I Can't Control My Children
Many asylum seekers are unsure about how best to relate to their children. How should they set limits without offending the child’s rights or being accused of being dictatorial and authoritarian? Some think that staying in the asylum centres has contributed to their loss of control over their children. The stay in asylum centres is, in most instances, is far too long; the waiting time at the centres while not knowing what the future will bring, is like a stay in no-man’s land - and the longer the stay the greater the loss of authority over one’s children.
That is the view of many parents whom New Times talked to at Avnstrup and Kongelunden. "My son threatens that he will complain to the authorities if I don’t give him permission to stay out late at night," said a mother (N) at Avnstrup centre, who wishes to remain anonymous. She thinks that the concept of "setting limits" and "upbringing" have acquired a negative ring, and that upbringing for many people has become synonymous with old fashioned authority when children should listen obediently and learn to behave properly. Then there was the tradition of smacking children to "make them understand."
Caring or egoistic?
"I don’t want to smack my children, but on the other hand I want them to show me respect and love just as I love and respect them," said another mother (G), who also wishes to remain anonymous, but whose name is known to the editors. G added that she wants her children to be like they were before our family came and sought asylum in Denmark five years ago. "My children were more caring and closer to me before we came to Denmark, but now they are more self-centred and ill-mannered on the pretext that they want to be more independent like Danish children," said mother M.
"In my country the home provides the framework for children and adolescents, and it is also the focus for most adults’ lives. The social conventions, mutual respect and responsibility for other people that children experience at home, provide the completely natural foundation for their future lives," said mother G."We should not lose our model of the family because we spend several years in a Danish asylum centre. What will happen to our children if we are sent home, they won’t have our cultural values or language? They will be lost in their home country," said mother N.
A gradual transition
G. says that it is understandable that the staff at the Danish asylum centres treat the children according to Danish culture and values. However, she thinks that, on the contrary, the asylum centres should be transit areas with exits either into Danish society or back to the home land.
"When my son took his father’s clothes to the washroom a Red Cross staff member asked him why his father couldn’t wash his own clothes. In Denmark, children are not under an obligation to serve their parents in that way. This caused a split first between father and son and then in the entire family," said G. She added, "back home, when I got a headache, my son would always say ‘mother, lie down and I’ll make you a cup of tea’. Here my son wouldn’t even visit me in hospital and his father always had to bribe him to get him to come to see me." G. noticed that this development in her son’s behaviour started after a year of living in the asylum centre. Both mothers agree that the transition from the patriarchal society at home to a democratic society like the Danish one, must be gradual.
"The children misunderstand the Danish democracy, which they suddenly have, but can’t handle. They think that democracy is both an absolute, limitless freedom without responsibility and about breaking free from the family at any price," said mother G. She added that living in an asylum centre should not be the same as living in Danish society, because you never know whether you will stay in Denmark or be sent home.
Asylum seekers think that a child’s development, well-being and upbringing is the parents’ responsibility. It is also their responsibility to give their children basic values, skills and knowledge including the skills to get on with other people and act in society in a respectful way. Therefore, in the end, it is the parents who bear the responsibility for their children’s actions and behaviour until they come of age. "When we try to take responsibility for our children we are met with the threat that our children will be taken away by force if we use un-Danish methods. And if our children overstep the Danish norms and law, then we get blamed for having failed to bring them up properly. We don’t have the right to bring up our children," said the mother, N.