Growing up, I felt like all my parents cared about was me getting good grades, being who they wanted me to be, and not bringing shame to them. And the spectrum of shame was wide, sis—from what I wore, to my grades and who I hung out with. I struggle to recall them asking what I wanted or asking about my struggles/emotional health. By the time I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be done with university and get out of the house. Many of us didn’t exactly have the best relationships with our African parents growing up. Yes, they provided all they could for us, but that was about it. There wasn’t much warmth or an atmosphere that brooked friendship. Of course, that’s not the case for everyone, but for many, it is.
So, how do you deal with relating with them as an adult now that you’re probably out of the house, working, and not answering to them anymore? Now that they are no longer in charge, how do you forge a relationship of any sort? Do you even have to? Yes, I think you should. Listen, I know some of it felt like a lot of stress and pressure growing up, and maybe you don’t even think you have anything to say to them. Yet, I’ve found that while they decided how they would raise me, I now get to make a deliberate (and hopefully, better) choice about how to relate with them.
I think I shed a weight the day I realised that I didn’t have to agree with the way they raised me or even like it, but I could choose to forgive and even try to see things from their perspective. TBH, some of it was downright abusive. All those beatings that were more about their anger than imparting correction. In my 20s, I realised that many African parents truly believed they were doing the best for us, and I began to forgive mine. Forgiving them is not necessarily confronting them and trying to get them to admit their wrongs–good luck trying that. No, forgiving them is for yourself. If you don’t forgive and let go of those hurts, you may never really correct those wrongs in a levelheaded manner. Carrying hurts won’t hurt them in any real way, but it hurts you.
Second, forging a relationship
Yes, this can be done. Don’t wait for them to do it. You’re young and you’re more likely to change than they are. I had to tell myself that it is easier for me to move/change than it is for them. Yes, you’re busy. Yes, you don’t have to go home, but try to visit as often as you can. A routine helps with this. So, if you know that you spend one weekend a month with them, you have a pattern. It’ll feel awkward at first–it did for me–but if you push through it it’s rewarding. Don’t just visit, talk to them beyond, how is work, fine. Ask them about themselves–even their lives before they had you. You’ll be surprised at the stories that’ll come out.
It was really awkward at first, I will say again, but there has been such an improvement in our relationships over the years of consistently doing this that I think it’s worth it.
The vulnerability is hard and can get you hurt, but it’s hard to have any meaningful relationship without it. I had to prepare myself for the possibility of questions or attempts being rebuffed or dismissed, but thankfully they weren’t. The conversations were stilted at first though, but they improved. With openness, you may even get to a place where you try to get them to see things differently.
I’ve had conversations about feminism or even child-raising with my parents and each time I make logical level-headed points, they actually consider them. You’ll be surprised to find that some of these things we know and are so woke about are perspectives they’ve never considered, talk less of understanding. So, talking gives them a chance to understand and can also be a way to draw the line about certain issues. For me, that issue was the pressure to get married. Yup, the line has been drawn and there will be no more crossing it.
Finally, do better
If you choose to have kids, remember that providing for them encompasses providing love and warmth too. These things are so necessary, please. So many people are emotionally stunted because of how their childhoods were and it takes so much unlearning and relearning to get past it as an adult. Don’t stress your kids, fam. Just do better from the start.
If you really think about it, there’s a lot to be grateful to your parents for. No matter how differently you wish they’d raised you, they’re still the reason you’re here. I hope that this helps you to have a better relationship with them. Share what your relationship with your parents is like.