As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m reminded of how times are changing. How we, as a society, can be less inclined to listen to the older generation. That old adage ‘Mother knows best’ is perhaps now even more outdated than ever before.
When a few reviewers of my book "Being Lara" mentioned just how much they adored the Grandmother character – a forceful lady who gives advice when it’s not asked for -- I was pleased she’d been noticed in such a positive and powerful way.
It got me thinking that learning from your mother, grandmother, or the mother figure in your life shouldn’t be readily sniffed at. Kids (and the rest of us) can learn a great deal from the older generation -- they are home to a kaleidoscope of rich stories buried within a mind that has been active for longer than we’ve been alive.
But we don’t turn to older people anymore, we click onto Google.
When Spike Lee was the latest celebrity to be featured on the TV show ‘Who do you think you are…?’ I was struck when he realized that, especially as a filmmaker, he had ‘squandered’ the opportunity to film his beloved grandmother Zimmie talking about their family.
Indeed, as I researched my own book, my first instinct was to tap into a search engine. Luckily, at the time, my mother was staying with me. So, with great joy, I listened as she schooled me on certain traditional Nigerian practices that I was then able to translate into the book along with spellings and meanings.
Sitting beside me was a daughter of an African princess who had lived during colonization and independence!
Of course, some of the information I’d previously clicked on was incorrect and likewise, when details are extracted from memory, they too can be inaccurate and points can be missed.
But the whole process of gleaning information and advice from your own mother figure can be both rewarding and fun.
Sitting with a cold drink and a slice of cake, listening to tales of yesteryear and watching that face illuminate with an energy inspired by memories reeled off with laughter and, at times, grimaces.
Tales of a life lived to the very fullest and proof that this person is so much more than who or what you think they are.
The patronizing picture of a sweet, tiny, grey-haired woman with an endless supply of knitting needles and siestas is immediately shattered.
I once read a story about an elderly lady who had been a tireless protester in the Sixties , regularly marching for human and civil rights. But now in her eightieth year, she was reduced to an ‘old dear’ by a health professional, who added insult to injury by merely ignoring this lady, choosing to address the daughter as she sat there in the very same room, staring blankly at the wall as others discussed her life.
Looks can be deceiving.
Of course there are parental figures who, when asked for advice, will reel off all the things you have done wrong in your life and if you have children, may impart unwelcome advice on how to raise them better!
No one’s perfect.
No Mom is perfect.
But, if the rapid growth of globalization and urbanization continues, there’s a strong chance we'll lose sight of our roots, cultural values, identity and history.
Therefore, the knowledge of elders can become even more crucial. Yes, some of their beliefs may seem dated, tired and just not realistic in the modern world, but does this mean we merely dismiss and assume we have nothing to gain from experience and a bit of wisdom?
Now for the science bit. In 2011, research from the University of Texas and Texas A&M found that men and women of at least sixty years old are better at strategizing their decisions than those in their early twenties, who tend to focus on instant gratification.
Psychologist Todd Maddox and his researchers suggest these results provide insight into how people use their brains as they age. And this also shows just how much can be gained from tapping into the mind and experience of an older person.
So we ‘kids’ think we know better and sometimes, we may do. But how many of you have messed up and thought, “If only I’d listened to…?”
To sum up, the only way to learn is through personal experience. But being open to listening to that older person without automatically being dismissive is both respectful and useful as who knows, you may learn something about life, the situation--or about yourself.
At at the end of the day, you’re still the one who has to make the life decisions – no one can do that for you. And whatever you end up deciding along the way will be right for you at the time, pass or fail, because we can only grow by learning from our successes and failures.
So, kids, listen to your moms, grandmothers, mother figures… whilst mommies, listen to those kids!
Happy Mother’s Day everyone!
Lola Jaye is the author "Being Lara -- A Novel" (William Morrow 2012).