“Why won’t you be sick? When you’re always pressing phone.”
“I did not kill my mother, so you will not kill me.”
“The boy that came first does he have two heads?”
“When I was growing up, [kindly insert a story about stifling hardship here]…”
If you grew up in an African household, you’ve probably had one or two of these phrases thrown at you. There are extra points for all four, and you can tell me some of your other favorite classics in the comment section.
There’s almost always a controversial topic on twitter. African parents’ jokes fall into that rare category of issues, that doesn’t cause controversy, because everyone can relate to it. But they also never get old, because everyone can relate to it. It’s almost like they all get a manual at the birth of their first child or attend some Association of African Parents conference, where they discuss the bi-laws. In recent years, section 123, sub-section 18 says they aren’t allowed to send you videos on Whatsapp that are less than 30 Mb. We all know chapter 25 that if you’re not a doctor, engineer, or lawyer, you’re a disgrace to the family, as Trevor Noah put it. God forbid your job entails sitting with your phone or laptop for long hours, like digital marketers, social media handlers, and others. You know the kinds of jobs I’m referring to, the ones that don’t necessarily require an office. So it looks like your lazy ass is sitting at home all day. Extra points for being female and 25 or older, because now you have the ‘audacity’ to be unwed and ‘unemployed.’
It’s almost like they all get a manual at the birth of their first child or attend some Association of African Parents conference, where they discuss the bi-laws.
What’s often striking to me is how this unique and rarely deviating style of parenting cuts across the African continent. That’s millions of people nodding their heads along to the numerous tweets, pictures, and memes of African parents we often see. Other than religion, I can’t think of anything else that cuts across so many different cultures and countries. Does my theory of their conferences and bi-laws still sound entirely ludicrous to you? I mean, in Nigeria alone, there are over 250 ethnic groups, the most popular ones having their unique stereotypes and persona. But then still adopt the same parental style. So much so that some sentences appear so frequently, they can be described as a catch-phrase at this point. So why do we all have the same parent whose blood boils when we’re relaxing? Why can’t this parent tell us straight up not to have any food, instead of saying the opposite and giving different eye signals that mean something else? Why don’t they ever apologize by saying sorry or listen when we have a contrary opinion? And if it’s just the African way of doing things, are we also going to have a seat at the next conference?
Religion is one of my theories that I think explain why African parents, parent the same way. Africans are easily some of the most religious people in the world. Two, in particular, set themselves apart from the rest, that’s Christianity and Islam. It’s not that we don’t practice other religions. It’s just that those who do are in such a small minority, they’re often clustered in the option called other. That ticks off some atheists, but that’s beside the point. Religion, much like parenting cuts across ethnic groups, countries, and even economic strata. So what do both Christianity and Islam have in common? Well, they’re both Abrahamic religions, sharing similar origins, and of course, their belief in corporal punishment. Spare the rod and spoil the child, they say. As far as most Africans are concerned, Dr. Phil can suck it. His Ph.D. in clinical psychology is utter bs, and the reason white kids are so damn spoilt and rebellious. Why do you think African mothers take that extra class on slaps and throwing slippers? They need to set you on the right path to save you from eternal damnation.
Religion operates similarly to a culture. Most people are born, live, and die in the faith of their parents. I’ve heard people refer to Christianity not as a religion but as a way of life (the very definition of the word culture.) However, there’s still no denying the precedent that our ethnic background has on our parenting style. In this part of the world, culture places emphasis on the difference between an adult and a child. So it’s not uncommon for parents to adopt an authoritarian style of parenting rather than a democratic style often utilized by American and European parents. You know, the parents make us shake our heads in repulsion because they talk to their kids like grown-ups. Who is going to give you the same privilege as your parents in an African home? Respect for your elders is everything here. Especially in Yoruba land where pronouns more accurately depict age or position rather than gender like in the English vocabulary. Talking back to your parents is synonymous with attempted murder. Your disrespect will be a case study at the next African Parents Conference for other parents to tighten their leash after the family meeting.
Speaking of family, African communities function in a way that upholds the value of family. Not just the nuclear family, but the extended family as well. Okay, sure, I know there are certain exceptions, such as those whose village people are closer to them in the genealogical tree than others. But then a number of us have experienced the trooping in and out of extended relatives. Or perhaps even been the ones that move around. We rate family. Thus, our parents adopt the style of their parents, siblings, uncles, and aunts because they’re always around each other. With such a system, any older person is allowed to discipline a child. That’s why your uncle keeps putting mouth in your issue, that’s why your aunt’s amebo is too much. It’s also part of the reason total strangers don’t flinch and feel perfectly comfortable walking up to you to say your dress is indecent or your hair is inappropriate. It’s why my parents can have a 30-minute conversation on how the neighbor’s child didn’t greet them, or how I didn’t greet some other older adult. But I’m not going to tell them I was distracted or there was food in my mouth, because it’s not me they will use a case study at their next conference.
I think like society; our parenting style is evolving as well. That, however, doesn’t mean we’re going to all turn Dr. Phil overnight and ‘ruin’ our children. So relax if you find yourself doing or saying some of the cliché things our folks and guardians told us. Most of them worked with what they knew and what they were familiar with (they still do.) The important thing is finding a healthy balance that includes what your parents did right and what they could’ve done better. Yes, I know it’s contrary to my theory on parents being given manuals at the birth of their first child, but life doesn’t come with instructions.