good Ghanaian girl: when growing up african hurts

   African Woman circa 1960s   

My excitement about motherhood is often coupled with heartbreaking memories of my mother and my childhood. I’m sure it’s every mother’s fear for their child to lament and complain about their less-than-ideal portrayal of motherhood. I understand no person is perfect, but I can’t help but feel some way about my relationship with my mother. And I can’t help but pray that my child will never feel the same way I do.

I don’t know when I came to accept that it was my responsibility to make my mother happy. I suspect it was around my fifth or sixth year. I remember being in the backseat of our car begging for her to buy me McDonald’s chicken nuggets. My request made her angry. I could sense it by the tone in which she harshly chastised me then coldly called me “a bad child,” in Twi. Embarrassment and dejection ensued, welled up inside of me, and heated up my insides.

I was hot with an emotion I couldn’t name. I remember a guttural sensation of shame but I didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand why it wasn’t okay to whine about my preference of nuggets over burgers. I didn’t understand why I was a bad child for expressing a choice. I remember choking over my sobs as I ate the salty sandwich. I am quite certain I made up in my mind during that car ride to never give my mother a reason to be angry with me like that again.

Many childhood memories are filled with such tense moments. Days where she would sob uncontrollably in the bathroom and I would sob alone in my room. Times when my heart raced when she returned home from work; I hadn’t finished cleaning and she was likely to throw a fit. Letters proclaiming my love for her went unreferenced days after I left them in her underwear drawer. I began to master her incredible mood swings and taught my siblings to do the same. I learned to subdue any protest or actions that contradicted her desires. I learned to be the friend she never had; a friend who always gave, never eager to receive. I became my mother’s golden girl.

I seldom did anything that raised an eyebrow, I just wanted to be what she wanted me to be—a good Ghanaian girl. I didn’t have a rebellious bone in my body and I was the poster child of “how girls behaved back home.” While other mothers in our small Ghanaian community were catching hell with their daughters, I became the gold standard of a dutiful, respectful one.

My mother’s friends loved me and wanted their children to follow my example. People couldn’t believe I was born in the States—they wanted to know how my mother did it, what her secret was. The hardest thing about my status was that it never made a difference. I never received the praise or recognition that I so desperately craved from her. I became aware that the benefits of being a good Ghanaian girl didn’t justify the cost.

Carefully living within my mother’s strict and at times radical boundaries limited my ability to form solid friendships. I was a smart girl, but I never developed the self-awareness necessary for healthy maturity. Instead, I contracted an unshakeable dependency on my mother’s approval. I didn’t bother to ask to participate in regular adolescent affairs because I wasn’t too confident in social settings. I developed a strange stammer in my teens; I was so self-conscious that when people spoke to me, I could barely get my thoughts together to respond coherently. It became clear to me that being a good Ghanian girl was s suffocating me.

As I worked fervently to live up my mother’s desires for me, she still found ways to show dissatisfaction. I couldn’t do enough to please her. My need to express an opinion was seen as me being defiant. I plunged into a bottomless pit of shame, confusion, and lack of self-awareness because to be valued for what I did and not for who I was was taxing.

My love for my mother is so conflicted. And it probably always will be. Maybe I’ll understand when I have my own. Maybe I won’t. What I understand now is that I’ve come a long way from those tortured adolescent years. With maturity, wisdom, and God, I have learned that only distance and strong boundaries would allow me to heal from these invisible wounds from childhood. By accepting my mother’s limitations in appreciating me, I no longer see her as a victim that needs fixing or validation. I no longer blindly follow after her statutes. I realize that I can be my mother’s daughter without submitting to her dark insecurities about life.

I don’t know what is it about women who scrape for value in their children or what is it about motherhood that wants us at our core to be “perfect”, but I suppose each month that passes with a negative reading gives me more time to praise God for lessons learned and healing. And though much has tried to chip away at my imperfect core, I still remain. I’m responsible for my life–no one else. I shape my dreams and I’m happy to say, being a good Ghanian girl, is no longer one of them.


Anonymous Contributor. [Image Via]

Afropolitan Voices is a collection of personal stories from Africans in the diaspora. Stories are powerful, click here to share yours.

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