Sunday, May 5, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1663 - Raising children is a great challenge

  Raising children is a great challenge. Children are raised all over the world. Children are raised in every culture. Children are raised in every country. Children are raised everywhere. Nearly everyone says that it is more difficult to raise children today. Every generation says it’s more difficult now than in the past. But it was always difficult to raise children.  Raising children is a great challenge.

  I remember my mother by marriage, Mrs. Ora Lee Gaines, saying to Faya and me: "You all are doing your children wrong by bringing all these other children into this house. These children will be a bad influence on them." Mrs. Gaines loved our children. Mrs. Gaines loved McRae Gaines' children. Mrs. Gaines loved children period. But she was living with us during the week as she directed McRae Gaines Learning Center and going home to Birmingham on the weekends. She was also helping raise our children. We had to give consideration to the issues raised.

  We gave serious consideration to Mrs. Gaines’ concerns. However, we decided to continue allowing other children to live with us. We had three children by birth and four by foster relationship. I once counted 39 additional children who lived with us at one time or another. My children by birth insisted that I greatly undercounted. Whenever children had no place to go, people would say, “Take them to Rose Sanders.” And they did. They never said, “Take them to Hank Sanders.” I meet people all the time who tell me about living at our house and what it meant for them. I had forgotten they lived with us.

  What we eventually realized was that our three children by birth influenced other children far more than other children influenced them. But we certainly took a chance. We just never know when we are making the right decisions in raising children. We just have to do what we think is best and act on faith. Now I can look back over the last 40 or so years and say, “I believe that we made the right decisions.” Raising children is a great challenge.

  I know we made one good decision. We were traveling across the country to California in Faya's minivan. I was telling stories about my childhood struggles. My children loved to hear these stories over and over again. Our oldest child by birth, Malika said, “Daddy, sometimes I feel like we are missing out because we don’t have to struggle like you struggled.” That statement strongly impacted Faya and me. We made sure all three children got summer jobs. Malika worked for free for Dr. David Hodo of Selma. Kindaka worked for free for Blocton’s Garage. Ainka worked for free at Selma Councilman Raymond Major’s restaurant, Kwik Burger and Shake. I am convinced that our children must learn to work.

  I recalled that people sometimes said that Faya was too busy to raise children. Faya was busy, but she worked with goo-gobs of children. Our children were always a part of her working with children. And other children were a part of her working with our children. I helped a little. Faya not only helped her children; she helped many other children. I spent a lot less time with our children and other children. However, no one said Hank Sanders was too busy to raise our children. Faya did a great job raising our children and many other children. I don’t know anyone who helped raise more children. In my book, she is a shero.

  When I look at our three children by birth, I see adults who are centered, who are good parents, who are concerned about their fellow human beings, who work in productive enterprises, who lift our communities, who did not fall into the school-to-prison pipeline, who did not engage in crime, etc. All three became lawyers and worked at our law office at least for a while. I can clearly see that the decisions we made did not cause them to go wrong. Raising children is a great challenge.

  I hope that our four children by foster relationship benefitted from our parenting. Rosie seemed to have benefitted. Maurice seemed to have benefitted. Charles left as soon as he turned 18 years of age. He later said that it was the biggest mistake of his life. Jennifer did not stay long with us. She ran away with Faya’s minivan. In spite of our vigorous effort to have her returned to our home, the Dallas County District Court sent her off to a Department of Youth Services facility. We tried to treat our children by foster relationship the same as our birth children. Three of the four children by foster relationship are stable, gainfully employed, and doing well. One is still struggling. We still tried to help for many years after she ran away. Sometimes I wonder what more we could have done.

  In the end, it may not be the decisions we make concerning our children. It may just be what our children see in our living. This lesson was brought home to me some years ago when my son, Kindaka, was introducing me for a keynote speech. I remember some of the introduction clearly because the refrain struck me in a powerful way. Here is a little of the introduction: "My father never told me not to smoke cigarettes, but I saw that he did not smoke cigarettes. My father never told me not to drink alcoholic beverages, but I saw that he did not drink alcoholic beverages. My father never told me to be thoughtful, but I saw that he was thoughtful. My father never told me to lift my community, but I saw that he lifted his community. My father never told me to be truthful, but I saw that he was truthful. My father never told me to be caring, but I saw that he was caring." I have never forgotten this lesson in the power of setting examples. Raising children is a great challenge.

EPILOGUE – Family is the most central institution in our society. Children are a key part of families all over the world. Still, we know so much and yet know so little about raising children. Every child is different and every family is different, and every community is different, and these matters complicate the raising of children. We travel on our limited understanding of raising children within this context. We just hope and pray that how we raise our children will work out for the sake of our children and our society.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represented District 23 in the Alabama Senate from 1983 to 2018.

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