I am a bi-racial, American woman of color who is currently raising four Black children. I take my job seriously, because I am proud and honored to have been blessed with this awesome responsibility. Like many parents, I have had my ups and downs. Some shining moments and some I’d like to forget. But what I lacked was a blueprint or manual for how to raise amazing kids.
Sure, I’d read all the books, and I knew for sure what my parents did wrong, but I didn’t have formula for raising respectful, resilient and successful children. The popular Nigerian American blogger, Luvvie Ajayi, predicated her book on the question, “Did some of us get a limited-edition handbook that others didn’t get? You know, the one that gives instructions on not being a jerk?”
And I think she is right. I think some people did get a handbook, and I bet it was written by an African parent.
- Set High Expectations
There are tons of jokes about African parents who expect the world from their children. Some think they are funny and others think some parents go too far with being strict. Yet, we also teach our children to “Reach for the stars, and if you miss you will catch the moon.”
African parents live the nuts and bolts of this sentiment. Why set a goal that is lower than the best? If it is possible to earn 100% on an assignment or test, why settle for less than that? African parents embody Black Excellence.
It is true there is a downside to having unyielding expectations to the point of damaging a child’s psyche or rejecting them completely, however, I have learned that is more than okay to push them harder, to expect greatness. Most of all, I have learned to believe in my children more than they believe in themselves.
2. The reason we have children is so they can help us
Do not feel bad about asking your children to complete tasks. As an American parent, I had it all backwards. I thought of myself as “in service” to my children, blurring the lines between being responsible, and being taken advantage of. I did everything from tying shoes to cleaning up their bedrooms well after they were old enough to do it themselves. I felt guilty asking them to help around the house because I wanted them to “enjoy their childhood.”
However, in being too accommodating, I missed out on teaching them valuable lessons about personal responsibility, community, gratitude and servitude. I’ve seen the children of African immigrants feel proud of themselves for how helpful they are to the adults in their homes. They are happy that they are capable of completing tasks not only for themselves, but also for their parents. They learn early on that they are not only responsible for themselves, but they should also be considerate of the needs of those around them. It is essentially an individualist versus collective consciousness that starts with establishing order in the home.
- Teach responsibility from day one
Another thing I’ve noticed is that African parents tend to start their children doing work around the house at a much younger age than their American counterparts. For me, delaying the housework stemmed from a belief that the child was not capable of completing certain tasks correctly. For example, although my five year old can push the vacuum cleaner, will they remember to sweep under the sofas and in the corners?
But I have learned it’s not about getting it right, it’s about forming a habit. If you expect children to help cleaning as soon as they are physically capable, they will seamlessly integrate it into their daily routines. The trick here is that the parent must also be consistent. This involves setting aside time to teach your children how you want certain tasks completed, such as dish-washing, or laundry folding. To quote one parent from the Southern African region, “It doesn’t matter so much that she does it correctly at this age, what matters is that she does it at all.”
- Respect your elders
African spirituality comes with the belief that a person’s ancestors are watching over them, and protecting them; acting on their behalf from the spirit realm. Elders have lived on the earth longer and are closer to becoming the revered ancestors. Therefore, to disrespect their wisdom is to invite ill will upon yourself.
No matter what your elder is saying or doing, African children are taught to listen and obey any elder. Address them with a title, “Mama, Auntie or Miss,” depending on what is appropriate. As a child, I was not taught explicitly to respect elders, and consequently did not impart that to my children at first. It’s been challenging trying to instill that kind of respect now that my children are older, but what I’ve learned is that if I lead by example, and most of all, if I respect myself, they will fall in line easily.
All jokes aside, what I firmly believe sets the Diasporic Africans that I’ve encountered apart from many other people is their kind heartedness. They may like to joke around with throwing outrageous insults at each other and seeming to be in constant competition for high achievements, but at the end of the day what most people of African descent want to see is for the entire community to succeed.
They are their children’s loudest cheerleaders and toughest coaches; they are their parent’s loyal servants and their family’s undying support system. I have been hard pressed to find a successful African who has not proudly carried their entire family on their shoulders. In fact, I have heard some African people define success by naming how many people they have been able to help.
I believe this cultural and humanistic approach is the single most important trait a parent can teach a child.