In the recent past, I have noticed a sudden trend of youths dying, now and then. Some fall unwell, others get into accidents, while most end their lives. Like clockwork, one or both parents will be on the news conveying the pain of their loss. Like most humans, I usually sympathize with them. My struggle is with how most parents are quick to center the case around the sacrifices they had made for their child. The other struggle is how most parents keep expressing how they were looking forward to their child catering for their needs. It seemed as if the child hadn’t already been doing that for them. On the other hand, I saw a father lament on how his daughter was the family breadwinner. It was so painful seeing him shed tears while asking for help. It has slowly dawned on me that the African child is not viewed as a fellow human but as an investment by the parents. I am no parent, plus I’m not in the best position to dictate anything about parenting.
But despite this, I have seen good parents and the effect on their children. I have also seen not-so-good parents and the impact it has had on their children. I cannot judge parents since I haven’t walked any distance in their shoes but let’s be honest and point out faults where we see them. Hopefully, in this manner, we can shift and heal. From everything I have seen around me, it’s clear that parenting is a team sport. The foundation of the family starts with the relationship between parents. It is not only the mere existence of their children.
A couple with a strong relationship will naturally, effectively, and positively raise their children in a healthy environment. An unhealthy relationship between the parents negatively impacts their children. For the African children and the youth, it’s pretty evident that some of our parent’s marriages are on the rocks and have been for many years. As much as we deny this fact, the impact of those relationships is evident in each one of us. There are so many broken African homes (like mines) that still have the husband and wife married, living together, and raising kids. What they don’t know is that they are raising broken children.
The African child survives by being a good child. Their hope is to lessen their parent’s problems, which has ultimately led them to bury their own feelings. It has also caused them to struggle to express their emotions. It’s made them want to please everyone while having an inability to handle the tiniest bit of confrontation, or criticism and it shows. There is so much toxic behavior in the African parent-child relationship that we have idealized it. Some of our parents whooped us so badly we can’t even talk to them about anything. Therefore, it has made us avoid and back up anytime they raise their voice or get too close to us. We claim we turned out okay, but honestly, we didn’t. We are so detached emotionally, in denial, or maybe just unaware of our trauma. Therefore, compelling us to claim the idea that we should raise our children the same way.
Childhood traumas affect our mental health. The emotions we suppress show up. They show up in headaches, unhealthy habits, and the decisions we make. Suppression is ineffective while being in denial doesn’t serve us. Some of us are broken children mimicking adult lives. The primitive coping mechanism we acquired to survive our childhood affects us. In the beginning, we form them, but at the end, they shape us. Parenting isn’t easy. But despite this, most African children appreciate everything their parents have done for them and continue to do for them. Therefore, African parents need to realize that parenting isn’t about dominating your child and making them into what you want them to be. As a parent, your child’s dreams and ambitions may not align with what you have planned out for them. Parents have to make peace with that without thinking their child has failed in life or has settled for less.
Dear African parents, stop pushing all the sacrifices you made for your children down their throats. Yes, you bought them clothes, yes you had a roof over their heads when they were cold. Yes, you fed them when they were hungry, but you took on that responsibility when you decided to become a parent. You can never make a child love and appreciate you. But, instead you manipulate and break down a child to the point where the only thing they can express is appreciation with the hopes of pleasing you, the parent. Therefore, this leaves the child so insecure and teaches them that they owe you because you gave them something. It’s very abusive and makes them inclined to be indebted to anyone who gives them anything or does something for them.
Here is a tactic used by manipulative people. Making a child feel bad for everything you did for them is guilting them. If you have to guilt a child into respecting you, do you deserve respect? You cannot demand respect and not give it. Your children do not owe you gratitude. They are children, but if you treat them respectfully, like human beings, they will do the same for you. They will thank you not because you tell them to, but because they feel the actual appreciation.
If you’ve gotten to the age of twenty-five and aren’t a parent to your parents, siblings, or you, you need to be thankful. It’s so hard for people trying to keep their parents and siblings happy and comfortable. It messes up the mind. The best gift you can give a child trying to make it on their own is to not expect anything from them. But what you can give your children is the freedom to live their lives without feeling the pressure of achieving your unfulfilled dreams. If you want a bigger house, build it on your own. Your kids will construct you one if they are capable and want to but, don’t make it their responsibility.
African child, let us end the cycle. Let us heal from our past. Seek out therapy to unpack our trauma. Let us be the generation that ends the cycle of pain and abuse. Therapy is tough, but living in pain and transferring it is worse. I started therapy when I realized how ‘not okay’ I turned out. So I am not speaking from some lofty bubble in the sky. Let’s strive for the day that we should all go for therapy. Let’s heal ourselves and by loving ourselves we will be able to normalize it into our society. We did not turn out okay. Unlearning is uncomfortable, listening is difficult, relearning is discordant especially if you think you’re smart, But we have to do it.
Written by: Francis Kamau is a Member and an Ambassador for Africa Jipende Wellness. He successfully completed our Mental Wellness Program.