So you’ve decided to kill your African Parents – by choosing to follow your dreams.
Here you are in 2017: The Age of Technology. Opportunity is literally just a click, viral video, or direct message away. You can literally create yourself any way and in any space that you desire. With so many different opportunities to secure the bag and live a life of everlasting prosperity, you’d be foolish not to take a leap of faith and try your hand at what you believe will make you happy and successful. Thankfully, you’re not completely useless so you’ve formulated a dream for yourself, you just have to come out of the closet with it.
You’re tired of not taking advantage of all these opportunities. You’ve decide it’s your time! It’s your life! Except there’s just one teeny problem: you come from an African family whose sole purpose for leaving the Motherland was for you to continue holy grail of approved careers fields – engineering, medicine, or law. As far as your parents are concerned, it’s one of those or bust, because calling back home to Aunty Gifty and telling her you’re an aspiring photographer just won’t cut it. This may not be true for everyone’s parents (abeg, please ask them if there’s room for one more small pikin such as myself); but let’s face it, a great majority of our parents have deep preconceived notions about what avenues will lead to a successful life – which, along with bragging rights for who has the best child, is all they truly want for us.
One of the core values as an African child is the expectation to show unwavering respect for your elders above all else. When you attempt to express yourself, anything that isn’t already a part of your parent’s master plan is met with their favorite line: “You’re trying to kill me ehn?!” Well…no Mom I’m not. I’m really just trying to live my best life…but here I am, waiting for you to stop yelling with your hands on your head so we can talk about it. Living for the approval of your parents, scared to stand up for your dreams because you don’t want to be labeled a disgrace, disrespectful, or ungrateful can’t be sustained forever. While respect for our elders and the desire to make our families proud are values that should never change, we must break the cycle of denying ourselves personal happiness for their approval.
After going back and forth about whether or not you can survive being the black sheep of the family, you’ve decided that you’ll take whatever comes with following your dreams. However, you’re wondering how you – the scrawny African pikin who 15 minutes before opening this article was stuck between a rock and family shame – will break it to oga that your dream is to be a dog groomer and not a pediatric surgeon. How will you get your parents to see that your dreams, however outrageous they may be to them, are valid? To see that by misplacing you in the West, your eyes have widened, your fire has been fueled, and your dreams are your dreams for a reason? It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of unlearning, adjustments, and courage for both parties. However, it is NOT impossible. Here’s a few things you can do to navigate that conversation.
Welcome to One Tribe’s Declassified African Parent Survival Guide.
1. Establish Rapport & Respect
The central issue with some of our parents is they have a strict, clear-cut definition of what success looks like, and anything outside of that is completely taboo to them. They come from a world where success equates only to monetary wealth. Your parents hope that by striving for you to become a doctor, or what have you, you will be able to look after yourself long after they have left this Earth. It’s not a meaningless understanding, so don’t belittle them or take for granted how their experiences with corruption, dire poverty, and war, has shaped their view on this issue. They managed to set you and your big head in America for success, so stay respectful!
Explain to your parents why personal happiness and satisfaction is as much a part of your definition of success as monetary wealth is a part of theirs. Not all of us can handle the mental fatigue of going to a “9 to 5” that doesn’t stimulate our creative or empathetic side solely for a paycheck. Some of us place more value on saving children from abusive homes than getting a big payday for defending a crooked businessman. The point is success is relative to what we say it is based on our passions. It’s just like jollof rice, not everyone’s is the same.
Success = Fulfilling your true purpose = happiness.
When you’re doing what you love, you’re adding to the world in an immeasurable way. You’re fulfilling your purpose and that goes beyond money bags. Solidify to your parents that both parties have the same goal for you but the avenue for that goal is the only differentiating factor. Reiterate that you respect them, their sacrifices and viewpoints, however growing up in the age that you’ve grown up in, you’ve acquired your own understandings and would like to let them into your world. This is an opportunity for you express yourself and whether or not they approve, they will surely gain a new level of respect for you.
2. Do Your Mf’ing Research!
African parents do not play. THEY👏🏾DO👏🏾NOT👏🏾PLAY👏🏾 , and neither should you. Adversity is something your parents know very well and have fought tooth and nail to rise above for themselves and for you. If you’re about to rock the entire boat by going off script with your career as a rapper, you better be coming with straight FAX, no printer. You’re the one that’s changing the game, so come prepared. Personally, we’d recommend wearing a helmet and some extra body padding because that fufu stick is not your friend any more. (jokes… but really though)
The first step is to put their mind at ease by presenting them with a game plan of what your aspirations are, both short-term and long-term, and how you plan on achieving this goal. We’re not exaggerating. Go make a Word document, 12pt font, double spaced and a references page. The whole 9 yards. This is your game plan and your opportunity to building rapport with them. Allow your parents to become comfortable your desired career path by presenting solid information about it. Pull up your prospective job growth, the level of education needed to move up the ladder quickly, the impact it’s had on the world and of course the salary and benefits. Many of them will be surprised to find that the careers they look down on, actually haul in salaries equal to those of top professions with half of the needed education. If possible, find a mentor in your desired field and introduce them to your parents. This will undoubtedly put their minds at ease if they can meet a put together, successful adult in your desired field and have a conversation about what their experience has been.
Disclaimer: Place heavy emphasis on finding a sane, put together mentor. Do not bring some vagabond to your parents or I promise they will ship you off to medical school before you can even blink.
The main idea of this step is to show them that you’re not just a kid with pipe dreams. The quickest way for your African parent to disregard your thoughts and pull out that belt is for you to waste their time. Back your talk up. Sure, you may not have everything figured out right away and that’s completely fine, who does in this world? But, concrete ideas as to how you’re about to approach the rest of your life will be greatly appreciated.
3. Assert Yourself & Keep The Air Clear For Communication
It’s more than likely that after all this your parents still aren’t going to take you seriously. There may be some passive aggressiveness and serious down talk from them but child, STAND YOUR GROUND. Do not let that energy discourage you from what you know and feel. Older generations have a tendency to be stuck in their ways and have convinced themselves that they’re perception of the world is the “right” perception. They’ve prayed for you, brought you back those little personal communions from their fellowship, and spent hella gallons of holy olive oil anointing for you to choose the career path they’ve envisioned for you. At the end of the day, they’re only trying to give you the opportunity to become the person they may have never had the chance to be. There’s going to be some resentment, but stay steady and stay RESPECTFUL. You only have one life to live and in the grander scheme of things you can’t allow any human being to hold you back from realizing your purpose. Let them know this is what you’re going to do and you’re going to give it your all with or without their support. And if they’re ever ready to accept your career choice, you’ll appreciate them and will involve them in your world as much as they allow you to. Remember that you are the one that’s changing the game here. Give them time.
You and your parents grew up in very different settings and times. Forgive them for not understanding but do not compromise your passion. You’ve been given this journey for a reason. Anything that happens during your journey is a part of the process that’ll keep you moving in YOUR direction. Notice we didn’t use the words right or wrong to describe this direction, because there’s ultimately no such thing. Life is just a bunch of choices we make that end up making us. So why are you giving someone else the reigns? There’s always room to create a sort of middle ground, so if they’re willing to compromise – hear them out. Maybe you can take classes on the side while doing your thing because trust, having a degree in your back pocket will always be an asset. College and classes to take will always be there though so don’t feel as though you’re obligated to do this.
Good luck, and remember: “Money is not the medicine against death” – a Ghanaian proverb. Trust yourself and the process!
P.S. if this brings forth more trouble for you…we were never here.