An Old-School, West Indian Parent, Talks Black-and-White Parenting

by ParentCo. February 28, 2017

girl looking scared while her granny scolding her

As a child of Old-school parents, I can tell you first hand, they don’t ‘play.’ Translated into Western parlance, this means these parents did not mess around where it came to disciplining their children. There were no gray areas. Growing up, there was no ambiguity about the rules and what would happen if I contravened those rules. And I certainly don’t remember too many family conferences taking place because one of my siblings or I had been asked to sweep the kitchen floor. These were the days when the edict, "Because I said so!" was reason enough to do something you had been asked to do. It would not have occurred to my parents that this no compromise approach would, in later years, be considered suspect parenting, along with the laying on of hands to discipline unruly children. My parents’ style of discipline, however, was not the only one I was exposed to growing up, and it was interesting to compare my black and white parenting with that of Jane, my white English friend who lived next door with white English parents that I desperately wanted for my own. Jane’s worst punishment for a ‘serious disregard of the rules,’ would be a "sitting-down" and a "chat." “Jane, come and sit down with mummy for a moment. Hasn’t mummy spoken to you before about using your words to articulate your feelings rather than lashing out indiscriminately?” “Yes.” “Do I have your assurance you understand me?” “Yes.” And that was it!?! No grounding, no curfew, no nothing – and it didn’t work. Jane would go back to doing whatever it was she wasn’t supposed to be doing faster than I could pen a note to her parents begging them to, “Please adopt me.” However, there is also a truth here I must set down in the interests of balance. My punishments as a child compared to Jane’s were onerous and often painful but, like Jane, I too would find ways to continue breaking the rules – I just got better each time at not getting caught. Years later, though, I suppose I’m taking issue with liberal, gray parenting styles, which do not explore the notion of consequence with children – even if both sides of the parenting extremes could, perhaps, learn something from the other. Those of us who are the product of old-school parenting, however, understand that term to mean: consequences and tough love – and it didn’t come any tougher than with an old-school parent. Should you happen to be messing up when your parents weren’t around? Well, then you had the neighbors and other sundry adults more than willing to do some drive-by, old-school parenting in their absence. “Child, what are you doing on the streets at this hour? Get back to your home right now and tell your mother I’ll call her later.” “Yes, ma’am.” Old-school parents played a mean game of poker and held a Royal Flush every time. Let me give you seven examples of other cards old school parents would deal their children:

Adults are not peers

Growing up, if you tried to enter a conversation adults were having without being invited, you were in danger of that being the last thing you ever said. Children were not permitted to give their world view on ‘adult happenings’ and adult happenings were anything the adults were talking about.

The Look

The Look was one that froze you at a hundred paces and generally meant: I don’t know what you’re doing, or what you think you’re doing, but whatever it is, you’d better stop. The Look had the gentle and persuasive power of Mother Theresa and the follow-through of The Terminator, and you ignored it at your peril. Even with your back to your mother you could feel The Look boring through the back of your neck like sunlight on glass. There was also no ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ foolishness. You ignored The Look only once and your head was quickly connected with a flying shoe or any other object which came to your mother’s hand. It was especially foolhardy, then, to ignore The Look if your mother was ironing, putting plates away or laying a fire.

Pocket money allowance

Old-school parents did not understand the concept of free money. As far as they were concerned they worked to come home and pay the bills, not to pay you for being, well, you. It was also futile to expect money for doing household chores, since their stance was if they could afford a maid, they’d get a good one and not pay your sorry self to do your usual half-baked job.

‘Yes’ and ‘No’ handles

When being called to attendance by an old-school parent, you were never permitted to answer with a bald “Yes” or “No”. It was “Yes, mum” or “No, mum.” Old-school parents called this putting a handle on a response to an adult. Even now, my children know better than to answer me without a handle, but this is the first rebellion they have all tried on for size. They soon come around though, since an old-school parent will not respond until a child ‘handles’ themselves correctly.

Teachers as kings and queens

To an old-school parent, teachers could do no wrong. There was little point in going home to tell an old-school parent that a teacher had been unfair, too harsh, or had caned the crap out of you. Old-school parents lived by the simple premise that if a teacher had to correct you, your were definitely in the wrong. You would also get a second telling-off or spanking for doing whatever it was you were doing which caused a teacher to discipline you. The teacher sadists in those days had a field day with the children of old-school parents.


Old-school parents didn’t need a Board of Censors rating guide when it came to watching TV. The News was a particular favourite, and would magically appear if any program began to show suggestive content. Two actors, even if they looked like they were thinking of kissing, would suddenly turn into Big Ben chiming in the 10 o’clock News, accompanied by the words “Let’s be having something a little more educational around here.” The choice was that or be sent to read a book, and when I say ‘a book’ I of course mean The Book, the Bible. My old-school parents would have imploded at programming which passes for acceptable child content today.

Faith in something greater than oneself

Old-school parents would typically have the rod of discipline in one hand, and a Bible in the other. They believed in, and you were never allowed to forget, there was a higher purpose than mere existence. It was annoying at the time. In adulthood, however, I take comfort in it and it makes profound sense to me. Although I have been a little more liberal with my own children, favoring discussion and understanding before punitive measures are taken, I am definitely old-school. As a proponent for ‘tough love’, the old-school parent loves her child no less. In fact, she loves her child so much she is willing, whenever and wherever necessary, to say “No,” and to say it without apology. Were I required to take the stand in defence of old-school parenting, I would summarize it as the notion that children should indeed not rule the world, simply because they do not yet have the experience to do so. I believe there is something to be said for clear, black-and-white, old-school parenting, and it gets my vote every time over seeing our children become irretrievably lost in multiple shades of gray.



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