Our African parents are heavily flawed...with reason
Updated: Jun 8
I was in my late 20's when I started to truly view my parents as flawed human beings. It was then that I started to question some of their decisions and it was also then that I started to be labelled as 'more stubborn,' and 'less obedient.'
Growing up in an African household in Africa, most African children can narrate hours worth of stories of discipline, obedience (or a lack of) and respect which they experienced in their households. However, if you pay close attention, the common theme is neither respect nor discipline, it is fear.
A lot, if not the majority, of our African parents operated from a place of fear. They raised us as extensions of themselves, engulfed in their own perceptions and misconceptions of the world. How you viewed your extended family was determined by conversations you overheard your parents have about 'Uncle Jean' or 'Aunty Louise.' Your relationship with your extended family was left entirely up to them. If mother held a grudge against her sister, well it meant no sleepovers at that aunty's house. If a cousin owed your father money and was refusing to pay, you could overhear your parents cuss him or her out and swear to never deal with them. This by extension meant you the child were not to deal with them neither; no matter how many bags of beignets and yogurt this cousin brought to the house for you and your siblings.
I cannot tell you the number of times, in front of my teary eyes, my mother flushed litres of juice, yogurt, cakes and more down the toilet because she feared they may have been poisoned by the giver. Or how about the confusion in our little children brains when your mother would give you the 'do not eat anything when we get there' speech, before you visited a relative's home, only for her to chastise you at said relative's home when you were offered something and refused to take. So, do you or do you not want me to accept these peanuts, mom?
Even as an adult, I never tell my parents whenever I am going to the beach. Why? To avoid the lecture on the number of people who have drowned in water. To avoid hearing about the tsunami that happened in Indonesia in 2019. I like peace.
Corporal punishment was common when I was growing up. I witnessed my father beat my brother with his cane, his hand etc when he committed more serious offences such as stealing a toy from a store or disrespecting a teacher. He would later on explain that he did this because he did not want his son to become a thief and end up in jail. In his mind, beating his child was a necessary form of discipline to correct them. However,, what I find missing, looking back as an adult now, is a lack of dialogue. Parents felt they were too superior to have actual conversations with their children. If they had taken some time to explain to my brother about how stealing a toy from a store could lead him down a scary path, then maybe he would have understood. That was never an option though. It was punish first and maybe, discuss later.
I do not blame my parents however for their methods because that was what they were familiar with. They did not know better. They were operating from a place of fear. Fear of failure as parents, fear of inability to provide for their families and provide a better life for them. This fear probably stemmed from poverty. Poverty is a hell of a motivator.
Some of our parents were probably thinking very long term as well: 'if this child has a criminal record, they will not be able to go to Canada with the rest of their siblings' or 'if my daughter spends the night at this friend's house and something happens, will her friend's parents provide the care she needs as if it were their own child?'
My parents, after explaining things to me as an adult, had seen some scary and terrible things happen. They had seen people get poisoned and killed right before they travelled abroad after they had shared the news with a jealous friend. They had seen brothers poison nephews because they wanted an inheritance from a sibling or felt entitled to a relative's money. They had heard of young children going for sleepovers, only for them to never return because their parents used the child for organ harvesting. Your environment really influences your perception of the world and in turn, your behaviour. Our parents had to believe the worst because they had seen the worst. I now have the luxury of seeing the world differently thanks to the education they provided to me directly and directly.
Most of us will never receive any sort of apology for the trauma we may have been left with, growing up with our parents. We may have had to see and do things we wish could be unseen and undone. We may be completely accurate about the abuse our parents scarred us with but to get an admission would be like waiting for hippos to fly...it's just not happening in this world. We must heal on our own and for ourselves. Therapy is a good place to start - just don't ever expect your African parents to join you for a family session.
I now have the luxury of safety, thanks to them. Yes, there is crime everywhere but this is different. I can afford to share pictures of my trips abroad and share good news with strangers because not only am I in an environment where certain relatives cannot have access to me, but I am also independent and self sufficient. If someone has ill intentions towards me, I can afford to not have to deal with them because I do not need anything from them or have to deal with them in any environment. If there are jealous family members back home, that's their business because I do not see them. Unlike my parents, I do not have to keep looking over my shoulder. There is a certain level of security I get to experience as an immigrant in a developed country. I have been blessed to have met and be-friended very successful people who for the most part, have no need to be jealous of me, and I of them. We cheer each other on, even at a distance and if I ever feel a negative energy from them, I can afford to distance myself.
Do not get me wrong, I have definitely had people in my life with ill intentions but I am fortunate to have a combination of my parents' innate fear along with my 'first world' education and learned discernment such that I have been able to avoid situations that may have otherwise turned toxic or dangerous. I am careful about who I spend my time with and who I dine with particularly.
I will forever have my parents' voice in my head about being cautious and to 'trust but verify' because let's face it, this world is a crazy place and our parents have a lot of experience.
However, I refuse to operate from a place of fear; I think caution is better.