The median age of the participants was 36 years (43 for men, and 34 for women) ranging from 23–63 years. All except one were Christians. One parent had college education, about half had secondary school education and the rest had primary school education with no differences in education level between men and women. The average number of children for both men and women was three, ranging from one to nine. Data on marital and employment status were collected but were incomplete hence not presented.
Two distinct parenting approaches emerged: i) based on the gender of the child – this included differences in parental control on freedom of movement and SRH communication based on whether the child was a boy or a girl; ii) based on the gender of the parent – differences in fathers’ and mothers’ expectations on roles and responsibilities of their children. Fathers endorsed more traditional beliefs while mothers embraced gender equitable norms in regards to the roles and responsibilities of adolescents now and in the future.
Differences in parenting approaches based on gender of the parent.
Roles and responsibilities for boys and girls
Fathers mainly perceived that there were different roles and responsibilities traditionally meant for girls (such as house chores) and for boys (such as carrying heavy loads like a gas cylinder). According to fathers, when boys performed roles traditionally meant for girls, it was only because there were fewer activities traditionally meant for boys in the urban setting or they were just helping the girls. According to fathers, it was important for boys and girls to align with gender roles and expectations for males and females in society in preparation for adult life.
Culturally, we know that there is some housework for girls and for boys, for example, cooking is for girls. Even if a boy does this (cooking) they are just helping. At home, they will need to share duties and girls are responsible for the kitchen and they will only be helped when they are sick or they are held up by other work. Boys’ duties are to carry refilled gas cylinders because they are heavy and because in Nairobi we don’t use firewood, and also they should know where gas (cylinders) are refilled. (Fathers of adolescent boys)
Girls are supposed to know more about housework because they are the ones who will get married. So if they get married and they don’t know housework, for example how to cook, it will make their husbands wonder how they were raised. So it remains that housework is for girls and boys should have their own specific work.(Fathers of adolescent boys and girls)
Mothers, on the other hand, tended to perceive the same roles and responsibilities for boys and girls.
I told him[son] that there is no specific duty for anyone so they[son and daughter] should interchange duties every day. If, for example, today he is the one who is cooking or cleaning utensils, the following day his sister will do the same. So they are supposed to do any work which I give them.(Mothers of adolescent boys and girls)
Even when boys performed household chores at a younger age, they became gender-aware in early adolescence signifying a transition from childhood to adolescence. This transition was marked by resistance to roles traditionally meant for girls with boys who performed such roles often facing social sanctions and ridicule.
I think it is natural to boys/men that there are some duties they cannot perform in an open space where they can be seen by girls/women because they fear to be laughed at. There are boys who liked to clean utensils when they were five years old but when they reach ten or twelve years old they start to hate it or they clean them while they are hiding.(Fathers of adolescent boys)
Despite the social sanctions, mothers engaged boys in household chores, albeit, forcefully.
We force them because I cannot clean utensils on weekends. If they are available I will tell them to clean utensils, fetch water, and tidy up the house. So, I usually tell them on weekends they are responsible to do everything in the house but one challenge is, they don’t like washing clothes.(Mothers of adolescent boys)
Future expectations of parents for boys and girls
While both fathers and mothers expected both their sons and daughters to attain higher education, secure good jobs and get married, mothers were more explicit that they had common expectations for sons and daughters. On the other hand, a majority of fathers often expressed a strong expectation for their daughters to get married and become good wives with no matching expectations for their sons becoming good husbands. By being ‘good wives” women were expected to be submissive to their husbands, perform as housewives and primary caregivers, roles that are traditionally meant for them.
I wish all the best to my daughters to be good and reliable housewives.(Fathers of adolescent girls)
Fathers implied that girls’ character determined the kind of marriage they got into. For instance, premarital childbearing for girls was associated with marital issues and thus girls were expected to delay childbearing until marriage. Such expectations did not arise for boys.
We expect girls to be good wives with a good reputation when they get married. We expect girls not to have children before they get married because it may make them not to have a good life. It is good to be married when they don’t have children so that they may start life afresh and to get husbands who will protect them and to have a good life in marriage.(Fathers of adolescent boys and girls)
While a majority of fathers’ future expectations for daughters mainly centered on marriage, a few fathers did expect their daughters to get an education and get a job although this was still linked to marriage. For fathers, having an education, and hence, a job would ensure a stable life for a woman in the event of marriage dissolution.
Educating a girl is beneficial even if they get they get married. When a girl is educated and has a job she can still progress with her life in case they get separated from her husband.(Fathers of adolescent boys and girls)
For mothers, being educated and having a rewarding career were as equally important as marriage for both boys and girls. With respect to girls, a mother said:
I told my child first to study up to university level and then to get a job so that when she gets married her husband will respect her since she has her own job.(Mothers of adolescent boys and girls)
Similarly for boys:
I expect him to live a good life even if they will not help me, to live well with his family and also to study well so that he may get a good job in future.(Mothers of adolescent boys)
Differences in parenting approaches based on gender of the adolescent
Differences mainly emerged in regard to how parents communicated about SRH as well as in child monitoring. These differences were associated with perceived risks which were more aggravated for girls than boys.
Parent-adolescent SRH communication
Both mothers and fathers perceived SRH information as largely necessary for girls who are considered more vulnerable to sexual risks, unlike boys. However, fathers also perceived SRH communication to be a mother’s responsibility.
It is good for mothers to have wisdom when raising girls and counsel them in advance because at anytime girls can get pregnant.(Fathers of adolescent girls)
SRH communication was mainly centered on pregnancy prevention and menstrual hygiene.
I told them[girls] that they should not play with boys or allow them[boys] to touch their[girls] bodies because the more they[boys] touch them[girls’ bodies] the more the chances of getting pregnant.(Mothers of adolescent boys and girls)
There was a time one of my daughters got her first period and she became afraid of it but I told her mother to teach her about this (menses) so that she can understand that she has reached another stage of life.(Fathers of adolescent girls)
Whenever SRH communication occurred with boys, it was about avoiding to impregnate girls as they risked being arrested. There was hardly any mention of other SRH risks or safe sex practices for boys.
Boys are also at risk because they will be arrested when this happens[a girl gets pregnant]. They [police] don’t investigate if it is the girl who started this[relationship] they will arrest the boy first although all of them are children.(Mothers of adolescent boys and girls)
Freedom of movement for boys and girls
Discussions about freedom of movement focused more on boys than girls. Boys had more freedom and spent most of their time outside the home without parents’ knowledge of their whereabouts or their associates. This was considered normal by both fathers and mothers.
They [boys] can go somewhere the whole day and return before you come back after work.(Mothers of adolescent boys)
While it was not explicitly mentioned that girls spent more time at home or outside the home, girls, unlike boys, mostly took up household chores which were likely to keep them at home. Parents also instituted additional measures to keep girls at home. For instance, one mother said:
I decided that when schools are closed my daughter will have tuition at home because I don’t like her going outside.(Mothers of adolescent girls)
With more freedom of movement, boys also got the opportunity to engage in economic activities.
At this stage (early adolescence) they[boys] know how to look for money. They can collect plastics and metals and sell but when they get money they cannot tell you. They will buy whatever they want with it.(Mothers of adolescent boys)
However, freedom of movement and financial empowerment did increase boys’ vulnerability to harmful behaviours such as violence and substance use that are detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
When they start to do this [engage in economic activities] they start to join bad company whereby they can start to abuse drugs like bhang (Marijuana) and also become thieves.(Mothers of adolescent boys)
They (adolescent boys) are introduced to this [drugs] by their friends when they interact with them in places like PS (places where they play video games) and apart from this there are criminal groups they can join groups like Gaza and Mungiki (criminal gangs) where they are taught bad things and there are others also who are introduced to Al-Shabaab (terrorist group).(Fathers of adolescent boys and girls)
Differences in roles and responsibilities of parents in adolescents’ life
The roles for fathers and mothers in parenting adolescents were different in the family setting. Fathers were more inclined to provision and protection and were often away for work whereas mothers engaged more in nurturing and guidance as they spent more time at home with the adolescents.
Their mothers should take the role of teaching and raising them accordingly. The role of the father is to ensure that they get educated by paying their school fees and other things required like for example buying clothes and paying rent so that you ensure they live well.(Fathers of adolescent boys and girls)
Often being away from home for most of the day, fathers did not have time to spend with adolescents, a narrative that was common from discussions with both mothers and fathers.
They don’t have time for children because they go to work very early in the morning and they come in the evening and maybe they get children are asleep and it is hard to wake them up.(Mothers of adolescent boys)
The challenge is that we are busy throughout the day and we come back home late that is why you may get them spending more time with their mothers. (Fathers of adolescent boys)
Even though they were often absent, fathers gave their expectations on how the children should be brought up portraying the entrenched gender power dynamics where men have more power and control over women even in a family setting.
Mothers may want to raise their children (in the) same way they were raised because they think they were raised in a good way but the role of the father is to ensure that they are raised according to the way he wants not the way his wife wants.(Fathers of adolescent boys and girls)