It is the holidays again and the world is filled with seasonal love. Unfortunately, for some people, this is a time of extreme anxiety. We see a lot of relatable upbringing stories on the internet, including random memes that crack our ribs. The internet has also brought closer, the African continent. People are sharing their upbringing and experiences. On every platform, we see these contents and we laugh hysterically. What a parent in Ghana does is what a parent in Kenya or Nigeria does.
At first, it feels harmless. However, at the root of it lies the toxicity and the misfortune of having to deal with the traumas in our adulthood. Usually, the contents are relatable because the way our parents yelled at us or ‘disciplined’ us were more or less the same. It is so commonplace that we think it is funny. Yet, very few of us have a healthy relationship with our parents. Half the time, our parents do not know us. I often joke that if I died in a plane crash on my way to Tibet, it’d take my parents a while to know. I don’t tell them when I am travelling. Because I am secretly guilty of having fun while they are at home. Travelling for adventure or doing anything for the fun of it does not exist in most homes.
Demilitarizing parenting and relationship with children
Parenting styles affect the types of adults we become. I was in a shuttle from Kisii to Nairobi. A woman was seated next to me. She had a child, my guess is, probably five or six years old. The mother hadn't booked a seat for the child who was sitting on some bags. The child threw up at some point, and the woman furiously slapped her. For vomiting. She wouldn't stop. I felt my skin crawling off my body, with anger.
Growing up, half of us couldn’t wait to get out of our hometowns and homes to move to a new town. We couldn’t imagine coming back to that environment. We had to make the away work for us, no matter what.
We don’t call home if we have any emotional or psychological issues. Even in our older years, we are still afraid of communicating our desires to our parents because they think we are being disrespectful just by opposing their propositions. Often, these are decisions they are making for our lives without asking us. We are nudged to ‘find a husband or a wife’ even when we are not interested. When we get a partner, we are required to get married. We pursue courses that we know little about and get stuck in careers we don’t like. A friend of mine recently told me her parents ‘regret wasting money on her education’ because she changed fields. They won’t let her hear the end of it.
It doesn't always have to be painful
We are so familiar with the unhealthy typical African home that we are baffled by the healthy ones. I have only one friend that looks forward to going home to spend time with her parents. We envy her and sometimes ask to tag along. For most of us, home is the place we have built for ourselves away from home. There is always pressure to do one thing or another. We have to take up desires and beliefs, with no room for learning anything new. We are born in so much bondage that we die before we can free ourselves from these ideologies that form a blueprint for our existence.
Unfortunately, these constrictions seep into other spheres of our lives. We lack the confidence to communicate our truth at work and in our relationships. We also feel like we are never good enough even for things we have been told repeatedly, that we are good at. We have anxiety and depression. We grow into perfectionists who can’t get things started because we already know we will do it wrong. We feel guilty about the few decisions we make for ourselves because it is not serving the interests of other people. And if ever we become autonomous and separate ourselves from these roles, we are creating war and discomfort.
Individuality is not disrespect
Nearly every narrative of the typical African home experience is painful at the core. It portrays the authoritarian way in which we were raised. Every good thing that might have occurred gets diluted in these traumas that we are forced to face. We get through it sometimes and rebuild ourselves from scratch. We rebrand ourselves into a whole new person who is confident, communicates without fear of being shunned, feels comfortable putting themselves first, and does things they take pleasure in without the guilt. We renovate ourselves in every way that it can be scary to live with the freedom we find. It is a necessary thing to do.
However, imagine if we were given the chance from early on so that we did not have to go through these demolitions. The narrative of the typical African home has to change. It has to encompass better things. Like supporting the dreams and talents of a child, allowing people room to accidentally break glass without being told to burn the entire house down. Giving one space to search for things in the world, things that make them happy. A child wanting something different from what is being offered is not disrespectful. It, of course, depends on home situations and what it is we are talking about. I know, however impersonally, that raising children cannot be easy. There is a lot of provisions needed, both mentally, physically, and financially. But it is not the child's fault. Neither is it the parent's.
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