’s hard. But when I look at my children, I am so proud. My eldest daughter resembles me, which makes me very proud. It’s good when you teach your children, and they reach their goals. Also, when you get older, they can take care of you.”
Aunt Sarah sheds a contrasting light on being a parent in Uganda. While tough to navigate the waters of single parenting in a third world country, Aunt Sarah, like so many parents around the world, is extremely proud of her children and has big dreams for their future. Parenting in Uganda differs among families, but the overall view of family is much different than the Western mindset. In Uganda, family is a very organic thing, involving the extended family and often the entire village. Many children grow up with aunts and uncles, cousins, or even close friends. Families welcome children, whether orphaned or suffering from dire circumstances as a result of poverty, gladly into their care and raise them as their own.
In many families, the parenting falls to the eldest children, with the parents having passed away or are both working hard all day long and away from the home. And with nearly half the population of Uganda consisting of youth, the task of parenting keeps falling to the next in line. Parenting ‘how to’ books are basically non-existent, so parenting tactics are just passed down from generation to generation. In Uganda, every adult is responsible for every child. If a stranger passes by and sees your child misbehaving, they have every right to punish them. If a child receives spankings as a punishment, they know not to run home and tell their parents because more often than not, their parents will give them additional spankings.
There are many challenges parents are facing in Uganda, as well as globally. Poverty, gender inequality, illiteracy, disease, divorce and domestic violence are a few of the factors negatively influencing parenting. Parenting and provision are associated as a family matter, and children are equally affected. With the slim opportunities in the current Ugandan job market, when an individual does gain employment, they are expected to share their earnings with the entire family, so the head of the household may not be the one providing for the family. Aggie, a young professional, also explains that as a child “you definitely have to be seen and not heard.” Speaking up in an adult conversation is not accepted, and not until you reach university age are your opinions and thoughts valued as an adult.
Children in Uganda are sole property of their fathers, and take on their fathers names, religions and land, no questions asked. The mothers have little say, even though they are obviously a huge part of bringing the children into the world and raising them. For a long time in Uganda, a very high percentage of the time, boys were favored above girls. It was commonly believed that if a man did not produce a boy, then he wasn’t considered a real man. Fortunately, some of the beliefs affecting the gender inequality in Uganda are slowly changing.
Aggie continues to tell us about her childhood and how her parents raised her. “I grew up with two step-moms at different times, but I liked both of them. I think I’m very lucky. They treated me like their own daughter. My dad wasn’t around all the time but wasn’t gone so much that I missed his presence in my life or felt neglected. He traveled a lot for work. His rule for his wives was: “If you’re tired of my kids, leave. Because my kids are my life.” I met my birth mom when I was in high school. I didn’t feel a void in my life growing up without her, or a real big desire to meet her because my family had always given me everything I needed. It was awkward at first but now it is very natural and I’m glad that she is a part of my life now.”
A universal truth, is that most parents, economic status, race, religion, and all other factors aside, love their children and want what’s best for them. And even with the many challenges parents in Uganda face, this truth is ever as true for them.