There is a running joke among African communities, especially with the ‘children/ youth/ millennials’. The joke is, you only get three career options to pick from. Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer. There might be other options but most of these options are all academically driven. Now, most of my posts usually derive from the conversations that I have with my friends. On this very topic, I couldn’t help but notice that those of us who fell on the creative side of the spectrum were not “understood”, I think that’s the best way to put it. Now, in many ways, I believe this is because it isn’t something that’s seen or encouraged widely therefore why encourage your child to pursue something you do not foresee them succeeding in?
PARENTS AND ELDERS HOLD YOUR FIRE
This post is not to bash our parents or elders for wanting what they considered the best for their kids. In their defense, the people who came across as doing well in the world that they lived in were the ones who excelled academically. Yes, you got the odd footballer, athlete, businessman but they were usually one in a million and usually after many struggles. And what parent wants their child to go through that? History has taught us the struggles they went through, and naturally African parents recognise the opportunities that we now have that they never did and so most push their kids to be better, do better. As said, you have to work twice as hard to get half as much.
This pressure to do well means that discipline is taken quite seriously in an African household. Like who are you to talk back, please try it, you might just lose your whole mouth, literally and figuratively. Now as an adult I can’t help but think there were so many times where I would have benefited from a conversation. I am glad for the discipline I received because it shaped me as I grew. However, we all know that time you got that backhand and even though you didn’t say a word, you felt that it wasn’t quite what you needed or was right. I know many friends and family my age that would avoid having certain conversations with their parents because they felt their perspective will never be understood. But it’s important to have conversations and if we can’t do that with our parents, why are we surprised that we enter into relationships as adults and then struggle to communicate?
The parents pressure on the child to be the best leads to “damage” that they do not even consider. The fact that they are hard on the child transfers, mostly, emotional issues onto the child who now becomes an adult who is overly hard on themselves and is not satisfied with their achievement because they have been told they could always do better. Which is true, very true. It is a matter of fact, nonetheless, there is the factor of contentment. They could do better; we are human beings and the idea is that we are constantly growing. But at that moment, take pride in your child, and not just within you but show it, for them to see.
This leads me on to talk about the emotions, affection or lack thereof at times. On Red Table Talk, rapper Wale talks about how most of what he learnt about love was from TV. He grew up not seeing his parents show affection to each other romantically and in some ways, I think we can all relate. The generations that have followed our parent’s generations are different in many ways when it comes to this but not seeing this while growing up definitely has an effect on the way that we view and navigate relationships. Some African parents find it quite hard to say “I love you” to their kids. It really should not be that hard.
The next thing that I want to address is money. My mom in some ways has taught me about money but that really begun when I got older and began to get a steady income and after some mistakes. There seems to be in some ways a taboo about talking about money. I think that it is something that I wish had been addressed within households from a much younger age so that we grew up knowing how to handle money much better. Of course, I am now an adult and have educated myself in the field of finances and can comfortably say that I’m good with money, I got my spreadsheets and budget to a T, but as Wale said most of it was learnt not through the TV for me, but books and YouTube.
Speaking of money leads me onto Black Tax. If you do not know what that is, that’s when you are obliged to constantly send money home (whatever African country) to family members. Some of these guys feel so entitled. I said some, not all. You are meant to because living abroad automatically makes you rich. Granted we are presented with a variety of opportunities living abroad, but not only are those opportunities fought for, they only bear fruit because we work hard and smart to keep it going. If you have and you are in the position to help, do that but don’t put yourself in a tight position to do so.
LET’S TALK MORE
What I want to convey in this post is that there is a pressure to do well as an African child; that sometimes we never stop to question why we are the way we are. I wish that we had more conversations at home and within the communities as a whole, conversations about sex, misogyny, love, money, family dynamics, education, career, religion. Now I know it’s not all families that avoid this, I have these conversations sometimes but only as an adult. The pressures we receive sometimes stop us from being able to explore who we are. If you are an African parent reading this, I hope that you have an open mind to see this perspective and maybe talk to your son/daughter to see what is really going on in their head.