No matter where we grew up, those of us who have been raised by African parents have all experienced similar childhoods – or at least have a few things in common we can relate to. In most cases, our parents have moved abroad to seek a better future, leaving behind their homeland, family and friends. And whilst they’ve had to learn to adapt and adjust to a new culture, most of them have raised their kids according to traditional values.
As I was growing up, I never understood why my parents were always so hard on me. My mum especially was relentless, she expected nothing but the best from me – she still does. Although she had left Cameroon at a young age and had spent most of her formative years in France, she very much raised me in accordance to African social and cultural values.
Looking back, whilst I have had to learn a few things the hard way, I am glad I did. As I am contemplating the idea of having kids of my own one day, I took a trip down memory lane to sum up some of the greatest life lessons have learnt from my family.
Respecting your elders
Anyone who has ever been the youngest in an African family can relate to this. Everyone knows that being the youngest can be both a blessing and curse. In most African households, being the youngest means you must do everything anyone older than you demand you to do. Whilst it can be annoying at times, what it means is that from a young age you learn to respect your elders and appreciate older people’s knowledge and experience.
Never, ever talk back at your parents
That’s a big one. Respect is everything. I think once or twice, like most kids, have tried to raise my voice at my mum. Let me just tell you that it didn’t end up well…
Introducing a boyfriend to your parents is no easy business. First of all, there’s no such thing as bringing different boys to your home. When introducing a boyfriend to your parents you have got to make sure he is going to put a ring on it eventually. Whilst it may sound backwards, it teaches you about commitment and forces you to take a closer look at your relationship before talking to your family about it. It also means you only have to go through the awkward introduction with your dad once - which is a blessing on its own!
Often, when moving to a new country our parents have had to take on hard labour jobs to make ends meet. Ultimately, every parent’ dreams is to see their kids doing better than them, and when it comes to African families that means the words “holidays” or “time off” don’t really excite. I know, personally, I was always expected to work harder than anyone else. When most of my friends were out enjoying the sun, I would be home preparing for the year ahead. With hindsight, I think that equipped me well for the real world.
One thing I was taught from an early age was that life isn’t always easy and that if I wanted to make it I would need to be willing to go the extra mile. 27 years down the line I now I get it and I am glad my parents kept adding more to my plate day in day out, because it taught me to push through and not be afraid to put in the work to reach my dreams.