In Graceless Love, I looked at the wedge that a lack of grace in speech and action causes between parents and children. I was encouraged to explore the reason why parents of African descent are prone to expressing themselves in such manner. I decided to step into the shoes of our parents, discuss with my friends, and with parents as to why our expressions vary greatly from our intentions. Granted, Graceless Love is not the story for every African kid, nor is it the case for every African that is now a young adult, but it is the majority and it warrants a genuine discussion. So here goes.
I’ve decided on the above title because there really is no one else to look to but ourselves for why we are the way we are. I admit that penning this discussion has been a struggle when I consider a respectable approach to discovering the mind of African parents and their reasoning. Some of what I present capture the thoughts of a generation old enough to remember what it was like to grow up with strict African parents but who have also crossed over and become parents themselves.
“The greatest sin of age is to forget the trials of youth.” – Smallville
The biggest reason why African parents act the way they do is because it is what they have experienced and been brought up with. It is all they know. And for some, they really do not know any better way to treat or relate with their children other than to act without grace and to speak harshly. I’m quite sure parents have their own horror stories of the things they endured growing up. I have heard those stories from various people. The problem though is that many times we tend to forget what we experienced as children and teenagers. We forget how we felt. This is especially true because Africans do not dwell much on processing how they feel. We tend to react and not process what is going on internally.
So the question then becomes, how do we break the cycle and build a more positive approach to fostering great parent-child relationships? Does the cycle need to be broken, or does it simply need to be tweaked?
A friend of mine explained what she thought compartmentalization looks like with African parents. We all know the golden rule of do unto others as you wish to be done unto you. For those of us that are Christians, we are familiar (hopefully) with forgiving others so we will be forgiven and we are familiar with pursuing peace with all men. It seems though, with African parents, all of that applies to everyone OUTSIDE their household. Parents tend to reserve all of that lovey-dovey-sweet-Heavenly comportment for those who do not belong to them, neglecting (or maybe even forsaking) the fact that those verses apply to everyone including their children.
I believe that complacency has a role in this as well. As mentioned in Graceless Love, we become so familiar with each other that our tone and manner in which we converse with one another is quite different, even hostile, compared to those we do not know.
If we take the time to apply what we learn from the Holy Bible into ourselves there should be a change in our relationships. The opposite is what should be true: we should seek to follow these Heavenly instructions, but especially with those in our household. Even the Bible encourages it: As we therefore have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10. It says “household”. In some translations, it says, “family”. If we are encouraged to do good especially to those in the “household of faith”, how much more to those who are in our physical and secular household? I believe we have every right to be even more pleasant and graceful to them.
A friend of mine added to this concept of compartmentalization by stating that African parents believe children will receive that affection elsewhere. The idea of affection piqued my mind. The idea that it would be found outside the home furthered my interest. He believed that African parents spend less time worrying about displaying affection because they know others will display it to their children.
We believe it takes a village, and not just the nuclear family, to raise a child. The village takes the form of the grandparents, the aunties and uncles, the cousins, the in-laws, the extended family, and the neighbors in the community. Sometimes the village even includes the house helpers and definitely includes the children’s teachers and tutors.
The thought of the child receiving it elsewhere bothers me. I wonder how a child would learn to display affection and be affectionate if they do not first learn it from the ones closest to them.
Competition and Busyness
In training up a child in the way he should go, African parents do not necessarily believe that displaying affection is an element of that training up. Many are busy working and trying to make ends meet for their children. They don’t have time to be sitting around meddling with affection. In the time they could be doing that, they could be sleeping or resting or doing something productive. Africans are always on the move! And sometimes the busyness of their life makes them agitated and quick to answer their children in a way that is graceless.
Likewise, African parents expect their children to be successful with all the sacrifices they are making for their children. They don’t want to hear that someone else is doing better than their kids. After all, that person doesn’t have two heads.
African parents concern themselves less with graceful love and affection and more with success in academics and aiming for high paying careers. And in the time parents could be showering affection and grace, the child could be doing other things like reading their books. Grace and affection will gladly be shown when the child has proven their success with good grades and a cash flow unlike one their parents have ever seen before. Until then, go and face your books!
Claim of Entitlement
And now for the hardest pill to prescribe.
I believe African parents have this sense of entitlement. They feel like they have gone through it and paid their dues. To an extent, they have a right to feel that way, especially if they have sacrificed much for their children. African culture teaches us that when we have “made it” we then are supposed to take care of our parents. This is only fair.
However, when parents do things like asking their children to get the remote when they are five feet from the remote or fetch water when they themselves are sitting in the kitchen, it no longer feels like the motive is respecting the parents. It crosses over into something it should not be. It almost seems like abuse of power.
It ties into Cycles that I mentioned above. They feel like now it is time for their children to pay their dues by strict obedience and unbridled respect to them. This includes things like not forming an opinion of your own or if you do, keep it to yourself because it won’t be considered. It also looks like denying the fact that the children are actually grown adults.
How do I know this? My cousin recently told me about the pain of dealing with prefects in Nigerian secondary schools. She described how the culture and unspoken rule is, since the prefect suffered torture at the hands of their prefect when they were coming up, they too will inflict the same or novel and unusual torture to their juniors just because it was done to them. One is left wondering, how does two wrongs make anything right? Shouldn’t it be that because you didn’t appreciate harsh treatment at the hands of another you then show kindness? It seems the culture is so used to the answer being “no”. And so these students grow up with this mentality and become adults who become parents and continue the cycle.
With a new generation of parents, “the standard of parenting is being raised”. More African parents are taking time out to spend with their children and making an effort to raise their children with graceful love and by showing affection.
I see it with my friends that take a whole day off of work just to take their five-month-old son to the zoo. I see it with the father that takes his daughter out for walks in the playground just because. I see it with the mother who listens to her eight-year-old daughter’s silly stories and gladly obliges her by responding with laughter. I see it with the father that travels four time zones away with his nine-month old daughter for daddy-daughter bonding time. I see it with the father that encourages the mother to spend more time with their children and less time yelling at the children. I see it with the father that sits his six-year-old son down and converses with him intelligently about things to come. I see it with the father who makes reservations at a resort for a weekend getaway with his wife and children just because.
This may have various implications for this upcoming generation. For some families with traditional grandparents, this will very likely cause a rift of confusion between the parents who desire to try a new parenting style and the traditional African grandparents. For some children this may mean a more casual relationship with the parents. Yet for others that do not tread cautiously with this style of parenting, it may even backfire. The key factor is finding a balance between graceful love that shows affection and enjoys the company of children and graceful love that corrects, instructs, and disciplines children when needed. In this ever changing world, finding and holding on to that balance is greatly needed and valuable.