Exactly five years ago, in 2012, I interviewed the late celebrated mother of Ghana, Mrs. Theodosia Okoh, the designer of the Ghana national flag, on her recollections of motherhood during her days and motherhood today. The chat coincided with the Mother’s Day celebration that year. I have the privilege to share that exclusive chat with readers and in her memory as we celebrate another Mother’s Day.
Heading for her 90th birthday in a matter of weeks, the woman who could easily be described as “Mother Ghana” believes that every older woman should be celebrated on Mothers’ Day. Her reason is simple. Every woman capable of looking after a child is a mother. To her, it did not matter whether the woman is a biological mother or not, for as long as she can play the role of a mother, which is looking after and training a child, she qualifies to be called a mother.
Making reference to her time, Mrs. Okoh said those days, a lot of women looked after other people’s children who were not necessarily their own. That apart, any older woman could discipline someone else’s children if they misbehaved and it did not matter where; it could be in the neighbourhood, on the street, at church, in the cinema hall or in the market. Performing such a corrective role is akin to what a biological mother would do.
Mothering over half a century ago
Comparing mothering over half a century ago to today, Mrs. Okoh said mothers of today do not spend quality time with their children. She refused to accept dictates of economic pressures as any excuse for mothers to delegate their God-given roles to others. She used herself and some of her friends as examples to buttress her point. She told me that she was a teacher and also played the demanding roles of a housewife and a mother.
In all the three roles, she made sure she apportioned quality time to each, particularly with the training of her children. She followed closely their school work and made sure that she knew who their friends were. No amount of convincing would get her to accept that I was a good friend of one of her sons simply because she never heard the son talk about me or even mention my name. She passed my reality check with distinction.
In our conversation, I sought to know what she thought was the significance of motherhood today and during her time. A deft Theodosia Okoh gave me a lecture and drew my attention to the distinctive qualities found in a man who is trained by his mother and one who is not. I was eager to know what she was driving at but only after warning me that she likes talking. I had the time for her because I was also intrigued to know.
Most often when one hears women discussing men, the usual refrain is that all men are the same and that they behave as if they were all born of one woman. I was meeting one woman who thought otherwise.
In our conversation, the famed mother of three (two boys and a girl) and grandmother of nine explained to me how boys whose mothers took interest in their upbringing behave differently as grown up men. According to her, such “mother-trained” men are well cultured and show special respect and affection for women.
My eyes have since been opened to Mrs. Okoh’s assertion. I have already counted the number of men I have come across who were “trained” by their mothers. With the same yardstick, I have also drawn conclusions about men who lost out on classic upbringing by their mothers. Over the last few weeks, for example, we have read about some unfortunate headlines in the news about gruesome murders and maltreatments by some fathers and husbands. Were such men “mother-trained”?
Incredibly agile for her age, Mrs. Theodosia Okoh who has some problems with the way and manner some mothers are bringing up their children today, took me through mothering during her time and mothering today. Making snippets of references to her own mother’s time, she also went ahead to predict motherhood in the time of her grand children as well as that of her unborn great grand children.
According to her, mothering comes naturally to every woman and so mothers should try and build on the responsible role their creator has given them. As she puts it, after nine difficult months of going through the life changing experience of pregnancy, the precious little thing that a mother holds in her hands, whether for the first or tenth time, always come with a proud feeling of wanting to repeat it. At that moment, the bonding of mother and child begins.
That is why she finds it troubling when a mother shows signs of rejection for her children. In her own words, “such a mother must be clinically disturbed and should be given medical attention.”
Advice for mothers
So, as we celebrate another day set aside for mothers, what advice does the famous mother and grandmother has for young mothers of today?
Mrs. Theodosia Okoh is a strong advocate of the Bible saying that we should “train a child the way he should go and he will never depart from it.” For this reason, she strongly advised that mothers should never leave the training of their children to others, particularly inexperienced people such as house helps, adding, “Most of the time, such mothers live to regret it.” She shared with me a regrettable story of how a maid used the wrong feed for a baby who was left in her care and the consequences thereafter. Unfortunately, it got too late for both mother and child by the time it was found out.
Mrs. Okoh’s advice is that if mothers have to leave their children for any longer time in the day, their best bet would be to send them to day nurseries. At least, at the nursery, the children are not only looked after by trained adults but they also have the opportunity to learn to be in the company of other children and learn how to share things with others.
She advised that no two babies are the same and so mothers should stop comparing notes with their friends or copy one another because what worked for one baby could be a disaster for the other.
As a former teacher and a mother, she referred to a new development that she felt was unhealthy competition. Some mothers of late are indulging in the practice of organising expensive birthday parties at school for their children. Mrs. Okoh was of the view that the practice must either be stopped or brought to the barest minimum.
Apparently, some mothers are going to the extent of spending hundreds of Ghana Cedis just to throw birthday parties at school for their children. This, she said, puts undue pressure on other parents whose children may also want the same standards or even outdo their friends. Much as she is not against a child marking his or her birthday she believes that mothers should set moderate standards otherwise wrong examples are being set for the children to copy. The schools have definitely some role to play here.
As we celebrate all older women capable of looking after a child this coming Sunday, one advice has left imprints on my mind. Mothers, train your children, particularly the boys, so that they would shine out as men “trained” by their mothers.
Happy Mothers’ Day to all the women who qualify as mothers.
…with Vicky Wireko-Andoh(firstname.lastname@example.org)