You know one of my biggest pet peeves?
When people treat Africa like a country and not a continent (this may have something to do with the fact that my husband is African). I’ve visited Egypt and I’ve visited South Africa and let me tell you, they are NOTHING alike.
That being said, there are many similarities between countries in certain regions of Africa, so some of the parenting practices that I talk about today may be generalized to several of Ghana’s surrounding countries.
For those of you who aren’t as familiar with African geography, Ghana is located on the Western coast of Africa, sandwiched in between Cote D’Ivoire and Togo. It’s relatively small, as far as African countries go.
Ghana was inhabited by several European countries and was considered a British colony until 1957, when they gained their independence and became their own country (Source: StudyCountry).
So what does the country of Ghana have to offer us in the way of parenting models?
Family is extended rather than nuclear
In Ghana, “family” does not just refer to one’s immediate family – parents and siblings – but also includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and more. Extended families tend to live close together and are all deeply involved in each other’s lives.
The responsibility of caring for children is not only that of the parents, but of the entire family. Families rise and fall together, relying on their interdependency to see them through.
The strength of this system lies in the many different contributions different family members can make towards the education and upbringing of a child. For instance, some family members may have extensive knowledge of a particular subject and be able to train the child in that area. Other family members may be better off in the job department, and are able to supply financially for a child’s education.
The idea is that by standing upon the shoulders of those who come before them, the children will be able to combine their strengths and carve out a strong future.
There is a strong influence on respect towards elders, no matter how old you are. Elders may also discipline a child even if they are not that child’s parent, including much older siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Cultural proverbs and folk tales
Ghanaian families use traditional proverbs and folk tales to educate their children about morals, history, and their place in society.
While there are many positive aspects to the rich upbringing such an education gives, some would argue that it perpetuates negative social roles and stereotypes – especially towards young girls (Source: The Conversation)
Girls are trained domestically to be good wives and mothers, while boys are equipped to become providers, working outside the home to take care of their family.
Physical discipline is normal
(Source: University of Sheffield)
No Spank activists would have a field day in Ghana, where the use of physical punishment as a form of discipline is definitely the norm. Parents, older relatives or close family friends, and schools all use caning and other methods to train obedience in children.
What’s interesting to note is that most children in Ghana did not see physical discipline as a negative thing. Rather, they deemed it a necessary part of becoming a responsible member of society.
Both adults and children were adamant that physical discipline should be a last resort rather than an immediate response to bad behavior, and were very critical of child abuse. However, controlled use of physical discipline methods is viewed positively.
Breastfeeding is fairly common
According to Ghana’s ministry of health, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding countrywide is between 63-64%, which is in the mid to high range for Sub-Saharan Africa (Source: International Breastfeeding Journal). Some cultural practices include giving infants water and other liquids and foods in addition to breastmilk, so convincing some Ghanaian mothers to exclusively breastfeed has been met with difficulty, especially due to the influence of older family members.
Studies also found that women were more likely to exclusively breastfeed if they gave birth in a government health facility (where breastfeeding is promoted) and if their child was of average size.
Naming a child is serious business
In Ghana, parents do not just name their children in a whim. Children are usually given multiple names, each with staunch meaning behind it. Names are based on the date of birth, the birth order, significant events, Christian faith, and family and friends (Source: My Ghana Roots)
The child is officially named at their “outdooring ceremony” in which an infant is presented to the community and welcomed into the world. Specific traditions related to the outdooring ceremony vary from tribe to tribe, but typically involve symbolic life lessons for the newborn as well as the name revelation and general well-wishes.
Responsibility provides value
(Source: Norwegian Centre for Child Research)
Ghanaian children fulfill many household duties including cooking, cleaning, and taking care of younger siblings. Children in more impoverished families may find work outside of the home to help contribute financially as well.
In contrast to Western culture, where children focus on school and play until they reach young adulthood, Ghanaian culture places and emphasis on responsibility from a young age. Children find value in their contributions to the household, and families encourage their children to be hardworking and dutiful.
Ghana is a collectivist culture, which places value on the role of a person in society. Children are groomed to find their place in society based on their provisions towards the community.