Afropolitan motherhood is unique. Unlike our parents who emigrated west for a better life, with strong cultural roots intact, we were born and or raised in the West. Though we are mostly immersed in culture by growing up African, we share western values with our peers at school, at work, or generally as people who came of age abroad.
Many of us, ‘second-generation immigrants’—offspring of West African immigrants who arrived in the 80s—are having children of our own. How we grew up sometimes goes against our own piecemeal parenting philosophies we have for ourselves. Afropolitan motherhood is rooted in two distinct cultures with methods that sometimes contradict. Our way of doing things may be very different from how our parents say, “things are done back home.” Our afropolitan existence can make motherhood downright confusing. So how are we to raise our own, ‘Third Culture Children?’
First there’s the ideal in our heads of what motherhood should look like—spoon fed to us by the media, friends, the cool parents next door—and what motherhood really is: a unique output based on a woman’s temperament, stress levels, emotional support, values, and personal experiences.
Growing up, our parents didn’t prioritize summer family vacations to exotic places, condone sleepovers at friends’ houses, or bake cookies and cakes just because it was a holiday. Our moms and dads didn’t perpetuate Santa Clause or facilitate ‘the magic of Christmas’, and they damn sure didn’t “waste money” on elaborate halloween costumes! Unwarranted “freedom of expression” in adolescence was definitely frowned upon in African households, for sure—nah son, didn’t matter which continent you were on. (Have you seen this hilarious video of this boy who pranked his African dad? Watch and laugh!!)
Nonetheless growing up African wasn’t all terrible. Besides being loved and doted on, there were some fun and downright hilarious parts to it. There was the listening in on family gossip by the kitchen sink as you apprenticed Jollof-making; there were the piles of cousins over for long weekends and holidays—not to mention the play-cousins who’s homes you frequented; there was grandma who acted more like a second mother than anybody’s grandma; there was hilarious wit, and sharp retorts, there was drama…there was mamma’s ageless flyness and colorful wardrobe that taught you everything you know about style.
Growing up African endowed us with African sensibilities we needed to adapt, thrive and be successful; growing up American blessed us with opportunities to pursue the quest for life and liberty; a space to blossom into what we design for our lives. Motherhood is an experience that can be redefined and remixed too.
Design your Motherhood: What’s important to you?
In raising our own children, we try to pass on as much culture as we can, though most of it is secondhand. Like a childhood blanket worn thin, our watered down versions of cultural know-how, is ridden with holes. We are not as air-tight as our parents were, culturally speaking. So how do we manage? How do we embed African-style common sense and American individuality?
African parenting methods can be crazy and stifling, and sometimes just doesn’t make logical sense, but the very illogical nature of our parents demands gave us a ‘hands-on’ education in human psychology and communication. You don’t have to ask anybody what your mom’s side eye means, or the punctuating “mchewwwww!” at the end of a brief, one-sided conversation; or why you can call Becky’s mom by her first name, but not the random older African woman at church—she’s “auntie”—rule # 1: be discerning. (“’Growing Up African’ for 200, Alex…!”)
Seriously, as an Afropolitan mother, it’s important to me for my kids to be discerning, but my methods for establishing that may be remixed a bit, deliberately different. Although I don’t guarantee that I don’t use my mother’s side-eye tactics at all. In fact sometimes the side-eye is the most effective method!
The point is be active in motherhood and don’t be afraid to remix it. Take a little bit of this, a little bit of that and “bam!” Make it your own. Though there’s wisdom to how and why things were done a certain way, ask questions, seek to understand those whys, and if necessary create new methods for achieving the same results.
Using the best methods from both worlds, and our own discernment, we can raise conscious, smart, culturally aware children.
What are some areas you love most about motherhood? Which ways are you making the experience your own?