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‘A positive environment that facilitates the growth and development of a child is the greatest gift you can give them’

We are all a product of our environment – an outward manifestation of a host of complex interactions occurring within our minds – the combined result of everything that we have encountered up to that moment.

For those who are fortunate enough, the most constant figure in our lives is a mother. It may not always be your own mother; it could be a grandmother, a guardian or even the mother of your children. The value that a strong woman can provide is second to none.

Through their affection and strength, they shape our environment, nurture resilience and mould the character of those they care for. This is one of my core beliefs and drives me to try to safeguard women and children from the atrocities they endure in our society.

It is a simple but essential philosophy: protect mothers and children as they will shape the next generation.

ALSO SEE: Mental health, pregnancy, motherhood and the role it plays in baby’s first 1000 days

Standing up against gender-based violence

In 2019 and 2020 we have seen advocates for women’s rights unify and stand up against gender-based violence in campaigns like #AMINEXT – bringing to light the continued and growing need for South Africa to respond, to listen, but also to speak up for the mothers and daughters of our country.

These demonstrations of strength could not go unheard, and as a result, President Cyril Ramaphosa has drafted three new bills to bring justice to the victims and survivors of GBV in South Africa. There is still much more to be done, but this is a small step towards a safer and more positive future for women and children.

Children need a positive environment

The term ‘environment’ may be misinterpreted as that which you can see around you, whereas the environment I refer to here includes every single thing that is external to oneself. Children’s minds are a complex system which is ever-evolving. They receive input by means of sensory stimuli which include observation, communication, and human connection. This is processed and helps them to form their own values and reasoning, which then ultimately influences their actions. This is important to highlight as the developmental years of children lay the foundation upon which their eventual character is built.

A positive environment that facilitates the growth and development of a child is the greatest gift you can give them to aid their future. This is not a simple task if you consider the intricacies of human life. Adversity can build character through developing resilience, but at what threshold does it cause irreparable damage?

What if too much positive reinforcement builds false confidence leading to the inability to cope with criticism?

Does protecting your child from all the harsh realities of the world create a false sense of security that could later be shattered?

Unfortunately, no one has the answers to these questions and a direct outcome is not easily measured.

However, what is known is that the absence of forming a close bond is detrimental to a child. That an environment filled with negativity and trauma such as witnessing or experiencing it will impact them.

These are events that we should all strive to control and remove from society entirely, not only for the benefit of our children and caregivers but to preserve our future generations.

ALSO SEE: 3 great ways to help your kids play through their anxieties

Women are the primary carers for kids

In a South African context, it is common practice for children to be left to the care of a grandmother or mother, while the role of breadwinner is assumed by the father. This leaves the enormous responsibility of raising a child to a woman, a role that she may or may not have wanted but is now accountable for. It would be naïve to ignore the fact that finances determine socio-economic status which in-turn will impact the environment, but the environment consists of far more than just monetary contributions.

The value of being physically present to provide support should not be underestimated. It is from being carried in their arms to being fed by their bodies, from playtime to doing homework together, from sharing laughter to being able to cry on their shoulder, it is this love that plants the seeds of empathy and courage.

The strength of a mother lies not only in her ability to overcome the burdens she has endured but in being able to harness those hardships and make a positive impact on all those who are fortunate enough to receive their love.

Many have not had the privilege to experience the gentle love and support of a mother. This role may have been absent or filled by another figure, but they still managed to overcome the odds and succeed.

This demonstrates how compassion allows us to grow, yet adversity may strengthen us too. Adversity can take many forms, some that may shape you and others that might break you, but the burden of abuse in our country should not be a challenge that anyone should have to endure.

My focus is on mothers not because they are the only ones who can be nurturers, protectors or mentors (a strong father-figure may do the same) but rather because they are vulnerable in our society.

We have for too long turned a blind eye to instances of abuse, whether verbal, emotional or physical and this has led to a culture where too many men remain idle in the battle of violence against women and children.

This suffering is a plague to our continent, and it needs to end. It has long been time to show courage and stand up for the vulnerable. As men, it is now our turn to do our part in helping to facilitate an environment in which all humans may thrive without the constant threat of harm.

More about the author:

Dr Vincent Ehlers is a medical doctor and entrepreneur with a strong focus on research and developing new models for the delivery of healthcare.  He has a passion for building stronger, healthier communities and supporting workers on the ground. Learn more about Dr Vincent Ehlers and his company Ubunye Healthcare Solutions here.

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