“Family first.” Words that a lot of us, including myself, live by. It was ingrained in us at a very young age. “Respect your elders.” “No dating while you’re living under my roof.” All lessons and rules that we learned from our parents. If there’s one thing that most African parents can agree on, it’s discipline. These lessons usually come from a place of love and our parents wanting to see us be all that we can be. But as I battle old age and this quarter-life crisis, I find myself reflecting on the lessons that I’ve learned in life. A lot of “Don’t do this!” and “Don’t do that!” from the parental units. Trying to steer us in the direction of right instead of wrong. But what about WHY this was right and that was wrong? More times than not, the most important life lessons are in the answers to those questions. And life itself is exactly who has taught them to me.
If you’re anything like myself, your parents immigrated from Africa to another country to chase a better life for themselves and their family. You know that whole thing about the grass being greener elsewhere? Yeah, that. They left the familiarity of home, their family, their culture behind and traveled to a foreign land. And just to add to the struggle of trying to survive in unfamiliar territory (because African parents are superhuman, ya know?), they took on the challenge of raising actual human beings. Do you know how hard that is? I personally don’t, but I know a few people doing it now and none of them will tell you it’s a cake walk. Now sprinkle in a little bit of foreign culture like #SaltBae and you now have a whole different monster. I imagine my mom had times where she was in a state of dishma bishma when we were growing up. “If I beat dis boy for getting in trouble in school he may call the police on me.” *ponders for a bit* “DEMILADE!!! COME HERE! AND BRING ME MY BELT!” Or the first time she heard me blasting Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Or taking me and my little brother to football practice every night after working a 10-hour shift when I’m sure she’d rather be at home watching Nollywood films. Now don’t get me wrong, I know my parents love us and I am confident they raised me to the best of their ability, but they had to do it while learning a culture that they were still trying to integrate into.
As with all things in life, perspective matters. There have been times when life has hit me with the kind of dirty slap that left me seeing stars and wondering why nobody prepared me for what just happened. Being an African that just happened to be born in America is a perspective that my parents just don’t share with me. They didn’t grow up with hip-hop music, the internet, or even cell phones for that matter. They never told me about the ups and downs of dating–just don’t do it until it’s “your time”. They didn’t have the experience of signing their soul over to Sallie Mae like I did. But I can’t blame them for the cards that life has dealt them. It’s not really their fault. They can’t be expected to understand a life that they didn’t live. From their perspective, I can only imagine how hard it must’ve been, especially when we became teenagers. But from my perspective as a first generation African, I’m grateful to have the lifetime experience of multiple cultures to be able to share with my own children. So if you haven’t forgiven your parents for being the only parents they know how to be, cut them some slack and give them a hug because parents just don’t understand.
5 Tips to help you Coexist with your African Parent
- Be right-handed: If God gave you the gift of being a lefty then you might want to become ambidextrous because unfortunately you left hand is the ultimate sign of disrespect. In fact, just keep it behind your back at all times to be on the safe side.
- Grow a second head: Your mates that are getting all A’s don’t have 2 heads according to your parent(s) so stay one step ahead, or in this case one head ahead of the curve to make sure your parents know you aren’t stupid.
- It’s on their head: Always. Stay ahead of the game and always check the top of their head whenever they ask you to find something because that is the first place they will tell you to check. (Pro Tip: It’s never on their head.)
- The pot with the meat is booby-trapped: No you can’t see the wires or the lasers surrounding the pot, but trust me, there is an alarm that goes off somewhere that only your mom has access to that will go off when you take that meat. Save yourself the trouble and go to Chick-Fil-A if you’re that hungry.
- They raised you: On a more serious note, a common thread for all African parents is pride. If you have an overbearing parent and you want them to loosen up, remind them of who raised you and that they should trust their own parenting skills. Remind them that they did a pretty good job too and don’t forget to thank them at the same time.